This blog post is selected extracts of my 21 day low carb experiment, which I am doing as part of my Year of Health. This is a mix of written and video content.

Prep Day 1: The Decision

While making my Year of Health update video for the end of February, I realised that the intermittent fasting I had done in February was not enough. I had barely lost any weight at all. 

I realised that it was time to explore low carb.

Up to this point I have been doing a very loosely goosey version of low carb, understanding and implementing very obvious ideas like keeping away from ultra processed foods. I gave up 95% of processed sugar in 2012.

About a week ago a friend who is very au fait with low carb said “I don’t eat bananas – they’re full of sugar and carbs” and I was truly shocked. Bananas, high carb?!? Bananas???

As always, when I feel confused like this, I do an experiment. The experiment will give me data about how useful it is for weight loss, and how I can integrate it into my life. 

A one month experiment. I’m not yet sure of the details.

I went to a second hand shop and got two recipe books -one low carbs and the other a spiraliser. 

Prep Day 2: The Revelation

Today I gathered – or rather hoovered up – information. What is low carb. What veggies are low carb. What fruit (yes. The horrible truth: apparently a banana represents a higher amount of carbs than the daily allowance for one super low carb plan). Spiralised a courgette and lightly stir fried it. Tastes fine as long as you smother it in pesto.

Keto Vs low carb. What is carb counting. Had a go at everything from oats to 100% chocolate (cocoa solids only) to wraps to asparagus. 

The most memorable part of the day was making up a snack I am used to eating – oat yoghurt, granola and satsuma – to 20g carbs. It was a mini snack, the size of a dessert in Le Tiny Portion gourmet  restaurant (find it in Hungryville).

I was in shock, because this is the kind of snack I am used to eating in copious quantities.

But you know what? The shock turned quickly to joy.

Joy of the revelation that went like this: “No wonder I’ve hardly lost any weight! Now just think what I can achieve with some adjustments”

So often a problem has a flip side, a beautiful hidden exit embedded within it, the seeds of its own destruction lying dormant in its DNA. 

Here the flip side is the knowledge of how much high carb food I’ve been eating with abandon in the unthinking illusion that they had only minimal impact on my blood sugar. If I can change that, I should have no problem lowering my carb intake.

For example…

Banana porridge made with oat milk

Brown rice noodles

Tiny sugar-free protein bars

A whole load of fruit such as satsumas

Day 1 – The Audit Starts

Day one proper. I do know this week is a bit of an audit – to see how I get on with the various foods, combinations and meal prep.

But most of all I want to know how low I can go carb-wise, without eating cardboard and horribly bitter pap. The recipe book I got hold of suggested week one be 20g per day.From the cooking and carb counting I did yesterday, I increased this to 30g.

Important: this is not a test of how well I can deprive myself. This is an experiment to give me data. Some of that data is the answer to the question is 30g of carbs a reasonable starting point? 

Looking online, nobody can agree. My recipe book said yes. Another source says under 100g is low carb.

So one job today needed to do was give me a starting point, independent of what low carb guru is trying to persuade me is ‘normal’. 

I ate 71g of carbs today. Some data, but not enough to determine if this is a good baseline. So I will repeat the experiment called what is a reasonable starting point for low carb? tomorrow.

Always experimenting, never falling in line with any expert, especially when – as I suspect is the case here – that number of 20g has been laid down in order to produce short term weight loss, in order to get the recipe book author rave reviews. 

This is pretty disgusting. This low carb experiment is far too important for my health to be corrupted in this way. I always say to people who have become infatuTed with a new health fad I only care about what works long term.

Low carb is inconvenient when starting out, I can say that with certainty. My experience with freeing myself from sugar suggests that – like learning to drive – it will get a lot easier with time.

Why sacrifice this opportunity to reverse your diabetes or prediabetes on the rather crappy altar of the scales? This is your life we are talking about. A future released from the prison of obesity, insulin resistance and the hideous diseases that lie further down Diabetes Road.

A future with less pain, less discomfort, more ease, more mobility. More confidence. More life.

So today I began. I realised I would have to set aside an hour a day in the afternoon to cook. Cook having a novel new meaning, as I found out today: weighing, measuring,checking the carbs online, looking with distaste at half of the ingredients, weighing again, tasting, grimacing, adding something completely different, recalculating the carbs, shrugging with relief at finding it was actually palatable, and so on.

