Is a Low-Carb Diet Sustainable for the Rest of Your Life?

White water river rafting
Is a low-carb diet sustainable for you?
Dr. Phinney, the author of the Nutritional Ketosis plan
has very different ideas about sustainability
than Dr. Atkins did.

In 2012, I received a friendly comment from a reader who thought I was doing low carb wrong.

Since I was in the midst of discovering my sweet-spot for weight loss, he suggested that the lack of success I was having on a high-fat diet was probably due to my inability to stay with one particular low-carb diet plan long enough to reap results. 

The advice I received from him was this:

Go on a low-carb, high-fat diet (LCHF) and give it six months or more to work before analyzing.

This was similar to the advice I received from the zero-carb folks a few years ago. Despite the fact that I had gained about 20 pounds in only a few weeks and was experiencing abnormally high blood glucose levels, they told me to:
  • eat only beef
  • drink only water
  • wait six months before reviewing the results
The zero-carb forum participants didn't seem to care about the neuropathy that had come raging back once I'd completely removed carbohydrates from my diet. They were sure that their way was the only way to get the weight off for good

I can see the wisdom in sticking to one particular plan for a certain stretch of time, before analyzing, but at this point in my weight loss journey, I had been doing low carb for 5 years.

How much longer did I have to wait before analyzing?

Pinterest Image: Older Couple Walking their Dog

Take Responsibility for Your Own Health

Correcting metabolic issues isn't always as easy as just lowering your carbohydrate level and calling it good. For example, I juggle several health conditions:
  • vertigo (vestibular dysfunction or Meniere's Disease)
  • celiac disease
  • multiple chemical sensitivity
  • Graves' Disease (hyperthyroidism)
  • neuropathy
  • pre-diabetes
Plus, more.

So my problems with sustainability are more complex than simply going back onto a very low-carb, high-fat diet, ignoring the physical consequences, and giving the plan six months to work -- no matter how much weight I regain.

For those with autoimmune thyroid disease, that type of advice is dangerous.

LCHF diets trigger my thyroid to overreact. This creates too much Free T3, which causes my heart to race, as well as puts me in starvation mode. Everything races through digestion too quickly to be properly absorbed.

Granted, my health started to deteriorate long before I received the hyperthyroidism diagnosis, due to undiagnosed celiac disease most likely, but this doesn’t mean that a very low-carb diet (20-net carbs, or less) won't be sustainable long-term for you. 

For many people, low-carb diets are the best choice out there.

But a LCHF diet is not sustainable for me. And it's not sustainable for a lot of our readers. I'm not the only one who gains weight eating a low-carb high-fat diet. I've heard from many readers who do better on a lower fat, low-carb diet.

Due to my health conditions, I need to eat quite a few more carbs than 20 per day and quite a bit less fat than a typical low-carb diet to keep my thyroid purring happily.

When I first wrote this post, I didn't know what those levels were. I was simply in the process of doing several personal experiments on myself.

I do not subscribe to the common low-carb belief that everyone needs to follow a low-carb diet, even the kids. This is not what Dr. Atkins taught, nor did with his personal patients. It is definitely not what he stood for. The Atkins Diet has always recommended a personalized approach to weight loss.

Don't Give Up on Low Carb Too Soon

On the other hand, I totally agree that diet hopping isn’t beneficial. I used to watch several people over at Low Carb Friends do that back when the Kimkins diet was popular over there.

If they went a single week without losing weight, they would switch something up.

This constant tweaking was one of the non-beneficial things that surfaced regarding Kimkins: that weight loss needs to be consistently fast and linear.

The body can only mobilize a certain amount of fat per day, and anything more than that is likely to be coming from muscle.

Woman flexing her muscles
If you're losing more than 2 or 3 pounds per week,
you're most likely burning muscle instead of body fat!

The less muscle you have when you reach goal weight, the fewer carbohydrates you’ll be able to eat because your ability to store glycogen depends on how much muscle tissue you have. The liver can only hold about 80 carbs worth of glycogen, so most of your carbohydrate stores are actually found in your muscles.

