Anti-4HB Advice: Count Calories on Slow Carb

Maybe it’s your dirty little secret, or maybe you share it with everyone? Maybe you’re wondering if it would help your fat loss go faster? The truth is, for all the comments in the book about not counting calories, I think a lot of people are, and I can give you at least one good reason to.

I might get some concerned comments over this, but I’m going to stick my neck out and say that I think there’s a great reason to count calories on the slow carb diet. But first, let me get into the reasons not to.

  1. The most important reason to not count calories, is if you believe your fat loss is going to come solely from a lowering of calories, compared to your calorie requirement for the day. Slow carb does its fat loss work in different ways to other diet systems
  2. Secondly, don’t even think of counting calories if your brain plays games with you, and tries to make you eat less and less.
  3. Just as importantly, counting calories is not a great pastime, and if is supporting some kind of anxiety problem, then it’s a good sign to stop and take a deep breath.

If you’re feeling a little too familiar with any of the above, don’t brush it off. All of these ideas, if left to sit, or if ignored, could actually create bigger problems for you, and I’d suggest working on some solutions before you continue.

So why would I suggest that counting calories is a great idea?

Simple. I think a lot of people are undereating, by quite a lot, in some cases, on slow carb. We work with a lot of people who ask us questions about what they’re eating each day, and a common theme is salads, chicken and more salads. Some people include a protein shake somewhere, and perhaps a few eggs.

Despite being an eating regime designed to help the body lose fat, slow carb isn’t about eating very small amounts of food, or limiting your body from getting nutrients it needs.

The way slow carb works is different to a lot of other programs, and the differences shouldn’t be underestimated. Where hard exercise works in some programs, it in fact hinders fat loss on slow carb, for example. Likewise, where restriction of calories, and even exclusion of carbohydrates induces fat loss in some other diets, it is not the basis of slow carb.

For this reason, I recommend to a lot of people that they track 3 or 5 days of eating with a free online tool like DailyBurn, to check what’s actually going in. It should be covering the bases, at least, in terms of calories, and protein. You want to target around 90-150g of protein per day. And you’ll need to do a quick calculation of your daily calorie requirements.

Remember, this isn’t about then aiming to eat less. Its simply to ensure that your calorie intake isn’t remarkably less than your daily requirement. If what you’re eating is around 1000 (or lower), or even down around 1400 calories per day, you might actually be slowing your fat loss down.

So, if you suspect that you might be undereating (common symptoms are lack of energy, headaches, irritability or stalled fat loss) then consider tracking what you’re eating over a few days. You might be surprised with the results!

Let me know what you think.. have I gone too far? Or does this make sense in context, even though it’s against the advice in the book. Leave your comment below.

You might be interested in reading these too:

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  2. 4HB Video chat to discuss with friends Picture this: you are thinking about the slow carb diet. Maybe you've started it, maybe you're 2 months in, or maybe you're looking at the beans at the grocery store. You start chatting...
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26 Responses to Anti-4HB Advice: Count Calories on Slow Carb

  • Erick says:

    100% agree – my first weeks on 4HB – I seriously felt like I was dying – light-headed, dizzy and weak…. The problem a low-carb diet has a significant higher volume/calorie ratio than my normal diet – essentially I was starving myself during that initial period – so calorie counting to ensure that you are aware of the # of calories you are consuming makes perfect sense..
    One thing I would like to understand in more detail is the following: “Where hard exercise works in some programs, it in fact hinders fat loss on slow carb” – could you elaborate on this because I do not see the correlation between additional exercise and slow weight loss – given that the person consumes enough calories and does not go into ‘starvation’ mode…
    Thanks and keep up the good work!

    • Luke says:

      Hey Erick, thanks for your comment, really appreciate your thoughts.
      To answer your question – fat loss is a complicated process, and even if someone is eating enough and therefore not in starvation mode, if the body is under significant stress (like not getting adequate rest due to lack of sleep, OR hard training often), then it will tend to hold onto fat, rather than let it go.
      Most people see the best results when they ‘look after’ themselves – meaning plenty of sleep, and moderate exercise 2-3 times per week.

      All the best,

  • John says:

    When I saw the title of this post, I was prepared to disagree–I figured you were going to make the argument that counting calories was important in order to REDUCE intake. I was pleasantly surprised to see the opposite; a recommendation to eat more!

    I completely agree that it’s possible to under-eat with 4HB/SCD. The meals are so filling that I’m often not hungry when it’s time to eat the next one. I force myself to do it, though, to avoid the “starvation mode” that Erick mentions. I’ve also added a snack between breakfast and lunch–a boiled egg and some mixed nuts. Since doing that a few weeks ago, I’ve been able to add some muscle weight while still reducing fat.

