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October 20, 2011 8:11 AM   Subscribe

OK, I'm desperate and I'm ready to try a low carb diet. What should my shopping list look like?

I am a pasta eating, rice lover, bread smoochin' kind of person ( I have seriously kissed particularly cuddly pieces of bread that have crossed my path). I am also trying to lose serious (75 lbs) weight. Up to now, a balanced diet has worked. I have lost 30 lbs, but the second half of my journey seems to be blocked by a huge plateau that has lasted about a month. I have been stuck at 176 lbs while working out (running + weights) 6 hours a week and eating 1300 cals a day. I'm sick of it.

So reading AskMeFis, I see people recommend low carb diets a lot, but hey, carbs are like the bulk of my diet! So I would like to know...

What's the science behind this idea?
Has it worked for you?
How does a complete newbie get started?
and the most important part...What are some must haves on my shopping list?
posted by Tarumba to Health & Fitness (47 answers total) 86 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Since it's standard weight loss info, I'm 5'7'' (172cm).
posted by Tarumba at 8:13 AM on October 20, 2011

Best answer: I did Phase 1 of the South Beach Diet the last time I got serious about weight loss, at my doctor's recommendation. She said it would be effective in resetting my palate and cravings, and she was right. It was a very rough start, probably made moreso because I started a prescription at the same time that affected my moods, but I had terrible headaches for the first five days. The second week was a lot easier, and I found it a very effective way to start a process of eventually losing 40 pounds. (I've since gained 30 back, but that is my own AskMe, I suppose.)

Anyway, Googling "South Beach phase 1 shopping list" gets lots of hits, including this one.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 8:18 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

The hardest thing for me, when I was doing low carb stuff, was finding substitutes for the "vehicles" I was so used to. If you go to Chipotle, your options for holding the filling are 1) a tortilla or 2) a bowl, which still contains the rice. So you take away the rice, which had done a great job of spreading the sauce and making a pleasant texture, and now you basically have a salad made up of nonabsorbent pointy bits. Not ideal.

Figure out that part of the equation, in whatever way that works best for you, and you should have a much easier time. The solution, if there is one, may just be getting used to it. Try soups -- you can do a lot with broths and meats, etc.
posted by Madamina at 8:23 AM on October 20, 2011

What Sweetie Darling said. And eggs. Lots and lots of eggs. They are filling, which helps enormously with the aggravating hunger that accompanies any diet. Mmmm, scrambled eggs with smoked salmon *drool*
posted by Melismata at 8:28 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I lost somewhere between 60-70 in six months on a slightly modified version of Atkins. I read the New Atkins Diet Revolution or something like that by Dr. Atkins and it broke the whole thing down in pretty easy to understand terms. And those terms included generous amounts of green, leafy low glycemic index foods in addition to the lean proteins that are the staple of low-carb diets.

First, I would get a complete physical with bloodwork, etc. to make sure there's nothing out of whack now and so that you know you're not harming yourself long term.

Sweetie Darling is right - if you (like me) are particularly drawn to carbs and that makes up the bulk of your diet now you need to know that you will feel like ass the first few days to a week. After that week I felt AMAZING. I went from an every day napper to not napping in five years. Oh, the energy. It was great.

You'll want to start looking at your grocery store differently. Stay out of the aisles and concentrate on the fresh foods along the perimeter. Lean meats and green veggies are your friends. Anything with grains, gluten, starch is your enemy right now. For the initial weeks don't be afraid of fat - just make sure it's the healthiest fat you can find. Avocado? Great! Cheese? Totally fine in moderation! Fatty fish like salmon? Delish! Stay away from trans fats and saturated fats whenever possible.

Also agree with Madamina about the "vehicles"- if you want to get really creative you can use a cheese grater to shred up some cauliflower to make "rice". For "pasta" you can try spaghetti squash, though once you're well into a low carb diet you can start integrating things like a little bit of Dreamfield's low carb pastas and see how it impacts you.

If you have a chocolate jones you may want to get yourself a sugar free chocolate once in a while for a treat, but don't over do it as the sugar substitutes in them can cause gastro-distress. I kept things like some really nice genoa salami and some high end cheese around for snacks.

There are tons of low-carb resources online. I would highly recommend seeking them out to get ideas and support during your transition.
posted by FlamingBore at 8:30 AM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Be forewarned that doing low-carb isn't really a "diet" in the sense that you do it till you lose the pounds and then go back to eating regularly. Going low-carb re-arranges your body chemistry sufficiently that, unless you continue with a low-carb way of eating, you'll put those pounds right back on again.

Low-carb has always worked for me whenever I've tried it, with two caveats:
1) You need to drink loads of water. I mean, loads. (This is hard for me)
2) The more austere forms of low-carb are not sustainable in the long term. Do it to shock your system, but go to a more reasonable eating plan within a week or two at the most.

As a newbie:
Clear out your cupboards, and throw away (or give away) anything that isn't on your list of approved foods. If it's there, you'll be tempted by it.

Set yourself up for success. Plan ahead, take a day on the weekend and prepare celery sticks and broccoli florets, or whatever, for the week ahead. Don't allow yourself to rely on food available around you at lunch - I guarantee that everything you see will be carb-laden.

