22nd of March 2014

The Slow Carb Diet

What is The Slow Carb Diet?

The Slow Carb Diet is a way of eating that reduces harmful carbs, like sugars and grains, in favor of meats, vegetables and legumes. It’s techniques are also specifically designed to make compliance easy and simple. It has been referred to as “a simplified paleo diet for beginners” (though this description is not entirely accurate).

The goal is to promote weight loss by eating low GI foods. Generally speaking, this maintains low insulin levels, which leads to weight loss (source). It emphasizes protein in the mornings (to curb hunger), eating the same meals often, and advocates one day per week as an “off” day, where anything can be eaten.

It was developed by Tim Ferriss (he mentions it as early as February 2007 on his old, pre-4HWW blog) and was popularised by his 2010 bestseller The Four Hour Body (4HB). In 4HB Tim describes the slow-carb diet as “the only diet besides the rather extreme Cyclical Ketogenic Diet that has produced veins across my abdomen.”

Who is the Slow Carb Diet best for?

Generally speaking, we recommend the Slow Carb Diet for people who want to lose weight, eat cleaner and feel better, but either don’t have the time or desire to learn about diet or nutrition, or prefer a simple, rule-based eating plan. This is because The Slow Carb Diet has a set of rules that are very easy to follow, and produce very good results without major lifestyle changes or having to learn lots of new things.

In short, these people should use the Slow Carb Diet:

– People looking for a simple, easy to follow diet guidelines, with little opportunity to go wrong
– People with lots of weight to lose
– Young, single guys who don’t cook a lot (tons of easy slow-carb meals, and it’s pretty easy to follow when eating out)
– People who don’t want to think about what they eat, who just want to follow some simple rules to get results

Who is the Slow Carb Diet not as good for?

The Slow Carb Diet is less effective for higher level athletes, for people with specific nutritional issues, or for those with specific health issues they are trying to fix or heal. It is a generalized diet that is intended to help people lose weight quickly, easily and sustainably.

How do you do it?

It’s very simple. Here’s the basic diet plan:

1) Avoid white carbohydrates (or any carbohydrate that can be white)
Tim likes to phrase this as “white carbs” because it’s easier for people to remember. Specifically, he means to avoid grains, sugars and starches. In practice, this means you must avoid these foods:

-no rice (it’s a grain)
-no cereal (it’s made from wheat)
-no pasta (it’s made from wheat)
-no noodles (it’s made from grain)
-no bread (it’s made from wheat)
-nothing breaded (the breading is made from grain)
-nothing else made with grain or wheat (like bagels, tortillas, corn chips, etc)
-no sugar (this means nothing with sugar in it, like soda, candy, pudding, ice cream, etc)
-no potatoes
-no soy products (tofu, etc–I know this is not precisely a white carb, but it’s close enough)
-no quinoa
-no yams
-no dairy (including cheese and yogurts of all kinds)

2) Eat the same few meals over and over
People are much more likely to stick with a diet plan if it doesn’t involve a lot of decision making. One way to do that is to eat same few meals repeatedly. We’ll give you some guidelines for creating these meals further down.

This rule works well because it removes a decision people have to make, which makes their life easier, especially at the beginning when people have problems figuring out what to eat.

3) Don’t drink calories
Do not drink ANYTHING that has calories. No milk, fruit juices, regular soda, etc. You can drink massive quantities of water, and as much unsweetened iced tea, tea, diet drinks, coffee (without cream), or other no-calorie drinks as you want. It’s also recommended that you limit diet soda to no more 450ml per day as the aspartame can interfere with weight loss.

This also includes alcohol. Beer not only has grain in it, it’s loaded with calories. Vodka is the same. The only exception is you’re allowed up to two glasses of red wine per night (the drier, the better).

4) Don’t eat fruit
A lot of people think that because fruit has vitamins and nutrients, they can eat as much as they want. Fruit is also loaded with sugar and, therefore, off limits.

5) Take one day off per week
This is most everyone’s favorite part of this diet: The off day. You can go absolutely wild. Eat anything and everything you want.

This is useful both psychologically (because having this day to look forward to makes everything easier) and physically (because spiking caloric intake increases fat loss by keeping your metabolism from downregulating). So if you feel like you are going to miss ice cream or pasta too much, just save it all for one day a week, and pig out then. Problem solved.

