What is low-carb Bootcamp?

Tape measureIf you've read our other low-carb pages (see related links below), you'll know that Mumsnetter BIWI swears by the low-carb diet. To encourage other Mumsnetters who want to lose weight, she has devised a low-carb Bootcamp and here she explains how it works.

Bootcamp is a 10-week plan, in two phases. It is intentionally designed to be as easy to follow as possible, so there's no need for weighing food or counting carbs.

The first two weeks are the strictest, and the idea is to get you into ketosis as quickly as possible, meaning your body switches from burning carbs to burning fat. These two weeks also help you to break your craving for carbs (and especially sweet things).

After the first two weeks, you can either move on to Bootcamp Light, which allows for the inclusion of more carbs, or you can choose to stay on Bootcamp, if it suits you. Or, you can do a hybrid - Bootcamp during the week and Bootcamp Light at the weekend.

Bootcamp: the rules

1. Eat three proper meals a day

You must eat breakfast. It doesn't have to be a lot, and it doesn't have to be absolutely first thing, but you must have something. For the rest of the day, if you're eating enough food and you are in ketosis then you shouldn't be hungry between meals. But if you are hungry, eat something. (Hard boiled eggs make a great snack.)

After the first two weeks of Bootcamp we will relax this, but these two weeks are critical in terms of helping you switch easily to a low-carb way of eating - and if you start to feel hungry, it makes things much harder. Eating this way should ensure your blood sugar levels remain stable, which will mean you're much less likely to feel hungry.

A typical high-carbohydrate diet often means that snacking is a routine part of your day. Once your blood sugar levels are stable, by eating low-carb, you should find you no longer want to snack. But the rule of thumb here is 'if you are hungry, eat!'. (Just make sure you're choosing low-carb snacks.)

2. Avoid processed food

Focus on pure, natural protein as the basis for your meals - that means meat, fish and eggs. Things like sausages, bacon, pre-prepared burgers, Pepperami etc should be avoided as much as possible. You can have them, but just not every day.

Be wary of foods marketed as low carb. They often contain all manner of artificial ingredients, and sugar. Check the carb count if you are eating them, as some of them can be surprisingly high.

3. Eat lots of fat

Eating fat will not make you fat. Honestly. But it will keep your appetite satisfied and sustain your body's energy requirements. Fat does not provoke an insulin spike, unlike carbs, which do (a lot) and protein (a little).

Fry in butter, add butter to vegetables, eat salad with a home-made vinaigrette dressing (not made with balsamic vinegar though, as this is too sweet), add mayonnaise where you can (just check the carb count on your mayo first).

Eat fattier cuts of meat - eg pork belly, roast chicken with the skin on and/or eat the fat off your lamb chops. Absolutely no low fat/light foods of any kind.

4. Eat vegetables and salads

This is where your carbs should come from, and this is non-negotiable. But choose only those vegetables that are on the 'allowed' list (see further down page). Make sure that you focus on eating vegetables that are 3g carb per 100g or less, and this will ensure that your carb counts are kept low.

You don't have to weigh or count carbs - this is one of the great joys of this WOE (way of eating), but if you're new to low carbing it can be helpful to weigh your portions of veg in the early days, just so you know how many carbs are in the sort of portions you like to eat.

5. Be careful about dairy (apart from butter, which is unlimited)

Dairy can impede weight loss for some people. If you are still drinking tea and coffee with milk or cream, try to restrict yourself to max two cups a day. There are a lot of carbs in milk, so if you're having several cups of tea/coffee each day, you will quickly rack up your daily carb count (eg 1 medium latte contains more than 12g carbs).

Full-fat yoghurt is the best way to include dairy in your diet, but beware, it does contain carbs. Total Full Fat is the best in terms of carb count.

6. Drink a minimum of 2 litres of water a day

Your weight Litres 

The more weight you have to lose, the more water you should drink. This guide is from Low-carbdiet.co.uk. Water is essential to weight loss for those who eat low-carb.

High levels of ketones in the blood stream can lead to a reduction in ketone production, so being well hydrated could help in keeping the levels low and ketone production ongoing.

