How to Eat Low Carb High Fat (LCHF Diet): Beginners Guide

Remember the Atkins Diet back in the 90s which promised you could shed 15 pounds in two weeks?

hands holding a board with low carb printed on it

Atkins was a hugely successful diet, but if you greeted such claims with skepticism, you weren’t alone.

Usually diets which promise such dramatic weight loss can’t deliver - or if they do, it’s with a price.

But there is a reason why Atkins was so popular, and why similar diets such as Paleo continue to flourish today, and that is this:

These are examples of low-carb, high-fat diets.

There are many different types of low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diets you can follow.

You can even create your own based on a few simple rules about eating (which we’re going to teach you in this quick start guide).

The benefits are numerous: You can lose weight quickly, get rid of stubborn belly fat, improve your cardiovascular health, control your insulin levels, and more.

If you are reading this, I am going to assume that you are in one of two situations:

  1. ​You are interested in LCHF and want to make the switch from your existing diet, but you’re not sure how to start or how to do it properly.
  2. You tried LCHF in the past, but it didn’t work out. You want to give it another go, but you’re worried about getting another bout of “low-carb flu.”

In either case, I am going to run through everything you need to know to successfully start and maintain a low-carb diet.

When you are done, you will understand why low-carb diets work, what the benefits are, who can eat LCHF, and what foods to eat and avoid.

I will also tell you about the most common beginner mistakes, how to avoid or mitigate “low-carb flu,” and what to expect when the benefits of LCHF start kicking in.

​Low Carb Diet Basics

What is Low-Carb?

First, let’s cover the very basics. What is a low-carb diet?

A low-carb diet is exactly what it sounds like; it is a plan for eating which restricts your intake of carbohydrates and foods which contain them.

That means on a low-carb diet, you steer clear of grains as well as starchy fruits and vegetables.

One very important thing to note is this:

Usually when we talk about low-carb diets, we are talking specifically about low-carb, high-fat diets (LCHF).

That means that you are going to be eating more foods which are high in protein and fat.

Why is this important? Why not eat a low-carb, low-fat diet instead?

Most of us have grown up believing that fat is “bad” for us, and that we should avoid it at all costs.

For many people, the idea of voluntarily eating a diet high in fat is quite counterintuitive.

But some dietary fats are actually necessary nutrients, and foregoing them is unhealthy.

Plus, carbohydrates are a source of dietary energy.

When you reduce the carbohydrates you are eating, you are cutting off a primary source of energy intake.

But we need energy to survive.

If you eat a low-carb, low-fat diet, you are not replacing that lost carbohydrate-based energy with anything. In essence, you would be starving yourself.

One example would be the Dukan diet.

This is a low-carb, low-fat diet. My wife tried this diet in the past, and was unable to maintain it. Her skin lost its glow and she felt constantly hungry and tired.

The reason was because Dukan does not replace carbohydrates with fat as a dietary fuel source.

She didn’t have enough energy to maintain the diet over the long term (this is why diets like Dukan are cyclic in the maintenance phase).

Only a low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet gives you the dietary energy you need to stay healthy.

You replace the carbs with healthy fats, which allows you to transition from a carb burning state to a fat burning state.

Why Does Low-Carb Work?

Why do people lose weight so quickly when they switch to a low-carb diet?

why low carb diet works infographic

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LCHF appears to work through a number of different mechanisms. Here are a few of them:

Low-carb reduces insulin levels. 

Insulin activates lipogenesis - that is the production of fat in your body (1).

So by reducing insulin, you reduce fat production. Plus, insulin inhibits the process of lipolysis - fat burning (2).

So when you reduce your insulin levels through low-carb, you give your body permission to burn fat.

LCH​F diets are rich in protein. 

This improves satiety, so you feel less hungry and are less likely to overeat.

You can build muscle, and you get a nice boost to your metabolism (3).

You shed excess water weight. 

This is one of the reasons low-carb has a reputation for fast weight loss.

When your insulin levels decrease, your kidneys start to excrete sodium (4), which reduces blood pressure and helps you get rid of that unwanted water weight.

You get away from sugars. 

Nothing will make you put on weight faster than a lot of sugar.

Carbohydrates are sugars, so once you stop eating them, you will be cutting a lot of fattening foods right out of your diet.

To learn more about how low-carb diets work to promote weight and overall healthy in-depth, please see the article, “Why Do Low Carb Diets Work? The Mechanism Explained.” ​

What Are the Benefits?

