I started a low carb focused diet 42 days ago. I've lost 30 pounds (detailed analysis)
I'm not a fitness or health professional. Growing up, I weighed 270lb at my maximum when I was 13 years old. I implemented a slightly better diet with workouts and dropped to 195lb during high school. That is my lowest weight. I've come to realize that my ideal weight is somewhere around 190lb. I'm 6'0" with a larger build.
During college I slowly put pounds back on. I saw my weight go from 195lb to 235lb by October 2011, 6 years later. During this time I turned 21 and started drinking every now and then on weekends. It was a somewhat regular thing and I still enjoy doing it.
For all of 2011 I maintained a somewhat unorthodox workout plan consisting of 4-panel dance games. Think DDR, but don't think of the easy stuff. Think of the Asians you see that are impossibly good. That's me. But I'm not Asian. I used a heart monitor to see how many calories one of my 5-6 days a week dance sessions burn. The results were encouraging: 500 calories for a 30 minute session. I play mostly 9-12 difficulty songs using a PC with a metal dance mat.
I make my own lunches and these days I rarely eat fast food or takeout. I calculated my calories and I was consuming 1400-1600 a day at the weight of 235lb. My lack of weight loss seemed impossible according to every caloric calculator I tried. Add to the fact that I burn off 500 of those calories every day and by all counts I should have been losing weight.
The difference in my diet was Fridays and Saturdays where my caloric intake would rise to somewhere around 2200-2700 calories. These are the days I usually consume alcohol.
Understanding Low Carb
I stumbled upon an interesting post at Kristjan Gunnarsson's blog about how many carbs someone should eat per day to lose weight naturally. This sparked my curiosity. How many carbs a day was I consuming? I had added up everything that I'd typically eat in a day to get the total calories before this, but I didn't care about the carbs. It turns out that in my 1500 calorie day I was consuming around 200 carbs. This was well above the weight loss level of Kristjan's post.
Upon further investigation I learned that Atkins is the low carber diet. I typically hate diet plans. I find them too restrictive. Going on this, I chose to avoid conforming to Atkins. I learned some about it, and in fact I use their carb counter PDF to find out what I can eat. Induction is their initial process where you're allowed to east 20-25 effective carbs* a day.
*Effective carbs are regular carbs minus dietary fiber and sugar alcohols.
EDIT 1/22/13: It's been some time since I originally made this post, but I've stuck with my low carb plan for well over a year and I'm still loving it. I weigh 164lb now! Look for a follow up blog post in the future. Since I made this post I've found some fascinating books for low carb, primal eating including The Primal Blueprint and Wheat Belly.
Applying Low Carb to Me
I've always had trouble losing weight. As you read previously, I burn plenty of calories a day and don't eat terribly. I do drink. I didn't want to give up drinking but I wanted to lose weight. At this point I needed to try something different, and Low Carb fit the bill. My carb intake was high, so it couldn't hurt to try.
Making My Changes
At first I believed I could isolate breakfast as a meal that I could remove carbs from. This meal was contributing an obscene amount of carbs to my daily total. I eat cereal and drink orange juice. Recently I've been a Cinnamon Toast Crunch fan. Here are the total carbs and calories for my old breakfast:
Cinnamon Toast Crunch: Serving size 3/4 cup, 130 cal, 22.8 effective carbs*
Tropicana Orange Juice: Serving size 1 cup, 110 cal, 26 effective carbs
1% Milk: Serving size 1 cup, 102 cal, 13g effective carbs
TOTAL: 342 cal, 61.8 effective carbs
It's impossible to find a breakfast cereal with low effective carbs. The ones that come close are Kellogg's Protein Plus and Hi-Low. There's also the matter of milk. If you want cereal you'll want to switch over to some other kind of milk with less carbs. The best low carb milk I can find is Soy Slender (it's in the non-refrigerated boxes). Silk soymilk tastes barf-worthy after a day or so, but Soy Slender legitimately tastes like real milk. It's also way, way more healthy than Silk. I don't know why this milk isn't more popular. If they ever stop making it I'm going to cry a little inside. They sell it at Meijer (they don't have Meijers everywhere). I couldn't find it in Wal Mart. You can also order it online from Netrition.
Eventually I made the transition to oatmeal. There is a low suger cinnamon apple oatmeal that Meijer makes. It's delicious. Avoid maple low sugar oatmeal, it doesn't taste like anything. Make it with Soy Slender and you've got a perfect dish for breakfast with 16 effective carbs.