Check around for people you come into contact with regularly who might have an allergy. Low-carbing does mean eating things like nuts and fish, two major allergy culprits. If you have a co-worker with an allergy, you'll need to plan appropriately for that.

Must-haves on my shopping list:
Cabbage (for coleslaw)
Cheeses (Feta, cheddar, parmesan, cream cheese)
Nuts (Almonds, pecans, pine nuts, etc)
Meats of all kinds (of course)
Quinoa (a grain that is mostly protein, fills in for couscous or rice)
Spices, dry rubs, vinaigrettes, etc. (most condiments are sugar-laden; watch out here!)

Good luck!
posted by LN at 8:33 AM on October 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

I ate a lot of spinach, a bunch of eggs, and used quite a bit of coconut flour when I first started low-carbing. If you find yourself beset with the headache (lots of people get this in the early going), try drinking some Powerade Zero, or Smart Water (not the fruity kind, the just-water and electrolytes kind). I've lost 80-plus pounds on a low-carb plan. It's been pretty slow, but it's the only thing that's worked for me

Also, The Nonabsorbent Pointy Bits is the name of my next band.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 8:36 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

you may want to get yourself a sugar free chocolate once in a while for a treat, but don't over do it as the sugar substitutes in them can cause gastro-distress

Sadly, this was the case for me too. For the same reason, if you decide to go hardcore and then ease back into carbs, keep an eye on high-fiber snacks (esp granola bars and cereals) that use chicory root to boost the fiber content.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 8:37 AM on October 20, 2011

Best answer: I agree with Madamina: lots of soups and substitute out the vehicle if you are doing pasta or chili. So, steamed cauliflower bits instead of pasta or rice, etc. Squash with butter instead of bread.

Breakfast I had to change altogether; now I have a smoothie with protein powder or fried eggs with flax and feta cheese, no more breakfast cereal (which was my go to before).

Also, be careful with premade stuff - buy the pasta sauce without sugar, soup without sugar, etc. They can be sneaky.

I have chickens, so eat a ton of eggs. Little boiled eggs are awesome snacks. Eggs on salad. Quiche without the crust. Buy whole fish sides and eat just fish with steamed greens, no rice, etc.

Honestly, most of the bread/rice filler makes things taste worse to me now that I am used to not having the tasteless "filler" component of the meal.

Saving dinner is a cheap subscription and provides weekly low carb dishes and easy recipes. It is pretty awesome. I am only one person, so I make freezer meals for work-lunch and extra dinners from the extra, which also keeps you on track for the low-carb (ie - you always have premade meals ready if you are in a bind).

My menus are a bit boring, I like having the same thing over and over again, but a typical shopping list for me is:

for protein shakes:
greens powder
whey powder
vanilla frozen yoghurt (has sugar, but delicious)
green tea powder
for fried eggs:
flax seed meal

cottage cheese (big containers) x 2 (I keep these at work in case I am famished in the afternoon or have to work late)
plums (1 for each work day for dessert)
apples (1 for each work day for morning snack)
snack vegetables (mushrooms, sugar snap peas, baby carrots, mini cucumbers, buy copious amounts and mow these down when you are peckish at home in the evening)

(salads for work lunch)
avocado OR eggs (to boil for lunch salad)
sweet red pepper
broccoli sprouts

(supper and home lunches)
edamame (I will boil and salt this and eat it as a side dish)
squash (I like buttercup squash) x 2 (cut in half and steam one half in microwave for dinner side dish, add butter)
2 x fish sides (salmon or trout, good for 4 dinners, add butter and lemon juice. Sub in whatever protein, chicken with pesto and mozarella cheese is another favorite of mine.)
lemon juice
miso paste (all the rest of these ingredients are for miso soup. Chop and divide the tofu and onions into little tinfoil packets (enough for each bowl of soup) and freeze. Use individually. You just need to add boiling water to make this.)
firm tofu
green onions
chopped dried seaweed
dashi granules
posted by Acer_saccharum at 8:42 AM on October 20, 2011 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I have lost 30 lbs, but the second half of my journey seems to be blocked by a huge plateau that has lasted about a month. I have been stuck at 176 lbs while working out (running + weights) 6 hours a week and eating 1300 cals a day.

are you only concerned with tracking weight? six hours a week of running + weights means your body's been converting fat into muscle, and muscle weighs much more than fat. are your clothes fitting any differently?
posted by lia at 8:42 AM on October 20, 2011

A trick I learned is to shop the perimeter of the supermarket as exclusively as possible, as that is where the Produce, Butcher, Fish and Dairy departments are usually located. The shelves full of carbs are in the middle. Obviously it is not a hard and fast rule, but it is a simple concept to keep in mind at the grocery store that can change the way you shop for the better.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:42 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

You're probably going to find food tasting pretty weird to you after the first few days--my understanding is that this is a byproduct of ketosis. It makes it really hard to eat enough when everything seems so unpalatable (the upside for me was that at least I wasn't in the mood to eat carbs, either). This goes away, though.
posted by padraigin at 8:42 AM on October 20, 2011

Best answer: Also, forgot:
I always keep red lentils in the house; if I am in a bind (financially or haven't gone shopping) I will throw them in the rice cooker with copious amounts of curry powder, tumeric, garam masala, coriander, and cumin and eat these curried lentils with butter for meals.

