5 Tips on Low Carb Living

At the time I’m writing this, I’ve been living a low carb lifestyle for over 4 and a half years. I started back in September 2014. I see more and more people getting started on a low carb and/or keto lifestyle for various reasons, so I thought I’d contribute a few tips I’ve learned over the years. Also, I’m not a doctor (talk to yours), this is simply my experience and may or may not apply for you.

NOTE: For purposes of this article, I’m talking more about low carb (which to me, means 50-ish grams of net carbs a day or less) than keto (which to me, means 20 grams or less of net carbs a day). I’ve tried, and like, both types of low carb living, but more people are able to adapt to low carb than keto in my opinion, so I’ll focus on that.

Tip 1 – Start with your “why”

Why are you trying to be low carb? In my case, my blood pressure was high, I was technically obese, and my first child was on the way. I wanted to be healthier and ideally, avoid taking medication to get there. I wanted to have the energy to play with my daughter as she grows up and since heart disease seems to be more common in my family, I wanted to make sure I had my blood pressure under control while I’m young to help me (hopefully) avoid plenty of issues in the future.

If you don’t know why you’re doing low carb or you have a reason, but it’s not your reason (i.e. your doctor told you to), then you’re going to have a hard time. You need to find your “why” so that every time you think about getting off the low carb train, you can remind yourself why you started in the first place.

If your reason isn’t strong enough, you’re going to be constantly fighting an uphill battle in your mind.

Tip 2 – Try not to replicate high carb foods

Yes, you’ll find all kinds of “low carb” versions of nearly any high carb food. If you need to make these substitutes to keep yourself on course, then go for it, but, know that very few of these “fake” high carb foods are going to be what you expect. If you’re just swapping out a low-fat ingredient for a high-fat one or swapping regular sugar for a sugar substitute, then it may be pretty faithful to the original.

On the other hand, if you’re trying to make a regular cake where you’re changing the primary ingredient (wheat flour) to something like almond flour, be ready for disappointment. I’m not saying these things taste bad, but if you’ve been eating wheat flour all of your life, you’re going to have expectations about how these things are supposed to taste and they aren’t going to meet those expectations.

For me, all these types of substitutes did was remind me how much I miss the “real thing”. It’ll be much easier if you keep these types of things to a minimum.

Tip 3 – Lean into the fat

When you first start, you’re going to feel like you’re eating a lot of fat. If you’re like me, you’ve believed fat was bad your whole life so there may be some type of mental block that keeps you from upping your fat intake as you should.

When you do that, you’re going to cut carbs (hopefully) AND cut fat, which leaves you with just protein. It’s going to cause you to be pretty hungry and you’re going to feel pretty deprived. If you do that for too long, you’re not going to be able to stay on the low carb bandwagon because you’re likely getting so few calories that you really are starving.

The sooner you accept that you need to eat more fat and that fat should be the vast majority of your calories any given day, the sooner you’ll be able to adapt to the new lifestyle. If you like to eat things that are leaner (e.g. I like sirloin steak – fatty/gristly steak just doesn’t appeal to me even now), just add extra butter or oil.

Tip 4 – Watch for hidden sugars in sugar substitutes and products marketed as “low carb”

You’re probably getting the hang of looking for sugars on food labels, but one thing you should watch out is a dirty trick on lots of items you’d expect to be low carb. Yes, read the regular nutrition label – if you see lots of sugar listed, then avoid it. In some cases though, you’ll see a low number of carbs, but when you look at the ingredients list, you’ll see that it has quite a bit of sugar in it.

For example, I used to use powdered Splenda. There is less than 1g of carbohydrate in a serving of powdered Splenda. Wonderful! You can use it to replace sugar in recipes and get basically no carbs right?

Wrong. If you look at the serving size, a serving is 1tsp. Then, if you look at the ingredients, the first ingredient (which means it’s the most prevalent ingredient in the food item) is maltodextrin. That a straight up simple carb that is going to spike your blood sugar levels even more than regular table sugar. If you end up using a cup of this stuff in a recipe to replace sugar, you’re getting a (relative) ton of carbs and you’re going to cause a big insulin response.

