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What is Carb Cycling, and how can it help you?

LOL. But seriously, now.

LOL. But seriously, now.

By now, everyone and their mom knows I do Weight Watchers. I’ve heard some criticism of the program in the past, with people trying to say that it’s not a good plan because you can use all your points on chocolate every day, not eat anything else, and not lose weight…because you’re using all your points on chocolate.

Well…yeah…doing Weight Watchers requires a minuscule amount of common sense, which, when used, might indicate that it’s probably not a good idea to use all your points on chocolate every day.

For me, there wasn’t a huge learning curve. Basically, I stuck to my Daily Points Target (DPT), I exercised, and I lost weight. I used some of my Weekly Points (WPs; essentially an extra 49 points that EVERYONE gets each week to play around with—that’s why, sometimes, I have a piece of cake…or some Ben & Jerry’s), but never all of them. And for a full year or so, it worked.

Until things started getting complicated. For the last year, I’ve struggled with plateau after plateau after plateau. And for anyone who’s ever been in a plateau, you know how difficult it is to (a) hang on, and (b) kick yourself out of it.

Now, for me, I like Weight Watchers because of its flexibility. If I want to go strict Paleo, I can go strict Paleo. If I want to have a cheat meal, I know how to work it in. The plan allows me to live my life without feeling overly restricted most of the time. Granted, I’ve had to make some changes. I rarely drink, and I almost never eat wings, Chinese, or junky Mexican anymore (some of my favorite types of food) simply because I now know what sodium can and will do to me.

A few months back, one of my friends introduced me to something called the Wendie Plan. The best way I can describe it to you would be to call it a plan within a plan. It was created by some WW member a long time ago as a way to kick yourself out of a plateau. It’s not endorsed by WW, but many members seemed to have had success on it. So I decided to give it a try.

The idea behind Wendie is simple: Each day, eat a different amount of points, which will confuse your body (since it’s probably used to eating around the same amount of points each day), forcing you to lose. It’s sort of the same idea as Crossfit—do something different every day to confuse your body and get maximum results?

On Wendie, you use all 49 of your weekly points in order to get these different points targets each day. And you’re still on plan because you never use more or less than you’re given by the WW plan. So, if my DPT is 34, then my week looks like this:

Thursday — 42 points

Friday — 36 points

Saturday — 54–56 points (controlled cheat day!)

Sunday — 34 points

Monday — 44 points

Tuesday — 42 points

Monday — 34 points

Notice that I never dip below my 34 DPT. Before, I had sort of played the how-little-can-I-eat game. On Wendie, all of a sudden I had a surplus of points, which was awesome, because I could splurge on little things during the week, like some popcorn or a 1/2 cup of decadent ice cream. It was great! And I was losing!

Until I fell off the wagon briefly during the summer, came back to Wendie, and found that I wasn’t getting the same results I was before. I tried to stay strict, but my diet clearly needed cleaning up, despite the fact that I was sticking to the plan. I was eating too much fruit, too much sugar, and too many other refined carbohydrates, and very little dairy (for me, personally, I’ve found that I need some real, high-quality dairy in my life). I was exercising, but I was struggling with the same two pounds over and over and over again. I was in another plateau and another slump.

Around this time, Jennifer loaned me Chris Powell’s new book Choose to Lose. Now, there’s generally nothing I hate more than an annoying diet book. But I was interested in what Jen had told me about it, and what harm could it do?

There was a lot of extraneous content in the book, which fans of Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition will definitely enjoy, but which wasn’t extremely helpful to me, a gal who was just willing to try anything to get out of a plateau.

Finally, I came upon the three golden pages, in which Powell talks about Carb Cycling. Now, I think that regular Carb Cycling is simply when you go a period of time doing high-carbs, and a period of time doing low-carbs (100g or less of carbohydrates). I’m not sure if this time period is generally a week or a month or longer or shorter, but Powell’s book condenses an entire cycle down to a week.

Therefore, I alternate high-/moderate-carb days with low-carb days. Or, if we want to take it a step further, good-carb days and Paleo days. This cycling is meant to do the same thing that both Wendie and Crossfit means to do: Confuse your body. (And if we want to add to this, I make it even more challenging/fun(?) by carb cycling AND doing Wendie.)

So now, my week looks like this:

Thursday — 42 points — high-carb day

Friday — 36 points — low-carb day

Saturday — 54–56 points — free for all (high-carb) day

Sunday — 34 points — low-carb day

Monday — 44 points — high-carb day

Tuesday — 41 points — low-carb day

Wednesday — 34 points — high-carb day

By now, you’re probably asking yourself, (a) how does this work?, and (b) what the f do you mean by low-carb and high-carb days?