I will tell you this: The first few months when I was on the Slow Carb, I would go nuts on off days. Then I’d feel like shit afterwards, and gain a ton of weight (which all fell off within a day or two). I realized I was eating more than I wanted to, even eating things I didn’t like, just because it was an off day. So I added a personal rule that my off days were limited to one off meal–usually dinner–and they were still “gluten free.” This way I could get lots of sugary and carby treats, like ice cream and french fries, but not have the awful wheat impact on my body and my hormones. I felt like it improved the diet a lot, at least for me.

Note: cheat day does NOT mean “cheat 24 hours.” If saturday is your cheat day, start it on saturday when you wake up, not at midnight on Friday night. Likewise, you can’t start cheating on Satuday afternoon and go until Sunday morning. This is common question in forum threads/on quora, and no, it doesn’t help you to parse it like that.

What Can You Eat?

A lot. This is SUCH an easy way to eat, I promise. In fact, this is pretty close to how humans ate for the, oh, 100,000 years or so before the advent of agriculture.

What does an average meal on the Slow Carb Diet look like? The easiest way to create a meal plan is to mix and match together one food from each of the following categories:

Proteins: Eggs, chicken, steak, beef, pork, lamb, fish. Pretty much any animal flesh, fish included as animals. Lobster, shellfish, crab, shrimp, oysters, scallops are all fine as well.

Legumes: Lentils, black beans, pinto beans

Vegetables: Spinach, asparagus, peas, mixed vegetables, broccoli, green beans, sweet potatoes, sauerkraut (or any pickled or fermented vegetable).

Just to give you an example, here are several possible meals for The Slow Carb Diet:

1. 3 eggs & 3 slices of bacon
2. 2 eggs with 1/2 cup black beans, salsa and guacamole
3. Spinach or broccoli frittata
4. Whey protein shake/smoothie (make sure to put 30g of protein in it)

NOTE: If you like coffee or tea, please drink it with breakfast. It’s good for you, gives you energy, helps with digestion, etc.

1. Big salad with chicken breast
2. Lentil stew
3. Homemade burrito bowl: leftover chicken breast, black beans, salsa and guacamole
4. Beef and bean chili

1. Grilled pork loin with peppers and mushrooms
2. Salmon with a condiment and a fresh spinach salad
3. Meat and vegetable curry
4. Steak, black beans with onions & asparagus with butter

1. Coffee, unsweetened
2. Iced Tea, unsweetened
3. Sparkling water
4. Red Wine (1-2 glasses per day, max)

1. Handful of Almonds or mixed nuts
2. Veggie chips
3. Coconut (its white, but not a carb, lots of great fat in there)
4. Kale chips

More Meal Examples & Sites

If you want to see more meal examples, there are almost an infinite number. These are the best sites that give you Slow Carb Meals ideas:

The Slow Carb Cookbook
Four Hour Body Recipes
Slow Carb Diet on Pinterest
More Slow Carb Diet recipes from Pinterest
The Three-Minute Slow-Carb breakfast (Tim shows you how make a high protein, slow-carb breakfast – 6 minute video)
4 Hour Chef book – all recipes are slow-carb compliant (apart from obvious cheat recipes)
More recipes
This guys lists his average Slow Carb week
Recipes from Slow Carb Foodie
List of good slow carb wines (4HWW blog post)
Seasoning on slow carb diet (4HWW blog post)
Food Porn Daily (inspiration for cheat day)
7 ways to slow-carb your favourite meals (replacing carbs with veggies/beans)
Recipes from the Slow Carb cook
Recipes from users on Daily Burn
Slow carb pizza
Recipes from Finding My Fitness

IMPORTANT NOTE ON CARBS: A big problem people on the Slow Carb Diet face is being hungry a lot at first. That’s because they aren’t eating enough fat and legumes to replace the caloric load of the lost sugars and grains.

This happens because people aren’t adding enough beans or legumes (or good starches like sweet potatoes) to their meals to make up for the lost grains and sugars. Carbs are important, you need to eat them, the only question is what source they are coming from.

Lentils are what Tim recommends most highly on the slow carb diet – in this talk he describes them as a “force multiplier for fat loss,” although admits he doesn’t quite know why they’re so good. But beans and sweet potatoes work well too.

Does this really work?

Yes. In my experience and the experience of many people I’ve recommended it too, it works great. And of course, there are tons of success stories here, and even more success stories here.

To my knowledge, there has not been rigorous, double blind studies of this specific diet. But there has been some pretty extensive research done it, and the results are pretty amazing. Tim Ferriss teamed up with Lift (an eating app) to get some data: 3500 people followed SCD for 4 weeks. 84% lost weight, and the average weight loss was 8.4 lbs. 14% of people lost more than 15 lbs, in just 4 weeks. That’s AMAZING.

