Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Building a Strong Foundation for a Low-Carb Lifestyle

There’s a thread over at Low-Carb Friends specifically devoted to those who have decided to return to a low-carb diet. It isn’t really about anything. It’s just a place to announce your intention of trying again. In a way, it’s a spot where you can declare your New Year’s Resolution to return home to where you know you belong. To return home to where you know you can shed the weight you’ve regained over the past few months or years.

The problem is that achieving success with a low-carb or moderate-carb diet often takes more than just a choice to return to carbohydrate restriction. Only a strong nutritional foundation can convert a low-carb diet into a lifestyle. Yet, most of these individuals have returned wearing their dieting mindset on their sleeve.
  • They believe that this time things will be different.
  • This time they will do better.
  • This time they won’t stray.

If that’s your attitude as well, you might want to reconsider what you’re doing, and why.

Weight Loss Success as Taught by the Low-Carb Community

Within the low-carb community, you’ll find a large variety of ideas about what does or does not result in weight-loss success. You’ll be told to:
  • get rid of your fear of saturated fats
  • lower your carbohydrates
  • up your fat percentage of calories
  • don’t eat too much protein
  • pick a specific low-carb diet plan
  • follow your chosen plan exactly
  • suck it up and just endure the Atkins’ flu
  • ignore your cravings for carbohydrates
  • drink gallons of water per day
  • and just believe…

It’s not very reassuring. Why? Because you’re expected to reach your weight-loss goal by using willpower, determination, a self-improvement format, and above all – low-carb magick.

Nutrition, if it’s even discussed at all, is only briefly addressed in terms of insulin resistance, the state of ketosis, or the familiar low-carb mantra that says to “do this for your health, not the weight loss.” The reality is that the nutritional aspects of diet are placed on the back burner, while fat loss and dieting itself consumes the major focus of your efforts.

You should do Atkins, Protein Power, Nutritional Ketosis, or whatever the current low- or moderate-carb fad diet is of the day, and nutrition will simply take care of itself.

But is that true?

Building a Strong Nutritional Foundation is the Only Way

Can you truthfully give your body everything it needs to heal by simply focusing on carbohydrate restriction, upping your dietary fats by percentage, and/or counting your calories?

Probably not…not if the amount of people returning to a low-carb lifestyle every January is any indication of what works, and what doesn’t.

Obviously, those who feel compelled to return to a low-carb diet didn’t turn it into a lifestyle. They simply milked their dieting mindset. They ignored the suggestion or mantra to use solid nutritional principles for the foundation of their low-carb lifestyle, and attempted to do things in accordance with the conventional low-carb wisdom of the day.

That type of behavior almost always ends in failure because losing the weight isn’t the hard part. Most diets as written work, including low-calorie diets, if you follow them faithfully. The hard part is maintaining those losses. Maintenance is when the real work begins.

Keep Both Your On-Plan and Off-Plan Treats Occasional

The dieting mindset tells you that you are either “on” or “off” of a diet. It tells you that the restriction is only temporary. It tells you that you can return some of your favorite carby foods to your diet once you’ve reached your weight-loss goals. While some of that might be true, the phrase “occasional treat” is where a lot of folks trip and fall.

What does occasional mean? To me, it means:
  • holidays
  • my birthday or my husband’s birthday
  • our wedding anniversary
  • or going out to dinner

To clarify going out, we don’t go out very often – maybe once or twice a year – because we are gluten-free and the only place I’ve been able to eat at safely (with my own personal degree of gluten sensitivity) has been P.F. Chang’s. And the closest one is an hour-and-a-half away.

So the first thing to accept is that occasional treats or occasionally eating higher carbs, higher dietary fats, and/or higher calories than your normal, every-day diet (on or off plan) doesn’t mean every other day, or even every weekend. It means rarely.

So commit to doing that. Root that idea in your mind from Day 1, and half of your weight-loss battles will have already been won. You aren’t telling yourself “never,” so there’s no reason to feel deprived. You’re saving those things for very special occasions. In fact, that will keep those occasions special and give you something to look forward to.

How to Beef Up For Chances for Weight-Loss Success

The best way to beef up your chances for a successful low-carb or moderate-carb lifestyle is to firmly plant your diet on top of a solid nutritional foundation. Your body cannot heal from insulin resistance or repair any internal damage done from the years of making poor nutritional choices (or celiac disease as in my own situation) unless you give it nutrient-dense foods. That means that “on” or “off” of Atkins, Protein Power, Nutritional Ketosis, or whatever you’re doing, you still eat only whole foods and you still eat an abundance of vegetables.

That’s essential.

Why? Because the best way to achieve a successful low-carb lifestyle is to begin with a diet that’s closely related to what you will continue to eat throughout maintenance.

That doesn’t mean that the Atkins’ carb ladder doesn’t have its benefits. But once you find your carbohydrate, fat, and calorie tolerances, that is when you begin to create a way of eating that you will use for the rest of your life. Don’t wait until you reach the pre-maintenance phase. Start today. Because if you don’t, you might never reach the pre-maintenance phase, let alone maintenance.

The idea behind a low-carb or moderate-carb diet is to heal your insulin resistance. Once you do that, you cannot return to the way you ate before or you’ll simply get the same results you got then. Your insulin resistance will return and so will the pounds. The only way to secure a successful future is to start building a strong foundation for your low-carb lifestyle from the very beginning of your diet.

What Can I Do?

Seek out recipes you can live with for the rest of your life. Learn how to incorporate an abundance of vegetables and whole foods into your meals. Don’t depend on processed products or low-carb junk foods to sustain you. That doesn’t mean a low-carb tortilla or low-carb flatbread sandwich is bad and can’t become part of your regular diet. But it does mean that you need to sincerely think about everything you are putting into your mouth.

The low-carb community as a whole has some weird ideas about what is or isn’t acceptable within the parameters of a low-carb diet. Many tag sweet potatoes, oranges, carrots, and peas as evil, yet see nothing wrong with putting gobs of butter on their food, drinking coconut oil in their coffee, or eating a brick of cream cheese or an entire bar of dark chocolate in the afternoon.

The truth is, it isn’t enough to just control the carb count. It isn’t enough to simply up your fats and lower your protein. None of that guarantees that you are fulfilling your nutritional needs. None of that guarantees that you are giving your body the nutrients it needs to heal and keep your hunger and cravings at bay.

The only thing that can make a low-carb diet a healthy lifestyle is to incorporate an abundance of nutrient-dense foods.

That means eating:
  •  fresh meats
  • whole eggs
  • dairy products (if you can tolerate them)
  • plenty of fresh vegetables and salads
  • low-glycemic fruits such as berries
  • nuts
  • and healthy fats

But using healthy fats doesn’t mean to drink heavy cream out of the bottle or to eat grass-fed butter or organic coconut oil right off the spoon. That isn’t sustainable, and it isn’t healthy.

What is healthy is to give your body a wide assortment of proteins, vitamins, minerals, and live enzymes. Only then will you be able to actually achieve and maintain your weight-loss goals. When you begin your low-carb diet with a strong nutritional foundation and nurture that nutritional foundation throughout your weight loss phase, you set yourself up for a lasting, healthy weight loss.

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