The Low Carbohydrate Diet, Part 1 

What exactly does it mean to optimize your metabolism? Our metabolism is how our bodies burn fuel and power our cells. It takes a combination of all your hormones and complicated chemical interactions to run all of your bodily functions. To have optimal function you need to be feeding your cells the right food and vitamins, as vitamins like B12 and magnesium, for example, are necessary to run the chemical reactions in your body. Nutrient deficient diets like our Standard American Diet (SAD), full of sugar, starches, processed foods and bad fats, contribute to a lack of the necessary vitamins to fuel our cells and can create hormone imbalance.

  • When you are eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) and following the government food pyramid guidelines, you will be eating a high carbohydrate, low fat diet, with lots of fruits (sugar), starchy vegetables (sugar) and “healthy” whole grains (more sugar)
  • Why am I calling all these “healthy” foods sugar? because your body cannot tell the difference metabolically between a banana and a candy bar. Chemically the way these foods break down in your body is into sugar, so it doesn’t matter if it’s an apple, a piece of whole grain bread, a potato or piece of cake. It all becomes sugar. It’s not about calories, it’s about chemistry!
  • This is why people fail on this type of diet because they are eating sugar all the time, and stay constantly hungry and unsatisfied. This leads to minimal weight loss, or weight gain, and frustration that they didn’t have enough willpower to endure constant hunger
  • And by the way, if this sounds like you, it’s not your fault, you have just been given faulty information. You are fueling your body with the wrong fuel!

When you are eating this way then you are burning sugar as fuel in your body. However, in our evolution as a species we are designed to be fat burners. “Ketosis” is the name of this type of fat burning, and it means that you are producing ketones for fuel along with having normal blood sugar and insulin levels. Many times you will hear from the medical establishment that ketosis is dangerous, but they are talking about diabetic ketoacidosis, a totally different condition (and yes it’s dangerous) that Type 1 diabetics have when their ketones are extremely high along with high blood glucose levels.

Have you ever felt that you just couldn’t get your diet right, that you were always hungry, tired, couldn’t sleep well, were overweight and couldn’t fix it?

Before I go on I will tell you my experience, and why this is so important to me. And how many of you can relate to this? I was lured into the low fat, high carbohydrate frenzy in the 80’s when books by Dr. Dean Ornish or Robert Haas were all the rage, advocating a low to no fat diet. I followed this like everyone else (after all didn’t the government tell us this was the right way to eat?). I ate low fat, high carb and overexercised consistently, and yes, I was thin and athletic, but unknown to me at the time I was damaging my metabolism. Fast forward a few years to the 90’s, and now I’m a vegetarian, ready to fall asleep within an hour after my bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, and pretty much after all my high carb meals, plus I needed to eat every 2 hours. Rice, pasta, homemade pizza, banana bread, potatoes, vegetables, oh my! I was like a zombie,  and now my eating habits had created a metabolic condition of reactive hypoglycemia in my body. I had severely damaged my metabolism which caused adrenal fatigue.

Thankfully, in the 2000’s, I started the Atkins diet, a low carbohydrate diet that turned everything around. My sister-in-law at the time, a chiropractor too, was adamant that I wasn’t eating enough protein and within 3 weeks of starting the Atkins low carb diet I felt great. I now know my body cannot run on carbs, I basically have a huge intolerance to them. This is not different than someone who has celiac disease, who gets severely ill if they eat wheat (of course with a different mechanism).

I want to mention that when I use the word “diet”, I really mean “way of eating”. Aren’t we used to thinking of a diet as something you go on and off of? As in, I lost the weight on this “diet”, so now I can go back and eat what I used to. Anyone who has done this (I would think most of us) knows it doesn’t work, as the weight and the symptoms all come back, plus more. A “way of eating” is just how you eat. You don’t eat what makes you sick, or that you are intolerant of. So if you are allergic to wheat, or dairy, or onions, or intolerant to carbohydrates, then you don’t eat it. Find your “way of eating” and stick with it, it’s not a diet.