Consuming enough water can have many other positive side-effects: it helps your kidneys process protein, reduces water retention, helps prevent constipation and reduces the levels of ketones released in your breath.

But drinking a lot of water can mean that you also need to keep an eye on your electrolyte balance. You need to make sure you are consuming sufficient sodium and potassium.

Cook with salt and add salt to food, if you like it. Good, low-carb sources of potassium are spinach (raw), avocado, mushrooms, courgettes and asparagus, as well as salmon and yoghurt.

7. No alcohol

Alcohol is the easiest source of fuel for the body to burn, so it will always use this first before it starts to burn any fat, which is why you need to restrict it, especially in the first two weeks of Bootcamp.

If you really can't do this, at least try to restrict drinking alcohol to the weekend. Vodka with soda is the best thing to drink. Or Champagne, red wine or dry white wine.

8. No fruit

Really. Seriously. Honestly. None at all. Zilch. Nada.

After Bootcamp you will be able to re-introduce certain fruits, but at this stage fruit is simply too carby. It's also about breaking the addiction to sweet things, so cutting fruit out is part of this process. If you're getting all your carbs from vegetables and salad, you will be getting all the nutrients and fibre you need.

9. No nuts or seeds

When you move into Bootcamp light, these are really good to snack on later. But it can be too easy to start snacking on nuts and seeds, and before you know it, all your carbs have gone on nuts. Don't do it to yourself.

10. No sugar or artificial sweeteners

Sugar is an obvious no-no, but artificial sweeteners are also an issue. One of the aims of this way of eating is to eat pure and natural foods, so including artificial sweeteners is not recommended.

Some people find that artificial sweeteners can impede their weight loss, and there is some suggestion that your body can respond to sweeteners as if they were sugar, by releasing more insulin, and in turn storing fat.

Given that the aim of Bootcamp is to help you lose your sweet tooth and addiction to sweet things, it's a good idea to avoid sweeteners altogether in this first two weeks. 

Bootcamp light: the rules

Allowed vegetables (carb count per 100g)

This is the list of veg allowed on Bootcamp. Try to eat veg and salad which are 3g or fewer carbs per 100g.
  • Asparagus 1.4
  • Aubergine 2.8
  • Avocado flesh 1.9
  • Baby sweet corn 2.7
  • Bean sprouts 2.5
  • Beetroot 9.5
  • Broad beans 11.7
  • Broccoli 1.1
  • Brussels sprouts 3.5
  • Butternut squash 7.5
  • Cabbage 5
  • Carrots 2.5
  • Carrots 6
  • Cauliflower 1.9
  • Celeriac 2.3
  • Celery 0.9
  • Chillies 9.5
  • Courgettes 1.8
  • Cucumber 1.5
  • Fennel 1.8
  • French beans 4.7
  • Garlic 16.3
  • Ginger (peeled) 7.2
  • Green pepper 2.6
  • Leeks 2.9
  • Lettuce 1.7
  • Mangetout 3.3
  • Mushrooms 0.4
  • Okra 3
  • Onions 7.9
  • Orange or red pepper 6.4
  • Parsnips 12.5
  • Peas (frozen) 9.7
  • Potato 15.7
  • Pumpkin 2.2
  • Runner beans 2.3
  • Shallots 3.3
  • Spinach 0.8
  • Spring onions 1.6
  • Swede 2.3
  • Tomato 3.1
  • Turnip 2
  • Watercress 0.4
  • Yellow pepper 5.3

1. Eat when you're hungry - if you're not hungry, don't eat

In Bootcamp, you should have been eating three meals a day, so that your blood sugar is regulated and stable.

Having achieved that, you can now relax this a little bit. If you find you're not hungry, which often happens because ketosis suppresses your appetite, then don't force yourself to eat.

But don't let yourself get so hungry that you make inappropriate choices. Always make sure you have plenty of low-carb food to hand.

