Maintenance Plan for Low Carb/Slow Carb Diets
How to eat after meeting your weight goal
So you’ve met your goal weight! Kudos! Not an easy thing to do and the last thing you want to do is lose momentum and put to waste the struggle it involved, just to gain it all back in a year.
If the statistics are correct however, there is a good chance that you will gain it back. You need a plan. A maintenance plan for low carb or slow carb diet.
Why People Tend to Fall Down:
Even if you took on a high-protein-low-carb diet as a lifestyle change rather than a diet, this insidious thing called “carb creep” seems to enter our complicated lives at some point.
The fact that we are social beings and that eating and drinking with friends/family is a favorite social activity is going to be an ever-present influence.
Restaurants and food producers are making an effort to decrease the sugar in our food, but high levels of carbs and sugar in prepared food is still the norm.
How many people cook at home these days? I don’t know the answer to this, but based on the pool of clients I have coached over the past year, I would guess not many. Especially in the under-30 crowd.
A lot of foodies, but not many home cooks, and this leads to boredom and the convenience of eating out.
So….how do we navigate these influences over time once we have reached our goal weight? Enter the “maintenance plan”. The maintenance plan I’m outlining below is not based on clinical trials or large studies, but rather it is a plan that has worked for me for 4 years now and one that 80% of my clients have seen success with for at least a year.
The Four Legs of the Maintenance Plan:
Four overarching strategies make up the maintenance plan:
- Data tracking to avoid carb creep
- Reintroducing Non-Compliant Foods (SCD)
- Exercise routines for metabolism maintenance
- Action steps to instill perseverance
1) Data Tracking and Carb Creep:
As Tim Ferriss notes in a quote from Peter Drucker, “What gets measured gets Managed”. I love this quote and live by it. I’ve been tracking my weight every day now for 4 years. It’s a habit that I don’t even think of…..UNTIL I go over my red-flag limit.
Then it’s time to get serious again.
The red-flag limit is a personal limit you give yourself for how many pounds you are willing to shrug off before you call it carb creep and slap yourself into being strictly compliant again. My red-flag limit is 4 pounds.
The scale is a blunt instrument and your weight will go through natural fluctuations depending on stress, sleep and hormones. For my body however, 4 pounds is something more than natural fluctuations.
It usually happens after a vacation or a prolonged holiday. Your individual red-flag limit may be different based on your own weight and body rhythms, but it is important to establish one and then honor it.
Most people find that once they have been eating a low carb diet for a while, their body has reached some sort of equilibrium and it is fairly easy to lose the vacation weight in 1–2 weeks if you just become compliant again and get back into your low-carb eating habits.
The other reason to studiously track your daily weight is that you can look back over the year and see which months were difficult for you, what you may have been doing at that time, and how long it took to correct it.
That last part (how long it took to get back) can be a huge stress-reliever. Just seeing that indeed you did correct it and it only took a couple of weeks can be highly motivating and allow you to calmly remedy the creep rather than falling into a spiral of self-hate.
Data geeks often track their micro-nutrient grams, their body fat %, their exercise minutes, etc. but I’ve found that once you understand the parameters of the diet and you have a pretty solid routine, the only thing you really need to track is your weight.
Body fat % is a great thing to track but most people can’t easily do that on a daily basis. The daily long-term record keeping is what is key.
2) Reintroducing Non-Compliant Foods:
With the slow carb diet you are allowed a scheduled cheat day once a week and if you lost your weight under this particular diet, you don’t really need to change anything.
Cheat day still exists on the maintenance plan and it is a beautiful thing.
That delayed gratification aspect keeps you eating mostly clean and over time cheat days tend to become days for some fruit and grains rather than the junk-orgy they start out to be.
Ferriss said not long ago that he does the all-out cheat day usually about once a month, with the other three cheat days being much milder and healthier.
The thing to remember is this is by choice and so you end up evolving into a lifestyle that is sustainable and quite healthy.
By the time you have reached your goal weight with either a low carb or a slow carb diet plan, you have learned a lot about nutrition.
At this point you can start to add back in certain foods that are not strictly compliant with a slow carb diet, but that follow the principle of not spiking blood sugar/insulin levels.
This would be things like full-fat plain yogurt, some aged hard lactose-free cheeses, some berries, and perhaps grapefruit or some citrus.
Add them one at a time over a period of a couple of weeks for each and see how your body responds. Just be aware of the sugar content and read labels.
3) Exercise Routines for Metabolism Control:
So you lost weight without any exercise? Totally possible, but it probably won’t stay off unless you do some sort of regular exercise routine. The research on exactly what kind of exercise is best is hotly debated.
The part of it that is not debated (well not hotly anyway) is to start with something you enjoy and that you can incorporate into your schedule. The “routine” is the most important part of exercise on a maintenance program.
Once you get into a regularly scheduled exercise routine, the type of exercise will likely evolve into something more intense as you go.
Most of the current literature on exercise maintains that interval training with a resistance component is the best exercise for weight loss and weight control.
This is because it builds muscle and muscle will keep your metabolism at a higher level.
Keeping a high metabolism rate is relevant to a low carb diet maintenance because your metabolism does tend to downshift and adapt to the lower needs of the diet.
4) Action Steps to Instill Perseverance:
This last step is a goal-setting exercise that you can do alone, but is helpful to do with a coach or a friend.
Implementing the illusive quality of perseverance over the long term is made up of personal habits and the unique environment that you live and work in.
There are a number of goal-setting methods that will work. I’ve found the most important aspects of goal setting is threefold:
- make the action steps measurable,
- only pick out 3–5 action steps that you are willing to totally commit to, and
- write it down physically in a notebook that you have handy and will look at frequently.
Here is a brief example of one person’s goal-setting exercise for perseverance:
GOAL: To stay compliant with SCD and make it a lifestyle that can accommodate life’s changes in routines and circumstances
- Part of persevering is mastering the ability to let go. Commit to taking deep breaths or a 3-minute meditation when the emotional stress that is tempting you to eat comes on.
- If there are people in your life who are particularly negative and seem bent on preventing you from achieving, it’s ok to either stop spending time with them or limit how much you see them. Seek out 1–2 places per month where you can find some healthy, like-minded friends.
- When faced with food temptations at the office, I will use my phone and do the Pomodoro technique to distract me.
- Reflect on what happened when you fell off the wagon and figure out what you can take away from the experience. Write this down in your notebook. Even the strongest people have failures (usually many of them). Write down a new idea for pursuing your goal in a similar situation where you failed, acknowledging it’ll turn out differently next time.
- Read one biography a month about someone who accomplished their goals despite emotional or physical hardships.