Low carb dieting peaked as a fad in late 1990s when Atkins was a household name. After Atkins came South Beach, Sonoma, the Zone, and many others. All of these diets relied primarily on restricting carbohydrates to ensure weight loss. Some who had struggled to lose weight on other diet plans saw low carb dieting as a savior; others criticized these diets for being unhealthy or based on pseudo-science. And the thing is,
both groups were partially right.
Low carb dieting gets a bad rap. Misinformed dieters and critics branded Atkins the “all you can eat bacon diet.” People thought that Atkins advocated eating as much fat as you could possibly stomach and avoiding vegetables at all costs. Dieters who would stuff themselves silly on steak and bacon while never eating broccoli undoubtedly struggled to lose weight. In reality, Atkins just advocated a diet where most of your calories came from fat and protein while still eating vegetables and eventually (after the initial “Induction Phase”), even some fruit. Since fat and protein are more filling and because they’re often harder to binge on (as in, very few people are likely to choose to binge on plain chicken breast), many people had success following this basic pattern.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with eating low carb. A diet where you get about 20% of your calories from carbs and the rest from protein and fat can be perfectly healthy, so long as the sources of fat and protein are pure, whole, nutritious foods. Carbohydrates are a good source of energy but they aren’t an essential nutrient. The human body can function normally with very little of them.
I’ve tried low carb diets in the past. They always followed the same pattern for me. For the first two weeks I’d have a good deal of success, losing at times double digits in pounds. And this makes sense; the first few weeks of low carb dieting usually bring large losses because of a change in water retention (this is not uncommon to other diets). Because I could see my progress clearly on the scale, I felt encouraged. Gradually though, my motivation waned. The cravings for carbs grew in intensity. Cake, cookies, a sandwich- they were all I could think of. I’d begin to yearn for simple carbs that I hadn’t even cared for before, things like crackers and plain white bread. Inevitably, I’d cave.
A low carb lifestyle did not, then, and does not, now, work for me. Because aside from my inability to adhere to it, the very notion of removing a food group from my life is almost so painful I can’t think of it for long without wanting to lock myself inside a bakery and cry. I’m just a carb queen and I’ve owned it. I have always believed it to be easier for me to just eat a more balanced diet in moderation. And maybe that stems from my rebellious nature in the face of even the gentlest restraint, or maybe it just has to do with the fact that I care about frosting as much as or greater than the environment.*
Low carb diets work for some people and, quite naturally, don’t for others. Like most things in life, it depends entirely on your individual personality, your unique relationship with food. Some people prefer to eat mostly protein and others, like me, can’t make it through a morning without oatmeal. One important thing to remember in this discussion is, eating need not be entirely black and white. It isn’t always necessary that we adhere to one specific diet, when taking bits and pieces that you like from many different ones could benefit you more.
Perhaps you aim to reduce your carb intake, but only with respect to white flour and simple sugars- that’s cool. Perhaps you just love protein as much as I like things that involve maple syrup- and that’s cool, too. Perhaps you find it easier to abstain from pasta or sweets altogether than trying to eat them in smaller servings- also cool. Perhaps you’re so in tune with how you feel physically and mentally that you know- you just know– whether you do best with carbs or without them- and that’s the coolest.
What are your thoughts on low carb diets? Have you ever tried them? Which ones? What were your results?