Slow Carb Diet Rules: What is the Slow Carb Diet?

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Unless you’ve read The 4-Hour Body (by Tim Ferriss), you may not be too familiar with what the slow carb diet rules are, and how to make sure you’re following the diet correctly.

Although the diet’s simple principle of “avoiding carbs” seems rather obvious by its name, this isn’t your average low carb diet.

Fortunately for you, there are five simple rules.  Although you could get into a lot of nitty gritty detail, the slow carb diet essentially breaks down into these rules…

1) Avoid “White” Carbohydrates

This is a pretty standard rule of most (or all) low carb diets.  ”White carbohydrates” is pretty all-encompassing, and includes the following foods:

  • All types of bread
  • Rice (even if it’s brown rice)
  • Cereal
  • Pasta
  • Breaded food
  • Anything similar to the above items
Chances are, if you are unsure about whether something qualifies as a “white” carbohydrate, it probably does.

2) Eat the Same Meals Over and Over Again

Technically, you could break this rule and still stick to the diet, but the diet becomes much easier to follow when you have a routine.  It’s certainly okay to try new slow carb recipes from time to time (especially from my blog!), but you should probably have some standard meals available to you.

Two of my “go to” meals are spinach and scrambled eggs for breakfast, and chicken sausage for lunch (easily microwaved at work).  I will usually mix things up a bit for dinner, but end up repeating at least 2-3 meals each week (for dinner).

When you don’t have a routine, you’re more likely to say “Aw, screw it” and eat something bad that just may be more convenient.

3) Don’t Drink Your Calories

Hopefully if you’ve decided to lose weight, you have already eliminated calorie-filled drinks from your diet.

On the slow carb diet, you really don’t want to drink anything that has calories, including “healthy” drinks like orange juice (which can be jam-packed with sugar).  If you drink coffee or tea, be sure to sweeten it with a sugar substitute (my favorite is Splenda).

UPDATE:  Subsequent to writing this article, I was informed that Splenda doesn’t fit within the slow carb diet.  Basically, it’s been shown in some cases to stall fat loss, despite it having 0 calories.  I will still continue to use Splenda because I feel the benefits (i.e. my enjoyment of it) outweighs the cost, however you shouldn’t use it if you want to strictly adhere to the diet’s rules.  If you’re looking for an approved sugar substitute, check out Truvia.  

Tim Ferriss does mention that you can drink red wine, up to two glasses per night.  Honestly, I think he threw this little rule in there because he likes his nightly wine (nothing wrong with that), and didn’t want to feel like he was cheating.  Feel free to do this as well, but I avoid it, since it’s technically still drinking calories.

4) Don’t Eat Fruit

This may seem controversial – after all, isn’t fruit healthy?  While there’s a lot of good nutrients found in fruit, there’s also a lot of sugar.  Ultimately, through science that I don’t quite understand, this sugar is stored as fat.

The exception to the “don’t eat fruit” rule is that you can eat tomatoes and avocados, which are technically fruit.  Ferriss still suggests that you limit your consumption of these to one meal per day.

5) Take One Day Off Per Week (i.e. Enjoy Your “Cheat Day”)

To me, this is what makes the diet sustainable – or at least, more so than other diets.  One day per week, you can literally eat whatever you want.  If you’ve been craving fruit all week, get your fix on this day.

If you want to eat an entire tray of brownies or two bags of potato chips, knock yourself out (which you might literally do if you eat a ton and induce a food coma).   Everything is fair game.

Be sure to start your diet at least five days before your first cheat day – most people like to start on a Monday so that their cheat days occur every Saturday.  This is my preference too, although I have been known to move around the cheat day if necessary (for example, if I know I have a family gathering on an upcoming Sunday, where eating copious amounts of food is unavoidable).

If you have any specific questions about the diet, please do leave a comment below and I will do my best to answer them.  I’m not a dietitian or nutritionist, but I’ve read the relevant sections of The 4-Hour Body along with countless internet articles and forums.  

