10 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Starting a Low-Carb Diet

A low-carb diet can be extremely effective for dropping excess fat, and studies show it may also help reduce the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes. As it eliminates foods we have a tendency to overeat (can you say bread basket?), you end up saving calories. And since carbs spike blood sugar, you'll have more stabilized blood glucose levels, too.

However, there are stumbling blocks you may run into when you embark upon a specialized diet that restricts certain foods. From expecting results too soon to overindulging in other macronutrients to failing to plan, these missteps can wreck your best intentions on a low-carb diet. But they don't have to.

Eating Too Few Carbs

While it may seem self-explanatory at first, low-carb dieting has nuances and details that are important for success. To maintain a healthy diet while going low-carb, ensure you're getting a healthy amount of all the macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbs). Remember, low-carb doesn't mean no-carb.

If you eat too few carbs, you may suffer a carb crash—an experience that may convince you low-carb eating isn't for you. However, with a simple adjustment or two, you can start off on the right foot and be well on your way to experiencing the many benefits.

Overeating "Allowed" Foods

When you're keeping your carbs low (between 50 to 100 grams, depending on your exercise level), you may find yourself reaching for more of the macronutrients you aren't restricting.

For example, dairy products are a good source of calcium and other essential nutrients, but milk easily has 11 to 12 grams of carbohydrate per cup. 

Overdoing it on meat and cheese has its own health risks and may lead to weight gain, as these foods contain a lot of calories.

Going low-carb isn't a license to eat as much of these foods as you want. Rather, follow the low-carb food pyramid to find the optimal amount of macronutrients for you. Let appetite be your guide—eat when you are hungry and stop when you are comfortably satisfied.

Skipping Vegetables

Time and time again, people say they don't feel good eating a diet lower in carbohydrates. When looking more closely at their diets, it often turns out they aren't eating enough (if any) fruits or vegetables.

Both starchy and non-starchy vegetables contain carbohydrates, as do fruits and other healthy foods that you'll need to include in your meals.

In fact, the low-carb pyramid has vegetables at the base. In other words, you should be eating more of them than any other food group.

As a rule, half your plate (or more) should be filled with vegetables.

Fruit (especially fruit low in sugar) also plays an important role in a complete low-carb diet. These extremely healthy foods contain the micronutrients your body needs to function well and stay healthy. They won't just help your waistline—they can also help prevent chronic disease.

Avoiding Fat

Shying away from fat is as detrimental as over-consuming it. Healthy fats are a crucial component of a balanced diet. Despite the fact that the "low-fat" fad has been widely discredited and healthy fats have been shown to improve everything from high cholesterol to brain health, we still get many negative messages about fat in our diet.

When paired with the desire to lose weight fast, these misconceptions may convince you to attempt a low-fat version of a low-carb diet.

In the beginning, you might see results if you are using up a lot of your own fat (as opposed to eating it). However, fat loss inevitably slows down.

You may become more hungry if you don't add some fat to your diet—and nothing will sabotage a diet faster than hunger.

Try having half an avocado with your eggs at breakfast and dress your salads with olive oil-based dressings.

Forgetting Fiber

Eating enough vegetables and fruit can help ensure you're getting enough fiber in your diet. Adequate fiber helps prevent gastrointestinal disturbances, such as constipation and bloating, you might experience when you first start cutting out high-carbohydrate, high-fiber foods.

Familiarize yourself with high-fiber, low-carb foods (most of them can be found in the produce aisle) and the different types of fiber you need to be getting each day.

While beans and legumes can be higher in carb than other choices, the carbs in these foods tend to be more slowly absorbed (resistant starches). Beans, in particular, are also excellent sources of protein and fiber, which will help you feel fuller longer.

To combat constipation, stock up on high-fiber flax and chia seeds, as well as low-carb bran cereal, such as All-Bran.

Lack of Planning

When you first start a new way of eating, you'll undoubtedly run into old habits that need to be changed to new healthier ones, like mindlessly hitting a vending machine or drive-thru.

Pausing to reconsider your habits is a constructive step toward making improvements.

With meals, it's especially important to plan ahead for a while until your new habits come naturally. Nothing will sabotage your goals more quickly than realizing you're hungry but you don't know what to eat, your pantry and fridge are empty, and you don't have time to cook.

Meal-planning before you grocery shop, as well as batch-cooking (pick one day to make a bunch of meals that you can eat throughout the week), can be excellent tools to ensure you always have food at the ready.

Keeping low-carb snacks on hand is also a good idea along with quick, non-perishable, snacks in your bag, car, and office.

Getting Stuck in a Rut

There are people who eat the same things day after day and like it that way. However, most of us tend to prefer at least a little variety in our diet.

There are many ways to avoid boredom on a low-carb diet. In fact, a varied diet is what's best for us nutritionally. Every cuisine has low-carb options; you just need to be mindful of starch and sugar.

Some of your favorite dishes and recipes might be doable with low-carb substitutions or swaps.

Relying on Packaged Food

Products that talk about "net carbs" or "impact carbs" need close scrutiny. Be wary of low-carb ice cream, meal replacement bars, and other "treats" labeled low-carb or sugar-free.

Foods that claim to have no sugar often contain ingredients such as maltitol, which is a carbohydrate that affects blood sugar.

It's also important to note that unless you have Celiac disease, gluten-free foods won't necessarily be a better option. In fact, packaged foods designed to be gluten-free can have more carbs and calories.

Sneaky Carbs

You're eating low-carb. You're feeling great, and the weight dropping off as if by magic. You're not hungry between meals. You have energy. You can concentrate better.

Maybe you have a piece of toast or some low-carb ice cream, a little sugar in your coffee now and then.

You might not immediately start gaining weight, but going over your personal carb limit can have other implications. You might have increased cravings, feel hungrier, and eventually, maybe you do start regaining the weight.

Sometimes getting into the cycle is more subtle, but "carb creep" is a common phenomenon and you may not even be aware it's happening. When you do start to take notice, it may be time to go back to basics for a few days, which can help you break the cycle.

Not Exercising

When you first start eating low-carb, the loss of weight (and water weight) might make you feel as though exercise is unnecessary. To achieve the results you want, and maintain them long term, you'll need to get active rather than staying sedentary.

Many plans, including Atkins, state that exercising on a low-carb is simply non-negotiable. The trick is finding something you enjoy that works for you and that you can stick with.

You don't have to immediately hit the treadmill or sign up for spin class. Experiment with different types of exercise and routines. Before committing to a gym membership or class, get a guest pass to see how you like it.

You don't necessarily have to spend a lot of money or even leave the house. Fitness videos are an easy way to work out at home, as are many yoga sequences. Even something as basic as taking the dog for a long walk after dinner.

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