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How to Know if You Should Go Low Carb

About 9 or 10 months after I started to eat healthy and changed my workouts, I stopped losing weight. I now realize my body had hit its healthy level, but at that point I was still way too focused on losing weight. I’d seen other people hit size two, so I was convinced I should be able to as well. News flash, not every body is designed to be size two regardless of how healthy your lifestyle. But back to that point, I decided to try a new “eating plan.” My friend suggested carb cycling so I thought I’d try it out. Here was my experience.

If you don’t know (as I didn’t when my friend suggested I give it a try), carb cycling is eating high carbohydrate one day and low carbohydrate (henceforth to be referred to as carbs) the next. I needed some guidance so I used Chris Powell’s book “Choose More, Lose More for Life.”

First off, I give points to any program that includes a book. Never blindly follow an eating program. Know  the “why’s.” I loved reading this book and the research that went into it.

The science behind carb cycling makes sense. When our bodies get stuck in routines, they plateau in their progress. Consistently changing it up keeps your body adjusting and losing weight. I also liked Chris Powell’s program because it included workouts which were a mix of cardio and strength training. Weight loss needs to focus on both healthy eating and exercise. You can’t make it with just one.

So before I throw out my personal opinion about the program, I want to reiterate that everyone has a different experience with programs. Your success or failure will have a lot to do with your body type and personality. That said, I hated carb cycling. It was the worst program for my body and personality, but mostly my personality.

I love carbs

The first problem was that the program required tracking and counting. That’s always been the kiss of death with me and eating plans. Counting calories, points or carbs, it doesn’t matter. If I lose track or can’t figure out the numbers for a food I ate, I compensate by binging on bad food. Yes, that’s ridiculous, but it’s how I work. I gave up the counting quickly and just used my knowledge of high and low carb foods and serving sizes to plan my meals. The idea of it was a success, but I think I’d have had more success had I been able to track. To me, tracking doesn’t fit into my life. I feel like it puts the focus way too much on what I’m eating and not the things I care most about in life.

The program also felt really strict. You have to eat every three hours which was hard to schedule. I try to have a basic eating schedule but if it’s off because I have something scheduled, I don’t panic. While carb cycling, I felt like I was planning my life around my meals rather than the other way around.

Carb cycling left me exhausted. One priceless thing I learned through this program was how much our bodies need carbs. Too many programs demonize carbs (this one does not, but many do). Carbs don’t make you fat. It’s the bad sugars and processed foods often found in carb-heavy foods that make it hard to lose weight. But even going one day without carbs was really hard for me. I was tired, grumpy and couldn’t make it through my workout the next morning. Rather than listen to my body, I kept on with the program.

We need carbs

Aside from all that, the thing that made this program not the one for me, was the effect it had on me emotionally. I was so depressed on low-carb days. I just wanted fruit or a sweet potato. I spent all my low-carb days counting down the meals until my high-carb days. Then on high-carb days I’d eat way more than I wanted or needed because I knew I wouldn’t have the option the next day. And if I craved something like sausage or eggs on a high-carb day, I wouldn’t eat them because I knew it was my only chance for fruit or plantain chips with hummus.

And the worst part for someone with a food addiction (Hey! That’s me!) was the “cheat day.” Sundays were a free day. Maybe a normal person could splurge a little on a cheat day, but a person like me milked that day for all it was worth. I ate every processed, junky, sugar-filled food I could get my hands on until I was sick. I kind of lived the mentality of “Eat, drink (hot chocolate) and be merry because tomorrow we low-carb.” Then I’d feel sick, couldn’t sleep and had horrific joint pain. Not worth it!

So did I give it a fair chance? I kept on with the program for five months. In those five months I became a basket case about food and didn’t lose a pound. I stopped the program on November 1. I remember well because I finally came to my senses on Halloween.

We always have fondue for dinner and dessert on Halloween. I made a lovely orange cake sweetened with honey and we dipped it in dark chocolate, also sweetened with honey. Halfway through dinner I panicked. Oh no! Next Halloween would be a low carb day. What would I do? I was freaking out so badly I couldn’t enjoy Halloween.

I decided that was enough. I shouldn’t be so consumed with the thought of food. I’d spent the last five months eating food I knew made me sick like cheese, yogurt and grains because they were “plan approved” (these aren’t bad foods and don’t make everyone sick, but they don’t agree with my body). I ignored the fact that I was exhausted because I was sure I’d gain a hundred pounds if I ate a carb on a low-carb day.

Elf Likes Carbs

I write this not to tell you that carb cycling is bad or that you shouldn’t try it. I write this so you listen to your mind and your body when picking a program. I feel like carb cycling is a great program for someone starting from square one. The program gives you the options to still have the foods you love on occasion. It’s not as restrictive as to what foods are approved and what foods aren’t. I think this can be a great program for a lot of people. So many people have found success through this program. For me, having lived basically paleo for close to a year, jumping into carb cycling felt like one step forward and two steps backward. So if you’re interested in it, give it a try. I love trying new programs. But be sure to listen to your body and respond accordingly. That doesn’t mean eating a snickers bar because you’re craving it so surely that’s what your body needs. That means looking for signs of food sensitivities, learning when you need carbs to get your energy up and picking something that you can maintain and still have a life outside of your fork. But now you know if you feel anything like I’ve described, you’re not the only one.

If you’d like to read about more eating plans, check out my post on the Whole 30. 

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