If you’re new to the low carb world, you may be wondering where the heck to start. Here are a few thoughts and resources to consider.
First, there is no single ‘best’ version of a low carb way of eating. Deb and I have used a number of different low carb and ketogenic approaches for more than a decade, with varying degrees of success and interspersed with relapses. (We’ll talk more about relapses later.) We are not medical professionals, nor are we offering specific advice. Our goal here is to share what we’ve learned along the way. That is, what has worked for us, and what hasn’t. Although Deb and I share certain genes (we are sisters), we are not clones. Our approaches differ in a number of ways. We are constantly adjusting and tweaking to better optimize our dietary plans. I should also point out that certain tactics that may work at one point in time may become less effective during various seasons of our lives. As the saying goes, “The only thing that is constant is change.”
It’s become very clear over the past 10 years or so, from multiple reputable and gold-standard studies, that a low carb diet may be the most successful health and weight loss/maintenance approach for many people, especially those with diabetes and/or metabolic syndrome. There are a lot of books and blogs out there promoting various versions of “low carb,” and most of them have some good ideas to offer. The thing to remember is that not every approach works for every individual. We are all as unique as snowflakes: genetically, metabolically, and in every other way. Environmental factors combine with genetics that leads to unique metabolic states (how our bodies respond to different macronutrients, such as carbs, protein, and fat) that vary among individuals.
Beyond our unique snowflake bodies, we also have different tastes, lifestyles, and optimal ways of learning. For instance:
- Deb and I don’t like all of the same foods. Go figure! We are both ‘foodies,’ though, so we love to experiment with new foods and combinations.
- Deb has a teenage daughter at home and works full-time (in addition to this blog). I’m an ’empty nester’ who works part-time (in addition to this blog). Both of our husbands are picky eaters, and Deb’s is substantially pickier than mine! Her daughter is also a picky eater. That’s a lot to juggle when you’re the cook in the house. We have different lifestyle challenges that require different tactics.
- I love to track my food and workouts in online logs; Deb, not as much.
- Deb likes to make changes in a more deliberate, steady manner than I do. Too many changes at once can freak her out. Her dietary approach needs to be simple in order to be sustainable. I groove on more variables, details, and experimenting. And both of our approaches back-fire on us from time to time!
- While we both are avid readers, I love to do ‘deep dives’ into research and usually emerge on the other side inspired to try yet another new nutritional experiment on myself (n=1, anyone?). OK, I drive Deb a little crazy. While we are exposed to a lot of the same books, blogs, videos, and other resources, our take on the information is often different.
That leads me to a very important point. How do you know which expert to listen to? The fact is that there are a great number very intelligent and knowledgeable low carb nutrition “experts” out there, and we genuinely respect the opinions of many of them. They, too, have differing points of view. Medical practioners, researchers, and other experts can look at the results of the same gold-standard studies and interpret the results differently. I used to think that most of the dietary and medical advice I heard “out there” was based on some sort of unequivocal truth, but it is definitely not. Experts have differing opinions and those opinions often change over time as new studies are done and new facts emerge (at least they should). They are also human beings and have their own confirmation biases, as do all of us. In the end, we all have to learn as much as we can, follow our intuition, and be willing to be flexible in both our views and our methods.
A few days ago, I watched a video of a recent presentation by Stephen Phinney, MD, who has been a physician, medical school professor, and researcher for about 40 years, with much of his focus on low carb and ketogenic dietary approaches. (I’ve read three of his books and I have great respect for his knowledge and experience.) He pointed out that old ‘pearl of wisdom’ that is often given out in medical school, to the effect that, “Fifty percent of what you learn in medical school will be wrong by the time you graduate. The problem is, we don’t know which fifty percent.” Dr. Phinney said he would agree that about half of what he thought to be true at one point is no longer the case. And that’s not likely to change — half of what he thinks is true now will undoubtedly be deemed to be wrong in the future! Our scientific knowledge of the human body is constantly evolving. In my opinion, it is hubris to think otherwise.
The differences of opinion among experts will always be there. I doubt that any of us will live long enough to discover all of the truths with respect to how the human body works. In the meantime, we can’t afford to wait around for experts to agree. We have to act now, with imperfect information. In our opinion, the best way to begin is to choose an approach that seems like a good fit for you. It doesn’t have to be perfect, because we don’t even know what perfect is — except that “perfect is the enemy of good.” You can make adjustments as you learn more about how your body responds to various interventions and what other approaches might be worth trying. If you’re doing this right, a low carb way of eating isn’t temporary. You have the rest of your life to figure it out as you go along! If you’re trying to “get back on the horse” and are feeling a little tenuous, read my post, Reflections On New Year’s Resolutions for some encouragement and tips.
Here are a few free resources to get you started. For much more information, see our Resources page.