I never keep nuts, sunflower seed butter, or coconut butter in the house because I find I will eat it by the spoonful until it is gone all in one day.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 8:44 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: lia,

I have lost 2 sizes (from 16 to 12), so I guess I am losing volume.

Also, thanks for the tips, everyone!
posted by Tarumba at 8:46 AM on October 20, 2011

If you'd consider a 'paleo-ish' diet as 'low carb' then here is a list of meals for a week for 2 people along with a shopping list, although some of the ingredients may be exotic for certain regions (canned chipotles in adobo sauce?):
posted by de void at 8:47 AM on October 20, 2011

BTW, my experience with experimenting with a modified paleo diet has been good: Male, early 40's, 5' 8", went from 175# to 165#, dropped a pants size, added muscle, found a six pack and regular compliments.

Concurrently with the changeover to a paleo diet I have also been running and crossfit training *intensely*.

Before the paleo diet/crossfit I was doing a lot of running/swimming/biking - got better at those 3 things, but I wasn't looking much different and kept wishing for less body fat.

I tend to stay strict to the diet during the work week, relax a lot on weekends and parties/special events. I don't *crave* carbs, but they do enjoy them when I stray off the diet.
posted by de void at 8:59 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Shopping list:
Eggs (can also be hard-boiled for snacks, scrambled for breakfast, made into "egg muffins")
Onions (you'll be making a lot of chili, soup, and stew)
Smoked salmon (refrigerator section)
Pre-cooked and grilled chicken breast (for salads and stews)
Canned beans (kidney, black, pinto, don't forget white)
Canned lentils
Canned tuna (be careful about too much mercury though)
Cucumbers (put smoked salmon on slices of cucumber with a little bit of sour cream and scallions for a snack, or put slices of cucumber into a glass of water to give it flavor - drink lots of water!)
Red and green peppers (especially for making chili)
Leafy greens (baby spinach, kale, broccoli rabe, etc. for making soup; you can also bake kale into crispy chips)
Leafy lettuce (to make wraps)
Seaweed (lots of fiber, filling snack, watch out for sodium though)
Chickpeas (for roasting as a snack, or putting into stew)
Almonds (they come in all sorts of flavors now)
Sahale nut and fruit snacks (note that 1 oz. is a normal portion size)
Turkey jerky (read the label to find lower carb ones, watch out for sodium)
Frozen edamame (can easily be defrosted for a quick snack)
Avocados (high in fat but very filling)
Almond butter (can be eaten straight up or put into a West African style stew)
Ground lean beef with taco seasoning packets to make taco salad (sauté with black beans and add chopped bell peppers and hot sauce, serve alone or on lettuce, or make wraps)
Salsa (pico de gallo, salsa verde, there are tons of varities now, good on eggs and the aforementioned taco salad)
Pickles (quick snack, especially when paired with a slice of lean ham, watch for sodium)
Olives (quick filling snack, but also watch for sodium)
Canned tomatoes (for soups and stews)
Fresh herbs (dill for the salmon, basil for any Italian-esque stews, cilantro for chili and taco salad)

I highly recommend Kalyn's Kitchen for recipe ideas. Look for the Phase 1 recipes.

A slowcooker helps, too. Chilis, stews, and soups can all be made in the slow cooker. You can also easily make 8-10 servings at once, and freeze the rest in individual portion sizes for later.

Current favorites:
Cannellini Bean and Sausage Stew with Tomatoes and Basil
White Bean Salad with Roasted Red Pepper, Arugula, and Parsley
Cannellini Bean and Kale Soup with Ham and Sherry Vinegar
Cannelini Bean Soup with Roasted Italian Sausage and Escarole
Baked Kale Chips
Kale, Sausage & Lentil Skillet Supper
Lemony Lentil Salad with Salmon
posted by kathryn at 9:11 AM on October 20, 2011 [29 favorites]

Yes, supermarket shopping is vastly simplified and boring now, but I know I'm eating healthier than ever because I no longer bulk up on empty carby calories (I count carbs not calories, in fact).

I lost 20 lbs on a low carb diet and a year and a half later have kept it all off. I still have birthday cake occasionally, and even a spoonful of Nutella after dinner, but I log my weight religiously and adjust the quantities I consume if the pounds start to come back.
posted by Dragonness at 9:18 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Recommending diet tracking software, which was certainly eye-opening. Some of the worst offenders came as a complete surprise, and were things I didn't even mind ditching.
posted by bunji at 9:45 AM on October 20, 2011

So it makes a huge difference in satiety and energy levels WHEN you eat different kinds of foods.

Here is how my days go:

1) breakfast is fat and protein only, lots of it, more calories here than any other time of day, zero carbs, plus coffee, plus a fiber supplement.

2) lunch is some protein, a little fat, and lots of veggies/crunchies

3) mid-afternoon snack is fruits/crunchies

4) dinner is very light, really only a snack, and is where I spend my carbs usually on treats like ice cream or whatever tastes good that I've been missing during the day.

