10 Invaluable Low-Carb Tips for Newbies

Chicken Wings, roasted and glazed
Unlike a traditional low-calorie diet,
low-Carb diets are higher in dietary fats.

When you're new to carbohydrate restriction, the low-carb world can be a confusing place. There are major differences between low-calorie and low-carb diets.

To help you ground yourself in this new approach to eating, in this post, I'm going to walk you through my top 10 tips to help you navigate the dramatic lifestyle changes.

If you are new to the whole low carb thing, but not necessarily new to dieting, you are actually in a better place than most beginners.

The major difference between low carb and low-calorie plans is the amount of dietary fat you eat, so if you've restricted fats in the past, you'll be grateful that you don't have to live on skinless chicken breast and plain vegetables for the rest of your life.

You actually get to eat the skin on your chicken and put real butter on your vegetables.

A low-carb lifestyle comes with health benefits that can also be valuable, such as:
  • balanced blood glucose levels
  • lower triglycerides
  • and improved insulin sensitivity
Restricting carbs helps reduce your hunger and cravings for nutrient-depleted foods. This makes dieting simpler and easier to stick with long term.

Newbies can also expect to go through some dramatic changes the first month. A bit of tiredness or sugar cravings is normal, but quickly passes once you enter into the state of ketosis.

Eating tuna salad with extra mayonnaise makes the transition smoother, but I honestly don't know why it works. It just does.

To be effective, dietary changes must be permanent.

If you treat low carb like just another diet, you're more likely to fail. To help you succeed, I've put together 10 of my most invaluable tips and tricks that I've learned over the years. They will help you plant your feet firmly on the road to weight loss and give you a better head start to living the low-carb way.

Low-Carb Tip #1: Ditch Your Weight-Loss Expectations

If you go into your new low-carb plan with a set idea regarding how much weight you are going to lose each week, you'll make yourself miserable.

Although low-carb diets are sometimes presented as being a quick-and-easy solution to overweight and obesity, in my experience, they honestly do not work faster than other diets. 

Patience is required and you still have to make your food choices permanent or you won't hang onto your fat losses.

Thin Woman Running Out Ahead of Everyone Else
Very few people lose weight quickly on low carb.
Most people lose weight slowly.

If you get fed up with the speed at which the weight is coming off and go back to your old food habits, you'll return to the weight your old diet supported.

This is key.

How you ate and lived before is what packed on the pounds, so even if low carb isn't right for you, you'll need to find a plan that enables you to weigh what you want.

What makes a low-carb program different?

It's specifically designed to burn body fat, but you won't necessarily do that faster than those eating a standard low-calorie diet. This is because low-calorie dieters often lose muscle tissue along with the fat, depending on how the diet is designed, and low-carb diets are muscle sparing when followed correctly.

Weight comes off slower, but more of the weight you lose is body fat.

Everyone doesn't lose weight fast on low carb. In fact, very few individuals do. And of those who do lose quickly, they are the exception, and not the rule.

Pinterest Image: Turtle Racing Toward an Ideal-Weight Ribbon Prize

Likewise, the heavy losses you see during the first few days of carbohydrate restriction are not body fat. These losses come from:
  • glycogen, the body's form of carbohydrate storage
  • water needed to process the glycogen
  • junk proteins (older protein structures that need to be replaced)
  • and muscle tissue (if you don't eat enough protein)
Expectations about how fast you think you should be losing weight are almost never accurate. Ideal situations are rare. Your:
  • health condition
  • degree of insulin resistance
  • age
  • height
  • bone structure
  • prior dieting experience
  • current medications
And a number of other factors all contribute to how fast the weight comes off. Body fat mobilization is limited. You won't lose weight in a linear fashion, and you won't lose weight every single week. The average weight loss on a low-carb diet is:

1 to 2 pounds per week

Older Woman Looking Through Binaculars
Older women can expect to lose about 1/2 pound
of body fat per week.

Older women often only see losses of half a pound, or so, but cutting down on your fat intake or eliminating foods you're particularly sensitive to can help speed things up a bit.