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

newbodi.es August 8, 2012 at 4:42 am

Great post, but Splenda (sucralose) is strictly a no-no. The only ‘ok’ sugar alternative is stevia. Ferriss goes into the science of why they are restricted.

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Eric August 8, 2012 at 4:52 am

That’s interesting, I really didn’t know that. Unfortunately, that’ll probably have to be one rule I break, considering I don’t use it excessively AND it’s “0 calories.”

If I were at a plateau of some sort, I would certainly consider removing it altogether. Considering I don’t drink the “allowed” 2 glasses of red wine per night, I’m going to consider a few packets of Splenda a fair trade-off.

Thank you for pointing this out though, as it’s good for others to be aware of.

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newbodi.es August 9, 2012 at 4:17 am

Try stevia. I was a Splenda devotee myself, but find Stevia tastes more like sugar, and it isn’t a man-made substance. They sell it all over, and you can get packets, too. Truvia is a popular brand name of it.

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Eric August 9, 2012 at 6:03 am

I’ll give it a try soon. Unfortunately, I have a gigantic box of generic Splenda that I purchased from Costco.

I know I tried Truvia a long time ago at a Trader Joe’s with a sample of their coffee, and I was a bit turned off by the weird/semi-bitter after taste (of the Truvia, not the coffee). It was awhile ago though, so I’m definitely willing to try it again.

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newbodi.es August 12, 2012 at 12:40 pm

I found the parts of The Four Hour Body where Tim spells out the issues with sucralose (i.e. Splenda). It’s in the Basics section, in part 3 (Damage Control) in the “Inside the Microbiome: Balancing Bacteria for Fat-Loss” insert. Point one is “Get off the Splenda”. I’d give a page number, but I have the book electronically, so pages depend on font size.

It was found in a study at Duke in 2008 that sucralose disrupted helpful digestive bacteria in lab rats. This is not good, and can disrupt your ability to burn through sugar and fat. Ironic since using a fake sweetener is meant to lessen the impact of sugar on your life.

As for the bitterness, that’s the one issue with stevia, though every fake sweetener suffers from some oddity in its taste. One thing to keep in mind is that stevia is stronger than sugar, so you need less. I find that, when I respect that fact, I get the sweetness without a strong bitterness. Also, Truvia is ok, but doesn’t dissolve as well as others out there, like Sweet Leaf (I know Whole Foods has this). That means, when you get a granule of it, you get the bitterness rather than it blending with other flavors so you only notice the sweetness.

Eric August 13, 2012 at 6:40 pm

Thanks for pulling that info. up, I appreciate it. I’ll have to give Truvia or Sweet Leaf a try to see if I can get myself to start using that over Splenda. For now, I’ll probably continue using Splenda despite the fact that it goes against the rules of the diet. If my weight loss seems to plateau, I’ll probably be a bit more motivated to cut it out. :)

g October 5, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Stevia for some reason makes me gain weight. It cannot be calories, because there are non, but I think it tricks my body into storing all the food I have eaten at the same time as a cup of tea with stevia as fat.
I dont know how it works, its crazy. As soon as I have stopped using stevia It became so much easier to get rid of few extra kilos.

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Kathy August 8, 2012 at 9:59 am

I would think you would NOT want to eat the same meals over and over. Boredom setting in causing you to go off program. Maybe that’s why the first time failed?

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Eric August 8, 2012 at 6:31 pm

I agree that it can get boring, but I didn’t make up these rules. :) The reason Tim Ferriss says to have the same meals over and over again is to make the diet easier to follow.

It doesn’t mean you should literally eat the same dinner three days in a row, but rotating a few of the same meals each week can make your planning a lot easier, especially if you struggle to find free time.

Ideally, you’ll come up with meals that you enjoy and don’t mind eating somewhat frequently. To break up the boredom, you will always have your weekly cheat day to eat whatever your taste buds desire.

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newbodi.es August 9, 2012 at 4:19 am

Tim is really just giving a suggestion because a) he doesn’t cook, and b) he doesn’t have time. You can have variation. It’s just easier not to.

