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When Your Low Carb Diet Isn't Working

The diet books make it sound easy. Cut the carbs, lose the weight, normalize your blood sugar, feel great. For many people, it works that way. But for many more it doesn't.


When I reviewed the research that went into my book, Diet 101: The Truth About Low Carb Diets I was surprised to learn just how poorly low carb dieters fared in the research studies that I had always seen cited in the low carb community as proving the diet superior to others.


Partly this is because few diets of any kind work well for more than a few months, and looked at in that time frame, the low carb diet often surpasses others in it's effectiveness.


But once most people get past the first six months of of their low carb diets, peer reviewed research and the posts of hundreds of people who visit online low carb discussion boards make it very clear that many if not most people see their weight loss stall out completely.


This doesn't have to be the case. There are a few, very interesting studies, that show that weight loss can continue on low carb diets, though at a much slower pace than dieters grew accustomed to during the first heady months of their diets.


Here are some common problems low carb dieters encounter, along with some suggestions as to how to deal with them.


Not losing weight is the most common form of "not working" that low carb dieters encounter. There are plenty of lists of "What to Do When you Stall" posted elsewhere on the web, in diet books, and even on this site, so I won't repeat them.


Check them out. If you haven't worked your way through the usual solutions, which include cutting back on calories, cutting out bogus "low carb" foods full of hidden carbohydrate, and eliminating certain other foods that tend to stall people, you can't really say that low carb isn't working for you.


But if you have tested all the stall breakers and still find yourself stuck way above your goal weight, yes, low carbing is NOT working for you, and continuing on, stuck in a stall, is a great way to end up depressing yourself to where you end up giving up and binging your way back to an even higher weight.


If this is your situation, there are several other things you can try.


  • Your low carb diet may not be controlling your blood sugar enough to keep your from being hungry It's my strong belief, reinforced by a decade of interacting with low carb dieters online, that low carb diets only suppress hunger when they keep blood sugars in the narrow range that is completely normal. This is the theme of my new book. If you are still hungry on a low carb diet, you will need to test your blood sugar at home, and make sure that your diet is giving you blood sugars that are flat enough to silence the hunger signal caused by swiftly dropping blood sugars.Over the years, a surprising number of dieters whose doctors had told them their blood sugar was normal have tried this approach and learned that, in fact, it was not. When you flatten your blood sugar, you will eliminate hunger. If the diet isn't doing this, it's important to know that some people with abnormal blood sugars turn out not to be insulin resistant. Our problem is that we just aren't putting out enough insulin to keep our blood sugars normal. If a low carb diet and drugs that lower insulin resistance don't normalize your blood sugar, it's pretty likely that you have insulin insufficiency. If a low carbohydrate diet is not controlling your blood sugar,and you have been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, it is time to talk to your doctor about taking a more aggressive approach.


  • Try Safe Medications There is a drug prescribed for people with diabetes that can be extremely helpful for those who have difficulty losing weight: metformin. This powerful, safe, cheap prescription drug has a very long history of use is the one drug that lowers insulin resistance in a way that has no destructive side effects. If you are highly insulin resistant, it may help you get your weight loss back on track. It is an appropriate prescription for anyone who has been diagnosed with prediabetes or PCOS.


  • Get your Thyroid Checked Out A failing thyroid can make it impossible to lose weight. Get your doctor to check out your thyroid and make sure that isn't your problem. In addition, it turns out that some people respond to very low carb diets in a way that alters thyroid hormones so that they don't test abnormal on lab tests but do affect your energy levels.If you suspect this is the case, the only way to address it may be to raise your carb intake to over 105 grams a day. There's some evidence that eating at this level will, over time, cause the thyroid hormones affected by ketogenic dieting to rise back to normal levels. If you do raise your carbs, keep them under 110 grams a day and go a bit easier on the fat. As your carb intake rises out of the ketogenic intake level, fat becomes far less benign and eventually can become unhealthy.


  • Face and Heal the Self-Destructive Psychological Attitudes that Have Become Associated with Eating A lot of people talk about "addictive eating" when in fact, what they are being driven by the intense and unrelenting hunger caused by insulin resistance. I don't consider that to be a true addictive behavior, because most people who are tormented by physiologically-caused intense hunger will stop eating "addictively" the moment their hunger is eliminated. What I'm talking about here is a compulsive need to eat that is not connected with a physical feeling of hunger. Food is so entwined with other issues--love, boredom, habit, ways of giving, and ways of being creative like cooking, that issues stemming from these parts of life can derail a low carb diet--or any other diet--and make it not work. There is no easy cure for this problem and anyone who tells you there is, is probably trying to sell you something. Admitting that it is a problem, without hating or blaming yourself, is a good place to start.


  • Get Help with Emotional Issues Some people can work through these issues with the help of a therapist. If you take this route, don't just go to anyone with a therapy license. You really will need someone with a track record of success in helping people with this kind of problem. If you can get a referral from someone who has beaten a similar problem, you're more likely to succeed. You might ask your doctor if he or she knows of someone with this kind of expertise. Other people may find a 12 step problem like Overeaters Anonymous helpful. The emphasis in this group is not on any specific diet, but on dealing with the addictive behaviors that undermine all diets. If the issue of controlling your eating has become entangled with negative self-talk and self-hatred, hypnosis, with the aim of implanting positive, supportive, loving messages in your consciousness may also be a useful approach.


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