There are numerous advantages to switching to a low-carb diet, all of them backed by science:

  • Lose weight fast and keep it off .
  • Raise levels of HDL “good” cholesterol.
  • Lower your LDL “bad” cholesterol.
  • Lower your triglycerides.
  • Decrease your blood pressure.
  • Manage your insulin levels and treat type 2 diabetes.
  • Combat metabolic syndrome.
  • Treat anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses.
  • Build muscle in the gym.
  • Treat epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

Looking for the science and the in-depth explanations for how low-carb accomplishes all these amazing benefits?

Check out the article, “15 Low Carb Diet Benefits Backed by Science.” 

low carb diet benefits infographic

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Who Should Try Low-Carb?

There are so many people who can benefit from switching to a low-carb diet!

Here are just a few of the reasons you may want to try it:

  • You are overweight and are looking for a way to lose weight quickly. At the same time, you do not want to try an unhealthy crash diet. You want to get the weight off and keep it off with a diet you can maintain for life.
  • You want to eat a healthier diet which emphasizes protein and steers you away from sugars.
  • You have concerns about your cardiovascular health which you want to address through diet. Maybe you have high blood pressure or cholesterol, or you need to lower your triglycerides. LCHF can help you do it.
  • You are looking for a diet which can help you to maximize the benefits of your workouts.
  • You have a condition such as epilepsy which low-carb can treat.
  • You are a diabetic and you want to come off of your meds or reduce your dosages.
A Note for Diabetics
diabetic testing blood sugar

Speaking of diabetes, if you have it, take note: eating a low-carb, high-fat diet will decrease your insulin levels, effectively treating your condition!

This is obviously an awesome thing; many LCHF dieters who suffer from diabetes end up needing to reduce the amount of medication they take.

Some can even come off of medication entirely.

But you need to remember that means if you keep taking the same dosage you are now, you could end up reducing your insulin to dangerously low levels.

You do not want to become hypoglycemic, so you should consult with your doctor before starting the diet.

While you are on the diet, regularly check your blood sugar levels.

This will help you and your doctor to determine if and when you need to reduce the amount of medication you are taking.


​​What to Eat on a Low Carb Diet

​Foods You Can Eat As Much As You Want

Now let’s get into the meat of the topic - literally! What can you eat while you are on a LCHF diet?  

Meat.

Meat lovers rejoice! On a LCHF diet, you can eat all the meat you want, including the fat and skin.

You are good to go with beef, chicken, pork, or game meat. Stick with organic, grass-fed meat whenever possible.

low carbohydrate diet pyramid
Fish and shellfish.

Salmon, haddock, herring, trout, mackerel, and others are all great. You can also enjoy any shellfish you would like.

Remember not to order breaded fish at restaurants, as the breading is high in carbohydrates.

Eggs.

You can eat eggs any way you like them. Try to buy organic eggs from free-range chickens.

Vegetable​​​​​s.

You need to avoid starchy vegetables, but you can eat any non-starchy vegetables.

These usually are the ones which grow above the ground.

Examples include broccoli, brassicas, spinach, carrots, zucchini, eggplant, asparagus, and more.

You can also eat mushrooms.

Fruits.

Again, avoid starchy fruits, but plenty of other fruits are just fine, especially berries.

Try to keep your fruit servings down to a minimum each day.

Nuts and seeds.

Use moderation, but these are an excellent source of protein and other nutrition.

Dairy.

Finally a diet where you can eat all the fattening dairy you want!

Butter, whole milk, cheese, yogurt, and heavy cream are all on the menu.

Stay away from strange “reduced fat” products like skim milk which contain milk sugars.

Sauces.

You can use high-fat sauces in your cooking such as Hollandaise.  Stay away from sauces that are high in sugars

​Fats and oils.

Feel free to cook in oils such as olive oil, coconut oil, butter, lard, or cod fish liver oil.

Spices.

Use these in moderation to jazz up your dishes.

Stevia.

Looking for an all-natural sweetener which you can use as a substitute for sugar? Stevia is the perfect choice.

Beverages.

Drink plenty of water while you are on low-carb (most of us do not get enough of it).

You can also drink tea and coffee. Feel free to add cream to both!

What about alcohol?

This is fine once in a while so long as you do not do it too often (alcohol can result in high blood sugar levels).

Remember to watch out with cheeses and nuts, as they can be quite high in calories, and you don’t want to overindulge if you are looking to lose weight.

As you can see, one of the most exciting things about a low-carb, high-fat diet is the fact that you are allowed to eat a lot of foods which are banned on other diets.

There is also plenty of variety in the list above. So you will never get bored. That makes this diet easy to maintain over the years to come!

