While there’s no denying the success of many low carb diets, they’re not without their issues. It is not unusual to find that first-timers experience a range of unfortunate side-effects when they significantly cut carbohydrates from their diet – or eliminate them altogether.
Fortunately, in almost every instance these downsides are very temporary, and soon disappear once your body gets used to its new diet. In most cases it is the period of time between cutting the carbs, and your body firing up other sources of energy (primarily fat) which leads to issues. Within a few weeks these tend to clear up completely.
All the same, some low carb dieters find that they struggle to reach this point, suffering as they do from some unpleasant side effects.
Today, therefore, we’re going to look at some of the more common downsides of such a diet. In doing so, you’ll not only be better educated about what to expect, but you’ll also have a range of tools and techniques to help you get through the difficult induction phase.
The switch from using consumed glucose as an energy source to fat-based metabolism can take time, during which some people find themselves more tired or irritable than normal. Sadly, there are no easy solutions to this situation, and very few ways to speed up the body’s fat-adaption process.
That said, it makes sense to commence a low carb diet on the weekend if possible, giving you a few day’s grace before you need to go back to work. Some dieters also claim that increased fluid intake during this period can lessen the feeling of fatigue, while exercise seems to speed up the process, forcing the body to turn to fat metabolism for the energy needed.
Fibre in our diets normally eases the movement of food through the gut, keeping our digestive systems firing on all cylinders. The fact that most low carb diets often eliminate (or significantly reduce) this element means that uncomfortable constipation can be experienced as a result.
Fortunately, this tends to be one of the easier problems to solve. The first strategy involves consuming large volumes of water to keep your body fully hydrated. This will often make it easier for food to move through the gut.
The second, and arguably just as important, step is to load up on non-starchy vegetables in your diet. Green leafy vegetables like kale, cabbage and broccoli tend to work best and are typically very low in carbohydrates.
Low carb dieters have long experienced breath which smells unpleasant. Often known as “keto breath”, when the body goes into fat metabolism chemicals known as “ketones” are given off. Some of these are then breathed out, creating the unpleasant scent.
There are a range of cures for keto breath, though the first thing to realize is that like many other side effects these tend to be temporary. In the meantime, ensure you are consuming enough fluids and up your oral hygiene routine to ensure you are regularly brushing, flossing and using an anti-bacterial mouthwash. If necessary, purchase a minty-fresh breath spray to carry with you during the transition phase.
It’s a sad fact that most sweet foods are high in carbohydrates, meaning that they need to be given up when on such a diet. Now, to be clear, this is far from a physical issue, and is more one of self-discipline. That said, if you have a sweet tooth then adjusting to life without candy can be tough.
The key to not being beaten is to judiciously use small amounts of plain chocolate. Most people find that just a single square, allowed to gently dissolve in the mouth, is enough to dispense with those desires for some time to come. Just don’t overdo all your hard work and end up eating the whole bar!
If in doubt, keep a good quality bar on hand at home and in your bag at work just in case the desire becomes too much. It’s always better to try a short-term solution like this, then carry on with your diet, than it is to give up altogether.
Interestingly, even people with a sweet tooth normally find all too soon that their desire for sweet foods disappears. Speaking from my personal experience, as someone who has gone over a year without anything sweet in the past, your low carb diet simply becomes the “new norm” if you stick with it long enough. You’ll find that declining the bag of sweets working its way around the office becomes ever easier over time.
Loss of Muscle Mass
Low carb dieters are at a very real risk of losing muscle mass over time. The reason is simply that maintaining muscle requires a fair amount of calories, so in a deficit the body may draw nutriment from the muscles themselves.
Fortunately, it is reasonably easy to avoid this situation with correct nutrition and exercise.
Firstly, when attempting a low carb diet be sure that you’re consuming enough protein each day. One gram of protein per pound of bodyweight is recommended, in the form of high quality protein like eggs and lean poultry.
To this, low carb dieters should add regular resistance training. Aim to use compound movements such as squats, cleans and deadlifts to activate as much muscle fibre as possible, lifting heavy weights of 70-90% of your one rep max. In doing so you will stimulate your muscles on a regular basis, using the high levels of protein you consume to retain your current lean body mass.
You might be surprised to hear that ultra-low carb diets have been used in the medical profession for years, as they have been shown to improve seizures. One of the regularly-noted side-effects among doctors is the increased chance of contracting kidney stones while on such a diet.
The reason for such a condition seems to be that the kidneys often struggle to properly pass mineral deposits, due to a lack of hydration. The recommended solution is to ensure that you are consuming plenty of water each and every day – even if you don’t feel thirsty.