Okay WHY do it this way? Because when you boot up your day with fats and protein you won't be hungry for hours, you won't have the sugar-rush mental issues, and you are maintaining the zero carb trend you started late last night after your last snack.

See? If you have an ice cream at 9pm then the next significant carbs you have are maybe 5 grams at your afternoon snack, you've run for 16 hours without any carb intake.

Anyway, that's what works for me. I'm really carb sensitive and if I have too much my brain turns to mush and my mood shifts. So I don't allow that to happen during the workday. On weekends I'm more flexible!
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:13 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Also you may as well go gluten-free if possible. It makes things a little more challenging but you might find some hidden health benefits even if you aren't obviously sensitive. Night vision getting bad, got random joint aches & pains, maybe some eczema here and there? Could be gluten! Since you're cutting carbs anyway, why not?
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:18 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The science behind low-carb is pretty complex because the body's metabolic functions are pretty complex. Here is a very simple summary that will hopefully not make too many biochemists yell at me.

Here's how a normal metabolism works. Calories go to feed hungry muscles and the other machinations of your body. Once everything that needs to be fed is fed, glucose levels in your body rise (glucose is the simple sugar carbs are converted into) and set off complex pathways that tell a hormone in your blood, insulin, to process the glucose and store it as fat.

However, excess body fat plus a diet high in sugars and simple carbs plus a relatively inactive lifestyle can lead to "insulin resistance", where insulin in your body becomes less efficient at processing glucose. This means instead of that glucose in your blood going first to parts of your body that need it, your insulin jumps the gun and starts storing it as fat immediately. So even if you have a calorie deficit, your body is still not burning off fat as fast as it could be because the carbs in your diet are producing enough glucose in your bloodstream for your insulin to think you need more fat storage.

Fixing this is a long hormonal process that generally requires reduction of body fat plus increased activity levels plus an improvement in diet. You don't HAVE to do all three,* but it sure goes a lot faster than you do. Reduction of body fat causes its own hormonal responses that improve insulin sensitivity. Increasing activity levels increases muscle activity and makes them suck up glucose better, thus improving glucose processing. And improvement of diet just removes all the excess calories and sugars that are adding to the mess.

Low-carb dieting is basically a metabolism hack to speed the process along. By removing most carbs from your diet, you remove most glucose sources and gives your poor insulin a break--it's able to deal with the marginal levels left. By achieving the lowest glucose levels possible, you put the least stress on your metabolism and give it the most time to repair. It's a bit like not walking on your foot if you break it.

Anyway, here are some helpful websites in addition to the ones already provided:
Low Carb Wiki
Low Carb recipes

You should also go easy on the artificial sugars, as there is some evidence that just the taste of sweet, even if not accompanied by glucose, sets off your insulin on the fat-storage train. This doesn't mean Splenda in your coffee is keeping you fat, but if you are having faux-carb stuff and artificial sweeteners with every meal and not seeing fat loss, you may want to cut them out to see what happens.

Someone above recommended beans, lentils, and chickpeas. These all have an awful lot of carbs in them so I don't know why those are on the list. You should stay away from those until you get a bead on whether or not low-carb is for you and how many carbs you need a day to keep making progress without tanking your workouts.

Finally, 1300 calories is a pretty damn low level. If you've been maintaining that for a while without any cheats you may have downregulated your metabolism and need to spend some time at a slightly higher level of calories before you'll see the weight start dropping again.

*This is why the guy who subsisted on Twinkies still had improved blood markers at the end of two months--because in general excess fat loss is good enough for your body that it overrides the unhealthy way you may have obtained it
posted by Anonymous at 10:26 AM on October 20, 2011

Here's another vote for a paleo-like approach. Here's one explanation of the science behind limiting carbs.

Paleo has worked for me. I'm losing 1/2 a kilo each week without bizarre amounts of exercise--just biking or walking for errands and 1x/week at-home crossfit-like stuff using only my body weight.

When I eat protein, I get full quicker, so I stop eating sooner. When it's time to eat again, I'm not crazy-cranky hungry, just hungry, and if I can't eat immediately it's no big deal. I have a LOT more energy, and the fat that remains has rearranged itself, so I look leaner than the scale claims I am.

I've lost a lot of my craving for carbs. And now if I "treat" myself with a conventional dessert, it tastes disgustingly sweet and I feel gross, so it's easy to avoid in the future.

Here's a primal shopping list.

My diet includes curry without the rice, stir fries without the rice, steak without the potatoes... you get the idea.
posted by ceiba at 10:26 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You need to decide first what kind of low carb diet you want to follow. A lot of people above are recommending things like quinoa and beans and lentils, which are all great foods no doubt but they're not foods I associate with a low-carb way of eating during the main weight loss period.