Foods You Can Eat in Limited Amounts

Here are a few foods which are okay on low-carb, but only in small quantities:

Potates.

Yes, they are starchy, but they are okay in restricted amounts (sweet potatoes are very nutritious and a great source of vitamin A).

Diet Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) infographic
Legumes.

You can eat black beans, pinto beans, and others in small amounts.

Grains which are free of gluten. Quinoa and oats are good examples.

Dark chocolate.

Stick with organic dark chocolate which contains 70% cocoa or higher concentrations.

Foods to Avoid

Finally, what can’t you eat on low-carb?

Here is a list of foods to stay far, far away from:

Sugar.

This is the number one thing you need to avoid. It is time to give up the candy, cakes, cookies, ice cream, soft drinks, and so on.

Artificial sweeteners.

No, avoiding sugar does not mean you can start adding Aspartame or Sucralose to everything.

Artificial sweeteners are terrible for you too.

Starchy foods like grains containing gluten.

For a lot of people, this will be the most painful category to give up.

You will need to get rid of pasta, bread, rice, most potato products, and so on.

As mentioned earlier, you may sometimes make exceptions for potatoes, oats, quinoa, or lentils, but keep it to a minimum.

thumbs down holding sugar cubes
Margarine.

This bizarre butter substitute has no health benefits whatsoever, and may actually harm your health.

For one thing, it contains a lot of omega-6 fat, which is very bad for you.

Omega-6 fatty acids increase inflammation in your body, which may be one reason margarine is linked with a lot of nasty health conditions.

Trans fats and​​​​​ omega-6 fatty acids.

​On that note, try to avoid foods which contain a lot of omega-6 fatty acids, unless it is something like fish which contains more healthy omega-3 fatty acids to balance out the effects.

Also avoid trans fats (look for words on food boxes like “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated” oils).

“Low-fat” foods.

When you see products which are marketed as “low fat” or “diet” products, they often have been altered in some way and are no longer natural and healthy.

The skim milk mentioned earlier is a great example.

Foods with weird additives.

If it comes prepackaged in a box and the ingredients on the back are utterly bizarre, put it back.

You do not want to go eating a lot of weird chemicals.

As you can see, aside from the requirement to cut out starchy foods, most of the foods you will be avoiding on a low-carb diet are foods you should avoid on any diet.

Low-carb is therefore not as big a leap as you might have been imagining.

If you need help remembering what to eat and avoid when you are in the grocery store, just think about history.

You are avoiding foods which came into vogue after agriculture was invented some 10,000 years ago.

You are also avoiding foods that became popular after the industrial revolution and the anti-fat craze of the 1980s.

You are going back to what we used to eat for hundreds of thousands of years before all these modern inventions.

That is what your body was designed by evolution to eat!

Sample Meal Plan

Need some inspiration putting together your meal plan for your first week?

Here are some ideas for what you could eat:

Breakfast:
mushroom spinach  frittata

Monday: Spinach and mushroom omelet

Tuesday: Bacon and eggs

Wednesday: Breakfast sandwich on Oopsie bread

Thursday: Cheese and eggs

Friday: Yogurt with berries

Saturday: Canned fish and eggs

Sunday: Bacon and cheese omelet

Lunch:
chicken with salad

Monday: Yogurt with blueberries

Tuesday: Salad with chicken

Wednesday: Canned fish and a handful of nuts

Thursday: Smoothie

Friday: Nuts and cheese

Saturday: Leftovers from last night’s dinner

Sunday: Salad

Dinner:
salmon with vegetables

Monday: Grilled chicken dinner with a side of vegetables

Tuesday: Beef stew

Wednesday: Cheeseburger on Oopsie bread or no bread

Thursday: Salmon and veggies

Saturday: Pork chops with a side of vegetables

Sunday: Chicken quinoa soup with kale

Snack Suggestions:
  • A handful of nuts or seeds
  • Yogurt or a smoothie
  • Carrots or celery
  • Cubes of cheese
  • Fruit (not too much), pick those lower in carbs.

As you can see, it isn’t too hard to learn to eat a low-carb diet, nor does this diet require that you spend a lot of extra money just to eat right.

A large part of your diet is comprised of vegetables, which helps compensate for the cost of eating more meat.

If you eat out at a restaurant, try ordering a dish where meat or fish is the main entrée.

If the sides are dubious (French fries for instance), ask if they will substitute veggies.

You can also request that your food be cooked in olive oil or butter.

Wondering what the “Oopsie” bread mentioned earlier is?

