The low carb, high fat diet…on trial
I have been eating a low carb, high fat diet now for exactly one month. Here is how this journey of healthy eating began.
What is it?
The low carb high fat (LCHF) diet is basically cutting out most of the carbs from your diet (including all sugar) leaving a small amount of carbohydrate from vegetables, nuts and a little fruit. All other foods are allowed such as meat, fish, eggs, cheese, cream, butter, nuts. Protein is to be eaten in moderation and as unusual as it sounds, fat intake should be high.
Why did I try it?
For a long time now I had been suffering with a few stomach problems, mainly related to IBS. I was frequently bloated, in discomfort, taking anti indigestion remedies and having very frequent toilet trips! I had resigned myself to the fact that this is how it would be. Then someone suggested I tried the low carb, high fat ‘keto’ diet.
In my line of work I regularly meet people who want to lose some weight (or fat), become healthier, leaner and have more energy. I have never been one for fad diets, shakes, counting every calorie (life is way too short for that), or starving yourself when hungry (I did try a detox diet once and last 10 days before I felt like killing everybody in sight!). I look at client food diaries and give feedback on what would be a balanced diet using small tweaks rather than large changes that most people could not stick to. I would not suggest anything I had not tried myself.
So, after reading up on the LCHF diet and read that some of the benefits were weight loss, increased energy, improved performance (as the body becomes adapted to use fat as fuel rather than carbohydrate), improved mental focus, less stomach problems, improved blood pressure, reduced cravings and hunger (due to stabilisation of blood sugar therefore reduced insulin levels), I decided to give it a go.
Being vegetarian, I thought I may be very restricted as to what I could eat. But actually I am eating the things I love, which is why I have been able to stick to it for a month. This isn’t a diet with an end date. It is a different way of eating, thinking about food and changing eating habits. I am not saying I will never eat a piece of bread or a cake ever again, after all, Christmas is coming up! But when I do start eating a small amount of carbs again it will be mindfully and in small quantities.
So, what am I eating??
I have cut out sugar and starchy carbohydrates so I’m having no bread, pasta, rice, grains, potatoes, cakes etc. Even some foods that I thought were ok, are on the high carbohydrate scale, such as beans, lentils, cashew nuts, dates etc, so they can be eaten but in small quantities. I generally eat lots of vegetables cooked in any sort of way but usually roasted or stir fried, olives, lots of cheese (this is a high fat diet after all!), lots of nuts, eggs, salad, avocados, greek yoghurt, small amounts of fruit (too sugary to eat much of). I also eat some Quorn products and tofu sometimes. I have a bit of red wine at weekends, and a bit of very dark chocolate as a treat. Alternative foods can be made using almond flour but I’ve not really bothered much with this apart from some very dodgy tasting ‘chocolate’ brownies (sugar free, flour free…not very nice!!). I have to say, I am not getting on too well with eggs at the moment so I am steering clear of them for now!
Stir fry veg, feta, nuts. Stir fry veg/nuts and Kale
Quorn sausages, egg, tomatoes, kale Broccoli and Stilton soup with nuts and cheese
Stir fry veg, nuts and haloumi
How do I feel?
I wont lie. For the first 4 days I felt awful. Apparently its called keto flu. Your body is upset with you for not feeding it full of the carbs it is used to. The body burns carbs more easily than fat so when it has to burn fat, it complains, for a while. I felt dizzy, disorientated, huge headache, brain fog (more than usual!). I just felt like my blood sugar was very low. But the reading I was doing had told me that this is normal, sit with it and it will pass. Then on the fifth day, it all went away! I felt fine. I have felt fine ever since.
In the last month I have had almost no stomach problems. I have more energy. I don’t have many cravings mid afternoon or lulls in energy during the day. My appetite has decreased. I no longer wake up starving for carbs like I used to. In fact I rarely eat before lunchtime now even if I am training in the park all morning. I have had no headaches since the keto flu (I used to get regular head aches) and I am sleeping better (I have had insomnia for years). My body has adapted to burning fat as a fuel and is no longer dependent on having carbs every few hours.
There are more benefits to come, I am wanting to do some endurance events this year and I always struggle to eat during marathons due to stomach problems. With this way of eating I will hopefully only need to consume limited amounts during an event as my body will be burning fat, which most of us have adequate amounts of (unlike carbs where we only store about 2 hours worth and then need to replenish it).
This is still all new to me but I am excited by the possibility I can do long events with minimal fueling. I am still reading as much as I can about this and one really good source I have found on a facebook page is the Diet Doctor website. https://www.dietdoctor.com/low-carb/keto#intro
This site explains how the LCHF diet works with clear explanations of the science behind it and goes through foods that are low and high in carbs so you know what to eat freely and what to avoid. The emphasis is eating when you are hungry. I like this, as I hate being hungry. The things is, by eating enough fat and low carbs your hunger is kept at bay. And because there are very few carbs being consumed (in the form of veg etc) then your insulin stays low and stable so you are not getting spikes and drops in insulin which can cause hunger and cravings.
For extra support there is a Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/lowcarbtriathlete/
I don’t think you have to be a triathlete to join but its a very supportive, non judgmental group where people ask all the questions that you probably want to know the answer to. There are also tips and recipes on here that people share. I’ve found it invaluable, especially on a day where it may feel a bit more of a struggle than normal (i.e when you are cold, tired, pre-menstrual and want to eat a chocolate bar!!), where you can read that everyone else faces the odd struggle with keeping on track too! Its great to know we all have those days!!
I generally love this way of eating though. I don’t feel deprived of anything. Because none of my food now is processed, it is all whole foods that I have cooked, it is a really clean way to eat. I hate cooking, but it is really simple quick meals that take minutes. I don’t need any multi vitamins, iron or any other supplements. I just eat good food. And drink plenty of water and coffee!! I could not give up coffee!!
I think, because I’m satisfied and not hungry, it is easy to stick to this kind of eating. I’m enjoying the foods and most of all because I can feel the benefits. I have lost a small amount of weight which always makes you feel better but the biggest benefit is to my stomach, which now feels calm and happy!
Give it a try, just be prepared to feel a bit grotty for the first few days. It does improve! I will post an update in another month or so, after a 10K race I’m doing in December. Lets see how that goes!! 🙂