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How To Start A Low-Carb Diet (and be successful)

Help Not Hype


Please don’t try to succeed on a low carb Way of Eating without buying and reading at least one (1) low carb book, in its entirety, so that you will understand the metabolic process you are trying to achieve. Without a basic understanding of ketosis, you will have a much harder time making this work ~ and hey, MAKING IT WORK THIS TIME is the whole point, right? RIGHT!

My personal recommendations for low carb books include: Dr. Atkin’s New Diet Revolution, Atkins for Life – I had better include this one, since I was honored by being quoted in this book by the legendary Dr. Atkins himself! look for me in the index!, Protein Power, Life Without Bread: How a Low Carbohydrate Diet Can Save Your Life, and The Schwarzbein Principle.

The Corinne T. Netzer’s Complete Book of Food Counts or something similar is a great reference to have, too (on ANY diet). Yes, you can look things up online, but a printed reference is a heck of a lot more convenient than running to the computer (or squinting into your phone) every time you want to eat something! Online carb counters are listed here on my main Links page.


The idea of using ketostix to make sure you are in ketosis sounds good – until you realize that all they really measure is the burning of fat. Any fat. Whether you are burning adipose tissue (existing stored body fat) OR you are burning dietary fat, you will produce ketones, which will register on the ketostix. And if you are on a low carb diet, you will burn some kind of fat, so whether you register on the stix or not doesn’t necessarily correlate to actual weight loss!

Then there’s this, excerpted from GO Diet: There are two main ketone bodies produced. One is called “acetoacetic acid” and the other is named “beta-hydroxybutyric acid (HBA). Acetoacetic acid can spontaneously break down to form acetone and this is the compound which gives people on this diet a faint, but distinct smell on their breath. Other low carbohydrate diets advocate the use of ketosticks to detect these ketones in the urine, as a sign that you are really burning fats. However, these sticks, which are expensive, only detect the acetoacetic acid and acetone, which are less than one fifth of the ketones produced. The HBA goes totally undetected by this test. Many people never produce enough acetoacetic acid to cause these sticks to turn color, yet testing their blood for HBA shows plenty of ketones.”

Now for some good news: I never really noticed the so-called keto-breath, or the body odors that the books talk about. (Neither did/do my friends or family, who would not HESITATE to tell me – trust me!)

Now, the color of the stix, in my opinion, has a lot to do with how much water you drink. The more concentrated your urine is, the more concentrated the ketones will be. A high ketone reading in the absence of weight loss could be due to a lot of things, but mostly it is due to high fat ingestion, which is what a lowcarb diet really is. It just isn’t politically correct to call it that. Your body doesn’t dump the ketones consistently, either, so it is difficult to know whether an absence of ketones might simply be your own lousy timing. Timing, after all, is everything! And if you don’t drink enough water, excess ketones will necessarily have to be excreted somehow other than through your urine. And my guess is that when they get excreted through your skin and respiration, they stink to high heaven. So, for many, many reasons, drink all the water that your plan recommends. Then drink some more. And don’t put too much stake in the readings of ketostix.

The best indicators of how you are doing on low carb  – far better than than the color some expensive little strip of treated paper turns when you (you know) will be:

— how you feel (once you get past the inevitable week 1 slump)

— how you look – I am serious. When I put those two pictures together that you see on the My Story page, I was totally shocked – and so gratified, too – to see how much better I could look at the same weight. Do not let the scale alone, or even your measurements alone, be your indicator of success.

— how your clothes fit – Do yourself a favor and take those painful-to-face measurements right at the beginning, so you really know where you are. The first time I took mine I cried, but I wish I had done it earlier because in the next month after I did take them, I lost four inches just from my waist alone while the scale never moved. Is it a stall if the scale doesn’t change for a month? Doubtful, if you are being true to the plan you are on. Is it possible that you have stalled? You bet! What to do?

If you are having trouble, get a software program that calculates your exact nutritional intake and analyze what is going on. The one that I used first is called Lifeform. Now defunct. In 2004, I switched to DietPro and I still use this one regularly.

If you use a mac, there is one out there called Dietsleuth. Do a search and hunt it down. There are free places to keep track online, too, like FitDay.

During induction, I recommend that you:

Stick to meat, dairy, and veggies only. Try to not use any artificial sweeteners, fruit, or grain based products, high fiber or not. Get the full 20 carbs each day from lettuce, salad vegetables, low carb veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and green beans. I also ate small amounts of tomatoes and bell peppers on my salads – even during induction. If you really really have to have something sweet, you can eat sugar free gelatin. Try to find Jolly rancher brand, which is sweetened without aspartame.

By the time you eat 1 large or two small salads per day, with a 2/3 cup serving of other vegetables, that will usually add up to almost 20 carbs (with cheese, cream, and salad dressing included, they add up much faster than you would expect.) After two weeks of this, you will find that you have to remind yourself to eat, that you no longer really *want* the bready things or the sweet things as much. I did not add the low carb versions of these things back in until I had been eating induction-style for about 6 weeks. I think this gave me the ability to keep these food items in perspective. I still don’t crave them, I crave fruit and veggies and dairy products, if anything. When I start thinking about fake sweets too often, I force myself to go several days without any at all, and then I am back in balance. It is a constant balancing act, and I must remain vigilant to insure that my sweet-tooth/bread cravings do not take over. I expect I will have to be like this forever.

ONE MORE TIME: Eat your veggies, they go a long way towards filling you up with something less calorically dense than meat, and trust me – you NEED the fiber (and nutrients) that they contain.

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