Quite a few low carb products end up using dextrose and maltodextrin in large amounts. Avoid those. For the record though, the liquid Splenda is usually just water and sucralose, so if you’re going to use Splenda, use the liquid kind.

What about sugar alcohols? That one is more complicated.

I personally subtract them but avoid some of the ones that are known to raise blood sugar levels. Maltitol is one that will likely trigger some blood sugar change, though less than a normal “carb” would. I personally try to stick to erythritol and/or liquid stevia, but you really have to figure out what works for your specific taste buds and body chemistry.

Tip 5 – Plan ahead

You can find low carb options when you’re dining out, but what you’ll probably find is most restaurants serve dishes that aren’t very satisfying when you remove the carbs. Maybe they don’t have many/any low carb sides, so you get just the entree. Great – you’re staying low carb, but you probably ended up getting a lean protein and maybe some butter or oil and that’s about it.

Most places consider low fat (which almost always means higher carb) to be healthy, so they simply don’t have many options for you. Steakhouses are about the only place I’ve found where you can more or less get a filling, healthy, low carb meal off the menu. Burger places are ok, but you may have to get a more expensive double or triple patty burger to make up for the lack of fries (or whatever side you normally get).

The only way I’ve found to combat this is to make my own meals 90% of the time.

Worst case, buy a lot of common low carb foods so you can make yourself a variety of simple low carb foods and throw out anything high carb at home (if you can’t resist it). A better approach is to do a real meal plan. Figure out what low carb things you’d like to eat and buy all of the needed ingredients at once (I like to shop once a week for the whole week’s meals).

Make it so it’s easy to know what you need to make each day and make sure the ingredients are handy so there is as little friction as possible. Even better, meal prep several low carb options at the start of the week so on those busy days when you don’t feel like cooking, you can just grab a pre-made meal from the fridge or the freezer.

Find what works for you

As I mentioned in the beginning, this is what has worked for me. Everyone is going to be different and it’s critical that you figure out what works for you.

If you’re having to force yourself to stay low carb after the first couple of weeks, you probably need to tune something. Getting started is hard, but you shouldn’t be feeling like you’re fighting yourself week after week after the initial adjustment period. If you get the benefits of low carb eating because you do it for a month and then you go back to eating your regular diet, you’re going to be right back where you started.

This has to be easy enough for it to become your default lifestyle. If it isn’t, adjust until it is.

CodeStock 2019 Thoughts


I thought the Codestock conference was pretty smooth this year. I’m glad the free sodas made a return (last year, a can of soda cost more than a Starbucks latte, though that wasn’t the conference’s choice). I wish there was a little more variety in talks – everything is still web/.NET/soft skills. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of good talks – there are – but I keep hoping to see more Ruby/Python/Mobile/XR/etc type of talks so you have a more diverse (from a technical background) audience. It was hosted at the Knoxville Convention Center in downtown Knoxville, TN again this year. It’s a great space with plenty of room.

If you’ve never been, it’s a good deal if you’re anywhere close to Knoxville. Ticket prices vary each year, but it’s usually in the $125-$200 range if you get in at the “early bird” pricing. For that, you get two days of talks, lunch provided both days, a social event at the conference on Friday, and an after party later on Friday (though the after party doesn’t happen every year), and a nice conference T-shirt. It’s a great value overall.

I ended up having to skip Saturday due to illness, but here are the talks I attended on Friday.

Keynote: A Tale of Short Links

By Jeremy Likness

I enjoyed this talk, though it was a little different than previous keynotes. It was half about Jeremy’s history and half how he used Azure to solve a specific problem he had. I think the point of the talk was to point out how new tools are always becoming available that will save you time and/or money, so it’s important to stay on top of them.

Introducing .NET Core 3

By Jeffrey T. Fritz

This was a great overview/demo of .NET Core 3’s support for desktop apps. Jeff did a live demo where he converted a WinForms app over to .NET Core 3 without much trouble. He pointed out it was obviously a simple app and a production app would certainly take longer and have more fixes needed, but it works. The migration progress was a little clunky, but it sounds like that’s only because .NET Core 3 is still a few months out from being released – so all of the VS tooling is in flux or flat out missing at the moment.