In addition, you don’t solve a lifetime weight problem by going on a low-carb diet (or any diet for that matter) and then come back off the diet haphazardly.

One of the things that Dr. Atkins repeatedly stressed when he was still alive was that losing the weight wasn’t the objective. 

The goal of a low-carb diet is sustainability: keeping the weight off for the rest of your life is the aim you're shooting for.

If you can’t do that with some modified version of the diet you’re using to lose the weight, then over the long-term, you won’t be very successful.

This is what I have learned from the various dieting experiments I have run on myself. I learned what worked for me and what didn’t. I learned how my body responded to:
  • different levels of carbohydrate content
  • different carbohydrate restrictions
  • simple calorie counting
I learned what a very low-calorie diet does to me mentally, emotionally and physically. I also learned what a very low-carb, high-fat diet does to me.

These are not lessons I regret.

Steven Phinney's Viewpoint on Sustainability

I watched an interesting video.

It was an interview with Dr. Phinney, one of the major players in the low-carb community and the real author of the LCHF Diet called Nutritional Ketosis.  He was involved in writing one of the Atkins Diet books, A New Atkins for a New You, as well as his popular Nutritional Ketosis books.

His viewpoint on sustainability differed greatly from Dr. Atkins as to the practicality of being in the state of ketosis long-term.

His interest is centered on how people adapt to a low-carb diet over time.

He believes you should stay in ketosis at maintenance rather than return to a moderate-carb diet like Dr. Atkins advised. The basis for this belief was the experiments he conducted on himself over the past few years.

He moved in-and-out of several low-carb diets and eventually settled on the one he discovered that he could live with for the rest of his life.

Dr. Phinney did not just pick a plan and stick with it.

He experimented on himself the same way I did.

He discovered that his body runs great on a low-carb, high-fat diet. He eats about 15 percent of his calories from protein, 5 percent from carbs, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 percent fat on maintenance.

This is what works best for him.

He also believes that sustainability is more complex than simply restricting carbohydrates. 

How to Determine Low-Carb Sustainability for Yourself

There are many people who receive a surge of energy from restricting carbohydrates. Their:
  • hunger goes down
  • sense of well-being goes up
  • metabolic markers improve
  • health issues reverse themselves, or at least get better
These people typically have insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome and not too much excess body weight that their metabolism adjusts to their LCHF diet before they reach goal weight.

For them, a low-carb diet works beautifully.

It’s corrective and sustainable, especially if you enjoy the food choices and don’t have too many food intolerances that interfere with what you can eat.

On the other hand:

If you are insulin sensitive you might find that a low-carb diet makes you feel terrible. There’s:
  • no energy surge
  • you’re hungry and tired all of the time
  • your body consistently tries to sabotage your diet
I’m not talking about mind tricks or emotional eating for comfort. I’m talking about:
  • hormonal crashes that occur fairly quickly
  • uncontrollable gluconeogenesis
  • an inability to control your blood glucose level
  • your thyroid crashing or racing
  • your metabolism slowing down to a crawl
  • blood cholesterol getting worse
And other physical problems that might affect the quality of your life and your sense of well-being.

Low Carb Not Sustainable for Everyone

The cold, hard fact? A low-carb diet is not sustainable for everyone. 

For many individuals, a low-calorie diet that is slightly higher in carbs works better.

Sustainability depends on your individual metabolic issues and what you need to personally eat to keep your body functioning at its best. This is one of the reasons why the Atkins Nutritional Approach is now divided into three different plans:
  1. Atkins 20
  2. Atkins 40
  3. Atkins 100 
It's also why the ANA has strict regulations that must be followed in order to remain at 20-net carbs for an extensive length of time. A very-low carb diet (20-net carbs, or less) is not safe for everyone.


  1. You sound like a hot mess- why not just kill yourself

  2. Thanks for sharing your viewpoint. I appreciate you stopping by, but I'm not following your reasoning. I have a lot more dietary choices than just 20-net carbs or nothing.


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