Update from Amy Jan 17, 2017: I wrote this post when my philosophy on wellness was… different. My philosophies on diet has evolved tremendously. I’ve left this article as is so you might see how far I’ve come. To read about how I approach diet now, read Shame Is Fattening or Lessons from the Geneen Roth Workshop. xo Amy
Everyone I’ve talked to that has heard of the Slow Carb Diet has something to say about it. Some people think it’s the best thing that ever happened to dieting. Others think it’s too extreme and ridiculous to follow. One thing about diets, which I’ve talked about before, is that EVERYONE will always have something to say about them. Even people that don’t know anything about them or have never even heard of them. Well, before I recommend anything to my personal training clients, I try it on myself first. Here’s the account of my personal experience on the Slow Carb Diet.
What is The Slow Carb Diet?
Introduced in Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman, the Slow Carb Diet consists of only protein, beans, a little bit of fat, and vegetables at every meal for 6 days a week, and one binge day in which you can eat whatever you want and as much of it as you want. On those 6 days, you are not allowed to have fruit, anything carb that is or can be white (potatoes, bread, rice, etc.), or drinks that contain calories. This promised rapid fat loss and a bit of muscle gain without exercise. Ferriss recommended that people stay away from dairy and soy as much as possible. Sounds pretty straight forward, right? It probably would have been, except, at the time, I was an ovo-lacto vegetarian, which means I wasn’t eating any meat- just eggs and dairy as my protein sources. In the book, it is asked whether one could still get results being an ovo-lacto, and Ferriss had written yes, so I figured I’d try it out.
The First 2 Weeks
I started the diet right after the holidays as things were pretty quiet with my clients and I was planning to have a chill New Year’s Eve close by. I got sick as soon as I got back to LA, so I wasn’t working out as much as I usually do.
The diet was really easy to stick to initially because the ingredients were so easy to prepare and they were filling. I really missed fruit, but I figured that was just my sugar addiction screaming from inside. At the beginning, I didn’t mind eating so many eggs and egg whites. I did supplement with protein powders sometimes, but that got old pretty quickly. I wasn’t eating tofu or greek yogurt like I usually do, and I had cut back on the milk and processed meat substitutes. My protein list was very short, so I started craving more variety pretty early into the diet.
When I started feeling better about a week later, I returned to the gym for my usual workouts.
Working Out On The Diet
I am a personal trainer. Working out is what I do. In the book, one woman (who was an omnivore) was having trouble losing weight on the diet, so Ferriss recommended she stop working out so much (she was spinning regularly and lifting weights). When she did, her results came more quickly. Well, that wasn’t an option for me. I just figured I’d eat more to keep up my energy levels.
My program was pretty intense at that time, with 3 hard lifting days and cardio interspered between. 2 weeks into the diet, I started crashing 30 minutes into my workouts, feeling like I had to sit down. My muscles felt empty and my head felt foggy. For the first time in a while, I was feeling weak. Not cool. I had worked hard to get to where I was with my strength and endurance, and now I couldn’t work out longer than 30 minutes?! Working out usually made me feel powerful and good about myself. Instead, I was walking out of the gym hanging my head and wanting to take a nap. I had committed to trying the diet for at least a month, so I stuck with it.
The Pressure of Binge Day
Every Sunday, I scheduled “Binge Day.” This was the day to eat as much crap as I wanted in whatever quantity I desired. This was against everything I stood for as a trainer. I had always boasted moderation as the key to success, and here I was buying ice cream while planning a dinner with as many starchy carbs as possible, and my next dessert! I would find myself trying to fit in so much crap that I felt sick by the end of the day. The perspective is, “This is my only day to eat anything I want, so I have to get it ALL in!” I would pack in things I never even had cravings for in the first place, just because I could!
By the end of the night on Binge Day, I already felt twinges of depression- I knew it would be another full 6 days till the next Binge Day, and until then, I was stuck with egg whites and protein powder, beans and vegetables. I was not a happy camper. Protein powder didn’t go well with lentils at all.
At the end of my month-long trial, I was lethargic, depressed, unable to complete a full workout, and 2% less body fat than when I started.
I got my results. But I lost my ME. I was starting to obsess about binge day, and when it came, I would eat past the point of feeling full and feel horrible about myself. I HATED the monotony of my ovo-lacto restrictions on the diet, and hated the lack of energy I felt every day even more. I am known for being the positive, bubbly personal trainer, not the eyes-half-open, confused, grumpy girl!
So in the end, can you get results on this diet as an ovo-lacto vegetarian? Yes. Would it have been easier if I had eaten meat at the time? That’s a hell yes. Would I ever want to give my workouts up to achieve more fat loss? Hell no. Especially because I know you can do it in other ways while feeling strong and healthy! I feel better about myself when I work out, and I know most people do too.
Rapid fat-loss is appealing because who doesn’t want to lose the weight they’ve fought off their whole lives in a manner of weeks? One thing you should look at before trying a diet like this, however, is how maintainable it is. Can you see yourself eating like this for the rest of your life? Find a “diet” or lifestyle change that you can follow for years to come, because in order to keep whatever results you achieve, you’ll have to stick with what you’re doing when you achieve them. As soon as you get off a diet like this one and start eating starchy carbohydrates again, your body is bound to pack the weight back on. That said, you may want to pick a lifestyle with more variety that will keep you excited about the possibility of trying new things while staying health-conscious. My clients and I have achieved great results with a lifestyle that promotes moderation, listening to your body, and a healthy amount of exercise that boosts fat-blasting hormones. The path of moderation is not as quick as this one, but it proves more maintainable and a ton more enjoyable. The journey to great health should be fun!
One thing I should be honest about is that I didn’t get my levels tested as Tim encouraged until the very end of the month. When I started feeling really weak, I went to the hospital to get my blood drawn and to test my levels of certain vitamins and minerals. Turns out that I was pretty low on B-12, which is found mostly in animal meat and is a very common deficiency in vegetarians. If I were talking to Tim directly, I’m sure he would say that I could have lost even more body fat, and felt better while on the diet if I had addressed this sooner. This deficiency could have been the main cause of my lethargy at the time, as I feel a lot better now that I have started to eat fish and poultry again (more on that decision in another post :)). Will I try the diet again as a meat-eater? Probably not. I’m not a big fan of diets as I’ve said before. I’m a big fan of intuitive eating and working out to my heart’s content.
I’m interested to hear if anyone else has tried the Slow Carb diet and what results they have achieved. Post your experience here, or ask any questions you may have about mine! I’d be happy to answer!
To enjoying the journey to finding your own fit,