Well, according to Powell’s book, on high-carb days, each meal should consist of a protein and a carbohydrate; on low-carb days, each meal should consist of a protein and a fat. Also, he argues that you should eat small meals every three hours to stoke your metabolic fire (I’m still working on this one, but I think his argument makes a lot of sense).

If this is still confusing, here are two actual days I tracked in August while on this cycle:

Monday, 13 August 2012 — 44 points (high-carb)

Breakfast

  • 1 tsp Stronger Faster Healthier fish oil — 1 p+
  • 1/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Mighty Tasty Hot Cereal — 4p+
  • 1/2 tablespoon coconut butter — 1 p+
  • 1 tsp brown sugar — 0p+
  • 1 cup strawberries — 0p+
  • 1/2 cup blueberries — 0p+

Midday (and this is like three meals spaced between breakfast and dinner…)

  • Trader Joe’s Nonfat Honey Greek Yogurt — 3p+
  • 1/4 cup Trader Joe’s Sesame Honey Cashews — 4p+
  • Trader Joe’s White Bean & Basil Hummus — 2p+
  • 2 cups baby carrots — 0p+
  • Cheese stick — 2p+
  • 1 tbsp Speculoos Butter — 2 p+
  • 1 apple — 0p+
  • 6 Toasteds crackers — 2 p+
  • Tall Starbucks iced Caramel Macchiato — 5p+

Evening

  • 6 oz (before cooked) boneless, skinless turkey breast — 4p+
  • 7 oz cooked sweet potatoes — 4 p+
  • 1 tsp olive oil — 1p+
  • 1 tsp honey — 1p+

Anytime

  • 2 servings popcorn (basically a huge bowl) — 7p+
  • 1 1/2 tbsp Nutritional Yeast — 1 p+

Tuesday, 14 August 2012 — 41 points (low-carb)

Morning

  • 1 cup liquid egg whites — 2p+
  • 1 slice bacon with fat — 4p+
  • 3 cups mushrooms — 0p+
  • 1/2 avocado — 5p+

Midday

  • 1 oz almonds — 5p+
  • Trader Joe’s nonfat Greek yogurt — 3p+
  • 1 Starbucks grande iced latte (full fat) — 3p+

Evening

  • 2 eggs — 4p+
  • 7 oz steak tips(!!!) (before cooking) — 9p+
  • 3 cups kale — 0p+

Anytime

  • 1 1/3 servings cashews — 6p+

One really, really fantastic thing that’s come out of this so far (aside from satisfactory weight loss) has been that I’ve been able to really wean down the amount of sugar I eat. Notice, I do allow myself a Caramel Macchiato on Monday’s tracker, but I can honestly say that THAT is the last day I have had one; I began ordering plain, full-fat iced lattes instead, because I felt like I was still treating myself with the creaminess and not the sugar. Fabulous!

The plan also has me eating way more vegetables (and I already ate a lot more vegetables), and a greater variety of foods (um, I’m eating steak and eggs for dinner sometimes, now?!). I’m feeling healthier, and even on high-carb days, I’m finding myself eating much cleaner. I haven’t touched my box of couscous in ages, and I’m favoring sweet potatoes instead of other starchy grains.

Also, a cycle like this isn’t as restrictive as other eating plans. Powell makes a good point in that if you’re craving something starchy on a low-carb day, you can control it by telling yourself you can always have it tomorrow. And that mentality seems to be working out pretty well for me. And really, that’s what ALL of this is about, anyway—finding things that work, and making Weight Watchers my own plan.

So, who would I recommend Carb Cycling to? If you’re looking to get out of a plateau, to dabble in Paleo (but not commit), or to jumpstart your weight loss, this is definitely good stuff.

But, like with any other plan, it does require a degree of patience, perseverance, and commitment. As in, you have to do it. No excuses. Just like any other food plan. And if you follow it, chances are you’ll lose weight and build muscle (if you’re also exercising).

I hope that answers some questions, because I know a lot of people have been asking me about Carb Cycling recently. If I missed something, please let me know! And like I said, this is all about finding something that works for you, and for me, while it’s fairly tedious when combining it with Wendie/WW, it’s working out in my favor, so I’m willing to continue doing it.

So here’s to fewer plateaus and more victories!

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About Danielle

Exuberant photographer, artist, writer, designer, wannabe chef, and Crossfitter.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “What is Carb Cycling, and how can it help you?

  1. I am intrigued! So how does this translate into folks who don’t do WW?

    Posted by Kathrin | 28 October 2013, 7:37 pm

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  1. Pingback: Gluten-Free Challenge: It’s happening. « - 17 December 2012

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