More and more people are going low carb these days, and no wonder. Most of us are eating far too many carbs, and switching these empty calories out for nutrient-dense foods is often all it takes to set you on a road of painless fat loss and better health.
But for some, leaving the carbs behind isn’t as easy as they had hoped. Occasionally, a person does start to see the body fat transform to lean muscle and their waist size shrink, only to be faced with new problems. These issues can range from fatigue—either right away or months after switching to low carb—to body temperature fluctuations and even hair loss.
I’ve been studying diet and nutrition for a decade. For the past several years, I’ve studied weight loss and low carb diets in particular. I’ve even developed and implemented a weight loss program (called TRIM) based on the nutritional principles explained in my books Deep Nutrition and Food Rules.
With all that experience, you might think that I’d have a simple fix for those of you who have adopted a low-carb diet but then ran into trouble. I don’t. That’s because—as any leading low-carb expert will tell you—it’s a complicated issue. The truth is, we’re still learning how different physiologies react to a low-carb diet. Everybody’s different. And so although most people’s body’s can adapt to burning fat instead of sugar fairly readily, a lot of folks who would like to enjoy the many benefits of low-carb diets (like Paleo, Primal, Deep Nutrition, South Beach, Dukkan, Atkins etc.) are wondering why their body’s seem to reject low-carb and hanker for the familiar comfort foods of rice, bread and pasta.
I call it “hitting the low-carb wall.” And although low-carb practitioners don’t yet know everything about why this sometimes happens, we have zeroed in on a few possible reasons people hit the wall, and how they might get past it.
1) Lack of fat burning enzymes.
Years of carb consumption in excess of 100 gm per day means your body almost always had plenty of carb around and has shut down most of the enzymes for burning fat. There are different solutions for getting past this. One solution is to simply grin and bear it and in a week or two you’ll be running on ketones. Another solution is heavy exercising, which bypasses the insulin resistance most people have. Still another is prescription medication use, including metformin (Glucophage) and eventide (Byetta). (If you take diabetes medications you should not attempt this on your own.)
In these first few days and weeks after cutting carbs your insulin levels decline. Insulin helps us to retain salt and Dr. Erik Westman, co-author of The New Atkins for a New You, explains some people develop headaches and fatigue from the lost bodily salts:
In those who don’t have salt-sensitive conditions like heart failure or uncontrolled hypertension and to minimize fatigue/headaches during the first few weeks, we advise salt supplementation, and bouillon is an easy way to do this. Bullion ameliorates fluid shifts that may be a cause of fatigue for some people.
2) Thyroid problems.
Most of people who have been following a SAD for decades have some degree of insulin resistance and are also resistant to other hormones, including thyroid hormone. This is probably why so many on the SAD develop thyroid disease. While cutting carbs is a necessary step towards resolving insulin resistance, the change in energy source requires a response from the thyroid gland and your thyroid may not be up for the challenge. The solutions for getting past this are less clear but in my clinic I advise those with insulin resistance to cut carbs one meal at a time starting with breakfast and give each change a two week interval for your body to adapt.
3) Inadequate carb consumption.
We know most Americans eat way too many carbs but we don’t know if some people need more carbs than others for the long term. I have advised my patients to make their daily carb intake goals range from 30-70 grams per day and so far have not had anyone running into trouble even after many months.
Still, some do. Dr Westman’s believes that adding back carbs may improve symptoms because of the salt-retaining effects of insulin, not the carbs per se:
In those who experience improvement from adding more carbs, the energy return may have nothing to do with the carb itself! It may rather be the volume increase from renal sodium retention from the rise in insulin after eating the carbs.
It is likely that, if you’ve hit the low-carb wall, one or more of these issues are at play. And that may be not be all: there may be other underlying health or lifestyle issues loading a few extra bricks on your wall, which can best be identified by a low-carb expert. But there is more work to do for us to be able to help you better, and that’s where you can help.
If you’ve had problems—any problems, whether they started right away or months down the road—trying to go low-carb, we want to hear from you! Tell us your story about how low-carb wall got in your way, and whether you got through it, or decided to turn around and go back to your old diet.
Whether you’re a true diet and nutrition expert in your own right or just someone who wanted to lose a few pounds and would like to know more about why low-carb let you down, this is your chance to teach the experts!
Tell me your story and be automatically entered for a chance to win a copy of both of my books (Winner announced on July 4, Independence day 2012). Together, we’ll all learn a little more so that everyone can have a better chance to have the health, and the waistline, of their dreams. (Winners selected who already own both books may elect to have the books shipped to friends and relatives around the world.)
Update: Round one winners have been selected and announced on July 8 2012. Round two winners have also been selected. Please subscribe to my RSS feed to make sure you are notified.
For every seven qualifying histories there will be one winner so invite as many people to participate as you can!
1) sex, age, height, weight on starting low carb, current weight.
2) When did you begin low-carb and why (for weight/other health issue) and did you do Atkins, South Beach, Paleo or other and when did you start having problems?
3) Please outline your problems the more you can share, the better. If you sought advice from a health professional what was the advise and did it help?
4) If you provide blood test results, please put them into context of by providing dates and information on what your diet was like and what your problems were at the time. Same for medications particularly blood glucose/blood pressure/thyroid/other hormone/anti-depressants/sleep aids. Please include any adjustments made, why, and what the effects of the adjustments were.
5) Highlights of your family history, ie obesity, auto-immune diseases, hormone problems particularly thyroid.
1) Answer questions above in comment field below. (Please avoid asking questions about your personal health history!)
2) Subscribe to our RSS feed (if you haven’t already) to be notified of the drawing.
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