For the last two months, I’ve been experimenting with a low carb lifestyle to see what impact in makes in my daily energy level and physiology.
Since arriving in Bulgaria, I switched my diet and eating habits completely. While I was living off a plant based diet in Vietnam during my last months, I went completely into the other direction in the Balkans to adapt to local cuisines and conditions.
For the last few years, I’ve been eating a lot of plant based meals every day. In Thailand, there was an abundance in vegan restaurants and also Vietnam caught up a lot too in recent years when it came to plant based meals.
Needless to say, I was a bit worried coming to Bulgaria because the Balkans definitely do not rank high in terms of the hipster vegan movement. But I was wrong to assume that people in Bulgaria only eat meat, although it is not to be underestimated that meat will make up a huge part of the local menu.
However, in the last two months, I found that there are still a lot of local grown vegetables available, although the diversity is a bit poor to be honest. This is a list of vegetables I came across most of the time.
- Tomatoes (very common here and one of the best I’ve ever tasted)
- Paprika (very common and have interesting shapes)
Admittedly, after 2 months of eating the same vegetables, I slowly need to learn other recipes.
My goal from the beginning was actually not primarily to lose weight but just to adapt to the local lifestyle. The idea of going low carb was also an after-thought and a result of me joining a great Gym in Bansko and becoming more healthy and wanting to reduce my sugar level overall.
This is also the reason, why I preferred to go low carb compared to Keto, which from my current understanding, is much more difficult to sustain long-term.
In the end, my ultimate goal is to develop an eating habit that is not depended on culture or geography and that I can continue when traveling to other countries as well.
What I said 🚫NO to…
Simply, everything with rice, grains or starchy vegetables. It’s impossible to avoid carbs completely because even vegetables have carbohydrates to a certain degree. I just focused on the 10% that made the 90% impact.
My typical meals
My typical low carb meals consists mostly of eggs, meat and a variety of vegetables from local supermarkets, usually a mix of 50% / 50%. I avoided unprocessed ingredients as much as I can and only used salt & pepper for seasoning. The local vegetables here taste so good, there is no need to overpower the flavor with any artificial stuff. In addition, I also added goat/lamb cheese to many of my meals or avocado whenever I could get my hands on it.
As I mentioned before, I didn’t try to start any crazy diet with unsustainable restrictions but kept it simple. My meals were pretty packed and I didn’t pay to portion sizes at times. Go big or go home 🙈 :
How did going low carb make me feel?
I personally didn’t have big problems with ditching carbs. But whenever I talked to friends about it, the most common reaction I got was: “I couldn’t do that. It’s so hard. I love bread!”. For ME, it was easy because I wasn’t eating a lot of noodles or bread to begin with.
At the beginning, it was great because I saw changes quickly. This was motivating. After a few weeks, my stomach was complaining a little as the whole digestion track needed to adjust. I added cheese and plain yoghurt to my meals to help my digestion track get better quickly. No science behind it, just purely experimenting.
In general, I wouldn’t say I feel sooooo much greater without carbs, however, the lost of weight and gaining more muscles lead to a higher energy level in general and feeling less tired throughout the day. All subjective though. Interesting: I gained an increased awareness of how much snacking is going on around me while I didn’t hungry at all.
What about “Cheat” days?
First of all, the term “Cheat”-days has somewhat of a negative connotation which is why I would prefer to rephrase them to “gourmet”-days or whatever. The reason is simple: I do think these days have an important purpose and you are not “cheating” but actually doing yourself a favor. It is necessary to shock the body once in a while so it can keep the metabolic rhythm up.
Out of the 2 months, I had a few days where I didn’t worry about anything. I did drink beer and cocktails, ate chocolate cakes and pizza. It felt really good in the moment. Nevertheless, after those days, I quickly went back and fasted 18-20h the next day so my body could recover.
I want to make clear here, that my results didn’t just purely come from a low carb diet. I had a holistic approach to improving my overall health and well-being. With that being said, I found that avoiding carbs had the biggest impact in the last 2 months.
Why? Simply, because I had my other habits already in place and it didn’t move the needle as much. So in addition to my low carb diet, here are other habits that played well together:
Going to the gym 3-4x/week
This may sound a lot if you don’t have this habit at all. But since I practiced Karate from the age of 10, I developed the habit of moving my body consistently anyways. What most don’t realize is that you don’t need to work out for 2h at a time. Many days, I just spend 30-40min in the gym (20min warm up + 20min weight lifting).
Getting good sleep
7-8h of sleep every night and waking up without an alarm clock does wonders.
This is a positive side effect of a “high protein/fat” – diet: I stayed full longer. In the past, I would fall into a hole around 3/4pm which resulted in snacking and caffeine intake. Now I can go from lunch – evening without anything.
I’ve been doing intermittent fasting for almost 3 years now. Started out with 12h, then 16h (skipping breakfast) and now on average 18h. In the last few weeks, I even got into OMAD (one-meal-a-day) because my hunger level reduced.
After almost 3 months of my low carb experiment, I feel great and don’t have a big urge for going back and eating a lot of carbohydrates. This doesn’t mean I will never eat carbs again, but I will be way more mindful in which capacity and frequency. Of course, I still have these “gourmet”-days every once in a while so I’m not a pain in the ass when going out with friends.
It was such a good learning to see what impact carbohydrates have on the body that I never realized before. I always worked out a lot, but wondered why I wasn’t getting leaner.
While I’m happy with my physiological change, I’m more grateful for the learnings that I had in the last few weeks, especially when it comes to insulin resistance / sensitivity.
To be completely transparent, I feel that my body has slowly adapted to the change and results are not as dramatic as in the first half. But as long as I’m in Bulgaria right now, I will keep going with this routine and see how far I get.
Resources to get started
I hope this article was interesting for you and if you want to give a low carb diet a try, the youtube channel from Dr. Ekberg is probably the best resource I can recommend. He explains everything in such a simple manner that everyone understands.