Sometimes, slow weight loss has to do with eating too many calories, and sometimes, slow weight loss has to do with insulin resistance. Medications and health conditions like autoimmune diseases can also affect the rate at which the fat comes off. Yeast overgrowth or food sensitivities can stop it completely.

While some of these conditions can be fixed, getting the scales to move will take a bit of time. You'll experience far less newbie anxiety and frustration if you allow your body to make the transformation.

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Low-Carb Tip #2: Stick to Your Low-Carb Plan for 8 to 12 Weeks Before Tweaking

Low-carb diets do not work like low-calorie diets. Low carb uses an entirely different metabolic pathway.

For that reason, it's not wise to chase solutions for quicker fat loss until you've given your body time to adjust to this alternative method.

There are many steps and adaptions your body has to make to get from burning predominantly glucose to being proficient at burning fatty acids.

A lack of proficiency in burning fat won't make the process go quicker. When you are not efficient at fat burning, you won't mobilize and use as much body fat on a daily basis as you otherwise would.

On the average, it takes 3 to 8 weeks, or even more, for the body to adapt to the state of ketosis, especially if you have never gone on a low-carb diet before. And it takes even longer to become fat adapted.

The body won't know how many ketones it takes to fuel the brain or how many fatty acids to make to cover your daily activities. There is a lot of learning your body goes through when you are brand new to low carb.

Low-Carb Tip #3: Don't Forget the Purpose of Going Low Carb

Low-carb diets work best for those who have:
If you have health conditions, a certain degree of healing has to occur before you'll see any major fat losses.

Trying to use the number on the scale to measure the diet's success or even your favorite pair of jeans will cause you to miss out on low carb's most important value.

One of the quickest side effects of going low carb is a dramatic drop in circulating insulin level. This is due to the lack of glucose in the diet. When insulin stays consistently low, the body builds additional insulin receptors, enabling various cells and tissues to regain their insulin sensitivity.

Those who are sensitive to insulin do not need as much insulin to keep their blood glucose level normal.

If insulin resistant, your body won't respond to most of the circulating insulin because the body makes fewer insulin receptors when insulin is plentiful. The pancreas, however, sees the high blood glucose level and tries to correct it by producing even more insulin.

This continual secretion of insulin keeps your circulating insulin high, which can damage your blood vessels. High circulating insulin is also associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, and even cancer.

By modifying your lifestyle, you can improve your insulin sensitivity and lower the physical stress that results when nutrition and activity are not well optimized.

Going low carb isn't just another weight-loss diet, however.

It's purpose is to improve your health, mood, and quality of life, but the healing process doesn't happen overnight.

Weight loss is actually a side-effect of going low carb, rather than the goal. When insulin can do its job correctly and you're in a calorie deficit, weight loss occurs naturally.

Low Carb Tip #4: Calories Matter

This is one of my biggest gripes with the low-carb community, and one of the largest reasons why people never reach goal weight.

If you are not losing weight, you are in energy balance.


No matter what you hear or read on the internet, a calorie deficit is absolutely essential to weight loss.

It doesn't matter what type of diet you're following. You can't lose weight if your energy intake is larger than your energy usage. You can't lose weight if you are supplying your body with all of the fat and calories it needs to function within a low-carb context.

Most low-carb diets and fads are designed to trick you into eating less. They are not magic, but many of these methods work very well.

These tricks allow most people to sidestep the effort of tracking what they eat, but they do not negate the fact that an energy imbalance must be there.

While it's true that there are many things the body can do to change or manipulate energy output, a slower metabolism, less fidgeting, or an inflammatory reaction to dairy or wheat protein doesn't wipe out the law of physics.

The body will adapt itself to a lower calorie intake, make you feel more tired than usual, or divert it's resources into handling a food reaction, but those changes don't mean that calories don't matter.

Losing weight still requires energy used to be larger than the energy you're taking in.

Bringing the body back into energy balance is the body's sole purpose from the very first day you decide to eat less. Eventually, the body is going to figure out ways to do that. And when it does, your weight loss will stop.

At that point, you'll have to make some hard choices.