Then again, I came to this through Atkins in 2007, which is probably one of the more austere diets -- at the beginning. When I talk to most people who complain about not being able to stick to it, it turns out they didn't follow the (very well thought-out) plan in the book that tells you when and how to start re-incorporating foods you ate and enjoyed before you started Atkins. That's a slow and systematic process, designed to help you figure out which moderately-carby foods are okay for your body, and which will cause you to a) have mad cravings, or b) have made blood sugar spikes (ie, feel chipper and then crash and need a nap), or c) gain weight. I put "gain weight" last because, although it's ostensibly what you and I and all other dieters fear the most, when you've been doing an LC diet for a while you don't need to wait for a weight gain to tell that something is wrong with the way you're eating. You know it because suddenly you're having mid-afternoon crashes and your appetite is out of whack, as in, you feel hungry when you shouldn't.

ANYWAY. All this to say, I agree with the person above who cautioned you that LC works in the long-term only if you stick to following some general LC principles. This doesn't mean avoiding pizza and bread and rice forever; it just means learning to think of those things the way most people think of hot fudge sundaes: okay once in a while, disastrous when eaten daily.

Do some research on the various LC plans -- is a great place to start -- before you devise a shopping list, because each plan will make for a different list. Explore the forums there too, because a ton of people have posted their own shopping lists based on their plans. In general, here's what my shopping list looked like when I was actively losing weight a few years ago:

GREENS: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, spinach, zucchini, summer squash
FRUIT: avocado, tomato (all other fruits are too sugary for the beginning phase)
OTHER VEGGIES: red onions, red pepper, green pepper, etc.
MEAT: chicken, tuna, beef, canned boneless skinless salmon, etc. Bacon's okay too, but it's quite salty!
FATS: olive oil, mayonnaise, salad dressings with a carb count of 2g or less per 2 tablespoons
CHEESES: cream cheese (Neufchatel is fine, actually a lower carb count), hard cheese for snacking or shredding
OTHER DAIRY: eggs, heavy cream for coffee
SNACKS: deli meat with cream cheese; string cheese; tuna-stuffed avocado half; spinach salad with feta and tomatoes and red onions.

After a few weeks, I added to that list:

NUTS: almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts.
YOGURT: Fage Greek yogurt, full fat. Lowest carb count of the yogurts.
SEEDS: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds.

Peanuts are a legume; leave them off, along with relatively low-sugar (ie, non-tropical) fruit like apples, until much, much later, when you're within 5-7 pounds of goal. Low-sugar berries (blackberries, raspberries, blueberries) should be the first fruit you reincorporate. I did this a couple of months in, weighed them carefully to make sure I wasn't eating more than an ounce at a time, and had some delicious yogurt breakfasts.

Good luck!
posted by artemisia at 10:57 AM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I am religiously adding everything up on caloriecount, and I just changed my nutrition goals to "low carb". They are asking for 130 grams of carbs every day, is this similar to what you have experimented with?

Also, I have considered upping my intake levels, but it's just too much damn mental work. I may add a couple hundred cals, however. My average daily deficit now is about 800 cals.

I am amazed by your helpful recommendations, and I am very, very intrigued by chopping gluten off, too. If you have any suggestions regarding that, they will be welcome, too.
posted by Tarumba at 11:02 AM on October 20, 2011

Atkins, which I did for a while, starts you off at 20 grams of carbs a day for the first couple of weeks or longer. You need to decide what kind of low carb diet you're up for, but 130 grams sounds way too high for you to see much weight loss.

Artemesia's response is great but there are a lot of answers on this thread that are not going to help you start a truly low-carb diet with an induction phase. Plums? Quinoa? Really? You need to get a book about this. My favorite book as a vegetarian is the Rose Elliot Low Carb one, and I recommend it highly even to meat eaters. It explains everything clearly and you can also add meat and fish as well. Or you can go the traditional route and get an Atkins book. But if you try and dive in just off the back of this thread you're in for a world of hurting, and weight gain.
posted by hazyjane at 11:06 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you want a book that compares low carb diet plans, Jonny Bowden's is a good read.
posted by gnomeloaf at 11:26 AM on October 20, 2011

Definitely consider upping intake levels. A big group of us at my Y successfully gained muscle and lost fat when we started eating more healthy stuff. According to the body composition scale, the ones who didn't eat enough really did start burning muscle and storing fat, going in to "starvation mode". So add even more extra veggies and lean protein than you might expect to need - 800 is a big deficit.
posted by ldthomps at 11:51 AM on October 20, 2011

Best answer: So much good advice here! I agree that 130g of carbs is much too high for starting out with low carb. As hazyjane mentioned, Atkins starts you off at 20g to get your body readjusted to not relying on carbs for energy, then you slowly increase until you find the right balance for you. It's a very measured, scientific approach and very effective. I lost 20 pounds and have kept it off for a year and counting. If you check out the support forums on, you'll find many more people that have lost far more than me and kept it off successfully for years.

You asked about the science behind the idea and a shopping list, so here's a book shopping list to get you started:

To better understands why carbs are so unhealthy: If you love the complex, highly researched science-y stuff, read Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories. If you want to get the jist of it without slogging through all the nutritional studies, read Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It.

To learn what eat for an effective low carb lifestyle: Atkins are really the experts when it comes to low carb and they have been researching and refining their program for years. I strongly recommend the latest book The New Atkins for a New You. It's the easiest to follow, best version yet.

