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After a No-Carb Diet, Can I Ever Have A Healthy Relationship with Carbs Again?

Yes…ish. But it’ll require some seriously strict limitations.

You’ve done it! You lost the extra weight and reached your goal, and you owe it almost all to getting rid of those bastard carbs. This was always meant to be a temporary measure, of course, but now that it’s time to bring carbs back into your life, you’re a little scared they’ll take over again because carbs are fucking delicious.

So how do you figure out a good balance moving forward?

To start with, don’t open the floodgates wide open again. If you just suddenly start putting in the same amount and type of carbs that you cut out of your diet, you’ll soon end up gaining that weight back, and probably more quickly than you think. “Restrained eating is consistently linked with overeating behavior,” explains food psychologist Elena Cadel. “Basically, the more you restrained yourself [from] eating something, the more you want to eat it, and once your mental brakes are broken, you will probably overeat.”

Nutritionist and personal trainer Sean Salazar of AnywhereGym suggests that you probably want to start with a simple reintroduction diet and “slowly add things back in.” He continues that the whole thing should take about 10 days, ideally adding one type of food back per day to see how you react to it, then continuing this pattern, introducing new food every other day.

Assuming that you didn’t cut out the natural carbs found in fruit and vegetables, a good place to start a reintroduction diet is with dairy products. (Not-so-fun fact: One glass of 2 percent milk contains almost as many carbs as a slice of bread — 12 grams vs. bread’s 15.) To begin, try one serving of dairy, and “see if it bothers your stomach, then wait two days and introduce the next thing,” Salazar advises. Next, try rice and make sure you don’t feel too bloated the next day. Instead of white rice, though, go with brown rice — this has complex carbs, which Cadel explains are important for our health, unlike the simple carbs found in white rice, bread, dairy products and countless other delicious things.

After the rice, introduce whole wheat bread, and if you’d cut out potatoes, they’d be a good step after that, and so on. The idea here is to reintroduce things slowly and simply: You wouldn’t want to reintroduce pizza right away, for example, because if you feel like shit the next day, you won’t know if it’s because of the bread, the cheese, the sugary sauce or because of the nine different kinds of meat on your Meat Beast’s Pie.

Once you’ve reintroduced all of the major items, from there it’s gonna require some discipline. Salazar says that while individual daily calorie needs vary from person to person, from the amount of calories that you should be consuming, about 40 percent of those should be carbs. Of that 40 percent, about half should be fruits and vegetables, so include about two servings of fruit a day and about four to six servings of vegetables. That leaves about 20 percent of your overall diet for bread, rice or other carbs. So, for a 2,000 calorie diet, that’s about 400 calories, which, for example, would be one serving of brown rice or two slices of wheat bread, which would still leave room for a little dairy for the day.

You’ll also have to keep in mind when you’re eating those things. Salazar says to do it before you work out, so you can use the energy for that purpose. Or if you’re not going to get a chance to exercise, eat the carbs earlier in the day so you have a chance to burn them off. Additionally, if you know you’re going out for pasta on Friday night, make sure you don’t have any earlier in the week. “Things like pasta or a donut can fit into your weekly diet or monthly diet or whatever, but it shouldn’t be part of your daily diet,” warns Salazar.

“Another problem is the emotion related to food,” adds Cadel. She suggests asking yourself if you’re eating because you’re hungry, or if you’re filling a different kind of void, as being aware of why you’re craving something can open you up to more strategies for dealing with those cravings. “Most coping strategies deal with suppression or distraction, but a novel alternative to those control-based craving strategies is acceptance-based strategies, which involve a nonjudgmental attitude toward cravings and requires willingness to stay in contact with the uncomfortable, often negative feelings.” In other words, if you actually sit with those cravings and confront the deeper emotional reasons why they may be happening — depression, loneliness, etc. — you may have more success conquering them.

This will all go a long way toward not undoing the great work you did during your diet. Remember, this isn’t just about the weight you lost, it’s about how you’ve re-trained your body: Salazar explains that the reason carbs are so addictive is because, “Your brain works off glucose best, and your body loves it.” Since those simple sugars convert to glucose so quickly, carbs are an instantly satisfying energy source. When you’ve cut out those carbs, over time, you actually retrain your body to run off of protein and fats, which is much more difficult. But if you suddenly go back to being carb-heavy, not only will your body revert back to its old ways, it will likely even hold onto those carbs for longer because it’ll feel deprived of them, and you’ll quickly see a change in your waistline.

But don’t panic: That fear of having to go back to those husky pants should be all the motivation you need to keep yourself on track.