For juice, I switched to Diet Ocean Spray Cranberry. They make other flavors too. It's 2g of effective carbs and 5 calories for a cup.
My lunches were relatively healthy, though I did make changes to reduce the carbs. I bought Flatout Light wraps, which only have 6 effective carbs. I got sugar free jello with 0 effective carbs, and celery, which has 1 effective carb per stalk (ish). I use turkey lunch meat, cheese, mustard and lettuce on my wraps. All in all, my lunch weighs in around 8-10 effective carbs. And it's still good.
Dinner has also been a high carb affair for me. I can usually go with a bit more carbs here, but if I'm in weight loss mode like I'm in now the only thing that seems to work for me is fish and broccoli. I like both a lot, so it doesn't bother me. If I eat other meats (they don't have carbs) the weight loss seems to stall and I have a feeling it's from this meal. I have done a lot of things for dinner during low carb. Hard boiled eggs, pickles, burgers, lots of cheese and fish. The fish I like is Gorton's since it's easy and frozen shrimp.
I work out around 7pm. After my workout I'll drink some Soy Slender (1 effective carb) or Propel Zero (no carbs). If I have hard boiled eggs I'll have one of those.
All in all, my day nets around 30-45 carbs (usually). Above Atkins induction, but low enough for good weight loss. During the week I often wake up and I've lost 2 pounds from the previous morning. Talk about confidence booster.
If you can, find the menu before hand and find the carbs in each dish. Order something appropriate. If you have to guess, go with fish or meat with vegetables on the side. You'll likely end up with high carbs in sauce, starchy sides or bread items. Eating out isn't bad every now and then.
I've maintained drinking throughout my low carb diet. This article contains the truth about alcohol and fat loss. It isn't alcohol that makes you gain weight, it's all the junk you eat alongside it. Alcohol is the first thing that gets processed before fat and carbs in the body. Armed with this knowledge, Atkins and others state that you only stall weight loss when you drink. So, for the days you drink you won't be burning fat. I can live with that.
You have to be smart with what you drink. Some drinks do have carbs. Rum, brandy, whiskey, and other hard liquor have no carbs. Combine them with diet soda.
Red wine has fewer carbs than other wines.
Light beer does have carbs. Some more than others. Bud light has 6 carbs while Miller Light has 4.
I drink a lot of water, especially at work. Water is important and it's "free".
Sauces are a boon. Almost all regular sauces have lots of carbs and will undermine low carb efforts. For the following you unfortunately have to find a health food store that sells them or order them at Netrition. Netrition is easy and cheap:
Ketchup: Heinz reduced sugar (they do sell this at stores)
Mustard: Mustards don't have carbs. Yay!
Cocktail Sauce: Trinity Hill Farms cocktail sauce. The best damn cocktail sauce I've ever had.
Barbeque Sauce: Walden Farms
Dressing: Walden Farms or Wishbone Salad Spritzers (store)
Syrup: Walden Farms
Jam: Nature's Hollow
Peanut Butter: Find a natural one or use PB2 Powdered Peanut Butter
A Note on Breads and Fruits/Vegetables
Breads are high carb. No getting around it. There are some options, however! Julian Bakery sells low carb bread that doesn't taste like crap (it still ain't real bread) and they ship it. It's ridiculously expensive though. Even with a coupon be prepared to spend $13. You'll likely want to go to Netrition and search for "bread" to find low carb pita breads. I wish stores sold this stuff, but the ones around me don't. You can at least use pita bread as a makeshift bun. Your best bet for sandwiches is to switch to wraps and use Flatout light.
Most fruits and vegetables are high carb. "Safe" ones are lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, celery and berries. Think you like bananas? Oh, well if you like the 50 carbs in a banana, go for it.
Ending Feelings and Thoughts
Even though I'm not at my target weight yet, Low Carb is amazing. For the first few weeks the transition was tiring. I was very tired. After that, my appetite was reduced and I felt like I could think more clearly. I think a lot of these changes are going to be long term for me.
Right now I'm 206lb (ok, 29 pounds lost, I lied). I've got a little ways to go, but I'm getting there.
My caloric intake has been reduced along with my carbs. I feel like this is ok while I'm in weight loss mode, but in the end I think I'll be eating more once I'm where I want to be. Hopefully most of my food will still low carb, as I feel like carbs were the thing preventing me from losing pounds. Some of the low carb food I eat actually tastes better than what I had before. Especially that cocktail sauce. Mmm.