It is “bread” made out of eggs, psyllium seed husks, baking powder, and cream cheese. 

You can bake it and get a convincingly bread-like texture.

Oopsie bread is easy to shape into buns for sandwiches. You will find plenty of recipes online.

Common Beginner Mistakes

If this is your second shot at low-carb, you may have made a common beginner mistake which cost you last time.

Woman with a question marked sauce on an empty plate

Whether this is your first try or your second (or third), here are some common mistakes to avoid:

Don’t cave into the urge to conserve all your energy. 

You may feel a bit sluggish at first with low-carb. But don’t let it stop you from moving around and working out.

If you are getting adequate nutrition and calories, you will be fine.

Do not try to simply “guesstimate” calories. 

Actually read labels and count them until you develop an internal gauge for the right portion sizes.

Do not avoid fats! 

It is way too easy to give into the temptation to shy away from fat. We have been culturally trained to do it.

But if you do not eat fats to make up for your lack of carbs, you will be starving yourself.

Do not forget to drink water! 

Staying hydrated is vital. So is getting your electrolytes.

Do not keep drinking alcohol at the levels you used to. 

This should no longer be a daily event. It will undo all of your hard work.

Alcohol is basically liquid bread.

Do not give up if you experience what is known as “low-carb flu”

​More on that in just a moment. You have to get through this phase to experience the benefits!

Do not try to do too much too fast. 

Some people do great shifting all at once to low-carb.

Others may have an easier time sticking with the diet if they give up one food and then another and then another.

Do whatever will work for you.

Do not drive yourself crazy.

Allow yourself a “cheat” sometimes

You can do this now and again if you need to - a sugar-rich fruit, a sweet potato, a bowl of beans, or some dark chocolate

Science shows we need to routinely break discipline to maintain it over the long run (5).

​What to Expect

​What is going to happen when you transition to low-carb?

It will probably take about a month for your body to fully adapt to functioning on a LCHF diet.

So do not be alarmed if you experience what is commonly referred to as “low-carb flu.”

What is “Low-Carb Flu?”

This is a common and temporary downturn that you may experience when you first switch over the eating a low-carb diet.

woman yawning because of low carb flu

Why does it happen? There are a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it takes your body several weeks to adjust from burning carbohydrates for energy to burning fat.

Secondly, you may be in need of extra hydration and electrolytes when you're shedding your excess water weight.

During this initial phase, you may wonder if you have caught a bug.

You may experience familiar flu-like symptoms such as lethargy, headache, confusion, irritability, and even nausea.

Do not panic; it will pass. In fact, you may treat it in much the same way as a real flu.

Drink plenty of water, and replenish your electrolytes stores by eating some salt.

Other common and likewise temporary drawbacks during this phase may include:

  • Leg cramps
  • Bad breath, sometimes known as “ketone breath.”
  • Constipation
  • Heart palpitations
  • A decline in physical performance

All this may sound rather intimidating, but it should not worry you.

In fact, the reason that I am going to such lengths to emphasize the “low-carb flu” is so that you will know going into the experience what to expect, and will not allow it to perturb you.

Far too many people try low-carb thinking that it would be to instant improvements in their feelings of well-being.

Since they are not aware of “low-carb flu,” they think something has gone horribly wrong.

So they quit the diet for they even get to experience the tremendous benefits!

How severe or long-lasting this phase will be depends on your body.

For some people, it may be inconvenient enough to interfere with work in normal activities. 

For others, and may be very mild and have little to no impact. Other still may never even experience the so-called “low-carb flu.”

When Will the Benefits Set In?

The good news is that even if you experience low carb flu, some of the positive effects of the diet will probably be evident right away.

You will likely notice a swift drop in your weight in the first several weeks.

One very exciting aspect about low-carb is that you may notice that your belly fat is the first to reduce.

belly fat loss

If you have tried other diets in the past, you probably have noticed how difficult it is to burn away that stubborn deep visceral fat around your midsection, which puts you at risk for premature death due to links with high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, inflammation, and diabetes.

Quite often in fact this pocket of fat is the very last to go when you are dieting.

This gives low-carb quite an advantage over other diets you may have tried in the past.

After some time passes, your weight loss should start to reach a plateau. This will happen once you reach a healthy weight for your sex, age, and body type.

How long this takes will depend on how overweight you are when you begin dieting. It could take weeks, or it could take months.

Another nice thing that you will notice is that you are no longer hungry all the time.

This is because the diet that you are eating is naturally higher in protein.