In addition, there are also certain metabolic states that can interfere with the liver's ability to mobilize and use its energy stores, but that isn't because calories don't count.

Body fat is simply how the body stores energy, and often life-threatening conditions have to be dealt with first.

Burning visceral fat is a good example of this.

When visceral fat is used to make up for the energy deprivation, you might not see any weight loss on the scale, especially if the body is retaining water. You may not experience a loss of inches on the tape measure either because viseral fat isn't stored underneath the skin.

Viseral fat is stored inside your liver cells, muscles cells, organs, and other out-of-the-way places deep within the body.

When visceral fat is burned, you lose overall body fat, which would show up on a body fat analysis, but the fat you're losing from within your liver and muscles isn't necessarily visible to the naked eye.

That doesn't mean your low-carb diet isn't working. Progress cannot always be measured on the scale or with a tape measure.

Sometimes, you just have to go with your gut. You didn't get fat overnight and you're not going to get thin that way either.

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Low-Carb Tip #5: Don't Worship Ketosis

Sliced Beef with Au Jus Sauce
Ketosis Doesn't Guarantee
You'll Lose Weight

The state of dietary ketosis is how Dr. Atkins originally decided to manipulate the body into using the alternative metabolic pathway, but it's no more magic than that.

At the time, there was some research being done on a fat mobilizing hormone, but to my knowledge, nothing ever came of it.

Ketosis eliminates excess hunger, which makes it easier for you to eat at a calorie deficit. It triggers fat burning and reduces circulating triglycerides. For that reason, ketosis improves Leptin resistance and lowers inflammation in the body, otherwise caused by overeating glucose or high-fructose corn syrup.

However, you do not have to be in ketosis to lose weight. Being in ketosis does not guarantee that you will lose weight because the body has other methods of generating fat storage that do not include insulin.

To lose weight, you still have to eat at a calorie deficit.

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Low-Carb Tip #6: Don't Worry About Starvation Mode

The whole idea that you have to eat three meals a day plus two snacks to stay out of starvation mode is a myth. It's just fantasy. I don't know who started that garbage.

Dr. Atkins nurse, Jacqueline Eberstein, has repeatedly stated that a low-carb diet works best if you eat just enough to keep from being uncomfortably hungry.

Stuff yourself with more calories and fat than you need, and you'll either stall or gain weight, despite the carbohydrate restriction.

You don't have to go out of your way to meet some arbitrary fat loss percentage. A lot of people online are doing low carb that way, but it's a misunderstanding of optimal ketosis. Part of the 75 to 80 percent fat talked about online must come from your body fat and not from your diet.

If you are eating 75 to 80 percent of your calories in dietary fat, that's maintenance!

There is no scientific or biological reason why you have to eat a certain amount of food per meal, or even every day. You don't have to eat breakfast or lunch if you don't want to.

Dr. Atkins used to recommend that you not go longer than 6 hours without eating at least a snack, but this was because he didn't want you to get so hungry later on that you bailed on the diet completely.

Being uncomfortable isn't part of the Atkins' design.

Dr. Atkins was afraid of being hungry, hated that feeling, so his books were written from that perspective. They were also written for the masses, which means they offer the best advice for most people, but not necessarily for everyone.

The whole don't eat less than 1200 calories a day, or you'll go into starvation mode isn't true either.

This notion has been pounded into our heads for decades now, ever since Lulu Hunt Peters' book, Diet and Heath with Key to the Calories, hit the shelves in 1918.

This was the very first weight-loss book that introduced the public to the method of counting calories for weight reduction.

Peters was a medical-school graduate of The University of California at Berkeley and believed she had found the perfect solution for women who wanted to be thin.

Already having lost 70 pounds herself using her own counting system and having access to medical literature that the common housewife didn't have, she told her 1918 readers that if they limited their diet by 500 to 1,000 calories less than their maintenance calories, they could easily reach their weight loss goals without being hungry and stay there.

Her book laid out all of her ideas, and used herself as an example. To shed those 70 pounds, she simply ate about 1,200 calories a day.

