So… why go low-carb?

bacon

When I mention that I don’t eat carbs to people, I usually get one of a variety of reactions:

  • They just stare in disbelief while they work out what that means
  • they scrunch their faces up at the thought of not being able to eat chocolate or toast
  • they laugh
  • they try to explain to me that it’s extremely damaging to my health, or
  • they field some genuine questions about it

I’m not going to kid anyone – going low-carb sucks, and it’s hard to stick to for a variety of reasons. But it’s also very, very good for you for even more reasons. I’m going to try and explain some of them here.

Why you should consider it

2 million years of human evolution, that’s why!

That’s not enough for you? Ok, how about this:

  • It’s a powerful tool for losing weight. Those “fat burning” sessions you’re putting in at the gym without any real results? If you’re still eating carbs, you can forget it. Thanks to the carbohydrates elevating your insulin levels and preventing your fat stores from being accessed, there’s nothing that the gym can do to help.
  • If you have been told to reduce your saturated fat intake to help prevent cardiovascular disease, you should know that it’s total bullshit. Carbohydrates and insulin levels do a good job at increasing the risk of inflammation in your arteries and, along with an increased LDL and Triglyceride count, put you at risk of CVD. Good saturated fats help reverse this process
  • Eating carbohydrates on a regular basis will, over time, make you increasingly resistant to insulin, slowly turning you into a Type 2 diabetic. This means that you can no longer produce enough insulin the glucose in your blood, which will instead poison you.
  • It just doesn’t fit in with human evolution. If you compress the timeline of human evolution into an hour, we’ve only been eating carbohydrates and wheat for the last 5 minutes! We were never designed to eat them in the quantities that we do today, and we still haven’t evolved to process them correctly. How is it that we could have survived for 2 million years before agriculture came along? Could it be that we don’t actually need carbs? Of course we don’t.

Personally, I cut out carbs initially so that I could lose weight, as nothing else was working. As I read more into the science behind it, it became much more apparent that there’s much more to it. As it turns out I had some great success with my weight loss attempt at this time, losing nearly 15kg in just a few months without any real changes to my exercise habits.

so Why wouldn’t you do it?!

Low-carb is not for everyone. Cutting out carbohydrates from your diet means that you can’t eat a lot of stuff that you’re used to. Chocolate, cakes, breads, dairy like semi-skimmed milk or cottage cheese, a lot of fruit, too many vegetables, pasta, rice, most packaged sauces, ready-meals, fast food…

No bread? That’s right, gone are your lunchtime sandwiches. No semi-skimmed milk? Nope! No more milky tea. Bread is convenient because it’s so easy just to throw together a sandwich for lunch, or just go to the supermarket or Subway to buy one.

That’s the hardest thing about getting rid of the carbohydrates – convenience. You have to plan a bit more ahead and spend a little more time in the kitchen preparing something. Most things you can buy quickly and easily, save for salads, will contain carbohydrates of some sort and should be avoided.

I am in the fortunate position that, as a single male without any dependants, I can just cook for myself and stock my cupboards with whatever foods I want without worrying about someone else, if they would happen to eat carbs. If you have a family, or someone who isn’t sold on the idea of ridding carbs from their diet, then it can make this that bit more difficult to stick to.

The problem with any nutrition advise concerning weight loss is that there are so many fad diets out there that are mostly such bullshit that most people can see them for what they are, yet try them out anyway as they just might work for them. Not having any carbs after 4pm? Bullshit. It doesn’t matter when you eat them, 4pm or 11pm, they’re still carbs. This may actually help you lose weight, only because it may cause you to eat less carbs daily, not because you stop eating them when Countdown comes on the telly.

At the end of the day, it is a lifestyle change which could be quite drastic. But, if you really want the change, you will take the necessary steps. If being able to eat cake and the breads and pasta that you’re used to is more important to you, then that’s also your choice!

