Why I Went Low Carb Paleo

I've never been one to count my carbs. A few years ago, when I started working out with a personal trainer they had me focusing on calories and fat. Not carbs. When I found Paleo, it was never about counting anything. It was about eating nutrient dense food that wasn't made with a bunch of crappy oils or filled with a ton of sugar or made with ingredients that I had to google. But for a week now, I've been eating a low carb, very high fat, Paleo diet. Specifically, I have been staying under 50 grams of carbs/day.  

What the hell were you thinking?

That's a great question. Sometimes, I make really rash life decisions (slight flaw) but most of the time I'm pretty level headed. Deciding to try low carb Paleo (aka keto) was actually one of my level headed moments. If you've read any of my interviews (like the one on Primal Palate) or my early posts, you'll know that I am/was a runner. There was nothing I loved more than going out for a long run on the weekends or pushing myself in a half marathon. After being plagued with a knee injury, a shoulder injury, low B12, anemia (the list could go on) my running suffered. I started to do HIIT (high intensity interval training) classes to help strengthen my knee and my shoulder while trying to sort out my B12 issue with my doctor. While the workouts I was doing have made me stronger, my running suffered. I was constantly pushing myself in these classes to be better and while I absolutely LOVE them, it took my focus away from my mental escape. It's been over 2 years since my last organized race and I miss the shit out of it. Combine that with the fact that just over a week ago my (practical) father in law ran his first ever full marathon and absolutely crushed it. He's a heart attack survivor, 65 years old and one of the most loving men you will ever meet in your life.  Watching him accomplish that made me remember how personally rewarding running can be.  I wanted that back.

On top of all that, in those same interviews, you've probably read about my 85 pound weight loss, which is something I'm very proud of. Between my strength training, medical issues and french fry addiction, I've gained about 15 pounds of that back. It's not a huge setback but it is something that I think is holding back my running. My hopes for doing this are to be able to make my body more efficient and lean, so I'm running with less weight. 

How is low carb going to help me in this journey? 

To know how it's going to help me, it's important to know how I got here. Even amidst any health issues I was having, I tried to stay on top of my fitness. I continued going for short runs and went to fitness classes, but I wasn't working out as much as I used to. Add onto that the fact that while Paleo can be a naturally low carb lifestyle, it's easy to get carried away by eating excess fruit or starchy vegetables and you have your answer.  As much as I hate to admit it, I was eating WAY too many french fries and drinking beer too often. My body stopped functioning how it should and I took steps backwards when it came to my running. The Paleo diet is naturally high fat and low carb so it transitions you from a carb burner to a fat burner. Meaning you get your energy from fats. While potatoes (not beer) are permitted on Paleo, eating them is eating carbs..  If you consume a high number of carbs, your body won't make that transition (or it will reverse back) and you won't be getting energy from fat. Somewhere along the way, that's what happened to me.

Back in my running days, I was a fat burner and it left me with energy to spare, even after my long runs. I could go for a 10 mile run without needing any of the goo or gels or whatever it is that all the runners are using nowadays.  To help increase my energy levels and improve my running, I wanted to transition back to that and eating a low carb diet can do that.

How can I know if it's working?

Focusing on a low carb, high fat Paleo diet can help put my body into ketosis.  Ketosis is a natural state for the body when it's almost completely fueled by fat. Usually people consume 20-50g of carbs a day on a keto diet. Basically what happens is that the levels of glucose in my body are so low that fatty acids get released in my body and they are turned into ketones, which then provide my body with energy. Side note - does anyone else think this sounds like a really cool episode concept for the magic school bus? Anyways, using these cute little ketosis pee strips, I can test the levels of ketones in my body thereby determining if I'm in ketosis or not. 

What's my daily carb goal & how am I tracking it?

Less than 50g of carbs per day. In terms of my daily diet, my macro (carbs, fat & protein) goal is 15% carbs, 65% fat and 20% protein. Of course, just because I'm allowing myself 50g a day, doesn't mean I am forcing myself to get there. I'm using the MyFitnessPal app to track all my meals. You can adjust the daily "nutrient goals" to match whatever yours are individually, which is what I did.  These are shots from a few of my days so you can see what it looks like.

How was week 1 & what would I do differently?

I hit my goal every day of my first week in staying under 50g of carbs. I resisted ordering french fries with my burger on Friday, even though they were served with garlic aioli (OBSESSED.) I lost 3 pounds and according to my test strips, I have "small" levels of ketones evident in my body (yayyy!)  