I have built up a set of options for various meals, and I rarely eat the exact same thing after over a year. Breakfast is the one exception, but I haven’t minded at all.

My breakfast is a 3 egg omelet (1 whole egg, 2-3 whites, whisked with a scoop of powdered greens – I use Amazing Greens ORAC – tastes good unlike most out there, which taste like concentrated spinach, kale and broccoli), a cup of lentils, sautéed mushrooms and spinach – really tasty

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Eric August 9, 2012 at 6:05 am

The good thing is, you’re free to do whatever you want within the confines of the diet. So if you find that you can easily incorporate variety into your meal planning, by all means, do it.

Although I tend to repeat a lot of the same meals, I will mix up certain details (such as trying different spices, using yellow peppers instead of red peppers, etc.).

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Dawn August 18, 2012 at 7:34 pm

Interesting, but doesn’t the weekly cheat sort of break the spell? I’m going for the keto-adaptation diet, and since the lore says that it takes two weeks to become keto-adapted, it would seem that this would never happen if you break your diet once a week.

Simple diet really. Has two rules:

1) Look at the nutritional info panel on the packet of food. If there’s more than about 2 non-fiber carbs per serving, put the thing back on the shelf
2) Replace lost calories with fat (preferably Omega-3s)

It’s been three months now, and I have little desire to cheat, since being in ketosis most of the time has completely suppressed my appetite. I don’t know if I’m losing weight, but my motivation was blood sugar reduction (which worked spectacularly), and I’ve found the side effect of greatly reduced inflammation, which can’t be a bad thing.

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Eric August 19, 2012 at 9:40 am

Thanks for the comment, Dawn. While you would tend to think a weekly cheat day would mess everything up, it’s actually quite the opposite. By having a designated cheat day to look forward to each week, it helps most people stay dedicated to the diet throughout the week.

I myself am a food lover and craft beer lover – there are simply foods out there that are too good to not enjoy, and they certainly don’t fit within the rules of this diet. Without a designated cheat day, I would never be able to enjoy these foods.

There’s a bit of science that supports the importance of a cheat day on this diet, as Tim Ferriss explains in The 4-Hour Body. Here’s what Tim says:

“It is important to spike caloric intake once per week. This causes a host of hormonal changes that improve fat-loss, from increasing cAMP and GMP to improving conversion of the T4 thyroid hormone to the more active T3.”

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lesley jefferson September 8, 2012 at 7:06 am

HI there – thanks for the twitter follow. I followed your link and am intrigued by your approach. Nice and simple. It’s not totally in line with the Zlimm123 approach, but there are overlaps. If you think hypnosis might help you – esp to keep the weight off once you have lost it – visit our site and join IN. Keep up the good work”"”

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Barry September 11, 2012 at 7:20 am

Hi Eric – good job on your site and what you are trying to do. As you go forward, try to make what you are doing your own plan – it is a lot easier to follow and stick with.

I have a story for you about splenda. When I got started with my big fitness and nutrition push I became real big on blending and protein-greens smoothies, and about a year ago started making them with powerade zero. So, I was having 2 of the smoothies and drinking 2 other bottles of this every day – and every afternoon I would get these terrible stomach aches and had no idea why.

I discovered that powerade zero was sweetened with splenda, and splenda could really screw up some peoples digestive system. I stopped with the splenda, immediately got rid of the stomach aches – and lost 10 pounds over the next few weeks without making any other diet or workout changes.

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Eric September 11, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Thanks Barry. And very interesting story about Splenda – I’ve switched to sweetening my coffee with Stevia now, which I’m getting used to (and supposedly it’s better for you than Splenda).

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Ryan July 27, 2013 at 7:19 am

Great post. I just started the Slow Carb Diet myself and came across your site in Google when looking for other people’s experiences that are also doing the diet. I’m only on day #3.

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Eric October 10, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Thanks Ryan – best of luck to you on the diet!

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