How to Recover when You Crash off a Low Carb Diet
If you are eating a carb-restricted diet, sooner or later, no matter how much weight you've lost or how well controlled your blood sugar has become, you are going to run into the carby treat with your name on it, and when that happens, chances are you're going to eat it.
What happens next may be the single most important moment in your diet.
Are you going to be taken by surprise by normal physiological changes that occur? Will you start the three month binge-from-hell that leaves you wallowing in self-hatred while you pack on all the weight you lost and more? Or will you use the experience of going off-plan to strengthen your long-term diet success?
The choice is up to you.
Knowing What To Expect Can Keep You From Panicking
When you boost your carbs above the low carbing threshold--the specific amount varies from person to person--two things will happen. You will become hungry and you will immediately gain a startling amount of weight.
The reasons for your sudden weight gain are explained here.
Why Higher Carb Intakes Can Cause Hunger Cravings
The hunger is a bit more complicated, especially since it may not kick in right after you eat the carbohydrates that send you off-plan but may take a day or two to develop--when you are eating low carb again.
If you experience intense hungers immediately after you eat your first carby meal, the explanation is this: After you have been low carbing for a while, your body stops producing some of the enzymes needed to digest complex starches and sugars. It takes a day or two for these to ramp back up.
But in meantime, when you eat carbohydrates your blood sugar may go up a lot higher than it normally would, even if you don't usually have blood sugar problems. This is why some researchers have reported that low carbing can actually cause insulin resistance.
In fact, for many people, this is only a very temporary phenomenon. Most people will start making the enzymes they need within a day or two and when that happens their insulin resistance will return to its normal state.
But until that happens, blood sugars may surge abnormally high and then rebound much lower than usual. When this happens the brain interprets it very simply and screams, "I'm starving! Feed me!"
If you don't know that the hunger is only your blood sugar talking, that demonic craving can send you into a non-stop binge.
Why Cravings Get Worse When You Go Back on Your Diet
Even harder to deal with is the unexpected hunger you encounter after you've gone back to eating a low carb diet.
You may wake up morning after a big carb-up and eat a perfectly decent low carb breakfast only to find yourself yearning to stuff yourself with whatever high carb food is your personal downfall at lunch. Once again, there is a physiological explanation for this.
Normal people's pancreas cells produce and store insulin between meal times. Then, at the very beginning of a meal your pancreas releases enough of that stored insulin to cover the carbohydrates it expects to come pouring in. This release happens at very beginning of a meal, before you take a single bite. It may happen when you first sniff food, or perhaps when you start to salivate, and it ensures that your blood sugar will never rise above a healthy base level.
But there's a hitch. The amount of insulin that body releases is set by how much carbohydrate it has encountered in your previous couple meals.
If your previous meals were full of carbohydrates, your pancreas will release a lot of insulin. If you virtuously consume a low carb meal, that insulin finds no sugars to store--except the glucose in your blood that is meant to feed your cells.
As a result, the insulin removes this glucose from your blood, giving you low blood sugar. Once again the brain interprets this low blood sugar as an emergency and starts screaming, "I'm starving! Feed me!"
It may take a day or two or even three, depending on your own physiology, until your pancreas adapts to your new, lower intake of carbohydrates. When that happens, the hunger signal will quit, you'll sigh a great sigh of relief, and low carbing will once again be easy to do.
Self Hatred Is Not Helpful!
Unfortunately, though these are normal and expected physiological responses, the dieter who wakes up four pounds heavier, eats a low carb breakfast, and finds themselves, an hour later, overwhelmed by the irresistible allure of some donut or bagel is likely to experience a fit of self-hatred that helps the binge-mechanism really get into gear.
All the self-hatred brain tapes start playing: "I have no control!" I'm a weakling" "I'll always be fat!" and all other toxic crap we've picked up over years and made our own.
If this cascade of misery isn't short circuited, it is only a short step to "Since I'm a failure, I might as well eat that donut," or "If I'm going to be fat, it doesn't matter if I eat that bagel." And so the stage is set for diet disaster.
How You Can Get Back On Track
The most helpful thing you can do when you go off-plan and eat more carbohydrates than you are used to, is to put on your "science researcher" hat, stand back, and observe the fascinating changes that are happening in your body.
Your "research project" is to track what happens to your body for week after you have had your carb-up. Take notes. The information you gather now will be extremely helpful to you next time you have a carb-up--whether intentional or accidental. It will also come in handy once you've reached your weight goal and are figuring out what to eat for maintenance.
Track your Weight
Check your weight first thing in the morning every day during this week, so that you can see how much water weight you can expect to gain during a short carb-up, when you will gain it, and how long it will take to come off.
For example, when I did my own "research project" I found that I always gain two pounds after boosting my carb intake over 60 grams per day. My weight gain usually show up the second day after the carb-up. After I drop my carbs below 60 grams a day, it takes three days for the water weight to come back off. If I carb-up for more than a day or two, it may take as long as a week until all the water weight goes way. However, everyone is different. Only after observing your body's response to a carb-up will you know what you can expect.
Track your Cravings
Note how much carbohydrate you ate during your carb-up. When you go back on your low carb diet, keep track of what you eat and how you feel in hours after you eat it. Note any cravings and jot down when they occurred and how intense they were.
Expect these cravings to last a couple days, and do what you can to avoid giving in to them. If you give your pancreas an excuse to secrete a lot of insulin, it will keep doing it and you will continue to have those cravings. If you can hold out for a few meals and not give into the cravings, your pancreas will calm down, your insulin levels will drop, and you will no longer be hungry.
Meanwhile, track those cravings so that you can determine for future use, just how long it takes for them to clear.
Knowledge Is Power
If you do this, you will have collected information that will be extremely helpful next time you carb-up. When the weight comes on, instead of panicking, you'll be able to look at your past records and say, "Okay, I gained the three pounds I always gain when I do a brief carb-up, and they should be gone by Tuesday."
If you return to your low carb diet and immediately find yourself obsessing about chocolate donuts, you've made it tough for the self-hatred tape to start playing, because, armed with the records of your last carb-up, you will be expecting to crave something. So when that craving hits, you'll respond, "Donuts! Right on schedule. I'm going to be ravenous until breakfast tomorrow, then I'll feel fine again." Because you know that if you can just hold out for another couple hours you'll be okay, you'll be a lot less likely to eat that donut.
Even if you do give in to your cravings, your "science project" continues. Observe your response to food you eat and note how it affects your hunger. Did it satisfy hunger? Did it make you hungrier? Did it taste good? Did it make you feel guilty and filled with self-loathing? Note it all down. By doing this, you will collect the useful information that will help you master your cravings. You'll get back on your diet. You'll understand the way your body works a bit better. And you'll be on your way to long-term diet success!
Learn More About How Low Carb Diets Really Work
To succeed at your long term diet you will need more information than can easily be read off a web site. Jenny Ruhl's book, Diet 101: The Truth About Low Carb Diets provides you with the kind of in depth information you will find nowhere else.