Cutting Carbs in 4 Steps: Why & How to Start Carb Moderation (Audio Version Included)
In this article, you’ll learn how totally reasonable carb-moderation can be, and how it can help free you from endless dieting—and make your body work like the resilient machine it was designed to be.
You’ll also learn the 4 steps I guide my clients through when starting carb moderation because these steps work, they give you results, they’re totally doable, and easy to sustain.
Rather listen to an audio version instead of reading this? Click the yellow play button:
What’s Stopping You from Feeling & Looking Healthy? The Modern Diet
Just like you I’ve tried all of the dieting books and programs out there, exercising my butt off at the gym, wondering what I must be doing wrong…I used to always stress about getting back on my diet.
Do you feel me?
What if I told you that it’s not a diet or a new workout routine you need to end this madness.
You need a major reality check and restart button.
I’m talking about a foundational healthy diet that makes so much sense—one that’s so awesome, and so rewarding that you never want to stop eating that way.
We’ll get there.
Stay with me.
It all begins with that reality check:
How hard are you making your body work to keep up with your diet?
How often are you giving your body a break from food?
What kind of food does your body expect you to eat?
We’ve been trained to believe that a healthy diet consists of whole grains, and low fat, low calorie foods; and that an ideal eating strategy is to always eat 3 meals and day + snacks in between, and to be ritualistic with our meal times.
But that doesn’t make sense when we look back on the ways humans ate for most of our existence no this Earth.
Historically humans cycled between times of feast and food deprivation.
Ancient humans ate one actual meal a day because food gathering and preparation took so long in those days.
Here we are eating 3-6 meals a day, and the human body was designed to thrive on food much less often.
What happens when we’re constantly eating? Our body is busy digesting, constantly.
When we’re constantly eating, that also means our body is constantly producing insulin.
Have you ever heard of the hormone called Insulin?
This is a super duper important hormone that most of us only hear of when someone’s talking about diabetes.
Well, Insulin matters so much because it holds the key to the fat that is already in your fat stores.
(It matters for dozens of reasons that affect our health in major ways, but I have a hunch that you want to hear about the one that controls your fat....)
Here’s how insulin basically works in response to what we eat:
When we consume carbs—protein too, but especially carbs—our blood sugar concentration increases.
Then, our Pancreas releases the hormone insulin to help shuttle sugar from the bloodstream, into our cells, and convert it in our liver so that we can store it in our tissues as glycogen—the term for stored sugar and carbs.
There’s limited storage space in our tissues which is why anything extra gets stored as fat...there’s no more room left to store those excess carbs we’re eating. There’s always room for more fat.
And during this entire process, the fat that’s stored on our body can not be burned because insulin stops it from happening.
You’d have to run out of all the stored glycogen, stop producing more insulin—or stop eating, in other words—in order for your body-fat to stand a chance at being burned.
Eventually, when we eat carbs and sugar often enough to create chronically elevated blood sugar, the cells resist the insulin and the body just responds by pumping out more insulin because it’s trying to get your blood sugar back down!
Side note: the carbs you consume are converted into sugar. So, when I say sugar I mean carbs and sugar. Basically, any grams of carbohydrates without the fiber (NET Carbs) are converted into sugar/glycogen.
So here we are, with chronically high blood sugar, like most Americans, because we eat bread and crackers and flour-based foods and sweet stuff all day long.
Doesn’t matter if it’s whole grains or low fat, none of that matters...our body is constantly pumping more and more insulin to try and handle the problem, but your cells aren’t listening. They’re resisting insulin.
This is called insulin resistance which is the sure-fire way to having type 2 diabetes. It’s often called pre-diabetes. Nearly 1 out of 2 adults today have diabetes, pre-diabetes, and insulin resistance and may not even know it.
Insulin Resistance is bad. Every health professional agrees with that, across the board. Insulin resistance promotes weight gain and increases your risk not only of obesity and diabetes, but also heart disease, cancer, PCOS, kidney disease, many autoimmune diseases, depression, general pain and inflammation, alzheimer’s disease, and more.
The only way to prevent such catastrophes to your health, and constant weight gain, is to adopt a more natural intake of carbs and sugar.
How’d We Get Here, An Ancestral Perspective:
It’s pretty clear what a natural intake of carbs and sugar is when we look throughout *most* of human history. We gotta think about what the Earth designed us humans to eat when there weren’t civilizations, farms, or processed foods. Humans would eat whatever they could gather in the forest, or hunt or fish.
But when the agricultural revolution occurred thousands of years ago, humans started to grow food as a community.
During this time we started growing acres and acres of grains because they were cheap and would feed very many people.
Once the *industrial* revolution hit, and factories could make flour from grains and ship it by the bagful, then flour and processed foods became readily available, and at a cheap price. It became so EASY, and so cheap to make food out of flour, and out of grains, the American staple commodity crops!
What’s really wrong with that? Well everything about our nutrient intake changed.
Here’s an interesting way to look at it:
Did you know that, in the old days, bread was a food for the poor? Our distant relatives and ancient ancestors knew that it was not a nourishing food, so it was used to feed the starving and needy, but not as a primary food source.
Bread was eaten out of desperation for the masses.
The reason this matters is because humans thrived and our genes evolved on a diet mostly of vegetables, fruits, tubers, nuts, seafood, and meat for nearly 2 million years until flour was mass-produced by farms and factories.
Let’s think about bread-making for a minute:
(this section might ring a bell if you’ve listened to podcast episode #7 about cutting out sugar and carbs)
Bread-making, truly from scratch, from seed in the fields, maybe even hulled to make it white flour and more stable, then grind the seeds to flour, make the dough, allow it to ferment and proof like sourdough (which is the traditional method of preservation), and bake it. Let it cool.…
Baking is a long process!