To learn how to prepare easy and tasty low carb meals: I really like Dana Carpender's line of books. My two go-to cookbooks are 500 Low-Carb Recipes for the basics and 300 15-Minute Low-Carb Recipes for when I need something quick.
posted by platinum at 11:55 AM on October 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: If you want an endorsement of low-carb/paleo I suppose it'd be worth mentioning that before I started Atkins I weighed 330. Now I'm 195 and have been for over a decade. So, it works, and it lasts if you keep eating properly.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:06 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Carb-restricted diets are typically not calorie-restricted diets because you'll get full before you eat super-high calorie counts. The first couple days are usually higher.

Dietary fat causes satiation, so include lots of it. Eat when you're hungry - don't force yourself to eat when it's "time".

Drink extra water, so definitely eat more salts/electrolytes to prevent headaches.

My go-to list includes:
* String cheese (choose the highest-fat ones you can)
* Pepperoni or pepperoni sticks
* Quest Low-carb protein bars (made of Actual Food!)
* Meats of all kinds for dinners
* Tree nuts (pecans, almonds, cashews)
* Bacon

Crutch foods for transitioning:
* Peanut butter (salty, fatty, and filling)
* Low-carb ice cream (Breyer's)
posted by bookdragoness at 1:02 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding that 800 cals seems like too great of a deficit. You're signalling to your body that it needs to conserve those extra pounds, because you're not providing it with enough food. I'd suggest you listen to Jillian Michael's 5/6/11 podcast on plateaus.

In keeping with the topic... seconding edamame as a delicious low-carb snack! Trader Joe's sells frozen pods for cheap, and they are quick & easy to prepare. Perfect for fighting those salty snack cravings!

Good luck!
posted by peachykeen at 1:05 PM on October 20, 2011

Response by poster: so what's you milk replacement?
posted by Tarumba at 1:41 PM on October 20, 2011

Best answer: How does a complete newbie get started?
If you count calories now just continue to do that except focus more on your macronutrients. I find it a lot easier to focus on the positive - getting enough grams of protein (at least 110 for me), making sure my fat is around 50-60% of my calorie intake, and eating enough servings of green vegetables. After getting my requirements in, I physically don't have the appetite or calorie room for much in terms of carby foods.

and the most important part...What are some must haves on my shopping list?

Well my typical day is:

* Breakfast with eggs, sausage, bacon, steak, avocado (pick 2)
* Lunch around 4pm of a meat and two large veggie sides
* Dinner around 8-9pm of something light, like cottage cheese with berries or roasted zucchini fingers with cheese
* Snacks of string cheese (1-2 a day)
* Lots of coffee

A big breakfast fills me up for most of the day, and by the time dinner comes around I'm just not hungry.

I try to make my meals with 5 ingredients or less. Last night my ingredients were shrimp, spinach, cream cheese, garlic, and coconut oil. This eliminates extra carbs/sugars that hide in every sauce and prepackaged food known to mankind. I experimented with some low carb substitution foods (cauliflower rice or pizza, flax muffins, pancakes), but I don't really like them. I just think the types of foods in this diet are tastiest in their more natural states (chopped, roasted, sauteed).

These are the foods I buy or cook with regularly:
* Spinach
* Green beans
* Zucchini
* Broccoli
* Brussel sprouts
* Bacon
* Eggs
* Steak
* Chicken breasts and thighs
* Pot roast
* String cheese
* Cottage cheese
* Blueberries, grapes, or other small berries
* Almond milk, unsweetened
* Heavy cream
* Avocado
* Coconut oil
* Raw coconut
* Shrimp
* Garlic
* Shallots
* Brie
* Goat Cheese
* Shredded cheddar cheese
* Fresh mozzarella
* Chicken sausages
* Cream cheese
* Lindt 90%+ dark chocolate

They are asking for 130 grams of carbs every day, is this similar to what you have experimented with?

I eat about 30-50 grams of carbs a day.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 1:51 PM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You also may be over-exercising. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but your body responds to stress, and if you're eating super low calories, and exercising really hard, you may be releasing an extreme amount of cortisol into your system, which contributes to muscle loss and fat gain.

I'm the founder of Paleo Plan, and found that managing my cortisol levels, and thus the stresses I was putting on my body had a huge impact. Eating Paleo, moderate but not extreme exercise, lots of rest and lots of sleep has been super impactful in my life.

We also offer personalized coaching if you want a Nutrition Therapist to help walk you through anything.
posted by adrock31 at 2:42 PM on October 20, 2011

Best answer: I started out by reading all the AskMes on the topic, various other web sites and links, and Gary Taubes' book (linked above.) I count net carbs -- total carbs minus fiber -- and my goal at first was to keep it under 25 net carbs per day. I'm more often in the 25-50 gram range these days.

I used Sparkpeople to track my intake (but any decent web site or app will do). I'm more sporadic about the tracking now, but it was extremely helpful at first to get a good sense of where the carbs were. Let go of your calorie goals for this, if you can, and just track carbs.