Since humanity tends to be followers, rather than independent thinkers, as the idea of counting calories spread throughout the globe, her 1,200 calorie diet ultimately became the norm.

But that doesn't mean that 1,200 calories is what's best for you or that 1,200 calories is the lowest you can go or you'll get sick.

A low-carb diet is extremely nutrient-dense when compared to the average low-calorie plan, so you won't necessarily be robbing your body of good nutrition at a lower calorie level, if needed.

Most of the low carbers I know who have made it to maintenance and have been maintaining their losses for a number of years eat less than 1,200 calories a day, and they are not short like me.

Body type, height, and bone structure play a role in the number of calories you need to maintain your weight.

For example, since I'm 5-feet tall, maintenance calories at 125 pounds would be less than 1,200 calories, so there is no way for me to eat 1,200 calories and achieve that lower weight. I would reach equilibrium much sooner than 125 pounds.

Go with your hunger and let how well you feel be your guide.

Low-Carb Tip #7: Don't Guess How Many Carbs You're Eating

Whether you're doing Atkins, Nutritional Ketosis, Keto, or some other LCHF plan, make sure that you follow your plan's instructions about keeping tabs on the amount of carbohydrate you eat.

Just eating low carb foods will not be enough.

You can easily go over your personal low carb tolerance if you're not keeping track. This is especially important for the first month or two.

A low-carb diet is a radical change from a low calorie one, and even though vegetables are super low in calories, compared to other foods, triggering ketosis and staying in optimal ketosis requires you to stay below your individual carbohydrate level for losing.

Zucchini with Blossoms

When we had our own garden plot a few years ago, I had a bumper crop of zucchini squash.

One day, I decided to just cook up several of those beautiful green vegetables for lunch. I fried up a few slices of bacon, removed the bacon from the pan, and tossed the zucchini slices into the drippings.

After frying the squash, I added the bacon back, and put a nice mound of it onto my lunch plate. There was maybe 2 to 3 cups of it. This was a little while after I'd completed the HCG diet, so I had been low carbing for a very long time before I tried doing this.

Since I was just eating low-carb foods during this time and checking my blood glucose level after each meal, I tested my blood sugar at one hour. I didn't really expect what happened next because zucchini is low on the glycemic index.

It was a whopping 175 dl/ml!

At the time, I blamed that overreaction on the zucchini, and haven't eaten it since, but I decided to look up the number of carbs in 2 to 3 cups of boiled zucchini today.

I learned that half a cup of cooked zucchini has 3.5 carbs with 1.3 grams of vegetable fiber. At 3 cups, that would be 21 carbs and 3.9 grams of fiber.

And that was just lunch, so despite the fact that 21 carbs should not have caused my blood sugar to soar that high, it's easy to see how you might go over on carbs for the whole day if you are not keeping track.

Low-Carb Tip #8: Cut Down on the Amount of Eating Out You Do

I understand that eating out is a lifestyle for a lot of folks.

Before going gluten free, I used to eat out a lot, too. Almost every single Saturday or Sunday morning, we would go out to breakfast. A friend of ours would invite us to Sunday dinner quite frequently, and if we took a trip up north, we would always eat out.

Eating out appears to be easy when you're living the low-carb lifestyle. Many restaurants serve a la carte options, so as long as you're not gluten free, it's simple to put together a low-carb meal when you're away from home.

If the order includes bread or fries, you can simply toss the bun or request a substitution.

However, when you eat other people's cooking, you can't always tell what they might have done to the food. Even typical low-carb foods might not be low carb.

I didn't realize this until one of my sons gave us a coupon for a free meal to a fancy restaurant. I ordered grilled chicken and a salad, thinking that would be a safe bet, but the salad came drenched in something that tasted more like syrup than dressing.

After doing a bit of research, I discovered that many restaurants add sugar, flour, and other carby fillers to foods you wouldn't expect. Sugar helps foods to brown well, and it is to the restaurant's advantage for you to become addicted to their food options, so you'll go back frequently.

Restaurant supply food is similar, but the manufacturer who processes the food does the tweaking.