    • Luke says:

      Hi John,

      Thanks for your comment, and I’m glad I pleasantly surprised you!

      I really love your fine-tuning of the diet, to suit your requirements. Nuts + a hard boiled egg are an excellent addition – healthy fats and protein. Ideal for muscle building. I am considering going to a meal + snack method too, to reduce meal sizes but maintain calorie intake.

      All the best!

  • Justin says:

    I think this is one of the many parts of the book where Tim does not elaborate enough. I do agree with you but would extend it to add the following.

    Counting calories is not very important but counting macro nutrient ratios is very important. You need to see how much fat, protein and carbs you are eating.

    Also I think most people are not eating enough good fat and that Tim does not discuss this enough either. Three or more servings of fish per week, and grass fed beef. Dark chicken meat is not bad, but is high in omega6 fat which can be bad if not balanced with omega3 fat.

    • Luke says:

      Hi Justin thanks for your comment.

      This makes a LOT of sense to me, and your observations are excellent.
      For everyone reading this – consider taking a fish oil supplement to ensure a good minimum amount of ‘good fats’ in your diet. It can help with fat loss! Not to mention cardio and brain health.

      Thanks again,

  • Glenn says:

    Hey Luke,

    I currently count calories on the Slow Carb. As you know, I’m working out on Insanity. I wavered between whether or not I should continue to add a starch to my meals as I did with Occam’s. I started counting my calories and logging my meals a few days into Insanity’s program, and I realized that I was under eating by 1,300 calories! Almost half of that comes from the starch that I DIDN’T add to my meals before I started counting calories again. So I agree. Count your calories. Eating the same meals will reduce the tedious nature of tracking the calories. I think counting calories is key if you’re working out regardless of the program.

    Good post

    • Luke says:

      Hey Glenn, thanks for your feedback.
      That’s a great discovery you’ve made, and I think a lot of people could be in the same position. Combining a lot of workouts with slow carb, even eating 4 meals per day isn’t likely to yield enough calories to continually develop muscle (and lose fat). For many people who have dieted, the idea of 2500 calories per day (as an example), and losing fat, doesn’t seem to add up. Certainly if you’re sitting around doing nothing all day, it might not, but doing programmed workouts, your body needs extra.

      All the best!

  • Robert says:

    Hi Luke, This blog is very helpful with the program. I am into my 5th week of SC program and have lost about 10 lbs with 5 to go. I lost 7 in the first week and only 3 the rest of the time. I’ve noticed many people struggle with a plateau after the first week or so. I think I know my problem. I hate beans. I practically have to force feed them to myself. Protein is easy since I love eggs and meat. Could my lack of beans be the cause of the slow down? Can you comment on the minimum dose of beans per day or for each meal that I should shoot for? Or are there any substitutes?? I figure I need to find a way to eat the right breakfast at least. Thanks. Robert

    • Luke says:

      Hi Robert,

      Thanks for your comment. Congrats with your results so far! A lack of beans could cause some problems, if it means your calorie intake is very low – men shouldn’t go below 1500 calories per day, and women around 1200 calories. For teens, these numbers should be higher. Going below that will mean your body thinks you’re starving, and will hold on to fat. Beans also provide a great amount of fibre, which helps fat loss in a few ways.
      In general, however, no one is going to have continual weight loss at the same rate as the first week – generally the first week’s loss is a combination of fat, excess food in the gut, and water, due to the change in diet.
      You could try red split lentils – boiled in water, I find them great in the mornings, much better than red or black beans.
      As far as the minimum goes, I recommend people eat 1/2 to 1 cup of beans with each meal (4 meals per day) to get adequate energy, protein and fibre from them. Depends on your current size!

      All the best,

      • Roman says:

        Luke, your last comment of “As far as the minimum goes, I recommend people eat 1/2 to 1 cup of beans with each meal (4 meals per day) to get adequate energy, protein and fibre from them. Depends on your current size!” leaves me with a question… So the amount of beans you eat depends on your current size? How so, please explain.

        • Luke says:

          Hey Roman,

          Thanks for your comment. People of different sizes (not specifically weights, but more specifically different lean body mass weights), will have different energy requirements. As can be calculated with a BMR calculator, a person with more lean body mass will need more energy simply to live through the day. This is separate to activity levels, etc. A more accurate comment I should have made is – it depends on your current size and activity levels.
          Realistically, it’s about tuning your portions to your hunger (and lack thereof) levels, over the first week or so. Once you have a good idea of how much you need to keep you going, then you can adjust for activity levels. But it’s much easier if exercise isn’t a big feature of the first week in my opinion, so you can get a gauge on what you need, without exercise provoking more hunger/requiring more calories.