Terraform: Everything as Code

By Andy Cowell

This was my first introduction to Terraform. I always had the impression it was similar in concept to a Dockerfile – not that it used Docker or any of that, but the same types of things you did in a Dockerfile would be what you did in Terraform…you were just targeting a physical server/VM instead of a container. My take away from this talk was Terraform wasn’t anything like that and it sounded like it was more trouble than it was worth. I came away from the talk wondering why you would actually use Terraform given how limited it sounded. Maybe it was just the introductory nature of the talk that a lot of important details were skipped, but from what I saw, I wasn’t encouraged to try Terraform.

Goodbye REST APIs. Hello GraphQL!

By Cory House
Slides & Resources

This was a pretty eye opening talk about GraphQL. I’ve heard of it and seen a few examples, but I didn’t understand how the backend was implemented. Cory didn’t get a chance to go into too much detail on the backend side of things, but he gave enough info in the talk to get a feel for what is going on. I can see why it’s a powerful technology and it’s something I think I’ll experiment with in the future. His suggestion was to wrap your existing REST APIs with GraphQL so you can use both depending on which one made sense in a given situation. I believe I’ll try to implement this in one of my personal projects to see how it works. I do wish we had more time to go through filtering/paging/security in the talk.

Drawing: How to be a Superhuman Communicator

By David Neal
Slides & Resources

This was another great talk. I always enjoy David’s talks because they are a bit different from the usual tech talks. I was familiar with the tools David talked about – basically using an iPad Pro + Apple pencil + Sketches Pro, but, I enjoyed seeing his live drawing demos just to get a feel for his process. I really want to try this type of sketching/illustration and his talk was a good motivator.

The Highs and Woes of Innovation on a Small and Highly Effective Team

By Branden Schwartz

This talk was about Branden’s experience building & working on a small team within a larger organization. There were some interesting tidbits of what worked/didn’t work for them. I was hoping to find some action items that might help my current team, but I can see the tips working better in a larger company vs a smaller company. I used to work for a giant 60,000+ employee company and I could see these tips being handy there. I still had a few takeaways for my own small team at a smaller company.

Jeff Fritz’s Live Twitch Stream


This wasn’t officially part of Codestock per se, but Jeff does lots of live coding on Twitch and was able to setup a Codestock twitch stream. He talked to the Codestock organizers, quite a few speakers, and a few sponsors. I hope he’ll make this a part of the yearly conference since.

Full Schedule

If you’re curious what types of talks are at Codestock, see this PDF built by Cody Lambert from KnoxDevs. The schedule always changes just a bit due to cancellations/travel issues/etc, but that’ll give you an idea of what you’ll likely see at Codestock.

Making MealMind #9: More Planning

For the last several weeks, I’ve put MealMind on the back burner. It’s probably going to remain there for the rest of October, and then it’ll pick back up in November. There are just too many things going on for me to focus on it at the moment.

That said, I’ve been trying to lay out a more specific plan of attack for MealMind when I have the time to get back to it. One of the big issues I’m struggling with is the fact that there are lots of different parts to MealMind, they are all interlinked, and there isn’t a clear place to start. I also haven’t broken it down into bite-sized pieces so I can pick up a small, well-defined task and knock it out.

I think I’m leaning toward working these things next:

  • Define a logical recipe & meal schema
  • Pick some sample recipes & meals and manually map them to the schema
  • Build out the logic code to perform this mapping with a suite a test cases to confirm the mapping is successful
  • Start tasking out the process to take this schema and scale it up/down, build a shopping list of ingredients from it, calculate nutrient information, etc

At the end of this process, I’d like to point the system at a specific recipe url and have it give me a schema back along with the nutrient calculations. If I can get this part out of the way, then I can make progress on several other parts of the system, but having a really quick and reliable way to get recipes into the system seems like a good place to start.