Two habits correlated strongly with losing weight:
-eating lots of eggs
-eating lots of veggies

One habit correlated strongly with not losing weight:
-drinking a lot of alcohol

How Do I Start?

If you are intimidated, start small, for example, just change what you eat for breakfast. Eat 30g of protein (and nothing else) within 30 minutes of waking up and see what difference it makes, then go from there.

Or, if you want to really make a change, I would recommend that you start by committing yourself to a Slow Carb Diet for 21 days, and see how it makes you feel. In my experience, the big factors are cutting grains (bread, pasta, cereal etc) and cutting sugar. Those are the two things that poison people’s health the most, and are the most responsible for weight gains, and cutting them even for a few weeks almost universally makes people feel substantially better, and lose at least 5-10 pounds very quickly.

If you want a starting program, try this one, it lays everything out simply.

What If I’m A Really Busy Person?

A lot of the foods on the 4HB can be made in a snap. Keep basics like eggs, frozen veggies, canned beans, canned tuna and spinach leaves on hand so you can turn them into quick meals. Here are some meal ideas:

Eggs with black beans and salsa
Tuna or leftover protein with frozen veggies
Quick bean salad
Protein smoothie

There are also a lot of services that will cook for you, even to your specifications. Or lots of food delivery services. I can’t really specify these since they vary widely per region. Some examples are GrubHub and Seemless.

What if I Eat Out A Lot?

Sticking to the diet when eating out is not hard at all. Mexican, Thai, Steak, Mediterranean, Indian, and even Chinese are all doable. Your default strategy should be to replace any grain or starchy carbs with vegetables and beans. Here are some basic examples:

Mexican: Instead of a burrito, get a burrito bowl (no tortilla) with all the ingredients in it.

Thai: You can get almost any Thai curry or soup without rice; see if you can substitute cauliflower or broccoli.

Indian: you can substitute rice with lentils, vegetables or beans. Make sure to avoid dairy here.

Chinese: Mongolian beef with vegetables instead of rice, for example.

American: Burgers without the bun or ketchup always work well. Pretty much any roasted, baked or grilled protein with vegetables works.

What If I Travel A Lot?

Sticking to the diet while traveling is all about preparation. Haphazard eating correlates with less weight loss (presumably because of off-diet eating). These 4HB foods are easy to take along on any trips:

Tuna in pouches or easy-peel cans
Nuts and nut butters
Canned beans
Protein powder you can mix with water

Is There An Easy Way To Know What I Can & Can’t Eat

It’s not hard, I promise. There are even some good sites and app that can help you. Try these:

Can I Eat It?
Slow-carb search engine (Can I have [X] on the SCD? – same as Can I Eat It?)

What Do I Eat After I Workout? Same stuff?

Yes, basically. Your best bet is a good whey protein shake. Some people eat carbs right after their workout, but that’s not necessarily the best bet. Tim clarifies here that if you’re not an athlete, and you’re not below 12% bodyfat, then don’t have post-workout carbs, just protein. That’s why this is not the best diet for high level or serious athletes; this is optimal for regular people who want to lose weight, keep it off, and be healthy.

Can I Track This Easily?

There are many ways to track what you eat. It’s not necessary, but if it helps, do it. The Lift app works well.

Common Slow Carb Diet Mistakes (with solutions)

Mistake #1: Not getting enough carbs
If you are having issues with hunger on this diet, first, make sure you are adding enough beans, lentils and sweet potatoes to replace the other carbs you are cutting. This is the biggest issue that causes people to be hungry–and remember, you should never be hungry on this diet. Hunger doesn’t help.

Mistake #2: Not getting enough protein
You should be getting at least 20g of protein at each meal. This will keep you full longer and help you burn fat. This is most critical at breakfast – eggs, sausage or bacon are good choices, or just a protein shake. But make sure you are getting protein.

Mistake #3: Not eating early enough
If you’re getting carbs and protein, but you’re still hungry, try this: get at LEAST 30 grams, but it MUST be with 30 minutes of waking up. That could mean 3 eggs and 3 strips of bacon, or a whey protein shake, or a chicken breast and a fried egg, or anything like that.

Eating a good amount of protein early is great at suppressing hunger. And even better, drink some coffee with your eggs and bacon. You’ll feel great.

