After a Low Carb Diet, Where Do You Go Next?

Low-Carb Chicken Alfredo Bake with Broccoli
What do you do when you're ready to leave Keto?
How do you accomplish your weight-loss goals?

If low carb didn't live up to its reputation, you're not alone. Only one out of three overweight people have insulin resistance, so success doing Keto is more rare than you might think.

But what do you do when you're ready to leave carbohydrate restriction behind?

Where do you go next?

Trial-and-error can be a huge time-suck, as well as discouraging, so here's what I did:

January brings renewed intentions.

The new year also ushers in hope that this year will be the year to finally reach goal weight. It clothes that hope with the faith that whatever diet program you're currently looking at will actually work this time around.

This time, you're going to lose the weight for good!

We see this happening in all dieting communities and circles:
  • the low-carb community
  • the South Beach Diet forums
  • within the Paleo community
  • and even at Weight Watchers
Folks just want to gain some control over their lives. They want to accomplish what they initially set out to do: get down to a healthy weight - and stay there!

I think the largest lesson I’ve learned over the past few years is that mind over matter doesn’t work well.

You can have all of the faith and hope you need to see you through to your goal weight, but if your physical body, food sensitivities, individual metabolism, and limitations do not cooperate, you’re going to fail to manifest that weight-loss goal in your life.

My diet break this time around has been particularly long. I’ve had a lot of trouble letting go of the low-carb mindset.

The food sensitivities, allergies, and autoimmune challenges have created a lot of internal havoc over the past year. I've been attempting to root genetically modified corn out of my diet, as well as gluten and casein.

No easy feat.

As a result, I’ve seen some nice changes in my skin and hair. To me, that says I'm starting to heal.

What I Learned from my First Experience with the Old Weight Watchers Exchange Diet

I've always been an old-school type of person, which is why I favor Old-School Atkins over the modern-day versions created by the Atkins Nutritionals, Inc. marketing company.

However, a low-carb diet doesn't work for everyone, and not even for most. When I first went on the Atkins Diet back in the '70s, I thought it was a wacky diet.

Yet, it made a lot of sense to me.

Over the course of my life, I had seen and experienced many of the things that Dr. Atkins spoke of in his first revolutionary diet book. I had tried several different types of low-calorie diets, and they had all left me hungry, unsatisfied, and still fat.

In the short-term they did carve off a couple of pounds, but they were not sustainable.

When mom announced she was willing to pay for Weight Watchers meetings, that it worked because of some magical combination of foods, I took her up on the offer. Although, I didn't have any faith in the program, I could see the results that my sister got by using it, and I was desperate to lose weight, even then.

Surprisingly, counting exchanges worked well for me.

There was no Points system gimmick. No Points of any kind to track. Instead, the Weight Watchers Diet was totally focused on healthy eating. It was well-balanced, nutritious, and patterned after the Diabetic Exchange Diet that was used to treat diabetes.

Egg on Avocado Toast and Salad
Old-School Weight Watchers is a well-balanced diet
patterned after the Diabetic Exchange Diet used
to treat diabetes in the 80s.

During this time, everyone in my immediate family except me, my now-ex and all of my kids, were suffering with round after round of boils. All of them took medication continuously because we just couldn't get rid of them. As soon as one outbreak cleared, another began.

The doctor said the infection had obviously gotten into their bloodstream, and would be next to impossible to get rid of, so we needed to be even more vigilant in attempting to get rid of potential exposures.

Boils are highly contagious.

The infection passes rapidly by touch. In fact, the contagious molecules continue to live on clothing and anything you touch. Only high heat or antibiotics will kill it.

But, if that were true, then why wasn't I getting them too?

What Happened When I Left Weight Watchers

Eventually, I left the Weight Watchers Exchange Program because the body started freaking out about the weight loss. By the time I reached 160 pounds, I was hungry almost every day.

Really hungry.

So hungry that I was not able to control myself any longer.

I would start off the day doing great, but by mid-afternoon, I'd raid the freezer and scarf down 6 Weight Watchers ice cream sandwiches before coming to my senses and beating myself up about it.

Regardless of the type of diet you're following, caloric deficit sparks the body to begin protecting its fat stores. It does this by trying to convince you to eat.

This phenomenon is often called The Set Point Theory because the body tries to return to the weight you were before you started dieting.

Sometimes, this is accomplished by raising hunger. At other times, you might see a preoccupation with food, cravings for sugar or carbs, or urges for higher calorie foods. The urges are super strong.

Hot Wings, Fried and Glazed
Body can be sneaky and instead of hunger,
just send urges to eat higher calorie foods.

They are caused from dipping Leptin levels.

Leptin is a hormone that informs the brain how much body fat you have stored. If you have a lot of body fat, your Leptin level will be high and your hunger level will be low.

Low levels of Leptin caused from dieting can be corrected temporarily by bumping up your carbohydrate intake. This is why some people do refeeds or cycle their carbs and calories.

However, moving from a long-term low-carb diet to cycling or refeeds, without taking a maintenance break, can easily backfire on you.

Dieting causes your Leptin levels to crash, especially if you've been in caloric restriction for more than a few weeks without taking a break and moving to maintenance.

Since low carb uses the starvation pathway, Leptin levels can fall quite quickly, often faster than other diets, depending on how much body fat you have.

The less body fat, the less Leptin you'll have.

I know this now, but I didn’t know anything about Leptin when I first reached 160 pounds.

I just knew the body didn't want to go any lower and started fighting against me. I thought the diet had stopped working. But it wasn't the diet at all.