Bread should be a food for celebration, after all that work. But not a food at every meal.
This is how I like to look at it:
If you’re not willing to make your bread or pasta or other flour-based foods, from scratch, as often as you eat it, then that’s your flashing sign that this food is actually a treat, not something intended to be eaten on a daily basis—let alone with every meal.
Without factories, and preservatives to keep our flour and breads shelf-stable, there’s no way the entire population could consume them daily!
Let’s think together: What are our favorite, most addicting foods made from flour, that are preventing us from losing weight, feeling good, and getting adequate nutrition from our diet?
What comes to mind for me are crusty breads, bagels, crackers, cereal, sandwich rolls for subs and beef sandwiches, pizza of course, and pasta.Then there’s cookies and cupcakes, cake, donuts, pancakes, french toast, waffles, mac n cheese, and so much more.
These flour-based foods are every which way we turn because they are cheap to make, cheap to buy, and they're addicting.
Even though factories and machines can make it for us, and it’s cheap and readily available, we have to look at it like we see sugar or alcohol.
These are all treats.
They were never intended as a staple of the human diet, and our bodies just can’t keep up with our intake.
Remember what you learned about Insulin? Well too much insulin and blood sugar surges has a lot to do with your appetite, your cravings, your mood, and your energy....or lack of energy.
So how do we keep our insulin levels as low and steady as possible? By moderating your carb intake. And lucky for all of us, this same strategy is what will help free yourself from a lifetime of weight gain and constant dieting.
Here are 4 steps to help get you started on this ideal path:
Step 1: Get realistic with your current carb intake so you can start adjusting accordingly.
This means Start turning your food packages around and look at how many carbohydrates are in the food per serving size that you eat. Take a look at the grams of sugar too. You might even consider tracking your carbs and sugar for a few days just to get a realistic point of reference...how much are you really taking in? I like the app called CarbsControl
Step 2: Adjust your carbs to a more ideal range per day which is between 100-150 grams of carbs a day.
This can vary based on your size, your goals, your physical activity, and your current state of health. A health coach or dietitian can help you select a range that’s more ideal for you, but a healthy range for most adults is between 100-150 grams of carbohydrates per day.
When you cut back on your carbohydrates, you have to up your intake of colorful vegetables, veggies at every meal, up your quality fats like olive oil and grass-fed butter and avocados and nuts; and you’ll have to be sure you’re eating protein at every meal.
And guess what all of this means? You’re shopping for more fresh groceries, putting a little more time into planning your meals and cooking them, and you’re starting to eat more foods in a bowl instead of between two slices of bread.
Making this switch, and looking at mealtime differently, is where most people need hand-holding…like in my online course called Intermittent Fasting Freedom where we take 21 days together to rethink mealtime, come up with all the different ways to build your plate without carbs, and work through the mental blocks and obstacles in your life that are standing in your way of cutting carbs for good.
In the course, I created food lists that share my favorite carb swaps, photos of my favorite meals, and so much more. If you’re serious about taking these steps to end dieting and reach your ideal weight, you will be saving yourself so much time and aggravation if you have a coach to help you.
But if you’re ready to tackle this on your own, the next step will help. First, start aiming for under 150 grams of carbs per day, and try to get that going for at least 21 days.
It takes approx. 21 days of reduced carb intake to start resetting your metabolism and teach your body to use stored body fat, instead of sugar, for energy
Step 3: Identify & tackle your tripwires—like dessert habits, sweetened drinks, and fast food.
(this makes step 2 easier, and more effective)
To identify the carbs that are likely to knock you off track, you should try a method I use called “Are you an Abstainer or a Moderator”.
That concept was created by Gretchen Rubin, a happiness and habits expert, and it’s designed to open your eyes to the fact that it may be realistic for you to eat certain foods in moderation, but other foods may cause you to lose control...that’s me with french fries.
To help with this, I’m offering you one of my favorite worksheets that I use inside my course. It always gets my clients into a major Wow moment. Download it here.
The worksheet helps you see which carb-based foods make you spin out of control and which ones help you feel satisfied. Go ahead and grab this AWESOME free worksheet so you can start right away.
Remember: if you’re a soda drinker (regular or diet soda) that’s a great place to start, too. Stop the sugary sweetened drinks, even stuff like sugar-free energy drinks.
We’ve summarized all the top ways to cut that habit in podcast episode #33: Why & How to Quit a Soda Pop Habit.
Step 4: Extend the time between dinner and breakfast.
The final step comes once you get in a rhythm of healthy carb intake. When it’s been around 10-21 days of optimizing your carb intake you’ll notice you’re able to go longer between your meals without any snacks.
At this stage, you should be able to go at least 12 hours without food, overnight, between your last bite of dinner and your first bite of breakfast the next day.
That would mean, for instance, if you stop eating after dinner at 8pm (no nighttime snacking or dessert) then you wouldn’t eat again until 8am the following day.
This 12-hour break is a beginner level of intermittent fasting that I believe all adults should strive for so that your body can work on fighting disease, optimizing your energy and metabolism, and keeping you young while you sleep—like it’s supposed to.
So there we go! I think you have plenty of places to start with these 4 steps and the worksheet, and you’ll be well on your way to more energy, and a lifetime free of constant yo-yo dieting.
Let me know what you discovered in that worksheet, are you an abstainer or a moderator? What did you learn?
Marisa Moon, Primal Health Coach
Disclaimer: Consult with your doctor or functional medicine practitioner before trying any of the remedies or protocols mentioned in this episode. Jessica Dogert and Marisa Moon are not physicians or medical practitioners.