Protein helps to keep you feeling full (6), so you may not feel as tempted to snack between mealtimes anymore.

woman refusing

Of course, the best thing about a low-carb diet is that the benefits go far beyond what you can measure on the scale or see in the mirror.

Before you start your low-carb diet, a great recommendation is to measure your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglycerides.

Take note of how your numbers compare to the ideal numbers that you should aim for.

Several months after beginning your low-carb diet, go ahead and take new readings and check your numbers again.

You will probably see great improvements in all of them, and you should find yourself either well within ideal ranges or closing in on this ranges fast.

In Short … Stick With It!

The #1 reason why people who try LCHF fail is probably because they are not prepared for low-carb flu.

Just remember, the downturn is temporary. You are radically changing your lifestyle.

You are dispensing with a lifetime of unhealthy dietary practices and returning to your ancestral roots.

Your body needs time to make that adjustment.

Wait it out, enjoy watching the pounds drop on the scale, and you will soon see other great benefits.

After the transitional period passes, you should:

  • Continue to lose weight until you level out at an ideal weight
  • Feel increased energy throughout the day and fewer sugar spikes and crashes
  • See lower blood pressure, triglycerides, and “bad” cholesterol
  • See improvements in your “good” cholesterol levels
  • Enjoy improvements in your mood
  • If you are treating a health condition like diabetes, you may be able to reduce your medication

Long-term improvements like that can add years onto your life. That is totally worth a few weeks of discomfort!

Tips and Tricks​

How can you minimize the discomforts associated with your transition to a fat-burning physiology while maximizing the weight loss and health benefits of a low-carb diet?


​Here are a few tips and tricks for a successful transition:

  • ​Low-carb flu got you down longer than you expected? You could be having a hard time with metabolic flexibility. Metabolic flexibility refers to your body's capability to switch between burning carbohydrates and burning fat. Some people are lacking in metabolic flexibility and therefore may struggle more with the transition to LCHF. One thing that you can do about this is exercise, even though you may not feel like it. See this link for more information
  • ​Make sure that you are getting plenty of salts in your diet. There are two easy ways that you can do this. One idea is simply to stir a teaspoon of salt into a glass of water and drink it. Another option is to eat some soup. Again, this is particularly vital during your transitional phase.
  • It can help you to switch to low-carb to get to get a basic grocery list ready to take to the store. This list should include items like meat, fish, eggs, cheese, whole dairy products, yogurt, nuts, frozen vegetables, fresh vegetables, berries, olive oil, and condiments and spices.
  • check
    Eat plenty of healthy fats. Be aware of your own attitude toward fat. If you come to realize that you are fat phobic, you may need to put extra effort into making sure that you are meeting your body's caloric needs. Healthy fats should account for around 70% of your daily calories. Yes, I know that seems like a lot! You will get used to it.
  • check
    Do not allow eating to be a habit. Make careful, intentional choices every time you sit down for a meal or snack. And when you are full, stop eating! You were probably eating more than you needed to in the past. Take advantage of the satiety the protein provides you with, and stop overeating. Your portion sizes on LCHF will probably be smaller than you expect.
  • check
    If you are very athletic, you may actually need to get some carbs. Fitness coaches sometimes recommend that you give yourself an extra dose of carbs right before a big workout day.
  • check
    Be aware that you may encounter resistance from others. Oftentimes this resistance comes from loved ones. Family and friends may not understand how low carb works, and may very well have a lot of misconceptions about it. They may also have their own guilt for not following through on their own dieting plans. This ultimately has nothing to do with you. You are now well-informed. Check out the other articles on ​Authority Diet and you will be ready to provide a scientific, well-reasoned response to any discouraging remarks that are lobbed your way. Just remember, these people do not mean any harm.
  • check
    Be patient! The single most important thing to remember about switching to low-carb is that the first week or two are probably going to be uncomfortable. Don’t let it get you down. Just hang in there and you will soon see awesome results!

​Maintaining Your Diet

One of the best things about a low-carb diet is that once you get used to it, it is practically self-maintaining.

You are getting all the nutrition and calories that you need to stay healthy, and moreover, you should be looking and feeling better than you have in years.

This is usually more than enough to motivate you to stick with it over the long term.

Unlike a lot of other diets you may have tried, there is no weird cycling required, no phases that you need to juggle in order to stay healthy.

You will not constantly be losing weight and gaining it all back and losing it and gaining it all back again.

The improvements that you make to your health with low-carb will be permanent so long as you just keep doing what you are already doing.

Finally, you have found a diet for life!

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  • Updated October 3, 2018

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Leros

This is a lot of great info. Thanks for sharing!

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