I peered into the frying pan at my sizzling bacon and eggs and, frankly, felt concerned. Was there enough fat in there? I decided to be careful and melt some extra butter on top. Perfect — my diet breakfast was ready.
Welcome to the strange world of Low Carb, High Fat (or LCHF, as it’s commonly known). LCHF is an approach to eating that turns traditional dietary advice on its head — fat is no longer the work of the Devil; instead it’s embraced as a different form of fuel that’s superior to carbohydrates. Proponents of this lifestyle promise a reduction in hunger, balanced energy levels and natural weight loss. It sounded too good to be true, so naturally I had to try it!
How does LCHF work (the theory)?
On a LCHF diet, your daily energy comes from fat. Carbohydrates are reduced to a minimum, forcing your body to burn fat for fuel. The amount of carbohydrates you’re allowed depends how strict you want to be. Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt, one of the fathers of the movement, sets the limits at 50-100g for a “liberal” approach, 20-50g for “moderate” and less than 20g for “strict”.
If you’ve never measured carbohydrates before, let me tell you — that’s not much. In fact, I bet when I mentioned cutting carbs, you first thought about potatoes, pasta and bread. You probably weren’t thinking about fruit, or even starchy vegetables. However these all need to be constrained.
So what can you eat? Well, your daily intake consists of natural fats, protein, dairy, and non-starchy vegetables. It’s similar to a traditional low-carb diet, except rather than growing increasingly irate as your blood sugar plummets and your body fatigues, you replace the missing energy with fats and feel… kinda ok, actually.
Fats provide slow, steady energy, which in theory leaves you feeling fairly energetic all day. Once you’ve trained your body to devour fat as its primary energy source, you can expect to lose weight as your body turns to its fat stores for fuel. Fat also fills you up more than other foods, so you don’t feel hungry as often. You lose weight without feeling peckish — not bad eh?
What was my experience of LCHF?
Well… I spent most of the first week in a stupor, completely lacking in energy and stumbling around in a dream-like state. My body had grown rather accustomed to 30 years of using carbohydrates to get from A to B. When I removed the carbs and replaced it with cheese, it didn’t really know what to do.
Our friend, Dr. Andreas, suggests this might happen and even names it induction flu. It feels slightly better knowing this is a normal reaction, but it still was a rather unpleasant week.
On the plus side, that week was spent eating food I previously considered naughty. I ate chicken with a double-cream tomato sauce and lots of grated cheese. Hell yeah, that’s comfort food. And a nice piece of steak with the fat on, melted mozzarella and a small salad — mmmmmm. I did struggle with work lunches though, often creating weird, cold concoctions, like mackerel with mayonnaise, tomatoes and cheese chunks.
The satiety benefits are brilliant though. Fats really do fill you up and the lack of sugar spikes (and subsequent crashes) means you’re less interested in a 3pm snack. You become generally less bothered about food, which is slightly unnerving but on the whole, not a problem.
There’s a but coming…
For all the wonderful benefits of LCHF (induction flu aside), there’s one particularly significant problem with it.
It’s not normal to eat the way LCHF requires. This is particularly noticeable if you’re out and about — you can’t get LCHF food anywhere. Carbohydrates are abound, and if you somehow manage to avoid them, you rarely get the fat you need. “Healthy” food tends to be low-carb and low-fat.
God help you in a business meeting where lunch is provided. Sandwiches abound; carbs galore. Scrapping the filling out of sandwiches may harm your chances of winning that deal! Bringing out your vacuum-packed steak may not be a great strategy either.
LCHF required a dedication to preparation and planning that I just couldn’t muster. So I finally gave up after about six weeks. Another fad bites the dust.