Beginning a new diet is an adventure. Beginning anything new can be exciting and absorbing, but it does take preparation. Whether you are taking a trip, starting a new exercise program or starting a new diet, you need to learn all you can before you begin. Beginning a low-carbohydrate diet requires the same kind of thoughtful planning.
Read before you start
Are you convinced that a low-carb diet is the right diet for you? If not, you may want to explore the origins of the diet before you begin. The most comprehensive literature review on low-carb diets was written by Gary Taubes. Published in 2007, Good Calories, Bad Calories is a monumental work covering the research and politics behind the prescribed American diet. Newer books, also based on thorough literature reviews are: Nina Teicholz, The Big Fat Surprise, in 2014, and Zoe Harcombe’s books especially The Obesity Epidemic, What caused it? How can we stop it? 2015.
The first decision you need to make is which low-carb diet is right for you. Not all low-carb diets are the same, so it’s best to learn as much as you can before you begin. There are many books on low-carb dieting from which to choose. A good place to start is Jonny Bowden’s book Living the Low Carb Life (Sterling, 2004). Bowden reviewed the best known, best advertised low-carb books on the market. Not only does he give an overview of each program, he also reviews the science base for the diet. He then gives his opinion on which diets are worth exploring further and which are junk. If your local library does not have a copy, you can find one on amazon.com. Another source for decision making, is the on-line discussion forum called Active Low-Carber Forums. This forum welcomes people who have questions about all low-carb diets.
After looking over the diets, choose one or two you think you can follow. Whichever diet program you choose, the author will have written at least one book and will also have a web-site that expands upon the book and answers questions that readers have asked. If your local library does not carry the book, try to find a copy of the book to read. Look over the website. Does the author read and report on the latest research on low-carbohydrate diets? Does the author have an open forum for those trying to follow the program or only provide a question/answer?
If the author has more than one book on the diet, read them all. Start with the first one published and read all subsequent books. If the author keeps up with the research, the new books will contain that new material. Usually, the first book is not repeated in subsequent books. Based on new facts, the authors will have re-thought some suggestions and added others.
Buy the book that most appeals to you. Not only should you read it from cover to cover, you will need it as a continuing reference as you follow the plan.
Clear out your pantry
There is nothing worse for a low-carb dieter than to have a large supply of high carbohydrate foods in the house. Your first Herculean task is to get rid of it all. Whether it’s canned, in a box, frozen or fresh, high carbohydrate foods have to go. You can either donate them to the local Food Bank or have a large party and eat it all at once.
Getting rid of undesirables is critical to staying on track. Your will power is constantly challenged when you see carbohydrates in the pantry or freezer. If many carbohydrates are not good for your health, they are probably not good for your family’s health either. Clearing out your pantry notifies everyone that healthy eating is in the future.
Plan your grocery list
Learning what to eat on a low-carb diet is critically important to the success of the diet. Each low-carb book will contain recipes, menus and food lists to eat or avoid. Based upon the menus and food lists that appeal to you, you now need to make up a new grocery list to re-stock your pantry, freezer and refrigerator. Planning a grocery list for your new diet will make the difference between success and failure.
Don’t forget to take your list with you when you go to the grocery store or you will make poor choices. Remember, also, to shop when you are not hungry, as temptation is greatest when you smell the bakery goods fresh from the oven. Not only should you have a list of basic foodstuffs, you should also have a list of basic daily supplements. For many first time low-carb dieters, a supply of low-carb snack foods or meal replacement bars is also helpful. You may not find them at your local grocery store. Some purchases may come from specialty nutrition stores.
See your doctor
If you are on any kind of prescribed medication for any health problem, you need to forewarn your physician of what you are about to do. If you can, get a physical exam and have all the usual laboratory tests. This provides you and your physician with baseline data on your current state of health. If your physician does not believe in the low-carbohydrate diet, and many do not, having this data against which to evaluate your progress will help to alleviate fears for your health.
Starting your new diet
You are now ready to begin your low-carbohydrate diet. Don’t wait until Monday. Start tomorrow with breakfast. If you have done all the necessary pre-planning, you will have the foods you need to prepare all meals and snacks for the day.
The hardest part of beginning a low-carbohydrate diet is the food choices. If you are clever, you will have written down your menus for the first day including your snacks. This way, making food choices simply requires following your own created plan. The worst part is over. Follow your plan; do not deviate even a little bit. Whenever you start tinkering with the basic plan, you are setting yourself up for future failure.
Drink plenty of water
You have heard this one before. You may not realize why drinking water is helpful on a low-carbohydrate diet. A low-carbohydrate diet is diuretic. You will make many trips to the bathroom. You need to replace that lost fluid or you may experience dizziness and faintness from dehydration. It’s also the reason for the huge initial weight loss when beginning any new diet. You are simply losing fluid.
This fluid loss also means your body will be eliminating many necessary nutrients. Your diet book will have specified the vitamins and mineral supplements you need to replace the ones lost.
Keep a record
Whether you prefer the paper and pencil method or computer programs, my favorite is Diet Power, keeping track of exactly what you have eaten every day is critically important to your success. Not only can you see just how many carbohydrates you have eaten you can also track your body measurements and weight loss. If you are not losing weight, you may be exceeding your carbohydrate allowance or your calories are much too high. Keeping track honestly is the best way to manage a new diet.
A word of caution
Low-carbohydrate dieting creates a change in your metabolic processes. You are converting your body from using incoming carbohydrates for energy to digging into your fat stores. (This is, after all, the whole point of the diet). Because of this shift, you cannot go back to eating as much carbohydrate as you want to eat without an immediate weight gain. For this reason, most low-carbohydrate diet books advocate only small incremental carbohydrate additions to prevent this rebound effect.
If you have decided to try the low-carbohydrate diet, good luck and good eating.