How many of us in the low-carb world have heard, “I can’t eat that way. It’s too expensive!”? And how many of us have argued that it’s not expensive if you choose the right foods and plan carefully? I know I’ve made those arguments. Last week though, a dear friend and I were talking, and it occurred to me. Low-carb eating IS expensive — until it’s not.
No, I’m not trying to be witty. And actually, the “answer” wouldn’t have occurred to me had I not been struggling myself right now. And like I told my friend, it all boils down to being fat-adapted AND having seen results that keep you pushing through the tough times.
See, I think a lot of long-time low-carbers forget about what it’s like to start out. In the beginning, you’re trying to establish new habits AND you’re trying to detox from the carbs. The transition to “fat burner” from “sugar burner” isn’t easy, and that alone can sink you.
So how does that affect the cost of your food? Well, it’s like this. When you first start on a low-carb eating plan, it’s wise to surround yourself with healthy choices. But since you’re not yet fat-adapted, it can take a higher volume of food to get things moving, and those foods cost more. For instance, I could buy 96 ounces of ice cream for less than the price of a 12 ounce ribeye. Now I’m not saying that you have to live off ribeyes, but junk calories ARE cheaper than real foods — at first.
I would definitely agree that a well-formulated low-carb, high-fat diet is cheaper once you’re 1) fat adapted and 2) practiced with food prep and meal planning. Let me illustrate.
While in nutritional ketosis, I would have a meal of scrambled eggs with veggies and cream. Then, in the evening, I’d eat something like a chicken thigh. That food met my nutritional requirements, I wasn’t hungry, and it cost me about $2.76. On a carb binge day though, I could easily eat 48 ounces of ice cream, a package of flour tortillas, a can of refried beans, and some butter and brown sugar and cinnamon for tortillas that weren’t used for bean burritos. That’d cost close to $6.
So at that point, clearly, low-carb is cheaper. I need less food, and I’m not feeding an ever-present carb beast. In the beginning though, before I’m fat adapted, my food needs might look more like this. Bacon and eggs for breakfast, a burger and tossed salad for lunch, a snack of cheese and pepperoni, steak, steamed veg, and more salad for supper, and “cheesecake” for dessert or another snack. That day’s worth of food could cost upwards of $8, and when you’re worried about your food budget, the thought of spending that much money in the beginning can be off-putting.
Now, as a veteran in the low-carb world, when I find myself off track, I worry about the cost from a different perspective. See, I know that in the end, not only is my daily food cheaper, but medical expenses and clothing costs are lessened too. The problem is, if you find yourself getting back on track in the midst of financial uncertainty, it’s natural to worry about continuing to stay on track long enough to get into ketosis. That’s what I’m struggling with right now.
Getting through the initial carb detox is the hardest part, and that DOES take more money. Once you’re in ketosis though, once you’re eating much less and once your results are showing you that you can’t go back, it’s easy to spend less money on a daily basis.
I guess what makes low-carb hard in lean times is the fact that food banks and friends will share foods that are useless to a low-carber. And to be honest, I haven’t completely figured out a good work-around there. It’s easy to say, “Give that food to family members that aren’t low-carbing and keep your head down,”, but when you have issues with food like I do, that can be particularly tough. After all, if you’re an alcoholic, you don’t need alcohol to live. But it’s not like you can just quit eating if you have an unhealthy addiction to food. It’s a little more complicated than that.
All the usual rules still apply for low-carb on the cheap, but I do think it’s worth acknowledging that it CAN be more expensive in the beginning, but it doesn’t have to be that way forever.