Sophie, a journalist from Essex, United Kingdom, has followed a low-carb lifestyle for the last 10 months. Her journey has been on and off, setting herself intermittent but realistic goals throughout that time, most recently looking towards her friend’s wedding where she was a bridesmaid. I spoke to Sophie to learn about the low-carb lifestyle and where she sees it going in the long term for this weeks Watching Our Wastline (WOW) Wednesday
Programme of choice: Low-carb
Journey time to date: 10 months
What drew you to a low-carb diet?
I’ve done the low-carb thing on and off for several years – I’m a bit rubbish with sticking to things for too long and prefer to dip in and out when the needs (and the tight jeans) strike to keep my waistline under control. My dad has been a fan of the Atkins diet for a long time now – being a staunch meat eater it suits him down to the ground, and also allows him to lose weight fairly quickly without having to do masses of exercise, which is good as he has mobility problems due to illness. About six years ago, after seeing him lose weight so easily (whilst still eating large portions of tasty food), I decided to give it a go myself. I bought the Atkins Diet Revolution book, read it, and began the diet. After a few hazy, headachey days I got into the swing of things and within a month I’d lost over a stone. Bad eating habits slowly crept back in after a while but I know that when I need to slim down a little, low carb eating suits me well, and works quickly without too much of a struggle.
How have you found your energy levels since cutting carbs?
Surprisingly fine, actually. The first time I cut carbs I went all-in – no dairy, no alcohol, no fruit, nothing that wasn’t on the approved induction food list – I stayed well within the 20g a day recommended by Dr Atkins and it hit me hard, as my body was used to being full of sugar all the time. I felt awful and had what some people refer to as the ‘Atkins flu’ – headaches, lethargy, even nausea. But after the second day my energy levels picked back up, the headache went and I felt fine. I’ve never had such a strong reaction since and I think it’s because I listen to my body more these days – I drink a lot more water than I used to, and I make sure my sodium levels are kept stable (this is key to avoiding the ‘Atkins flu’ – which can be brought on by a sudden drop in sodium levels). I now go to the gym at least three times a week whilst on the low-carb diet and feel no different to if I was eating ‘normally’.
What are the benefits?
I find for me, it’s the portions – I have a big appetite and truthfully most ‘diet’ foods leave me feeling a bit bored and hungry. I end up feeling like I’m missing out and I get grumpy! With the low carb diet I can still enjoy my favourite foods like steak, bacon, eggs – I can even have things like pizza and cottage pie, I just need to replace the traditional ingredients for low-carb alternatives such as using cauliflower mash or dough instead of potatoes and bread. Once you get a handle on what has a high or low carb count, it’s easy to adapt most meals to suit, and that includes eating out. I’ve even been known to eat a bun-less McDonalds burger before in a crisis!
Carbs can be found in so many different foods, even ones you might not expect, have you had any nasty surprises and accidentally eaten something you shouldn’t have?
Definitely – a couple spring to mind. The first time I tried eating low carb, I cracked one day and decided to get some coleslaw, thinking that it would be made of mostly low carb ingredients (cabbage, onion, mayo, or whatever) – turns out it’s also PACKED with sugar. After not having sugar for a few weeks it tasted like a dessert and was pretty gross to be honest. I also had an annoying run-in with some seafood sticks from the supermarket – stupidly I picked them up without checking the ingredients, thinking they’d just be made from compressed fish. It turns out they too are packed with sugar – and in the plateful I tucked into I’d gone over my daily carb count! Irritated was an understatement.
Cutting out such an integral food group seems like it would be a challenge, how have you found sticking to such a strict regime?
It is tricky – mainly because I do end up checking the ingredients list of every pre-made or pre-packed food I eat, and as much as I can pick what sound like low carb options in restaurants I can never be 100% sure how they’ve prepared it (have they put a dressing on that salad? Have they added breadcrumbs to that burger patty? etc), so that’s always a bit of a worry. Every supermarket salad ever now seems to contain rice or pasta, so convenience foods are pretty much out completely. The other annoying thing with the low-carb diet is that you kind of need to stick to it 100% the time – for it to be at it’s most effective I try to stick to less than 20g of net carbs a day, and once I go over that it can take a few days for my body to get back into optimal fat-burning mode. So one slip up really can set me back a few days, which is annoying – but it does mean I stick to my guns much more than when on a regular low calorie diet! I think the main thing is that, because I can’t rely on anything premade, I have to prepare every meal from scratch – which is good as I enjoy cooking (and it’s healthier), but sometimes you just want to come home and stick something in the oven without having to prepare it first!
What do you miss the most about carbs?
For me it’s a texture thing – which sounds weird but bear with me here! I miss having something crunchy to eat. Most of the low carb foods I eat – meat, salad, vegetables, fish – aren’t particularly crunchy (aside from the raw veg but it’s not quite the same!). I miss biting into a crispy pizza base or a bag of actual crisps, or a piece of toast. That crispy crunch that you can get so easily from carbs! I’m luckily in that whilst I enjoy sweets and chocolate I don’t have a particularly sweet palette, so I don’t feel like I miss them all that much – until someone at work brings out a bag of cookies that is!
Do you think this is a sustainable, long-term lifestyle choice?
To an extent, it is. I’ve been pretty rubbish in the past at letting my old carb-heavy habits slip back in but I think with the right will power, it would be easy to stick to lower carb options. The Atkins diet actually has several phases that ease you back into eating a wider variety of meals and foods that involve more and more carbs – until eventually you can have brown rice, sweet potatoes and so on. I think these are probably healthier choices to make in general so perhaps this time I’ll try to go in that direction rather than back towards the French fries when I reach my goal!
While restaurants are increasingly becoming more food aware and offering healthier options, there is still a high volume of carb based dishes on menus, have you experienced any difficulty when eating out or have your choices been limited to the salad section?
As explained above, it’s actually easier than you’d think to order low carb when out and about – though it is worthwhile checking with anything you’re not sure about. Generally speaking you can eat large amounts of meat, fish, seafood and low-carb vegetables on the diet so steak, chicken, etc are all fine to choose – and lots of places now offer “naked” burgers without buns and things too, which are good for a little variety. I’ve even managed to order low-carb at Indian restaurants before – stick with the dry tandoori dishes and the veg and you should be fine.
What would you suggest to anyone who might want to try a low-carb diet?
Don’t just stick to fatty meals like fry-ups; whilst you can technically eat as much bacon as you like, you probably shouldn’t go overboard with it as you’ll start getting sick of it very quickly! It’s surprisingly easy to sub low-carb options into lots of standard every day dishes – for example, swap regular pizza crust for a cauliflower one. Swap that portion of fries for a helping of roasted vegetables. And keep hydrated! Drink lots of water, and you should feel fine.
What is your ultimate goal?
Ideally I’d like to be a solid size 12, and around 11 stone – at the moment I go between a 12 and a 14 depending on the shop (and the body area!) and it would be nice to be toned and fit and confident in my size. I’d also like to start looking into doing some more weights to help with the toning and get fit.
Would you like to be featured in WOW Wednesday and share your journey to date with My Boyfriend|Gym just like Sophie did? Send me an email at email@example.com with a little bit about your weight loss, fitness or health journey and a before and after (or during) photo. We feature one inspirational person a week, and it could easily be you!