          All the best,

  • Kashkillz says:

    I’m 5 weeks in, lost 25 lbs, still between a little >15% body fat. This week I’ve started feeling light-headed a lot… just about every time I stand up. And, when I work out my blood pressure & heart rate are through the roof, quick. It takes longer than usual to return to baseline, then I’m over the top almost as soon as I jump back in.

    A few things… I am a caffeine junkie of sorts. I definitely know worse, but I’m up there. Also, I work out like a beast.

    Those points made, my input has been consistent for 5 weeks. Suddenly my output is being compromised. I usually blend up some greens & celery with an avocado between brkfst & lunch. I’m thinking about dropping an apple in it, too. How much of an impact can I expect from that?

    Would it be effective or practical to go right into bulking up muscle before I get under 10%?

    I will definitely start tracking my calories. ‘Lose It!’ is a great app I used to use for that.

    Could the hypertension during workouts (slamming carotid, blurry vision, etc) be related to under eating if I’m working too hard? I have a stress test scheduled, I’d like to cancel if there’s any evidence my whole problem is manorexia…

    • Luke says:

      Hey thanks for your questions – it sounds like perhaps your resting blood pressure is getting lower, but workout BP is high.
      A similar thing happened to me when I was working out a lot, a few years ago, and not eating great amounts. My resting heart rate was also extremely low – around 45-50. I was lightheaded most times I got up from being seated, working, but I could train for extended periods of time. It would be worth take a week or two and making sure your calories are adequate, but of course if you suspect anything more serious, definitely consult a healthcare professional.
      Realistically, it could be that you’re not getting adequate recovery in terms of nutrition and/or rest, and that the workouts are starting to take their toll after 5 weeks (most overtraining injuries come at around 8-12 weeks).
      All the best!

  • Franc says:

    I’m just starting out, but concerned I’m eating TOO many calories. I have no problem with high volume meals. Example yesterday: Breakfast 2 eggs +1/3 cup egg whites on top of 2/3 can lentils warmed with 1 cup spinach — 2 1/2 hours later I was hungry again so I ate the leftover lentils.

    2 hours later I ate 1/3 red cabbage sliced thick with some raw tahini spread on and 1/2 cup shredded chicken and 2 celery sticks with 1tbsp. PeanutButter. I had Mate mint Tea, leftover cold coffee with cinnamon and 2 1/2 Litres water by 2pm.

    I ate a HUGE dinner by 6pm. 380g lean ground beef with 1 bell pepper, 1 1/2 cups broccoli, spices and 1 full can black beans over about 7 cups of lettuce and lime juice. I realized afterwards that a serving of ground beef is NOT 380g.

    Around 7 I was snacky or Hungry and unfortunately ate a lot of raw cashews. I think I must be eating too much fat. I’ve only been going 4 days and still figuring out what to buy and how to work meals into my schedule etc. I am worried I eat TOO much though. Like a meal a few days ago I had about 3 cups of shredded chicken with my broccoli and lettuce and blk beans.

    Eating 1/2 cup of beans with a piece of chicken will not satiate me like I see some people’s meals.

    Oh, I’m female, 31, 5’10, around 145lbs but body fat close to 27% especially lower body. LBM must be pathetically low. I nurse a toddler 3x day and the only exercise i’m doing is walking to get around town and occasionally squats/lunges at home with 10lb weights

    so I assume to lose fat, eating over 2500 calories per day isn’t going to be happening? Thoughts? Is 2 or 3 cans of beans a day too much? I can eat one per meal. How much ground beef or chicken should I eat at a meal? And I know I have to stop the added fats on this program, I’m just hungry that’s all

    Thanks.. great Site TONS of info :)

    • Luke says:

      Hey Franc,

      Sounds like it’d help you out to have a really fixed meal schedule. Aim for 4 meals per day, 4 hours apart, and go for a meal with beans/lentils, meat and veges. It sounds like perhaps your body is crazy for a lot of food – your weight and height suggests that if you are at 27% bodyfat, then you are very, very low on muscle. My suggestion is to try to balance things out a little more by focusing on gaining muscle. Right now, you might be able to eat all the meat and beans because your body is depleted of muscle and trying to rebuild. Start gradually, I strongly recommend getting into a local gym 2x per week and pushing weights. Using resistance training will build up precious muscle, and bone mass too, and help you feel a lot healthier.

      All the best,

  • shriti says:

    Hi there,

    I weigh 120 lbs and my height is 5.3 inches and my body fat is 26-27%. How much % body fat should i expect to loose every month?

    • Luke Starbuck says:

      Hi Shriti,

      Thanks for your question. Realistically, you could be aiming to lose 1-2% for a couple of months, and then it will probably slow down. At the same time as losing fat, it’s a great idea to work on building muscle, especially as your overall weight is already quite low. Building muscle gives you a great foundation to maintaining a lean body in the future.

      All the best,

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