This article was the feature article in the eleventh issue of "Coffee With Jim".
Why Some Low Carb Dieters Should Consider Counting
I want to discuss a possibility that most low carb dieters probably
don't want to consider -- more on that in a minute.
First, let me make the observation that most low carb dieters
follow a form of the low carb diet that says nothing about counting
calories. In fact many low carb diets promise that you won't have
to count calories at all.
Let's take the Atkins diet as a prominent example. The key to fat
loss, according to Atkins is to make sure you get the right number
of grams of carbohydrates. If you simply get your carb count
fine-tuned, you will lose or maintain weight according to your
And the thing is, this works very well for a while. Most people
who start the Atkins diet lose 5-10 pounds the first two weeks, and
then, if they stick to the plan, go on to lose a bunch more weight.
For some people the protocol works perfectly. They reach their
goal weight, go on maintenance, and maintain their weight the rest
of their lives.
But for many, probably a majority, it doesn't work quite so
Many people lose weight for a while, and then stall for a
considerable period of time, well short of their goal. This
discourages them, and often they start eating carbs again and put
much of their weight back on again.
And some find that if they have high levels of stress in their
lives they can put weight back on, even while sticking to the low
carb diet, even with a carb count under 20 grams a day.
Now I think these people still come out ahead in the long run. Low
carb nutrition is helpful for a number of reasons, not just weight
loss, but it sure can be discouraging when you gain much of your
weight back again.
So what is the solution for these people?
I hate to say it, but, if you find yourself in this position, it is
entirely possible that you will have to begin counting calories,
even while following a low carb diet.
And I'm not going to sugar coat this (no pun intended). Counting
calories is a pain.
You eat dozens of different food items in a week. That means you
have to figure out the calorie count of each and every item. And
early on, you have to measure your portions very carefully to make
sure you have an accurate count of your caloric intake.
You also have to make sure you record every meal.
Feel like snacking? Well, first, you either have to make sure you
snack on a food you know the calorie count for, or you have to take
time to figure out the calorie count for the snack -- and this can
be harder than it sounds when you're really hungry! Then you have
to record the item on some sort of daily calorie tracking device
(for most people a simple notepad will do).
It is tedious, but it can be done. And, really, only a week or two
of truly rigorous calorie counting is needed, because you will get
a sense for calories after that. Although maybe every six months
or so you will want to count calories for a couple weeks again to
But Don't Start Counting Just Yet
Counting calories won't help if you don't know some very important
pieces of information.
First, you need to know how many calories you burn in a day. That
way, if you know that you burn 2000 calories in a day, you can set
your diet up to take in only 1600, and you will come close to
losing a pound a week. Or you can burn off an extra 200 calories
with exercise and eat 1800 calories and achieve the same results.
Second, you need to know that your body fat burns calories even
when you are at rest. This is important because, as you lose fat,
you will burn fewer calories. Some estimates show that for every
20 pounds of fat you lose, your daily calorie burn will drop by
This is one of the main reasons for diet plateaus. You start with
2000 calories a day and lose 30 pounds. But then you can't lose
any more, because 2000 calories a day has now become your
maintenance level. And it has nothing to do with having a slower
metabolism. It's just that there is now less of you there to burn
calories when you are at rest.
So you need to figure out how many calories you need to consume to
maintain your weight, and you need to be prepared to cut back your
calorie count a little bit as you lose weight.
Almost no low carb diet plan talks about these things. The only
one I know of is Dr. Gregory Ellis's plan in his book, Ultimate Fat
Burning Secrets (If you are interested, just do a Google search).
Now Dr. Ellis's personality has been described as abrasive, but
don't let this turn you off. He is the only one I know of who
teaches low carb dieters about the importance of calorie counting.
And he does a very good job of that. I am on record elsewhere
saying his book is one of my three favorite low carb diet plan
books (along with Dr. Loren Cordain's The Paleo Diet, and Dr.
Wolfgang Lutz's Life Without Bread)
So How Do You Determine How Many Calories You Need?
There are two approaches to determine how many calories you need to
eat to maintain your weight.
First, if you keep a very good record of how many calories you
consume for a couple of weeks or so, you can see what your weight
does during that time and get a feel for how many calories you need
to consume. If you reach the end of two weeks, and your weight
hasn't changed, you have discovered the number of calories you need
to eat to maintain your weight. If you want to lose weight, you
can then make the necessary adjustments.
If, after two weeks, you have gained or lost weight, you can adjust
your calories a couple hundred calories in one direction or the
other and try again. You will eventually determine your
maintenance calorie level.
Second, Dr. Ellis has some very scientific methods for determining
how many calories you burn at rest in a day based on your weight,
your age, and your height. You then add the calories you burn from
exercise to get your total calorie expenditure, and then determine
how many calories you want to eat from there.
The formula is a little bit too complicated to cover in this
article, so I'll refer you to Dr. Ellis if you want to take this
If I Have To Count Calories, Why Should I Choose A Low Carb Diet?
Now some of you were attracted to a low carb diet precisely because
someone promised you that you wouldn't have to count calories if
you ate low carb.
But now you've hit a plateau, and I'm here telling you that you
should consider counting calories. Why not do a typical high carb
diet, then. If you're counting calories, won't you lose the same
amount of weight either way? And, if you eat a high carb diet, you
can have all the pasta, bread, and desserts you've been missing out
There's nothing wrong with this reasoning so far. You can lose
weight either way, as long as you are keeping close track of your
But I want to encourage you not to lose sight of something very
important that you've almost certainly learned by experience. You
will find that you will face much more hunger with a high-carb,
restricted-calorie diet than you will with a low-carb,
restricted-calorie diet. A high carb diet will prove more
difficult to stick to than a low carb diet.
I'm not saying counting calories will be a piece of cake on a low
carb diet. When you are counting calories on a low carb diet,
there will be times when you have eaten all your calories for the
day and you'll still be a little hungry. You will have to stand
firm. To help you stand firm, you can use many of the techniques I
discuss on my site and in my book.
But keep in mind that, however much you struggle to keep your
calories down on a low carb diet, it will be much more difficult on
a high carb diet.
NOTE: Information about Dr. Ellis's Book can be found here:
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