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. Because it eliminates foods we have a tendency to overeat (like bread), it reduces calorie intake. And since carbs spike blood sugar, it helps stabilize blood glucose levels, too.

There are certain stumbling blocks you may encounter when you embark on 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.


Common Mistakes to Avoid When Starting a Low-Carb Diet

Eating Too Few Carbs

While it may seem self-explanatory—all you have to do is cut carbs—low-carb dieting has nuances and details that are important for success. To maintain a healthy diet while going low-carb, you need to ensure that you're getting a healthy amount of all 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, simple adjustments can help you start off on the right foot and experience the benefits of low-carb eating.

Overeating "Allowed" Foods

When you're keeping your carbs low (less than 130 grams per day), 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 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 (primarily from fat). Going low-carb isn't a license to eat as much of these foods as you want.

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, a dietary foundation of fruit, vegetables, some whole grains and nuts is associated with weight loss and satiety (reduced hunger and cravings).

You should be eating more vegetables and fruits than any other food group. As a rule, half your plate (or more) should be filled with vegetables at every meal.

Fruit (especially fruit low in sugar) plays an important role in a complete low-carb diet. These extremely healthy foods contain the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) 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. You might also want to snack on raw or roasted unsalted nuts.

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, that you might experience when you first start cutting out high-carbohydrate, high-fiber foods. To combat constipation, stock up on high-fiber flax and chia seeds, as well as low-carb bran cereal, such as All-Bran.

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. And they also provide a good deal of calcium and iron.

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 and batch-cooking (setting aside 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. Stock your bag, car, and office with non-perishable, low-carb-friendly snacks.

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 sugar alcohol with a glycemic index ranging from 35 to 52 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.

Letting Carbs Creep In

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

Maybe you add a piece of toast or some low-carb ice cream, or 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.

"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. But 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 diet is simply non-negotiable. The trick is finding something you enjoy that works for you and that you can stick with. 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 counts.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lin PJ, Borer KT. Third exposure to a reduced carbohydrate meal lowers evening postprandial insulin and GIP responses and HOMA-IR estimate of insulin resistance. PLoS ONE. 2016;11(10):e0165378. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0165378

  2. Kelly T, Unwin D, Finucane F. Low-carbohydrate diets in the management of obesity and type 2 diabetes: A review from clinicians using the approach in practiceInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(7):2557. doi:10.3390/ijerph17072557

  3. USDA FoodData Central. Milk, whole.

  4. Mozaffarian D, Hao T, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB. Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men. N Engl J Med. 2011;364(25):2392-404. doi:10.1056/nejmoa1014296

By Laura Dolson
Laura Dolson is a health and food writer who develops low-carb and gluten-free recipes for home cooks.