Manufacturers pay billions of dollars to food chemists to find the right amount of salt, fat, and sugar to add to their foods to make them addicting. It sets up a huge marketing funnel that benefits each person on the continuum – except for the customer, of course.

What the customer gets is a malfunctioning reward system in the brain that follows you into your low-carb diet.

This is one of the main reasons why low carbers get addicted to cheese and other dairy products. Due to the cravings for salt, fat, and sugar that are already there, these unconscious urges find a home in high-fat low-carb foods.

Low-Carb Tip #9: Keep a Food Journal

Journal and Pen
You won't be able to eat all low-carb foods.
Keeping a journal can help you sort out problems.

Just because something is low in carbs, that doesn't mean it's valuable and that you'll be able to eat it.

What you can eat when you start your low-carb journey might not be what you can eat when you arrive at goal weight. This is another concept that many low carbers stumble over. They don't understand the cost of being thin.

Each of us have a different set of genetics, which influences how the body responds to food intake. Emotions play into this, but emotional manifestation is more often a symptom of a faulty thought or belief, rather than the actual issue.

Feelings of deprivation, for example, come from deeply rooted beliefs we have about ourselves and the world we live in.

To observe yourself and find your problematic foods, emotions, and beliefs, you'll need to keep a food journal. Record what you eat, when, how you're feeling, and what's going on at the time.

No one else is going to see this, so be as honest as you can. Write down everything, even if you think it's trivial.

After a few weeks, look back over your journal for particular patterns of behavior. If you're keeping track of your weight loss, you can compare your journal to your weight loss stats and see patterns you didn't realize when they were happening.

Trigger foods can be especially difficult to see because the eating is unconscious, and in general, the food is low carb, so it isn't suspected as being problematic.

While nuts and cheese tend to be the biggest offenders in this category, pork rinds, salad, or even eggs can trigger overeating or inflammation.

Low-Carb Tip #10: Carbohydrates are Not Poison

The carbs are poison mindset is rampant throughout the low-carb community.

For some reason, many low carbers begin to see almost all carbs as evil. Corn, peas, sweet potatoes, brown rice, and corn tortillas are judged bad, while low-carb products, such as low-carb tortillas, slow-digested pasta, and various baking mixes are not.

Even those on the Atkins Diet, tend to turn a blind eye to the Atkins Carbohydrate Ladder that Dr. Atkins presented in 2002. They will tell you that corn and peas are the devil, even though Dr. Atkins used real, honest-to-goodness cornmeal in the cornbread recipe he designed for Ongoing Weight Loss.

People are chowing down on whole-grain tortillas, when grains are not allowed until after you've experimented with starchy vegetables, such as corn and peas.

You'll run into a lot of contradictions.

Carbohydrates are not bad. It's just that you have a certain carbohydrate tolerance for weight loss that you need to be mindful of.

You also have a personal carbohydrate tolerance for maintenance. Go beyond your tolerance, and you'll start to regain. Stick below your tolerance, and you'll be fine.

However, within that tolerance, you'll find a wide variety of individual responses to foods.

Some people will be able to eat fruit, while others cannot. Some people can eat mixed vegetables and other have to stick to non-starchy varieties. Some people can drink alcohol and still drop a pound or two of fat per week, while others cannot.

The key is always to find your own tolerance for carby foods and ignore what other people are doing. They are not you.

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More Tips for Newbies

When you are brand new to the low-carb lifestyle, there is a lot to learn. While the diet is simple, you are most likely not going to be able to do it perfectly from the very first day.

Just expect to make a few mistakes and don't beat yourself up when you do.

Habits are difficult to break, and breaking up with your old habits is exactly what a low-carb diet asks you to do. The way Atkins Induction is structured, the severe drop in familiar high-carb foods, can often be too much for many.

It's okay to take things slower than the book recommends.

However, if you decide to ease into the diet, rather than go cold-turkey, if you consistently cheat now and then thinking that a single mishap per week won't do any harm, you won't have the same weight-loss results as others get.

Due to the diet's design, you have to stick to the plan for the diet to work at optimal efficiency. If you continuously eat off-plan foods, that can interfere with the way the diet works.

