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Low Carb: Making It Real

Maybe you really OD’ed on sugar over the holidays, maybe you’ve been meaning to do this for a long time.

Maybe your doctor just gave you some bad news. “Your exam shows that you have __________  (insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, pre-diabetes, obesity) which makes me worried for your greatly increased risk of __________ (heart disease, cancer, and dementia), so I’m recommending you switch to a way of eating that has a lot less carbohydrates than you’re eating right now.”

Great, you’ve got it. Low carb, no problem. You've learned the basics, and know the basic outlines of a low-carb eating plan.

Shoot, you have a dinner party with friends tonight, and guests coming over Saturday. Hmm, what to do....?

Success means getting down to specifics: just how are you going to really incorporate a low-carb change into your life. Whether you’re a California Cuisine expert like my friend M or cook for an internationally refined palate like my friend E, I imagine that already you may not eat a lot of processed foods. But what does it mean to change to this low carb way of eating? As you can read either here or here on this website, as well as many other places, you must figure out a sustainable way to maintain protein and to increase your fat strategically:  sufficiently more fat so that you stay low-carb, but little enough to allow for burning your own fat stores IF you want to also lose weight.

Planning is key. I don’t need to tell you that habits are hard to change; the key to a successful change is the proper preparation.

Decide. How much time will you take to get ready? What is your official start date? Share it with supportive friends and family.

Clear out

No added sugars. Clean out your cabinets and your freezer: no sugar, no agave, no honey, no maple syrup. No rice, grains, breads. No candies, no boxed foods. Inspect anything that comes in a package (can or box) and lock it away if there is any added sugar.

Stock up (this part is more fun!)

  • JERKY.  Paleo (sugar-free or very low sugar) jerky, several brands reviewed here. Look for “Whole30 compliant” as a short cut to sugar-free options. EPIC makes very low-sugar jerky.
  • NUTS.  Nuts and nut butters: you’re not spending money on empty calories, so choose the kinds you like. My favorite is the almond butter from Artisana. If you like macadamia nuts, now is the time! (Buy raw nuts so that you don’t eat over-heated oils, either the nuts’ oils or the roasting oils.)
  • CHEESE. Of course, full fat.
  • AVOCADOS! Plan for one a day… at least.
  • Good olive oil. Good butter, grass-fed.
  • Vegetables, several options for always having good vegetables around. Eat vegetables at every meal: chard with eggs or salad for breakfast, or both!
    • FRESH: buy lots of fresh vegetables on shopping day and make them fridge-friendly. I run a beet, a few carrots, some celery, cabbage, and maybe a few brussels sprouts through my cuisinart to have a hefty supply of shredded veggies I can add to any meal. OR cook up several huge bunches of chard: steam them til they shrink to a few cups worth, drain, and store in the fridge. Add easily to eggs in the morning or heat up on their own, top with butter or olive oil.
    • FROZEN: There are good reasons to have a handful of frozen options: days you can’t get to the store, days you’re too tired to make a salad. Frozen veggies retain many of their inherent nutrients, so they are a good option.
    • CANNED: There are some things I buy canned, just to add delight, even if their nutrient density isn’t as high as it might be: artichoke hearts, red peppers preserved in olive oil, chopped peppers in the Mexican food aisle! Coconut milk is probably not far away: get some in BPA free cans.
  • MEAT AND EGGS.  Protein is so important, and in my experience, most people (especially women) don’t eat enough. Let’s say you’re about 5’6” tall: you should really have 30 grams of protein three times a day, as described here. Have 3-4 eggs for breakfast, or two with bacon. Make your hamburgers 1/3 lb, not skimpy ¼ lb burgers. Buy some canned fish you like: salmon, herring, mackerel (!?), sardines and oysters. Frozen shrimp are great treats to pull out of the freezer for a craving. Now is the time to experiment with cooking organ meats! Start with chicken livers, they’re the easiest. As in this recipe here, you will start using fruit as your only sweetener. That said…
  • FRUIT. Say goodbye to dried fruit for a while. Berries and citrus are the lowest carb, highest nutrient value options, and your fruit menu for now. One serving a day. With a meal.
  • DAIRY. Dairy is where you really see the new paradigm. Just choose dairy made from the richest sources you can find. Sour cream is better than yogurt (compare the carb content and see.) Cream is better than half-and-half.
  • Mayonnaise: there are now some health options. I like Mark Sisson’s Primal Mayo, we alternate between his avocado mayo and the chipotle flavor. Or I make my own, here is the recipe I know by heart from Melissa Joulwan!


Gird and reward yourself

You have done harder things in your life, you can do this! But change won’t just come naturally, so you will make some adjustments. 

  • Go ahead and set a starting date to ease off the pressure and build up the excitement.
  • You will prepare your kitchen and your mind.
  • You will generally eat enough at meal-time to avoid snacking, with one exception: before you go out with friends, you will have some pre-party protection. Half an avocado and a few sticks of jerky. A handful of carrots and celery sticks, stuff the celery sticks with nut butters or cream cheese. 
  • Savor your new array of flavors, pick your favorites, and discover new ones. (share them with me, please!) 
  • Two to three meals a day. Start with breakfast, and it's okay to skip dinner. Include an overnight fast of at least thirteen hours. (Twelve hours is good, but increasing it by one hour shows significant benefit metabolically.)

There are many components to an overall healthy lifestyle and often crucial to reversing some of the conditions mentioned at the beginning of this article. I hope you're sleeping well (always my health challenge!), finding a way to engage with meaning and to dis-engage with love and friendship, stay active and challenge your fitness, and bringing light to your life. We can take a tip from the chickens who can already tell the days are longer and have started to lay eggs again!

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