The low-carb luncheon

by Kellie Dye

Some time ago I attended a business luncheon. I did not know anyone, so it was nice that the woman sitting next to me struck up a conversation. 

Whenever I get asked what it is that I do for a living, I often find myself hesitating. It is a luncheon after all, and once I say that I am a registered dietitian, I can feel the self conscious guilt erupting from anyone seated in close proximity to me as they push their desserts away.

Then I proceed to dive into my dessert while at the same time making comments about balance, moderation and that no foods should be off limits. These comments are meant to put everyone around me at ease, which works some of the time. 

The woman seated next to me proudly shared with me that she had lost 60 pounds on a low-carb diet. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I briefly pondered how I would respond to her admission. I can choose to nod my head politely and say as little as possible. Quite often, this is my first choice, but for some reason I couldn’t let it go. The conversation went a little something like this:

How long have you been following a low-carb diet? For about 2 years. 

Is it difficult for you to avoid carbohydrates? It was at first, but now I know that it is a lifestyle change that I must always do.

Do you miss carbs? Oh yes, but if I eat just one bite of a carbohydrate, it will turn into a binge, so I must avoid them.

What do you think would happen if you added a few carbs back into your diet? I tried that once, and I gained five pounds.

Do you exercise? I should, but I have no energy.

Have you ever had your cholesterol checked? Yes, and it is a bit high.

As gently as I could I attempted to explain why she is experiencing fear of carbohydrates, why she gained weight when she tried to eat more carbs, why she has no energy and why her cholesterol has increased.

In a nutshell, once someone deprives their body of carbs, their desire for carbs only increases. Just a few bits of pasta or cake will turn into too much pasta and too much cake.

After avoiding carbs for so long, once you add them back in, it is common to retain fluid, which promotes bloating and a feeling of weight gain. This fluid retention is temporary. Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred source of fuel. Carbs give energy.

It is impossible to exercise effectively and build muscle mass without carbohydrates. Mainly eating protein without adequate carbohydrates will actually cause muscle loss. If you are using protein for fuel, there will be no protein left to maintain your muscle mass. You must eat carbs for fuel so that the protein can do its job of maintaining and building muscle.

A low-carb diet is low in fiber regardless of how many salads or vegetables you eat. Fiber is needed for normal gastrointestinal function and for keeping your cholesterol normal. A diet too high in animal protein in combination with too few whole grains, legumes and fresh fruits can promote high cholesterol. 

What I explained seemed to make sense to her. A week later I was visiting with her in my office for a nutrition consult. I am proud to say that after several sessions, she has lost the remaining 10 pounds that she needed to lose and now has energy to begin an exercise program.

This time, I’m glad that I didn’t remain silent.


Kellie Dye, a registered and licensed dietitian, is the wellness coordinator at the Conway Regional Health and Fitness Center. Send your diet and nutrition questions to Kellie at [email protected]. Frequently asked and pertinent questions will be addressed in future articles in 501 LIFE.