Getting Through the First Week on a Low-Carb Diet

Any time we decide to make a major change in something as basic as what we eat, we can expect a bumpy ride. When you first choose to follow a low-carb diet, you might experience carb withdrawal or a carb crash. That is why it’s good to be well-prepared by following suggestions for getting started.

If you decide to follow a diet which has a very low-carb phase, you may have other challenges as well. It’s important to know about some of the possible pitfalls ahead of time. That way, you will know what to do if you encounter these difficulties and you will understand the importance of giving your body some time to adjust to the diet.

Getting through the first week on a low-carb diet is, indeed, the hardest part. Your body is used to using carbohydrate for energy and with this diet, it has to get used to relying mostly on fat., which is ideally what you're about to burn.

The First Three Days: Carb Withdrawal

Some people use the analogy of “food as addiction” and that may or not be your case. However, there are some common characteristics between an excessive carbohydrate diet and addictions. For instance, you may experience carb cravings because the diet you are used to has so many carbs and your body needs time to adjust.

It is also possible that you will feel a period of discomfort when you first cut back. Though the reason is unclear, quite often, this is mostly psychological because you're simply missing your favorite high-carb foods and you may think about them more now that they're gone.

To help you get over that hurdle, there are a few things you can do in those first three days.

1. Eat lots of fiber and fat. Fat and fiber together produce a high degree of satiety, the feeling of being full. Foods made with flax seeds are highly recommended because they are high in both fiber and healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Salads with protein (tuna, chicken, etc.) and lots of dressing are another good bet. These foods are acceptable on any low-carb diet, including South Beach, Atkins, and Protein Power.

There are many other foods that are both high in fiber and low in carb. These first three days are a good time to integrate those into your diet.

2. Don’t go hungry! A low-carb diet isn't like some others that you may have been on before. You are not expected to be hungry for long periods of time. Some people find it helpful, especially for the first two weeks, to plan no more than three hours between eating.

If you plan your three meals each day, take some time to also plan a few low-carb snacks. This can significantly help you relieve any food cravings between meals and help you feel less hungry during the transition.

3. Plan delicious things to eat. Nothing will make you feel more deprived than going on an austerity program when you are trying to make a big change in your eating habits. Instead, investigate the yummiest foods your plan allows.

You will soon discover that there are many delicious low-carb menu ideas available. Some of them may already be your favorites and you just need to make a few carb-friendly adjustments. A low-carb diet does not mean your food will be boring, in fact, it can open up a new world of food to you.

4. Be good to yourself. You are making a big change and deserve all the pats on the back you can get. It's important to take care of yourself, learn how to deal with cravings, and reward the little milestones. This will help you feel better about the entire experience.

It's also best if you can try to avoid as much stress as possible. Take a bubble bath, go for a walk in the woods, cuddle up by the fire with a trashy novel—whatever makes you feel good.

5. Get Support. Find people who are on your side. There are lots of people who have experienced the same things you are right now. Whether online or in-person, you can find support from others who are happy to answer questions and share their own experiences.

6. Drink lots of water. It seems simple, but having plenty of water by your side can do wonders for your body and mind during these first days.

Days 3 to 5: Watch Out for "Carb Crash"

Some people experience a phenomenon known as "carb crash" after a few days on a very low-carb diet. The theory is that it happens when your body’s glucose reserves (stored in the liver as glycogen) are used up, but your body is not yet used to running on fat and protein.

Some of the symptoms people experience include feeling shaky or jittery, feeling irritable, feeling fatigued, or just not feeling “right." Although it is temporary and will go away in a few days, there's really no reason to suffer through it. Dr. Atkins knew this and designed it into his diet plan. The cure is incredibly easy: simply add some high-quality carbs to your diet.

If you feel shaky, fatigued, or otherwise unusually bad, try eating a serving of low-carb fruit. If this makes the feeling go away, you know you are in carb crash. You can then modify your plan for the next few days to include a bit more carbohydrate and monitor your reactions closely.

This is not, however, an excuse for you to overload on the carbs. That would just defeat the purpose of your diet. Try to integrate just a few extra and good carbs while this is an issue and you'll be better off in the long run.

Mary Vernon, M.D., a specialist in low-carb diets, has suggested that people often lose a lot of salt with the fluid during the first few days and that may be the reason for some of these symptoms. To combat it, her recommendation is a cup of bouillon several times per day for a few days. Also, make sure you are getting enough potassium during this period.

Days 5 to 14: Reward Time!

By the end of the first week of your new eating plan, you should start to reap the rewards of your low-carb diet. This is the stage where many people begin to experience increased energy, better mental concentration, less compulsive eating, and few or no carb cravings. Some say it's as if a fog lifted that they didn’t even know was there.

Of course, everyone’s experience is different and it takes longer with some than others. But if you are someone who is sensitive to carbs, you will probably experience a lot of the benefits of this way of eating. The good news is that it usually begins around the end of the first week. Congratulate yourself for taking the first steps of a positive change!

A Word From Verywell

Change is hard and because the food is such an integral part of our daily lives, a diet change can be especially difficult. Try not to worry and use some of the tricks you've learned here to get through those first few days of cutting carbs. Above all else, remember that the feeling is only temporary and that you have much to gain by sticking with it.

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