I was lost inside the dieting mindset that said I had to be either on or off of a diet.

I couldn't grasp the notion that moving to maintenance for awhile was what I needed to do. So instead of moving to maintenance, which would have allowed my hormonal state to re-balance itself and my weight to stabilize, I started eating whatever I wanted to, whenever I wanted to eat.

The next thing I knew – I had boils myself.

Weight Watchers Exchange Diet kept my immune system functioning appropriately.

When I discarded that balanced, moderate-carb plan, ill health resulted. I can clearly see that now, especially since my health never improved doing low carbs.

Eventually, we conquered the problem we were having with boils. I figured out that we were all deficient in zinc, but somewhere along the way, balanced nutrition got away from me.

The lessons I learned from Weight Watchers did stick in my head over the years, but I never put those lessons into real-life practice, until now.

Let Go of Your Fear of Carbs and Love of Fat

Low-carb diets work, but not for the reasons the low-carb community claims.

The state of ketosis causes your hunger to drop dramatically, making it easier for you to eat at a calorie deficit. This is because most overweight people have excessive triglycerides circulating in the blood, and ketosis encourages the body to burn those triglycerides for fuel.

Cholesterol generally improves on a low-carb diet.

As your triglycerides go down, your Leptin sensitivity improves because Leptin is able to get past the blood brain barrier and tell the brain you have plenty of fat stores that you can use for energy. This causes a severe drop in hunger.

You also get a small bump in metabolism, due to the higher protein intake, but you can eat more protein on any diet plan you choose. You don't have to do low carb to eat adequate protein and reap the non-hunger benefits.

Fat loss results from eating at a caloric deficit, which is how all diets work, so there's no reason to be afraid of carbohydrates. Since the body is primed to burn carbs first, they rarely if ever get stored as fat.

I know the low-carb community preaches otherwise, but it's true. It's dietary fat that gets stored for use later on, right after you eat, which is why fat calories really matter.

When I reached a point where I knew I had to do something about my weight gain, the drastic weight loss I experienced on a low-carb diet in the '70s was extremely tempting. I honestly started thinking that things would be the same.

I believed that a low-carb diet would be easy, take care of my weight problem, and help me get to goal weight with little effort.

But that wasn't true.

For awhile, I thought there was something wrong with low-carb theory, but I didn't have anything to replace it with until I crossed paths with the Kimkins Diet at the Low Carb Friends forum.

At that time, Kimmer (the author of the Kimkins plan) was talking about the differences between Old-School Atkins and what the low-carb community was doing, so I started experimenting with her ideas.

I reread the first two Atkins Diet books and relearned the Old School Atkins principles I'd forgotten and began to have success.

What I discovered was that I could easily tweak the fat content of the Atkins Diet, which lowered the amount of calories I was eating. The lower calories, rather than the very low carbs, caused my fat loss to snap into high gear. So along with giving up your fear of carbs, you also have to reverse your ideas about dietary fats.

Yes, you need a certain amount of essential fatty acids every day, but the gobs of fat that the low-carb community currently eats is only blocking their weight-loss success.

Where Do You Go Next?

I started this blog because I was hoping to find answers within the South Beach Diet approach, but experimenting with South Beach only resulted in sending my body into an inflammatory downward spiral.

My blood sugar literally went out of control.

My weight quickly rose to 170 pounds, and my vertigo grew worse. Much worse.

It took me almost a full year to figure out that my body was tired and needed a break.

A long break. 

I had been dieting for several years by this time, so my hormonal state was completely out of balance.

Once I got my health under control, I joined Weight Watchers online because I wanted to see the latest plan. I wanted to know what they were doing, how their claim of using updated scientific research for 2012 was fitting into their PointsPlus plan.

I wanted to know how they differed from the South Beach Diet.

Within the gluten-free community, Weight Watchers is recommended far more than the Atkins Diet is, or any other low-carb plan, so my curiosity wanted to know why.

I also wanted to know what makes the current Weight Watchers plan easier and more special than their past exchange programs.

I wasn't impressed.

So I backed out and bailed within a couple of weeks.

After giving the whole dieting game some deeper thought, I came to realize that most of us know what's healthy to eat and what isn't, but sometimes, it's difficult to get the proper balance to your daily meals, especially when you try to eat by instinct.

The body will be primed to replace any body fat you might have lost during your time on low carb, so awareness is mandatory if you decide to move to maintenance. 

Which is actually what I suggest you do.

If you've been doing low carb for awhile, your thyroid hormones will be suppressed, your cortisol levels will be high, and your body will be on high alert because low carb uses the starvation pathway to do what it does.

You really need to take a good, healthy diet break.

But that doesn't mean you go back to eating what you ate before going low carb. That probably wasn't a healthy way to eat and very unbalanced.

Instead, check out our posts on the Old Weight Watcher Exchange Plan, which comes to about 1,500 calories a day. If you don't want to drink the milk, just substitute two ounces of cheese. That's what I do.

To that plan, add a bit more healthy fat, about 3 teaspoons, so you're eating a couple of tablespoons (6 fat exchanges) of healthy fats a day. This will raise your calories to about 1600 a day.

Depending on how many calories you need to maintain your current weight, you can spend those added calories on anything you want. You don't have to spend them on grains. You can up your protein, eat more vegetables, or even add a little treat here and there.

The key isn't to do exactly what i did, which is why I won't tell you specifically what to eat.

The aim is to let your body recover from its low-carb experience before you throw it into another energy deficit. The body needs to feel safe before you try another diet.