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A Decade Of Low-Carbing: 10 Realities, Realizations And Renewed Resolutions

I can hardly believe it! Today is January 1, 2014–exactly ten years to the day that I began what would become arguably the most life-transforming event of my entire human existence. Making it my New Year’s resolution to lose weight in 2004, I embarked on a nutritional revolution of sorts by beginning on the Atkins diet (by the book!) and tee-totally altered the course of my future in so many ways. What may have began as a New Year’s resolution quickly turned into my New Life Resolution instead. And I’ve never looked back from those fundamental changes that I made in my diet and lifestyle.

Over the course of that one year I lost 180 pounds off my body and was motivated to begin blogging, writing books, podcasting and all the other things that I do to this day under the “Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb” brand. If you would have told me a decade ago that the man in the above picture on the left would become that man in the picture on the right–and be better for it–then I would never have believed you. The mode of thinking regarding my belief system about food, nutrition and health then compared to now couldn’t be more diametrically opposite! While the changes happened quickly for me, it took several years for me to solidify many of the concepts I now believe to be true–and I’ll continually build upon the knowledge and experience I’ve been privileged to gain over the past decade.

Whether you’ve just begun your low-carb lifestyle today as a New Year’s resolution or if you’re a seasoned veteran of carbohydrate restriction for many years, here are 10 realities, realizations and renewed resolutions that I’d like to share with you from my 10 years of living and breathing this way of eating on a daily basis:

1. REALITY: Cutting your carbohydrate intake is critical.

REALIZATION: While I now believe not everyone needs to necessarily go very low-carb in their diet, it is vitally important that each person finds their own personal carb tolerance level that enables them to manage their weight and health best. This is why using a glucometer to test your blood sugar often (whether you are a diabetic or not) can be a much more powerful tool in your health journey than a bathroom scale!

RENEWED RESOLUTION: I know for me from voracious testing that I can’t consume more than about 25-30g carbohydrates in my diet right now without seeing adverse effects on my weight and blood sugar. Realizing this about myself empowers me to make better and better choices to keep me as optimally healthy as possible. Maybe I’ll be able to tolerate more carbohydrates in my diet in the future, but for now I have to stick with what I know is right for me.

2. REALITY: Low-fat diets are more harmful than we realize.

REALIZATION: Many people make the mistake of thinking if low-carb is good, then low-carb AND low-fat must be better. After all, we’ve had the low-fat message hammered (indoctrinated?) into us for decades that it must be true. But here’s the honest truth: low-fat diets are an utter and dismal failure! The moment we stop equating low-fat and lean meats with weight loss and health is when we will finally begin moving forward in doing something productive against obesity and chronic disease.

RENEWED RESOLUTION: The next time you see a television commercial, hear a radio ad, read a newspaper column or see on the front packaging of a product any kind of low-fat health claim, let it be a reminder that you’re rejecting that failed theory in favor of what leading cardiologists are now saying about the role of saturated fat in the diet. Fat is your friend and helps you lose weight and get healthy for good. BELIEVE IT!

3. REALITY: Fat phobia has completely paralyzed people.

REALIZATION: Let’s admit it: Far too many people still fear fat. This truly is the final hurdle to overcome for many people wanting to embrace a healthy low-carb lifestyle. But when you cut the carbs, you need to replace them with fat in your diet. It’s a process that people need to go through in their own mind to embrace fat after being told for so long that it’s going to clog their arteries, make them fat and ultimately kill them if they eat it. NONSENSE! For so many people, eating more fat could save your life.

RENEWED RESOLUTION: Say it with me now: Fat is where it’s at. Eating fat will keep your hunger under control, give you incredible energy throughout the day (in tandem with cutting carbs), improve the taste and texture of your food, and improve your blood sugar and relevant cholesterol levels (saturated fat increases HDL better than virtually anything else you could do). There are plenty of reasons not to fear saturated fat.

4. REALITY: Quantity less relevant than quality of calories.

REALIZATION: Calories, calories and more calories! The new healthcare law now requires calories to be posted on vending machines (as if that’s gonna actually help people make a healthy choice!), but the reality is calories are probably the least interesting bit of information about a food you could have. The quality of what makes up those calories–namely the amount and kind of fat, protein and carbohydrates contained in the food–is what you want to know about. The December 31, 2013 book release The Calorie Myth by my fellow health podcaster friend Jonathan Bailor goes into great detail about why we should all be saying calories schmalories! The focus on calories is why people readily and obediently cut fat since there are 9 calories per gram of fat vs. 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate and protein. Sorry folks, but this math just doesn’t add up.