Mistake #4: Too many artificial sweeteners
Yes, artificial sweeteners are OK on this diet. But the problem is that if it’s sweet, it probably spikes insulin or screws up your metabolism, even though it has no calories. Most artificial, and even some natural sugar substitutes, provoke insulin release. Limit yourself to one Diet Coke a day, and you should be OK. Or even better, use stevia to sweeten things, it’s natural and tends to have good impact on insulin release.

Mistake #5: Working out too much
This is actually a big problem. People combine weight loss and exercise in their minds, but the reality is, your body weight is about 80% determined by what you eat, and only about 20% determined by your exercise (generally speaking). If you eat right, you generally only need to work out about 2-3 times a week, for about 30 minutes (if its intense) and that should get you most of the benefits.

Also, too much exercise can lead to “reward eating”, sugary sports drinks and other assorted self-sabotage. Over-training can also lead to muscle loss and lowering of basal metabolic rate, hindering fat loss. It sounds crazy to some, but its true.

Mistake #6: Limit calorically dense foods you tend to overeat (domino foods)
Foods that are calorically dense like almonds, cashews, other nuts, chickpeas, hummus, and nut butters are allowed on the diet, and they can be great snacks. The problem is that they are easy to overeat, creating a domino effect. You don’t need to count your calories, but at some point, calories do matter. If you’re trying to lose weight, the easiest solution is to limit them or if you can’t do that, avoid them completely.

Mistake #7: Eat lots of veggies
The Lift data indicate that not eating vegetables on the diet correlates with less weight loss. This doesn’t mean you have to eat all veggies, it just means you should get some, preferably at least a third of your food should be veggies at lunch and dinner.

Mistake #8: Not getting enough calories on your cheat days
This sounds crazy right, but it’s true: NOT taking a cheat day can actually impede you from losing weight. And beyond that, don’t worry about it; the research Lift did showed that what you ate on cheat days and how excessively you indulged did not affect how much weight you lost.

Mistake #9: Not drinking enough water
Increase the amount of water you drink to ensure optimal liver function for fat loss. This is particularly important on cheat day, as carb overloading will pull water to your digestive tract and muscle glycogen.

Mistake #10: Trying to change too many habits at once
This diet is made to be super simple, and most people don’t have much of a problem with it. One of the ways to screw it up is by trying to change everything at once.

For example, if you don’t usually cook, get canned and frozen food and make that. Don’t buy food that requires cooking skills, because you won’t cook, the food will go bad, and you’ll get frustrated. Keep it simple, and don’t try to change too much at once. Set yourself up for success.

Mistake #11: Being Too Hard On Yourself
Look, changing habits can be hard. If you mess up and have Doritos or a Snickers when it’s not a cheat day, it’s fine. Just don’t it again, and you’ll still see good the results. You don’t have to be perfect to make this work. Perfect is the enemy of good, and this all this diet requires is for you to be good for it to work, not perfect.

More Resources

If you need more information or more ideas, or just want to read more, feel free to use any of the resources below.

More Information:
The original post that started this diet
The Four Hour Body (there is a whole chapter on the Slow Carb Diet)
The Slow Carb Subreddit
Some success stories
More success stories here
Case study – woman who lost a ton of weight after having kids
One pager (excerpt from 4HC)
Everything you need to know about the slow-carb diet
Tim answers some of the most common questions he got on slow-carb diet, including the main thing to remember: if you have to ask, don’t eat it.
Slow-carb diet infographic
Sample SCD shopping list
Slow carb quickstart guide
Sample Slow Carb Meal Plan

The Slow Carb Cookbook
Four Hour Body Recipes
Slow Carb Diet on Pinterest
More Slow Carb Diet recipes from Pinterest
The Three-Minute Slow-Carb breakfast (Tim shows you how make a high protein, slow-carb breakfast – 6 minute video)
More recipes
Recipes from Slow Carb Foodie
List of good slow carb wines
Seasoning on slow carb diet
4 Hour Chef book – all recipes are slow-carb compliant (apart from obvious cheat recipes)
Food Porn Daily (inspiration for cheat day)
7 ways to slow-carb your favourite meals (replacing carbs with veggies/beans)
Recipes from the Slow Carb cook
Recipes from users on Daily Burn
Slow carb pizza
Recipes from Finding My Fitness

Talk by Tim about 4HB at Google – Q&A starts about 18 mins in and he discusses a lot of aspects of SCD

Can I Eat It?
Slow-carb search engine (Can I have [X] on the SCD? – same as Can I Eat It?)
Lift app – a good way to track your progress on SCD

Delicious links tagged with “slow carb” – lots of recipes and other sources on here
Slow carb vs. low carb diets (author favours slow carb as it’s more sustainable)