It started with a one-mile run with my team—two young bucks who were avid Crossfitters. Easy. First round of goblet squats (at 2 p), burpees and dumbbell shoulder-to-overhead (50 lbs) at 20 reps per person per exercise. Not bad.
Time for another run, but this time just 800 meters to kick off the second round of the 3-round WOD.
Ohh, I kinda feel exhausted, I thought. Push through, I told myself. It’s just a run. No biggie.
And then the second round of weights started. Same exercises but just 15 reps each.
Goblet squats? Check. Burpees. No problem.
Dumbbell shoulder-to-overhead at 50 lbs? Well… The first 5 reps were ok.
Why is this so hard?
It wasn’t supposed to be hard. I had done 50 lbs before with the same exercise. They were never a walk in the park (after all, I’m only 130-ish lbs), but I had been doing them consistently for at least 3 months.
Sixth rep. Shit, this isn’t gonna happen.
I looked at my teammates. They looked solid. They were gonna RX this WOD—the least I could do was do 5 more. So do them I did, but each one was harder and uglier than the last. I knew then that I had to switch dumbbells to 40 lbs. I had nothing left in the tank.
That’s the moment I knew a strict Slow Carb Diet wasn’t for me.
WTF is the Slow Carb Diet anyway?
I first had the idea of trying the Slow Carb Diet after reading Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss. (The concept was introduced in The 4-Hour Body, but I am yet to read that book.) On page 81 of Titans, there’s a cheatsheet on how to do this diet.
The Slow Carb Diet includes 5 simple rules:
- Avoid starchy (and “white”) carbs like rice, potatoes and bread. “Healthy” carbs like grains and quinoa are also not allowed. On the other hand, carbs from beans and legumes are encouraged.
- Eat the same few meals over and over again. (I’m assuming Tim added this rule to simplify the diet.)
- Don’t drink calories. Two glasses of red wine per day is permitted, but that’s it—no fruit juice, beer or any sugary drink.
- Say no to fruits, except for avocados and tomatoes.
- Measure your progress in body fat, not total pounds.
The bonus rule is that you’re supposed to have one cheat day week—a day when you’re allowed to eat absolutely anything you want, no questions asked.
So at this point, you might be wondering about the science behind this diet. For that, I present this from SFGate.com:
Studies comparing a standard diet based on fast carbs with a healthier slow-carb diet consistently showed lower body fat and healthier body weight, according to the May 2002 “Journal of the American Medical Association.” A study done with overweight children even showed that a slow-carb diet eaten ad libitum — meaning that children could eat as much as they wanted — worked better than a controlled calorie-restricted low-fat diet to improve their body mass index. Researcher David S. Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D attributes the effectiveness of slow-carb diets to their ability to make people feel fuller.
Other than this study, I can’t find anything else, which leads me to believe that the diet is mostly based on Tim’s personal experience. (If I’m wrong, please let me know.)
What worked for me—and what didn’t
Here’s the good news about the Slow Carb Diet: As promised, I was always full. I wasn’t consuming more food than usual, but I was never hungry.
And given the rules of the diet, I only ate real food. Anything sugary or too processed were automatically disqualified (except on my cheat days, of course).
I looked and felt great. While you’re not supposed to use weight as a benchmark for this diet, I had to do it because I didn’t have a way of measuring my body fat. According to my weight scale, I lost 4 pounds in my first week. My belly flab looked decent as well.
But it didn’t take long for this diet to affect my workouts. At first, I didn’t really notice any changes, but after week 1, I noticed the impact on my CrossFit workouts.
I was slower. My energy was just…off. And although I felt full, I ran out of gas halfway through intense workouts.
After two weeks of being in the Slow Carb Diet, I decided to end this experiment.
What I learned from failing at the Slow Carb Diet
The Slow Carb Diet has a huge following, and this blog post isn’t meant to discredit it. But my personal experience tells me this diet is not for me.
I’ve learned a few things from this experiment, and these lessons will also be useful to you if you’re considering any new type of diet.
Your diet needs to align with your goals and lifestyle.
Diets need to be individualized for you. Look at what you’re trying to achieve and align that goal with a diet that works for you. A silver bullet doesn’t exist.
Slow Carb didn’t work for me because of my lifestyle and my fitness regimen. In addition to CrossFit, I’m also training for a half-marathon in August. These activities require high carbs. High-intensity workouts and strict carb diets simply don’t mix.
My goals were also not aligned with this diet. Slow Carb works for people who are trying to lose weight, and that’s something that was definitely not on my to-do list.
Many goals are easier to achieve than you think.
By experimenting with the Slow Card Diet, I discovered that getting rid of white and/or processed carbs and empty calories is actually easy. I grew up eating rice everyday, sometimes 3 times a day.
I thought for sure I would miss eating rice. But that wasn’t the case.
My consumption of white rice today has decreased from one to two times a day to once per week. Even quinoa, which most experts believe is healthy, is no longer in my diet as I’ve replaced it with more veggies.
As for beverages, I like beer, but it wasn’t hard to give up. I still indulge in beer once in a while, but red wine is my default choice now even if it’s hot outside.
Changing habits—even lifelong ones—is not impossible. If I can practically avoid rice from my diet, so can you.
Carbs are kinda important.
Since quitting Slow Carb , I have re-introduced sweet potatoes and yam in my diet in moderation simply because they’re so delicious. I’m consuming fruits again as well because I use them for my morning protein shake. Since adding more carbs into my diet, my energy level has gone back up.
Carbs are not the enemy. As I learned quite painfully, carbs—even the kind that some people think are unhealthy—may have a place in your diet. You need to be smart about your carbs.
Variety is the spice of life.
The worst thing about the Slow Carb Diet is that it’s really boring. You’re eating the same things over and over again: mostly eggs, beans, legumes and vegetables. That’s ok for a week or two, but beyond that, I can’t imagine eating the same shit day in and day out.
The lack of variety in the Slow Carb Diet makes meal planning easy, but it’s not the best for keeping things interesting. And from my experience, if it’s not interesting, I probably won’t stick to it.
Variety keeps things interesting—especially when it comes to what you eat.
Your energy level is a better measurement of diet success than your weight.
It’s tempting to use the scale as the barometer of your success, but it’s not the best approach. When you’re weight training, you may not necessarily see your numbers go down no matter what you do with your diet since you may also be gaining muscle.
Unless you have a way to measure body fat, I suggest using how you feel and your energy level as measures of your success. If you feel like you have the energy to do the things you love to do, you’re probably on the right track.
The best diet for you is the diet you can stick with
Before this experiment, I’ve never tried any type of diet in my life. My rule about diets is that they suck and are therefore unnecessary. After trying and failing at the Slow Carb Diet, my mind hasn’t changed about diets, but I have more appreciation for food and for nutrients I put in my body.
Just a few days after abandoning the Slow Carb Diet, I was back to normal. In one workout, I even did a dumbbell complex that involved 50 reps of 100 lb thrusters. Hell, yeah!