Also, keep in mind that low carb is a permanent lifestyle change. Low carb is not a weight-loss diet. While you may, or may not, be able to return a few higher-carb foods to your diet once you reach goal weight, most of what you eat for the rest of your life will be exactly what you ate to lose the weight.

You diet won't change very much.

For that reason, I recommend that you:

Carefully consider each and every change that you make to your current diet and lifestyle. Make sure that each change is what you really want to do. It's vital the changes are things you can live with from this day forward.

If you hate salad, going with Atkins 72 will be a nightmare and not likely to work out well. In fact, all Atkins plans require you to eat a minimum of 2 cups of salad or raw salad-type vegetables a day.

You might find Nutritional Ketosis or the Keto Diet at Reddit a better fit for you since you'd be able to eat your favorite vegetables, or none at all. You might also prefer to go zero carb instead.

Also, make sure that you don't skimp on the salt.

When insulin drops very low, extra salt is excreted along with all of that water, so your salt intake needs to be higher than someone on a typical low-calorie diet.

Dr. Phinney recommends 1 teaspoon of salt a day on top of the 2 grams of sodium that the medical profession recommends. This can be from increasing salty foods, table salt, or bouillon cubes.

A lack of salt will make you tired and grumpy, and it can also result in flu-like symptoms. The Atkins Flu is not caused from sugar withdrawal as many in the low-carb community believe. The Atkins Flu is a sign that your electrolytes are out of balance.

Drinking plenty of water is essential for optimal liver and kidney function, but a lack of salt is the number one reason why low carbers don't feel well.

In addition, the body believes that dieting is a famine situation, so as soon as it realizes that fewer calories are coming in, it will begin the process of bringing you back into energy balance. This is not an attack, although it can feel like that. It's simply the way the body and mind adapts to your current situation.

Survival takes precedence over everything!

The subconscious mind is similar to a computer, where beliefs, past experiences, and phobias all hang out together. It will urge you to do things that are in keeping with its survival purpose, even if that purpose conflicts with yours.

A diet is not a famine, obviously, but the body doesn't understand what a diet is, so it just does what it's been programmed to do: save your life.

You don't have to do what your urges tell you to do.

You are free to ignore them, if they go against your current purpose. Eating a couple of homemade chocolate chip cookies will refill your glycogen stores and make the mind more comfortable, but it won't help you fulfill your current purpose of ditching the weight.

To recreate yourself, you have to literally reprogram the mind, but part of the reprogramming process involves ignoring urges that are not to your advantage to obey.

If your current aim is to reach a healthy weight, then that aim needs to include an eating plan you can live with. Not comfortably, necessarily, as comfort never lasts for more than a few minutes and growth requires you to stretch yourself a bit, but a plan that you can stay on without feeling deprived.

Always chasing the next diet fad, and that includes low-carb fads, won't get you what you want.

To achieve your goals and improve your quality of life, you have to choose a weight-loss plan that you really want to do, without wavering.

Don't do low carb because you think it's magical. Do low carb because you believe this is the best way to eat.


  1. Have you done any analysis or study on the vitamins that are recommended?

    1. I haven't done much research on vitamins. Some. Like those typically deficit in those who have celiac. I have Dr. Atkins book he wrote on vitamins, but haven't looked at it in decades. I need to drag it out and read it again.

    2. I know that each person is different but the vitamins required in Dr. Atkins 2002 book seems excessive. I believe some of the minerals are necessary but if you follow a fairly well-balanced diet (even in induction) you can get the majority of necessary vitamins without purchasing supplements. When I priced it out at a local health food store, it was over $100 per week for the supplements that are recommended.

    3. Wow. That really is excessive. I know that when I looked into B Vitamins, you got plenty of those eating adequate protein foods and vegetables.

  2. I recently found your site and I am enjoying the clear, concise articles you write. They are in an easy to read format, which I appreciate for these older eyes of mine. :) Looking forward to the things I'll learn here. Sandy B

    1. Thank you for your kind words. Glad I could be helpful for you.


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