Tips for surviving and eating well on a low carb, high protein diet
I started writing this post a few weeks ago, before I went on holidays and totally forgot about any diet/nutrition aspirations. Now that I am trying to get back into it, I found some of these tips quite useful (I surprise myself! :)). You may find them of use if you are thinking about post holiday period recovery.
For the last six months I have been on this program to lose a bit of weight, increase my fitness and develop good exercise habits. Since I live to eat, the whole restricted diet thing is rather a challenge for me. And I am not a huge meat eater, so the high protein thing has also been challenging. Andrew however describes the eating plan as the equivalent of someone instructing me to go into a patisserie and eat as much of anything I want, and please eat it five times a day! Yes, he loves eating meat and loves the fact that this ‘diet’ is making me cook more meat more often. I notice that my post about the wierd high protein/low carb/low fat biscuit I tried to create, and the post asking if more protein equals more anger, continue to be two of the most popular posts on this blog. So there are clearly lots of others out there also struggling with this sort of eating plan. Hence my idea to post up some tips based on my last six months of living on this eating plan.
Tips for surviving and eating well on a low carb, low fat and high protein diet
- Plan ahead. I don’t mean this in a smug “be organised and life will deliver bountiful richness” kind of way. I mean that a good way to get back on track with the diet after you have slipped out of the habit for a few days is to pre-plan an entire day’s meals. Work out exactly what you will eat at each meal and add up the macro nutrients to make sure they are within the range you are supposed to be. Then the next day, monitor how you are going against that plan. I have found that to be a good way for me to reconnect with what I am supposed to be doing.
- Keep a food diary for as many days as you can. It is true, writing it down really does help you stay on track. But knowing and doing are two different things….
- Carry a zip lock bag with some almonds or similar in your bag with you at all times. Although high in fat, almonds are a good ‘fill in meal’ when you cannot get to a proper meal to manage your five meals a day – and they are filling enough to stop you from getting that packet of crisps instead!
- On the days you exercise, particularly when you do weight training, make sure you eat the required protein amounts. Yes, the high protein thing really does work to help with recovery time. The days I do weights and don’t eat the protein, I find I have sore muscles all day and the next too, and I am exhausted by the end of the day. When I do eat the required protein, I have almost no soreness beyond the first hour or so and I am not quite as tired.
- The mid afternoon meal is the critical one for me to have some protein content. If I skip that meal, or don’t have any protein in it, I get home hungry and tired and tend to snack on bad stuff while preparing dinner. Cake or spicy snacks…or any carb really… all look very attractive at 5 or 6pm while you are getting dinner ready. It also makes me feel like a dinner without carbs is really not going to satisfy me. Conversely, when I have had protein, I am not hungry when I am cooking dinner and I can avoid temptation (mostly!).
- The low carb thing really does make you cranky and you need to factor that in. I am supposed to have one day a week with virtually no carbs. And yes, by the end of the day despite my best planning, the smallest thing can make me quite angry. Strategies I use to avoid/manage it are to drink more water during the day (yes it really does help), drink coffee (don’t try to fight my caffiene addiction on thursdays), go for a walk if I can and remind myself that it is the carb factor that is making me angry/impatient and not the circumstance. I warn my family and explain any irritability in relation to it being carb-free day – so that they don’t take it personally! If I am going to be having a difficult day with lots of meetings for example, I just don’t do the no carb thing that day.
- Your body will adjust to not eating carbs at night, truly it will. Within a couple of weeks we found that we were not missing eating carbs at night. Now when we eat carbs because we are out at a restaurant or somewhere we have no choice about what we are eating, I find that I feel really bloated and sluggish and really don’t enjoy the meal as much as I had expected I would.
- Most foods can be changed to become a low carb option. Yes, even an Indian curry can be made into a low carb option by simply making a thicker curry and filling it with (low carb) vegetables rather than eating it with rice. Don’t look at ‘diet recipes’ because that will be far too depressing. Just cook the food you like to eat but modify them – reduce the fat, cut out the carbs (replace high carb vegetables such as potato, carrot, corn) with low carb vegetables. Eat your dinner with a spoon (big bowls of soup, stew, curries without rice) instead of a fork (unless dinner is steak ofcourse)!
- Variety is the key to staying sane. After a couple of weeks on this plan and eating tinned tuna for lunch most days, just the sight of a can of tuna or the mention of the “t” word would make me shudder. I had to have a couple of ‘tuna free’ months before I could reintroduce it into my diet. It is easy to get stuck on eating the same things, particularly when it is a new eating plan, or a bit of a challenge (such as the protein challenge for me). But doing that is enough to make you pretty depressed and ready to quit the eating plan. Breakfast poses the same problem for me – it is easy to get the protein from eating an egg and a slice of bacon…but I then go through weeks when I can’t bear the idea of eating an egg. To vary it a bit I then make ‘pancakes’ using chick pea flour and a hidden egg – also high in protein and relatively low in carbs. Have a look at the posts under the ‘weight loss journey’ category on this blog for some ideas of how to vary things.
- If you do stray off the path and over indulge, a good way to make up for it is to either do a little more cardio exercise if you can, or to follow it up with another ‘accelerator’ day where you eat virtually no carbs. If nothing else, it will make you feel less guilty about the indulgence! 🙂