Cutting the Carbs – My Diet Plan
I promised earlier that I would give you guys an in-depth explanation of the diet plan I’m currently following, so here it is. I’ll get the first question out of the way: Does cutting carbs really help with weight loss? The answer is yes. And the answer is no. Everyone has a different sensitivity to carbs. I’ve known people who can easily shed fat by just reducing overall intake without completely cutting carbs. What matters here is that carb cutting is a very effective method for me. You may have noticed that I’m not a big proponent of one particular diet and exercise plan, but rather, I promote the idea of finding the plan that works best for you.
How did I find out that carb cutting was the best way for me to go? Trial and error, mostly. When I started my fitness journey over three years ago, my initial plan of attack was eating healthier and controlling my portion sizes. I saw some success with this method, but it was slow going – about 1-2 pounds lost per month. In January of 2011, I found myself 20 pounds away from my target weight, and three months away from a caribbean cruise vacation. I really wanted to hit my target before vacation, but I knew that if I continued at my present rate of loss, there was no way that would happen. I started to look for other options, and came upon a diet plan that was centered around cutting carbs. Carb-cutting is a popular concept – big name diets like Atkins, The Zone, and South Beach are all centered around carb-cutting principles, and for good reason. There’s a lot of science behind why it works. I did a lot of my own research, and there are dozens of sources out there on the subject, so if you are interested in trying this method, I’d suggest you do the same.
The plan I followed worked exactly as I had hoped. I dropped all twenty pounds in those twelve weeks, and saw more muscle definition on my body than I ever had in my life, thanks to losing all that body fat. What happened in between then and now? I’ll be honest – I made some bad choices. Some were due to a lack of discipline – too much beer, too much ice cream, too many Christmas cookies. But I also failed to fully learn the lessons that my carb-free diet had taught me about my body. After hitting my target weight, I decided I wanted to add some muscle, and I followed muscle building plans that advocated high-carb intake to bulk up. I added muscle, but I also added a lot of fat – about three pounds of fat for every pound of muscle! Before long, these choices landed me where I am now – at the same bodyfat percentage I sat at in January 2011. Not completely back to square one – I’m definitely much, much fitter than I was when I started, but I’m not living up to the standard I set for myself.
What I Do
So what exactly do I do? Well, like I said in my monthly goals post, I have my daily meals planned out with very few carbs. It’d be nearly impossible (and probably not entirely healthy) to go completely carb-free, but I do my best to avoid carb-heavy foods like bread, pasta, and the like. I stick to vegetables I like, such as peppers, snap peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, and fresh spinach, and protein sources like ground turkey, eggs, fish, chicken, and a low-carb protein shake.
At first, it’s tough. I started on Tuesday this week, and I felt very drained the entire day. I think part of this is that my diet had been so carb-heavy while I was in Las Vegas the week before – sugary drinks, and tons of carbs at every meal. However, day 2 was much better, and it’s progressed from there. My energy levels always come back up to normal by the second week, so I’m looking forward to getting back into my sprinting routine soon.
The “Cheat Meal”
I talked in my weekly update about my “cheat day.” It’s pretty much what it sounds like – I take a meal or two (or three, but that’s pushing it) and stray from my diet. I don’t go crazy, but I enjoy things that I wouldn’t normally have as part of my diet. Why? Well, there are some sciencey benefits, but for me, I mostly do it to stay sane. I’ve found that 100% adherence to a diet, even one like this where I enjoy the things I’m eating, just becomes exponentially more painful as time goes on. It’s much easier for me to stay focused and disciplined throughout the week if I know I get to have a treat at the end. This week, I had a tasty pork and turkey sandwich at my favorite Cuban sandwich place for lunch, along with a sweetened coffee, followed by a beer in the afternoon. Then my wife and I went to a Greek heritage festival in the evening (I’m not Greek, but it doesn’t stop me from appreciating their tasty food and fun music!), where we shared lamb sandwiches, gyros, and fried calamari with a Greek beer, followed by some baklava and wedding cookies for dessert.
Some plans just advocate a cheat meal, but I’ve found that’s not quite enough for my appetite, and I see a lot of success by keeping it contained within a day. I weighed the same thing on Saturday morning before the cheat as I did Sunday afternoon during my weekly weigh-in, so it doesn’t affect my results too much. When I slip up and cheat for the entire weekend, I do see some backward progress, so it really helps to stay disciplined and keep it short.
Hopefully that gives you a better idea of what I’m doing to achieve my current goals. Leave a comment below and let me know what works for you!