RENEWED RESOLUTION: Rather than getting caught up in the 100-calorie pack gimmick, keep your carbohydrate intake to your personal tolerance level, moderate your protein consumption to your individual threshold level, and confidently eat mostly saturated and monounsaturated fat sources to satiety. Obsessing over how many calories you’re getting is a recipe for an eating disorder that will do nothing positive for your health. Relax your worries over calories and just eat. Otherwise you’re dieting and destined to fail.

5. REALITY: Whole grains are not as healthy as once believed.

REALIZATION: Thanks to the enormous education we’ve received about the health impact of consuming grains and specifically wheat from reading New York Times bestselling books like Wheat Belly and Grain Brain, we now know there is no such thing as “healthy whole grains.” Admittedly, the Atkins diet allowed for some grains in the diet and I think Dr. Atkins would have altered his thinking on this if he was still with us today. Grains are inflammatory, full of antinutrients, and will slowly kill you if you continue to make them a part of your diet. The grain lobby will argue the benefits of consuming whole grains, but their only goal is to get you to eat more of their products regardless of the actual impact on your health. Buyer beware!

RENEWED RESOLUTION: Forget about going gluten-free because that’s just not enough. Make it your goal to go completely grain-free and read nutrition labels and ingredients lists like a hawk. If there is any mention of wheat, grains, gluten or any such words, then run away–run FAR away!

6. REALITY: Most food marketers LIE about their products.

REALIZATION: What?! You mean that big food company making a health claim on the front of their product packaging about how good it is for my health might be misleading me? YEP! And it’s not just the junk food companies either–the so-called low-carb friendly products are just as bad: Atkins Chocolate Peanut Candies, Dreamfields pasta, and Julian Bakery bread, for example. If you don’t fall for all the gimmicks and games these companies play trying to convince you to buy their product (like slapping the nonsensical phrase “no sugar added” on it!), then you’ll be good to go in having the success you deserve in your low-carb lifestyle change.

RENEWED RESOLUTION: This might sound a bit rebellious, but why not embrace real, whole foods that don’t come in a convenient little package. We buy these items because they’ve been HEAVILY marketed to us for the convenience. But we’ve sacrificed being successful at fat loss and improving our health for the mere privilege of having these foods available at our disposal. It’s time to bring that thinking to an end in 2014!

7. REALITY: You don’t need bread and pasta in your diet.

REALIZATION: I fell for this when I first started eating low-carb–if I can’t have bread and pasta anymore, then I need to have low-carb versions of these instead. It seems to make sense when we think this way, but there’s a more sensible way to look at it. When you reduce your carbohydrates in your diet, replace them with healthy fats and proteins. Most of the ingredients used in these low-carb versions are still full of grains (SEE #5). As you begin eating this way, you’ll find you no longer want those foods you thought you could never live without. Be patient with yourself, make great-tasting real food, and never look back. I NEVER miss bread or pasta anymore.

RENEWED RESOLUTION: Stop looking for “low-carb” versions of this and that food that you used to eat in your carb-addicted days. Instead, embrace the smorgasbord of delicious real foods you have at your disposal on a well-formulated low-carb, high-fat lifestyle. It’ll save you a whole lot of heartache and pain in your pursuit of becoming a lean, mean, health machine!

8. REALITY: Real food is always better than anything packaged.

REALIZATION: Isn’t it a shame that we have to describe the kind of food we eat as “real?” But in the morass of food-like products that dominate grocery store shelves these days, you have to make the distinction so there is no mistaking what you mean. While there are a few companies making quality products in a package, most of the ones you see in your local supermarket are pretty much garbage (or “carbage” as I often describe them). What’s sad is how many people think they’re buying food when they walk up and down those aisles in the grocery store when all these really need to do is shop the perimeter of the store for the REAL food. Supporting a local farmer or farmer’s market to get the good stuff is even better when you’re ready to get serious about taking your low-carb diet to the next level.

RENEWED RESOLUTION: Here’s another shocking idea: stop buying packaged foods in the grocery store. I know that’s blasphemy in a culture that thinks food comes from supermarkets. Ask your kids where food comes from and you’ll be reminded why this is a bigger deal than you realize.