Other things that have been helpful:
-- doing this with my partner. Shopping and cooking together, and having someone to compare notes with has been key.
-- getting rid of food we couldn't eat. It's just not in the house.
-- remembering to drink lots of water
-- reading up on the science behind it, plus the personal science experiment of learning so much about my body and my metabolism in the process.
-- enjoying the good stuff I can eat -- whole fat Greek yogurt is the bomb! Coconut oil is good stuff.
-- not being hungry. Having snack food around for when I need it. Cheese, nuts, eggs, celery, etc.
-- I read a number of paleo/primal blogs and websites, and find them useful for recipes and other information.

Things that have been challenging:
-- as with any diet, traveling for work, where I'm often not in control of the menu, and have to make sure I'm traveling with enough food I can eat.
-- I eat a mostly vegetarian diet, which limits my food choices even more.

Yes, it has definitely worked for me! I've lost 30 pounds (with 10 more to go) and have learned an enormous amount about my body and my metabolism in the process. One of the things I have learned, to my great annoyance, is that I have a gluten response, and that my body is happier when I don't eat gluten. I think I will likely restrict gluten even when I add more carbs back to my diet.

I don't think I can add much to the shopping lists above. I'm philosophically opposed to things I think of as fake food, so I just don't eat things with sugar substitutes or packaged "low carb" stuff and would rather have a small piece of dark chocolate than a dish of low carb ice cream. Do what works for you, though.
posted by gingerbeer at 3:34 PM on October 20, 2011

Best answer: I have been on a low carb diet since June 2 (~30g of carbs a day, fibre subtracted). I was about 100lbs overweight so I had a lot to lose, but since that day I've lost 45lbs and 5 dress sizes. Needless to say I'm a fan of low carb. :)

There is a lot of great advice in here so far, but a few things: you are going to feel like crap for 8-10 days when you start. You'll have low energy, headache, possibly be jittery. This is natural -- stick it out! Some people say sipping beef broth (for the salt) helps. Your body will switch to using fat as a primary energy source, and you'll feel better.

I make extra food at dinner and take it to work the next day for lunch. Also, figure out some good "emergency" foods for when you are busy/tired/away from home and just don't feel like cooking. Flavored almonds are good to have on hand, as are pepperoni sticks. You can order a chicken caesar salad (sans crutons) almost anywhere. A double quarter pounder, no bun and no ketchup, is good when you're stuck out and about. Sugar-free gum is nice when you're craving something sweet.

Fatty, calorie-dense foods are your friend. Avocados, cream cheese, coconut oil.. these will fill you up with very little volume and meet your caloric requirements. Personally I stay away from a lot of the manufactured low carb foods and try to use this diet as an excuse to eat more unprocessed items. Good luck!
posted by jess at 5:17 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: If anyone is still around here, are you SURE you aim for 25 grams, not 25%?

I have been when trying to modify my settings on caloriecount the following:

"You need at least 120 grams of carbohydrates each day. That is the minimum level needed to cell repair and growth. Consult your doctor before lowering this level."

And then googlin' some, I read that 25% of calories should be cards, which is impossible with 25 grams, cause then I would have to eat 100 grams of food a day!

Can anybody clear this up for me?

I have kind of started today, with eggs, olive oil and tuna, among others. We'll see how it goes!
posted by Tarumba at 5:58 PM on October 20, 2011

Tarumba  I have lost 30 lbs, but the second half of my journey seems to be blocked by a huge plateau that has lasted about a month.

Keep in mind that people on every type of fat loss plan, including low-carb, experience plateaus of this length and longer.

I am a fan of lower-carb eating. I think it's healthier than simple calorie or fat restriction, and a lot of people find it considerably easier to stay full while monitoring carbs. Just realize that your current plateau might benefit from low-carb not because it's a magic bullet but because you might've seen benefits from any kind of dietary shake-up. Also remember that people measure weight because it's an easy number to track, not because it's the healthiest number to track. Focus more on your waist and jeans size. If you want convincing, look at this photo.

Linking to Mark's Daily Apple is an AskMe cliché by now but this post is useful for understanding what some of the lower-carb crowd see as reasonable daily carb levels: The Primal Blueprint Carbohydrate Curve. The exception is at the low end, 0-50 g daily. To some people anything under 50 g daily is very low-carb. To others, like those on early stages of Atkins, 50 g qualifies as moderate-carb, not low-carb. If you're eating more than 200 g daily currently, you might still see some positive results from dropping to 130 g.

Tarumba  Up to now, a balanced diet has worked.

Are you comfortable with coming to see grain-based starches as ornamental fun junk filler, much like a Snickers bar or a pint of beer, and the traditional "balanced diet" as unbalanced? You're going to hear your aunt Edna saying "I just can't ever believe a low-fat bran muffin or a fat-free orange juice banana smoothie would be unhealthy" and "Corn and peas counts as a vegetable."
posted by hat at 6:12 PM on October 20, 2011

Best answer: If anyone is still around here, are you SURE you aim for 25 grams, not 25%?

I have been when trying to modify my settings on caloriecount the following:

"You need at least 120 grams of carbohydrates each day. That is the minimum level needed to cell repair and growth. Consult your doctor before lowering this level."

And then googlin' some, I read that 25% of calories should be cards, which is impossible with 25 grams, cause then I would have to eat 100 grams of food a day!