Why I chose a low-carb diet

Why did I choose a low-carb diet instead of any of the other diets out there? Mainly because this one has real science behind it that makes total sense. It’s pretty simple – eat carbs, and your blood sugar spikes, releasing a dose of insulin which stores fat and prevents it being used as an energy source. Don’t eat carbs, and your blood sugar doesn’t spike, allowing the body access to your fat stores for energy.

So where should you get your energy from? Natural fats, like from animal meat, butter, cream, olive oil and suchlike. What? Your mum told you they’re bad for you? Bullshit. They save your life, and they taste pretty awesome. Furthermore, since you’re no longer eating carbs, the fat you’re eating isn’t stored and is instead used for energy. That fat you see on bacon and on a nice juicy bit of steak that you cut off every time because you don’t want to get fat? It’s helping prevent disease and reducing your cholesterol. So eat it!

Huh? Saturated fat gives you heart disease? No, it doesn’t give you heart disease. Saturated fat has been shown to help clean up bad cholesterol (Triglycerides and type-2 LDLs) and reducing your overall cholesterol. Where does bad cholesterol come from? Carbohydrates. Triglycerides are what fat is packaged into under the effects of insulin when they are being transported around for storage. The increased count increases the “traffic” in your arteries, causing collisions with the artery walls, inflaming them, producing cracks and a build-up of plaque which will eventually cause CVD.

In light of this, I chose to make certain changes in my diet which would allow me to get my weight on track, so I specifically stuck to the guidelines behind a ketogenic diet. That is, restricting my carbohydrate intake to less than 25g per day, an intake of protein of around 100g (no-one should skimp on their protein!) and a total fat intake of around 180g per day.

Other than cutting out bread, wheats and pasta, some specific changes I made:

  • I was an avid tea drinker (milk with half a sugar) – I swapped this for coffee with single cream and a stevia sweetener (or double cream, depending on what I have handy)
  • I steered clear of low-fat products and always went for the full-fat versions. Mayonnaise, greek yoghurt, etc
  • Made sure most of my 25g of carbs were from green vegetables
  • Cut out fruit temporarily
  • Swapped margarine for butter
  • Introduced more meats with fat (bacon, pork, mince, steaks, etc), fish and cheese

The result is that I lost nearly 15kg on that alone. I was walking around 15 miles per week to and from work, but that has been a constant for the last couple of years, diet or no diet. I didn’t step into a gym in that period (I hate them and how much money they cost). Additionally, I found I had more energy, I was sleeping much better and I really did feel great when I was able to buy smaller clothes that fit me much better; it was immensely empowering.

Conversely, over the last year I had put most of that weight back on simply because I began to reintroduce the carbs and step back into my old habits, again without any real change to my exercise habits. They do say that weight loss is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise, and you should believe it.

Don’t take my word for it..

I realise that this blog post hasn’t been backed up by any real sources or references to scientific study or suchlike, but is instead a brain dump of all the stuff I’ve read over the last year or so, and what worked for me. It’s definitely not as simple as I present here. The problem is that nobody actually knows the real truth, but the evidence is certainly mounting against carbohydrates and people are starting to wake up. The fact that as a species we have survived without them for long enough, was enough to convince me.

The most important thing I’m trying to convey to people, is that all of this information is available in various communities, books and videos, and I encourage you to go and discover for yourself whether or not Keto, or Paleo, or just going low-carb is right for you or not.

Here’s some things you can go check out if you want to get more information and actual “proof” that this is the right thing to do:

If you only do one thing..

Finally, if you forget about all of those links and only do one thing, then watch the Fat Head movie. My brother turned me on to it at the start, and ultimately ended up convincing me to give it a go. It explains everything I’ve talked about here in more detail, but in a humorous and light-hearted way. Please watch it. Then you can decide whether or not this is right for you. Settle down though, it’s nearly 2 hours long.

Here, I’ll link it for you:

Over the next few blog posts I’m going to try and expand on the topics I talk about above, as well as throw a few good recipes in there for stuff you can eat that tastes delicious and contain very little carbs!

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So… why go low-carb?