To be fair, there were some delicious things today. Celery soup. 100% chocolate. Olives (especially when I mistakenly thought they were zero carbs).

One thing I think is important to note. I changed my usual smoothie recipe to minus the usual banana and pear and adding stevia. It was disappointing, but with the addition of extra cocoa and ground almonds, it tasted…OK. And I realised that this is a necessary part of the experiment: that it can’t pander to the tastebuds. Getting used to the taste of bare acceptability.

I know my tastebuds will change. This I learnt from my experiment in 2012 to give up 90% processed sugar – anything in a dessert or sweet snack (mayo, curry sauces and baked beans were allowed). 

Today I had to accept how time consuming the cooking and exhaustive carb counting is. 

Like the taste of some foods being just OK, I know this extra timesuck is temporary. Like a child learning to ride a bike, at some point it will all start to flow more effortlessly. I’ll know how to put together a salad, batch cook soup and even find room in whatever carb allowance I decide for some higher carb foods. In fact I bet that I won’t even need to count carbs when I get a more instinctive feel for what to cook that I like.

One lovely surprise was not just how filling and satisfying the food was, but how good it made me feel. I have always been someone whose mood and feeling of general wellbeing is affected by what I eat. I gave up sugar in 2012, well before it was even a thing, all because my hormones were oceanically out of control to the point where my children, then aged 6 and 3, were scared of me. 

About an hour after lunch, I was in the supermarket and I noticed what I can describe as mild euphoria, a rush of just feeling so damn good. If sugar took me to Hellsville, it makes sense that its opposite should feel amazing.

Day 8: Weigh In #1 and ‘Are You Joking?!?’ Porridge (AKA Oatmeal)

NB This experiment had 3 days of prep preceding day 1.

Weigh in – 13 st 5lb exactly which represents a loss of 1.75lbs in 7 days. (Actually it is 10 days since my last weigh in, but I think the fact that I didn’t even lose 1lb in the whole of February indicates that I probably didn’t shed even a fraction of the whisper of an ounce in the prep period before day 4).

I am really pleased with this. I didn’t want to shed more than 2lb.

‘Are You Joking?!?’ Porridge

I had to laugh. The parade of tastes auto enabling in my mouth continued with banana porridge this morning. This was especially strong and made its presence felt about 3am. It’s not that pressing need of the craving, a desire that won’t leave you alone. I can’t really explain what it is except it feels like deeply human and appropriate. So, me being me, I wanted to explore this.

I made the porridge exactly as I did pre low carb EXCEPT I used half a banana instead of a whole one. After all this whole thing started with a throwaway comment about the forbiddennness of said bendy yellow fruit. 

It did taste on the verge of too sweet, so it just goes to show you that even I can retrain my not very sweet tooth some more.

What was remarkable was when I came to add up the carbs after eating it. I nearly fell off my chair when I saw that oats have a whopping 70g carbs per 100g. Seventy! This made my breakfast amount to 49g carbs, after which I held a minute’s silence for my previous notions of normality. I did, in fact, laugh my little socks off at how blithely I had chugged down the carbs. 

What is shocking to me is that unprocessed foods such as bananas and oats should be so off the charts carby. Blokey pointed out to me that humankind have engineered modern day bananas to be unnaturally sweet, so they are not really that whole and natural.

Day 9: Harriet, I don’t think low carb nachos are actually a thing

Today’s auto-enabled taste was nachos (meaning that certain tastes have been appearing in my mouth of their own accord). While I hope that my ignorance about the oats was understandable, I did have a pretty good idea that nachos do not a great low carb meal make.

Or do they? 

Let’s see….

Day 21 – a Real Step Forward

Today was real step forward – literally and metaphorically.

I went to visit a National Trust property. These involve more walking than I normally do. The story I’ve been telling myself ever since my perimenopause started has been “I’ve got mobility issues”.

The visit involved a ten-minute walk from the car park to the building. When we got to the front door, I realised that I had walked with no discomfort at all in my back for ten minutes. I can’t remember the last time I managed this.

Not only that, but I had been carrying my bag with a good pint or so of water in it. This is unheard of. 

I did need to sit a couple of times on the house tour, but that ten minutes marked a sea change in my mobility. 

It has to be down to my low carb diet, because nothing else has changed in the last few weeks.

I’m walking – if not jumping – for joy! 

Weigh In At The End of The 21 Days