9. REALITY: Food quality matters.

REALIZATION: Yes, I believe getting your carbohydrates down is first and foremost for most people. But not far behind that is choosing the best food quality that you can find. Some people argue that food quality doesn’t matter, but that’s incredibly shortsighted and foolish. Getting pastured eggs, grass-fed beef, organic vegetables, and other such sources of food is the logical progression once you dial in your low-carb diet well. Perhaps choosing conventional sources of food can serve you well as a transition strategy when you first learn how to cut down on your carbohydrate intake. Sooner or later, you’ll realize the need to up the quality of the food you consume to make your diet that much better.

RENEWED RESOLUTION: Decide perhaps for the first time to invest in your health this year by spending a little bit more money on grass-fed sources of meat, higher quality fats like butter, lard and coconut oil, eggs from a good local farmer, and more. It only seems strange to buy food this way because we’ve always shopped in grocery stores. Start a new trend in your family–get the best sources of food you can find. You’ll reap the benefits of that decision for many years to come.

10. REALITY: We all must find what works for us.

REALIZATION: The reason so many people fail in their effort to lose weight comes down the idea that there is such a thing as a one-size-fits-all method for doing that. This is the mistake people like staunch vegan activist Dr. John McDougall make in taking such a dogmatic position. If there’s one thing I’ve learned doing this for the past decade, it’s the idea that we all need to find what works for us, follow that exactly as prescribed, and then never stop doing it as long as it keeps working. This is why I testified before the USDA about the 2010 Dietary Guidelines making the case for multiple options for people to choose from. They ignored my plea, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t correct.

RENEWED RESOLUTION: Regardless of the path you choose in 2014, if something is working for you then I’ll be the first to congratulate you on a job well done. Yes, even if that means you succeed on a vegan diet, I am rooting for you to find what works for you. Anyone who tells you that their diet is superior to the one that is currently working well for you doesn’t have your best interest in mind. You keep doing what is making you successful and never look back.

I want to send out a huge THANK YOU to all the people who have helped educate, encourage and inspire me over these past ten years of livin’ la vida low-carb so that I could impart a bit of what I’ve learned with my followers. What are you resolving to do differently in 2014 with your weight and health pursuits? And if you’ve been successful, what’s been working for you? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

  • Karen P

    Great blog post, Jimmy! So true, low-carb/ paleo template that is customized for each person, by each person is great for long term weight maintenance and overall health. I salute you for sharing the message to the masses. Weight maintenance (almost 2 years now!!!) has never tasted so good or gotten me so healthy. Here’s to a great 2014!

  • John Mason

    This should be compulsory reading this time of year, for all those bracing themselves for their resolutionary low fat, low calorie, painful exercise regime…for the umpteenth time. Repeating the same failed practice. Jimmy, you really are an inspiration.

  • Mary Antico

    After several failed attempts, I seem to have finally gotten into ketosis and I am feeling good and losing weight! I needed to add in aerobic exercise and cut my carbs and protein quite low (carbs around 30 grams, rather than 50 grams). My resolution is to keep doing this, and not to listen to all the people saying keto diets will wreck my adrenals, thyroid, gut biome, etc. etc. It may not be the diet for everyone, but if I am not very low carb I am bingeing on very high carb foods, so keto is clearly the best option for me!

    • LLVLCBlog

      Get ‘em Mary!

  • Peggy Holloway

    My daughter has been pretty-much grain, sugar and processed food-free for several years and her overall health has much improved. (She weighed 320 pounds as a teenager and used conventional dieting including bouts with vegetarianism to lose the weight, but became depressed and eating-disordered; all that is resolved now). She decided that she wants to try a 2-month ketogenic challenge to see how she does and to drop a few lingering pounds. I’ll send her this link as it has good advice for her.
    On the packaged-foods topic, I had my first appointment to get the “spacers” in preparation for full braces to deal with the damage from my unfortunate trip and fall last spring. The orthodontist gave me a “shopping list” to get ready for the dietary changes I will need to make. I looked at the list, handed it back and said “I would never buy or eat anything on this list.” I also mentioned that I’ve been sugar-free for 14 years. He looked skeptical and confused! The “shopping list” appeared to be food-company propaganda since it included brand names! I was invited to write a review of the orthodontist office (which was voted “Best in Omaha” last year) and praised their friendly and supportive atmosphere, but criticized their promotion of carbage diets. I hope to do some educating there this year! I’m considering putting together a whole foods, orthodontia-friendly shopping list for them!

  • Jojo

    I’m so thankful for all you do to keep this community informed and encouraged. Keep fighting the good fight!

  • Spinsei

    Excellent article, I like the RENEWED RESOLUTION comments. Resonates with me. Thanks.