2. Avoid processed food

As on strict Bootcamp, focus on pure, natural protein as the basis for your meals - meat, fish, eggs. You can include processed meats such as bacon or (low-carb) sausages, smoked salmon, smoked mackerel and gammon, but don't have these at every meal, or every day. As well as being highly processed, they can add unnecessary extra carbs into your diet, and often include sugar.

3. Eat lots of fat

Eating fat helps to keep you feeling fuller for longer. Fry in butter, add butter to vegetables, add mayonnaise where you can (but check its carb count first). Eat fattier cuts of meat. Avoid low-fat or 'light' foods of any kind

4. Get the bulk of your carbohydrates from vegetables and salad

But choose only vegetables on the 'allowed' list. Be aware that some of the veg on the allowed list can be surprisingly high in carbs once you make up a portion; this is because they are denser, and so you tend to use more (compare, for example, 100g onion with 100g lettuce).

Try to opt for veg with 3g carbs per 100g and use these as the focus of your meals. Use those with more than 3g per 100g sparingly.

5. Eat some dairy

Aim to include plenty of butter in your diet. Fry with it and add it to your vegetables. If you know that dairy doesn't impede your weight loss you can eat cheese, but don't overdo it.

If you've been cutting out tea and coffee, you can reintroduce this, but be careful how much milk you end up drinking. You can end up adding a lot of extra carbs this way.

6. Drink a minimum of 2 litres of water a day

Even if you're drinking more tea and coffee than in strict Bootcamp, this is still a non-negotiable part of this WOE. And the more weight you have to lose, the more water you should drink.

Water helps to flush out the ketones your body will produce. But drinking this amount of water can affect your electrolyte balance, so make sure you get plenty of sodium, magnesium and potassium.

There is less need to worry about restricting salt if you're eating a low-carb diet. Good sources of potassium are salmon and avocado, and spinach is a good source of magnesium. You could also consider supplements if you have an issue with your electrolyte balance.

7. You can drink alcohol

But restrict this to once or twice a week maximum. Vodka with soda is the best choice, followed by Champagne, red wine or dry white wine. Absolutely no beer/lager, cider, liqueurs, cocktails or full-sugar mixers.

You can drink spirits with artificial sweeteners, but remember you're attempting to avoid all things artificial. And be aware that even if you're following a low-carb diet absolutely to the letter, including alcohol can prevent weight loss.

8. You can eat some fruit

Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and rhubarb are all fine, but once a day at the very most, and keep an eye on portion sizes. These are the carb counts:

- 0.8g carbs per 100g (but don't forget you will need to sweeten this, and not with sugar!)
Blackberries - 4.4g carbs per 100g
Raspberries - 4.6g carbs per 100g
Strawberries - 6g carbs per 100g 

9. You can eat some nuts and seeds

Nuts/seeds can make a good snack, but it is incredibly easy to overdo them and then end up eating your bodyweight in carbs. As an occasional snack they're great, but keep it occasional and keep the portions to a small handful at most.

Roasted, salted macadamias are not only delicious, but they are also very low in carbs. Here are some carb counts, but check the back of packets to be sure:

Pistachios - 4.6g carbs per 100g
Macadamias - 4.8g carbs per 100g
Pecans - 5.8g carbs per 100g
Almonds - 6.9g carbs per 100g
Peanuts - 7.1 g carbs per 100g
Cashews - 18.1g carbs per 100g

10. Avoid artificial sweeteners

The aim of Bootcamp is to help reduce the stranglehold sugar has on you. But it does make some things difficult, eg desserts at meals out, and it's undeniably enjoyable, occasionally, to eat something sweet. But restrict sweet treats - for some people, artificial sweeteners appear to impede weight loss.

And finally, if you're searching for carb counts of particular foods on the internet,be aware that they can vary considerably according to different sources. If in doubt, don't eat it.

Useful books on low-carb dieting


Image: Shutterstock

Disclaimer: The information on our diet and fitness pages is only intended as an informal guide and should not be treated as a substitute for medical advice. Mumsnet would urge you to consult your GP before you begin any diet if you're concerned about your weight, have existing health conditions and/or are taking medication.

Last updated: over 1 year ago