Common Questions Answered After Six Months of Slow Carb Dieting
A Skinny Kid and Dreams of Becoming a Superhero
The above title could sufficiently describe my entire life. In fact, I have a profound interest in all things “super.” So the distinct “super-hero” vibe of hacking the human body deeply fascinates me. This fascination began at age 12 when I first started exercising seriously. I had no understanding of the principles of health and fitness at that time and so I simply did what physical education teachers at my school suggested to me. Push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups became a part of my weekly routine and it showed. I never looked bulky but I obtained that muscular and slightly awkward look of a fit middle-school kid. In high school I transitioned to weights and began drinking some protein powder. Still I remained lean but strong. In college I found a work-out buddy and together we weight-lifted with amazing consistency. I became bigger than I had ever been, but still felt like some level of health and fitness eluded me. During this fantastically consistent work-out, I drank whey protein, ate a lot of natural protein, and ate a lot of junk too. I went out of my way to eat more than I would normally eat due to my tendency towards skinniness but I could never exceed 160 lbs.
In the fall of 2012, about a year after the above picture, I discovered Tim Ferriss’s books and quickly read all of them except for The 4 Hour Chef which he had not been released quite yet. This served as my introduction to the slow-carb diet and the importance of diet in general. Although I felt I had pursued fitness with zeal, I had not pursued overall health with the same interest. Like many, I associated my inability to get fat with excellent health when in reality thinness and health are not synonymous. Ferriss’s words of wisdom through The 4 Hour Body came just as I felt this need to reevaluate my health and fitness goals and philosophy.
In late January of 2013, I began my slow-carb diet experiment now armed with The 4 Hour Body and the 4 Hour Chef.
The Slow Carb Experiment and Downing Absurd Amounts of Cookies
Like I said, the slow carb diet’s attractiveness stems from its simplicity. According to Tim Ferriss, if you eat a meat, a vegetable, and some beans for each meal, you will lose weight. The dieter must follow this regimen 6 days a week but on that other day, you go nuts. Some people eat double cheeseburgers between two donuts on their cheat day. My kryptonite of choice entailed comic amounts of ice cream followed by ridiculous quantities of cookies. At this point in my description, most people feel sufficiently stumped. I’ll try to address some common questions that I had in the beginning phases of the diet that many people have who are not familiar with this seemingly insane regime.
Question #1: “Doesn’t cheat day sabotage fat loss?”
The answer to this is most certainly, “No.” Even starting with my pre-diet, skinny-strong body, I lost enough fat to have more visible abs than I've ever had in my life. Furthermore, I began the diet without having a weight issue meaning any fat I had to lose didn't come off without a fight. I dropped about seven pounds including some muscle I’m sure. The diet is certainly conducive to maintaining muscle. I simply wasn't training for muscle maintenance.
Question #2: “Isn’t radical consumption of carbs and sugar on cheat day detrimental to health?”
The answer to this question depends on your current diet. For most people, eating meat, beans, and veggies and no added sugar for 6 consecutive days is probably better than their previous non-regimen. But if you have practiced an immaculate paleo regime that you have successfully sustained for a long period, then adding in a binge day won’t benefit you. Paradoxically, cheat day usually improves dieters’ health through enabling them to stay the course those other six days instead of cheating here and there throughout the week. The little cheats here and there seem to cause weight problems and subsequent health issues.
Question #3: Doesn’t the limited variety of food become boring?
Ferriss makes a great point that most people overestimate the variety in their diets. Nevertheless, I did struggle with the monotony of the diet after about two months of nearly identical meals. However, I blame myself for my lack of ingenuity in the kitchen rather than the limited quantity of food-groups. Here are some ways I broke the monotony.
1. Experiment with spices and herbs. You can transform the taste of a dish with the addition or subtraction of a few key herbs and spices. See this post on Tim’s blog for concrete ideas. I particularly enjoy using different types of salts like pink Himalayan sea salt. If you want to try different salts, Whole Foods has an amazing variety.
2. Make good veggie snacks. Three veggie snacks rocked my world on this diet. First, I prepared avocado by squeezing a liberal amount of lemon juice on it along with a few shakes of sea salt. The lemon juice and sea salt really make the flavor of the avocado pop. I also ate about three boiled artichokes a week dipping the leaves in a sauce composed of ghee, garlic, and lemon juice. Finally, I baked asparagus at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, poured coconut oil and salt on them, and found they tasted delicious.
Question #4: What’s the greatest enemy of the slow carb diet?
The greatest enemy of the slow carb diet is definitely hunger. I wanted to break the diet most when I hadn’t eaten enough slow-carb friendly food to fill me. Also, many people think that caloric deprivation, or starvation, is the surest way to lose weight. I have realized first-hand that caloric deprivation might help you lose weight in the short-term but is an unsustainable and unpleasant way to live life. In fact, caloric deprivation typically yields an unscheduled binge-eating that leaves you feeling pretty rotten.
Question #5: Can I still go out to eat or do I have to eat all my meals at home?
I ate out very successfully and rarely ate a salad. I did this by eating frequently at Mexican restaurants where at least a few dishes contain meat, beans, and veggies. However, Mexican restaurants also present a dilemma to the dieter because it is extremely difficult to avoid eating the chips and salsa. I did not even try to avoid the chips and salsa but chips can impede fat loss so beware of them. My success despite absurd amounts of corn chips outside of cheat day also testifies to the efficacy of this diet. Finally, cafeteria-style restaurants usually have menus surprisingly conducive to slow-carb dieters.
Slow Carb Conclusions and Helping Mom
Between May 30th and Aug 20th of 2013, my mom lost 14 lbs eating the slow-carb diet. I coached her through the why and how, helped cook for her, and used my own experience to lead the way. Not only does she love the way she looks, but doing slow-carb together bonded us in a cool way. We looked forward to cheat day with equal childish glee. We fought through the weekly sugar cravings together and felt solidarity in the process. In short, the slow carb diet works and is really fun when you do it with friends or family members.