When you start a low-carb diet -- or any diet, for that matter -- it's natural to want the fastest results possible. And while going low-carb is a great way to achieve safe and relatively fast weight loss, simple diet mishaps, like relying on "diet" food or stressing too much, can sabotage your results. If you're stuck, try these tips to get back on track with your weight-loss journey.
Track Your Food (and Carb) Intake
To shed weight, get serious about writing it down -- your food intake, that is. Keeping a food journal has proven benefits for weight loss. One study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research in 2013, found that a web-based food journal or smartphone app helped study subjects lose weight.
Recording your food intake is especially important if you follow a low-carb diet. Since more restrictive diets might cut your carb intake to 20 grams a day or less, even a single extra snack or accidentally-oversized portion can push you over your limit and sabotage your weight-loss efforts. Electronic food diaries make it easy not only to keep track of what you eat, but to see your carb intake from day to day, so you can make sure you're sticking to your diet.
Avoid Packaged "Weight-Loss" Foods
Going low-carb requires careful diet planning, so it's tempting to reach for packaged meals and bars designed for low-carb diets. And while these foods work well as "emergency" meals if you don't have time to cook, you're better off getting most of your calories, carbs, protein and fat from real, wholesome foods.
Pre-packaged fare is often less filling. Diet bars, for example, are typically small, but might still pack 150 to 200 calories. That small serving size makes them less satisfying than, say, a heaping leafy salad -- even if the salad has fewer calories overall. Many low-carb diet bars are also sweetened with artificial sweeteners. These sweeteners don't actually contain carbs or calories, but they might boost your sugar cravings, according to a study published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine in 2010.
Make low-carb snacking as easy as possible by keeping a few convenient options on hand. Refrigerated cucumber slices and celery sticks are good for very low-carb crunchy snacking, and almonds or mixed nuts stored in your desk can help you stay full.
Don't Let Stress Tip the Scale
Stress -- what is it good for? Not weight loss! Prolonged stress actually has an effect on your body's hormone levels, triggering an increase in a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol levels that are too high make your body hold on to fat, so you'll find it harder to lose weight. And this effect might be particularly pronounced if you're eating low-carb, since low-carb diets themselves increase your cortisol levels, according to a study published in Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism in 2007.
Lowering your cortisol levels -- and maximizing your weight loss -- requires taking action to relieve stress. Spend a few minutes practicing meditation at the beginning and end of the day, or take up a relaxing, restorative yoga class. You'll also want to get enough sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours each night.
Value Sustained Results -- Not Fast Weight Loss
While it's natural to want to reach your weight loss goal ASAP, treat your fitness journey like a marathon, not a sprint. You might notice big weight-loss results right away, since your body will flush out excess fluid when you start a low-carb diet, leading to rapid weight loss in the first few weeks. But don't feel like a failure if your weight loss tapers off after that. You should reasonably expect just 1 to 2 pounds of weight loss weekly.
To meet your goal as quickly and safely as possible -- and to feel happy and fit when you get there -- develop strategies to make your low-carb lifestyle work for you. Try out low-carb "noodles" made from spiral-cut zucchini, radishes or daikon, or enjoy "rice" made from cauliflower. Satisfy a sweet tooth with a handful of berries, if your diet allows, and go for crunchy soy nuts or seaweed snacks instead of higher-carb treats like chips. Experiment to find a low-carb diet you truly enjoy -- so you'll not only reach your goal weight, but stay there.