I began following a low-carb lifestyle in 2019. I’d love to say I have it all figured out and never overindulge, but it happens more often that I’d like to admit. I am proof that eating too many carbs once in a while will not destroy the progress you’ve made if you don’t let it. The following tips explore what to do if you ate too many carbs, and will help get you back on track in no time!
What To Do If You Ate Too Many Carbs
- Forgive yourself.
- Don’t wait until tomorrow.
- Mentally prepare yourself for a challenging day or two.
- Eat more fat and protein.
- Drink more water and increase electrolytes.
- Increase fasting time.
In this article, I’ll discuss each of these tips in detail.
First things first: acknowledge and accept that you overindulged. Clear away any feelings of guilt, helplessness, or failure that might be going through your head. You are human! It is not the end of the world, and it is likely to happen again. One misstep does not ruin the journey. All is not lost.
Try to identify what led you to overindulge. Was it stress or boredom? Did you succumb to peer-pressure from friends, co-workers or family? Were you tempted by a favorite food that you couldn’t resist? Did you have a long day and order a high-carb meal because you were too exhausted to cook?
How can you prepare for next time? It could be as simple as posting a favorite mantra nearby to strengthen your resolve, having a response ready when pressured to eat something you would prefer not to, cutting back on carbs the rest of the day or exercising a little more when you know a favorite indulgent food is going to be available, or ensuring backup options are available for when you are too tired to cook.
This can be the hardest step, as beating ourselves up comes naturally to many of us (especially me). But with time, it does get easier!
Don’t Wait Until Tomorrow
Have you ever said something like this: “I’ve already fallen off the wagon. I may as well just keep going, enjoy the foods I’ve been missing, and start fresh tomorrow.” PLEASE DON’T DO THIS! The amount of carbs you eat during this additional span of time could significantly increase how long it takes for your body to return to normal. You might also experience the following side-effects:
- weight gain (from water as well as increased insulin production causing carbs to be converted to fat)
- feeling bloated and gassy
- increased cravings, making it even more difficult to get back on track
- brain fog
- difficulty sleeping
Instead of waiting, you can start RIGHT NOW. Throw or give away anything remaining that might tempt you. Remember why you started following a low-carb lifestyle to begin with, and use that to motivate you. Find an accountability partner — someone who will check in with you to make sure you stay on track.
Mentally Prepare Yourself for a Challenging Day or Two
Your body may respond in a variety of ways, depending on how many extra carbs you ate. The pancreas increased production of insulin to remove the influx of carbs from your blood. It could move them to your muscles, or (if the muscle storage is full) will store them as fat. You could experience a sugar “high,” followed by a sugar “crash.” You’ll feel sluggish and your body will crave a “pick-me-up” (usually more carbs, caffeine or both) to feel better. If this happens, you’ll need to flex those mental muscles to help get you through.
If you typically count calories, avoid it for a day or two. Same with weighing yourself on the scale. The extra stress can have a negative impact on your mental health and may make things worse (I learned this the hard way). Keep that motivation discussed above fresh in your mind.
Participate in activities that will distract your mind: read a book, watch a favorite show, do word or jigsaw puzzles, meet a friend for coffee or throw yourself into a project. Try to avoid situations that typically involve food. If you typically snack while watching your favorite show, this might not be a good idea during this time.
Working out may be the last thing you want to do after eating too many carbs, but exercise can:
- burn off extra carbs and prevent them from being converted into fat
- aid in digestion and reduce bloating
- improve your mindset, especially if you can get outside in nature
- reduce feelings of stress and anxiety
Enlist a friend to take a walk or hike (either in person or virtually by phone), dance around the house, clean the house (not much fun, but it does burn calories!), go for a swim, play games with your kids… anything to get your body moving.
However, don’t go overboard with exercise. Working out too much or too intensely could increase cravings and hunger, thereby sabotaging your efforts. The last thing you want is for exercise to feel like a “punishment” for overindulging.
Eat More Fat and Protein
This is going to sound like preaching to the choir if you’ve been following a low-carb lifestyle for a while, but increasing fat and protein should be your first priority.
The goal is to be mindful of feeling full. Increasing your intake of healthy fats and proteins can help. Reduce your carb levels back to where they were before you ate too many carbs — but don’t cut them too low. Focus on eating high-quality, unprocessed, whole foods. Avoid sugar substitutes for a few days, and these can lead to cravings as well.
Drink More Water and Increase Electrolytes
When you transitioned to a low-carb lifestyle, you may have experienced some of the symptoms of “keto flu” listed above: fatigue, headaches, brain fog, nausea, body aches, irritability. Drinking plenty of water and increasing your intake of electrolytes (salt, potassium and magnesium) can cure many of these symptoms.
My daily routine includes an electrolyte supplement (Keto Vitals Electrolyte Capsules), and a serving of Ultima Refresher each day. I’ve found I am less sluggish and more alert when I take them. I increase the Ultima servings when it’s hot outside, during long workouts when training for endurance events, when I’ve eaten too many carbs, or when I just feel “off” in general. Mark Sisson wrote an excellent article on the need for electrolytes when following a low-carb diet on Mark’s Daily Apple.
Increase Fasting Time
If you followed a low-carb diet and practiced Intermittent Fasting before you indulged, increasing your fasting time can help. Longer fasting periods will force your body to utilize the extra carbs for energy and help it get back to burning fat faster.
I don’t recommend this if you haven’t been practicing intermittent fasting regularly. It takes time to adapt to fasting, and this can become more challenging when you are experiencing cravings and irregular blood sugar levels.
You’ve Got This!
You now have some strategies in your pocket for what to do if you ate too many carbs. Experiment to find what works best for you. With practice and patience, you’ll learn to recover quickly and prevent (or minimize) unwanted occurrences.