Here are the types of eating that I will talk about in this 3 part series:

  • Low Carbohydrate diet
  • Paleo diet
  • Ketogenic diet

The Low Carbohydrate Diet, aka the Atkins Diet

This way of eating was popularized by Dr. Robert Atkins excellent books, going back to 1972. He was truly a pioneer in this field. Actually there was no “field” at the time as all recommendations (government and medical) were for low fat, high carb, and anything else was heresy. He was even called in front of a government commissioned panel to defend his practice. Dr. Atkins persevered and saw thousands of patients and had excellent results in weight loss and health improvement. He chose to publish a book for the layperson, instead of doing studies that would  have had a hard time being being published.

Here are the highlights:

  • Limits sugar and starches to 20 grams of carbohydrates per day in the initial induction process. This is the first phase and will reset your metabolism from a sugar burner to a fat burner. People will stay here as long a necessary for weight loss, and improvement of health markers such as blood sugar, blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol
  • Weight loss can be rapid for some, and slower for others. If you have a damaged metabolism or a thyroid problem then weight loss can be slower, so stick with it
  • Because you are losing fat instead of muscle you will notice a loss of inches and clothes sizes
  • As you progress with weight loss and improvement in health markers you can then add carbohydrates back in to your tolerance level to maintenance. This is where you find your personal tolerance level and stay at that level to maintain your health and weight loss
  • What will you eat? meats, cheeses, eggs, green vegetables, salads and healthy fats (please see one of Dr. Atkins books for an all inclusive list, but the categories are pretty self explanatory)
  • What won’t you eat? anything with sugar in it such as cookies, cakes, candy, soda, alcohol, plus any legumes/beans, rice, grains and starchy vegetables such as potatoes or corn. Anything that is not a meat, egg, cheese, green vegetable or healthy fat is off the menu, so no junk, processed or packaged foods. Also stay away from low carb, low sugar or diabetic foods as they even have too much sugar or artificial sweeteners
  • What do you drink? Lot’s of water! it can be plain or sparking, but must be plain, no sugar or artificial sweeteners. You can have coffee and tea, but know that for some people caffeine can raise or unbalance blood sugar, and can also upset sleep. If so then try herbal teas
  • Keep it simple, because it is simple!
  • BUT you must follow the above rules, this is not a way of eating that you can go on and off of, as you are re-setting your metabolism to burn fuel a different way
  • It is always recommended to have your blood chemistry checked before you start. You would want a lipid panel, fasting blood glucose,  A1C, and Hs-CRP (to test inflammation) as a minimum. There are more tests that combined with these can give you a full picture and which you can compare to later. I provide a Comprehensive Health Analysis and all the necessary tests for those of you who are in Colorado then go to to the Functional Medicine page for more info


  • Weight loss, but more accurately, fat loss
  • Stabilize blood sugar levels, and lowers insulin levels and stops the daily, or hourly, highs and lows of unstable blood sugar (do you ever feel like you need to take nap during the day? Or feel really tired after eating?)
  • Rid yourself of food cravings
  • Switch your body to burning fat, instead of sugar, which is our natural state (we are born in a state of ketosis)
  • Improved mental clarity and sharpness
  • Improve athletic and exercise performance
  • Improve your hormone function by improving your blood sugar and insulin levels
  • Helps prevent diabetes and pre-diabetes
  • Improves blood pressure
  • Improves blood chemistry readings such as: blood glucose, A1C, triglycerides, cholesterol, inflammation markers and liver function

Bottom Line

  • This is one of the 3 ways of low carbohydrate eating that I recommend to my patients. Research is now showing that insulin and blood sugar levels are the key to optimal health, and we must keep these levels stable and healthy. And research is also showing that having healthy insulin and blood sugar levels is the key to aging well, including having healthy hormones.

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