Yes. 30-50 grams of carbs in my diet, which comes out to about 5-10% of my calories. Comparing counts among people is weird because some people don't count fiber that's not digested and others don't count sugar alcohols.

A lot of people (like me) follow a somewhat ketogenic diet. If you google that you will get more information about that particular level of low carb that burns fat as fuel.

You do not need 120 grams of carbohydrates. Caloriecount and other sites will say what the USDA recommendation is - and the USDA is not at all low carb (not enough protein in their recommendations, demonizes all fats, recommends lots of whole wheat and dairy products despite common intolerances and allergies). You'll find low carb is more of an underdog type of diet - there's lots of medical literature on it, but it still hasn't gained much traction with public health organizations. The main exception, of course, is it's use in the treatment of diabetes.

If it worries you, then transition slowly. Figure out how many carbs you normally eat and just cut it in half and focus on getting your remaining carbs from healthy plant sources. You may find positive results from just that. I don't really buy the Atkin's method of unsustainable sudden shock to the system, but only you'll know how well you'll stick with 'induction periods' and extreme restrictions.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 7:26 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Tarumba  If anyone is still around here, are you SURE you aim for 25 grams, not 25%?

Definitely grams, not %.

The average person does metabolize somewhere around 100-200 g of glucose (blood sugar, a simple carbohydrate) daily. However, that number isn't set in stone, and it's certainly not true that you have to eat 100-200 g of carbohydrate daily.

The short explanation is that the human body is quite capable of getting its energy for cellular maintenance from fat itself, ketones made from fat by the liver, and glucose made from protein by the liver and kidneys.

A slightly longer explanation is here and an even longer explanation is here.

However, it takes a little time for your body to adapt to new eating habits and learn to start relying on fat and protein conversion for most of its energy. Carb-lovers trying low-carb eating for the first time often feel worn out and fuzzy the first week. Strenuous exercise can also be more difficult when you're first starting low-carb until your body adapts.

Because low-carb isn't as simple as believing in "calories in < calories out," you are going to want to find a decent low-carb book or at least peruse the most active forums/websites so that you can ask about the basics and get book recommendations. Try Low Carb Friends, Active Low-Carber Forums, or Primal Blueprint 101 if a paleo/primal approach appeals to you.
posted by hat at 7:37 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just adding in yes, 25-50 grams of carbs per day is my target range as well. Looking at percentages, I tend to get about 5-10% of my calories per day from carbs, 70-75% from fat and the rest from protein. Do not be afraid of fat - fat is your friend! It will help you feel more satisfied and provide fuel for your body without raising your blood sugar or insulin. Folks that complain of feeling hungry on a low carb diet are usually trying to eat low fat at the same time, which leaves your body with very little to burn and limited options to choose from for meals.

Oh, and with regards to milk, use half and half or even better, heavy cream. It's delicious in coffee and I've even gotten used to it in my tea. Since you're no longer eating cereal, milk isn't really necessary for anything else. You'll be getting plenty of calcium from vegetable sources, cheese and cream, so don't worry about that!
posted by platinum at 10:16 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was slightly overweight, wanted to have a normal BMI. Watched a YouTube video: Google "sugar poison lustig". Eliminated all sweet beverages - particularly my big glass of juice every morning. That's it. Succeeded. Now hitting the thrift shops for smaller-waisted trousers.
posted by RichardS at 6:59 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes, that's grams of carbs, not percents.

Depending on how deep you want to go with the science, you can fall pretty far down this particular rabbit hole, where it turns out that everything you've been taught isn't actually true, and the government's lying about what is good for you, and you start getting in arguments with friends about how "calories in, calories out" is bullshit. Reading Taubes and Pollan is a good start if you want to join us carb conspiracy nuts.
posted by gingerbeer at 6:47 PM on October 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

I lost 80 pounds on a low-carb diet. I now maintain constistently within a 3-pound range, and have easily for years.

I rarely eat more than 50 grams of carbohydrate in a day, even now. There are just so many more delicious things to eat. Despite what the "experts" say, you can live quite happily forever on few carbs. Your body can make any carbs it may need from protein, and many parts of the body run even better on fat than on carbs.

No need to limit saturated fat or cholesterol -- those are both dietary myths. They provide essential building blocks to the body.

Before I started eating low-carb, I got a bunch of books from the library. This was back in 2003, and the options at the time were Atkins, Protein Power, and Carbohydrate Addict's Diet. The science made sense in a way that low-fat never did. Nowadays, there's a fresh new Atkins book, as well as Taubes' "How We Get Fat". I'd also reccomend the brand new "Wheat Belly" from Dr. William Davis.
posted by themissy at 10:25 AM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

This video on Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) led me to a series of inquiries around low carb eating. I'm not that overweight, but things are not directionally optimistic so I' looking into new approaches.
posted by jbradley at 5:08 PM on October 22, 2011

Response by poster: thanks everyone for the wonderful tips. I have gone ahead and bought a bunch of stuff, plus requested some good books from the local library. Will give this a try and see if I can make it to my goal!
posted by Tarumba at 10:22 PM on October 24, 2011

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