By: Austin Perlmutter, MD, Medical Student, Miller School of Medicine
A few years ago, the science became too significant to ignore, and I decided to drastically cut back on my dietary carbohydrates. I believed in my good baseline health, and didn’t foresee any complications with this decision. A day in, I faced mood swings, crashing energy levels and intense cravings, and I started questioning my choice. Several days later, my mind cleared and my energy levels stabilized. I then realized how important my choice had been, and why I would never go back.
Years later, I counsel my patients and friends to venture down the same path, as the health benefits of a low carbohydrate diet cannot be denied. So often, I hear the same sentiment: it’s too hard to stop eating carbs! Ladies and gentlemen, I hear you loud and clear. Without help, cutting back your carbs is no easy task, especially if they’re a large part of your diet. But it doesn’t have to be that challenging! With the following tips and tricks, you’ll put your mind and stomach at ease. You’ll coast past this roadblock and come out feeling better than ever.
- Fight fire with fire: Data shows that sugar cravings work like drugs cravings, acting on the same neurochemical pathways. This helps to explain the withdrawal effect seen on stopping carbohydrates. Understand that the discomfort you face is your body withdrawing from an addictive substance, and use this as fuel to push yourself forward. Don’t allow a food to control you like a drug, and realize how much better you’ll feel when you purge this addictive substance from your body.
- Attack your cravings head–on: While many of us would like to get healthy overnight, it’s important to look at cutting carbs as a significant lifestyle change. Realize that this way of eating will take a little while to adapt to, and be ready to tackle the cravings when they come. Diffuse your carbohydrate cravings by having a supply of high quality snacks like nuts, cheese, meat and veggies on hand for the first few days of your transition. This isn’t the time to worry about counting calories; just snack whenever the longing for carbs gets to you and you’ll come out the other side better for it.
- Don’t sabotage yourself: The beginning of the carb-conscious journey is the hardest part. Don’t make it tougher by hanging around Italian restaurants and dessert bars. Of course, life will go on around you, but there’s no need to start your diet the night before a charity pancake breakfast. Set yourself up for success by removing unnecessary temptation within reason. Bring lunch to work, so you’re not stuck deciding between unhealthy options.
- Make a commitment: The biggest problem with diets is that we don’t stay on them. Cutting back on carbs may be the best thing you do for your health, but if you backslide to your original way of eating after 2 months, your body will also revert to its prior state. Before you begin, ask yourself why you want to change. Take the before pictures, write down your reasons for change and make a real commitment to your health. A short-term diet is nothing compared to a lifestyle change. This is a long-term commitment to a healthier, brighter future.
- Believe in your decision: Over the years, I’ve faced everything from curiosity to outright ridicule regarding my dietary choices. Some people will be appalled that you choose not to have a sandwich or will find something egregiously wrong with refusing a slice of pie. Mostly, they won’t understand why you eat so differently. You need to understand that as Americans, though we aren’t bad or stupid people, we are not healthy people. Your goal is to be the healthiest you can be. Let others judge, and when they ask about your food, explain to them why you’re eating the way you are. Stay strong, and others will follow.