That being said, it wasn't all sunshine and lollipops. I had a constant dull headache and it was a full on migraine for me early this week.  So, if this is something you are interested in, GRADUALLY make a transition. Since I never tracked carbs before this week, I had no idea what I was actually consuming. Well, based off of my headaches, it appears I was consuming a LOT of carbs.

While dying from my headache, I read online that they recommend tracking your typical meals for a couple days before going low carb like this. Once you have an idea of what you eat, you can gradually shift down to low carb over the course of 2-3 weeks so you don't shock the hell out of your body. Please do not do what I did and go from 0 to 100 in 60 seconds flat. Learn from my literal headache.

What did I eat my first week?

Here's the rundown of what I ate all week, what carb count I ended on & links to any recipes I used!

Breakfast: Butter Coffee (14oz coffee + 1 tbsp kerrygold butter + 1 tbsp coconut oil)
Lunch: Salad with hardboiled eggs, cucumber, shredded carrots, feta + sunflower seeds
Dinner: Chicken Bacon Ranch Skillet (made into 4 servings)
Snacks/Extras: Pecans + Almond Butter

Breakfast: Butter Coffee (14oz coffee + 1 tbsp kerrygold butter + 1 tbsp coconut oil)
Lunch: Chicken Bacon Ranch Skillet (made into 4 servings)
Dinner: Paleo Fried Rice
Snacks/Extras: Almond Butter, Raw Pecans + a little Gingerade Kombucha

Breakfast: Butter Coffee (14oz coffee + 1 tbsp kerrygold butter + 1 tbsp coconut oil)
Lunch: Paleo Fried Rice
Dinner: Three eggs, scrambled Snacks/Extras: Almond Butter, 2 hardboiled eggs + 2 glasses Brut Cava champagne

Breakfast: Butter Coffee (14oz coffee + 1 tbsp kerrygold butter + 1 tbsp coconut oil) + 2 hardboiled eggs
Lunch: Summer Breakfast Meatloaf + 1/4 Wholly Guacamole snack pack
Dinner: 50/50 Meatballs with Blackberry Balsamic Glaze (Recipe in Performance Paleo cookbook) + Olive Oil Roasted Brussels Sprouts Snacks/Extras: Almond Butter, Raw Pecans + a little Gingerade Kombucha

Breakfast: Butter Coffee (14oz coffee + 1 tbsp kerrygold butter + 1 tbsp coconut oil) + 2 hardboiled eggs
Lunch: Summer Breakfast Meatloaf
Dinner: We ate out at Farmhouse Chicago. I got a grassfed burger with local cheese, bacon + a fried egg. Side salad. I also splurged on 2 small cheese curds Snacks/Extras: Almond Butter, Raw Pecans, hardboiled egg, 3 slices bacon + a little Gingerade Kombucha

Breakfast: Omelette with breakfast sausage, broccoli + caramelized onions, bacon + sauteed kale
Lunch: Uncured Bacon Epic Bar
Dinner: 2 Organic grass-fed uncured beef hot dogs, squash noodle mix from Whole Foods + garlic marinara pasta sauce Snacks/Extras: Raw Pecans, hardboiled egg, almond butter + a little Tart Cherry Kombucha

Breakfast: 1/2 serving of Summer Breakfast Meatloaf, 3 slices bacon + 2 scrambled eggs
Lunch: This was an odd one because breakfast was late and I was making two new recipes! Raw pecans + Sticky Sweet Brussels Sprouts (recipe coming soon!)
Dinner: Spaghetti Squash Casserole (I made up with ground chicken, zucchini, spinach + bacon)
Snacks/Extras: Stonyfield plain greek yogurt, Almond butter, raw pecans, almonds

Will this low carb Paleo be a long-term change?

For me, it's not. I have my own opinions on ketosis and I don't particularly think that it is good to do long term. This type of dietary lifestyle affects your hormones because the production of them increases during ketosis. Since I've had issues previously in this realm, I prefer to mess with my hormones' natural rhythm as little as possible.

As of right now, I'm planning to stick with my 50g of carbs per day for three to four weeks, depending on how I'm feeling and the progress I make in terms of energy and running. After that, I'm going to aim for 50-100g of carbs per day. That's my plan for now, but there is always room for some flexibility. If this is working for me or a modified version of this will work for me, that's what I'll do.  

If you want some additional information on carb levels, weight loss, maintenance, etc. I highly recommend this article on the carbohydrate curve from Mark Sisson via Mark's Daily Apple. 

Some of my Low Carb Paleo staples: