Tim Ferriss provides 5 rules that are necessary to be compliant with a slow carb diet. While the rules are simple, the diet itself is not necessarily “easy”. Below are some common mistakes on the slow carb diet that can slow you down on your fat loss journey. Most of them also apply to keto diets

Why is the Slow Carb Diet so Popular Anyway?

Avocados, beans and salsa for slow carb lunch
Avocados, beans and salsa for slow carb lunch

There is more than one answer to this question, but in my opinion it has become popular because it is simple and easy to follow (and because of cheat day of course!).

I have personally tried other diets in the past, but many of them were hard to follow. Some of them required unusual ingredients, others precise combinations, and others were simply unbearably boring.

The Slow Carb Diet uses the principles of the 80/20 Rule to focus on the few things that cause the highest impact.

For example, in the context of the Slow Carb Diet, having a high protein “first meal” that avoids sugar, flour, and dairy is a relatively small change that can have a huge impact on weight loss.

16 Most Common Mistakes on the Slow Carb Diet (applies to Keto also)

#1 Having carbs for breakfast rather than protein and fat

It is not uncommon for people to think they can have “healthy oatmeal” or fruit and not pay the price. This is particularly true with habitual bagel & cereal eaters. Eat a high protein breakfast – it makes a BIG difference.

#2 Not Eating Beans/Legumes

This is a very common mistake, mainly because if you are coming from a high-carb diet and go to a high-protein-low-carb diet, you will automatically eat much fewer calories.  Often times this will lead to fatigue and tiredness and you will quit.  Legumes have a lot of fiber and protein and because of this they are a “slow carb” that can offer a form of energy that will not spike your insulin levels like a refined carb.  

You don’t need beans with every meal, in fact too many beans can stall your diet, as they are fairy dense in calories. I’ve found about a cup per day to be optimal for most.  Monitor yourself and if you end up getting fatigued, up the quantity of beans in your day.

 #3 Not paying Attention to Domino Foods

Keep Domino Foods under control (foods that may easily lead to overeating) by deciding on the size of each portion in advance.  There is nothing wrong with occasional snacks of compliant foods, just keep a close eye on the size of the portions.  Domino foods include nuts, peanut butter, chickpeas, olives, etc.  Nuts are a particularly common culprit in weight loss stalls.

#4 Not Getting Enough Sleep

Sleep deprivation can lead to gaining weight because of the hormonal imbalance it causes.  The hormones leptin and ghrelin regulate your hunger, and lack of sleep can play havoc with these hormones.  In addition, lack of sleep leads to emotional instability which often leads to bad decisions regarding food.

#5 Not Drinking Enough Water

“Enough” water is based on the individual; how much you sweat, how much protein you’re eating, how much you exercise, etc. The common number cited is eight glasses a day, but that is fairly arbitrary. A more compelling guidepost would be five clear urinations a day. Sorry for the TMI.

#6 Getting Off on the Wrong Foot

You don’t have to take a college class to understand low-carb eating, but you do need to understand where hidden carbs are lurking.  Learn to read labels, focusing on two things: grams of sugar and grams of carbs.

#7 Giving Up Too Quickly

There are lots of different approaches to low-carb or slow-carb eating, and there are often missteps at first, as you try to find one that works for you, or to modify an existing one.

There is a tendency to over-react a bit when everything doesn’t go quickly or perfectly, and give up. Don’t give up. At a minimum you need 6 weeks of being totally compliant before throwing up your hands and saying it doesn’t work.

#8 Not Enough Vegetables

People tell me they get tired and fatigued eating a diet lower in carbs, and it turns out they are eating almost no vegetables or beans.  It is not an “all-protein” diet. You need the micronutrients that come from vegetables.

#9 Not Enough Fat

This can be a real problem also. Despite some effort to get out the word about healthy fats, the unscientific myths regarding the negative aspects of fat just won’t die. This leads some to attempt a low-fat version of a low-carb diet. Low fat and low carb together does not work.   Nothing will sabotage a diet faster than hunger and you will get hungry without some good fats.  

High fat and high carb doesn’t work either by the way.  Slow carb is a high-protein-moderate-fat-low-carb diet.

#10 Not Enough Fiber

Eating enough vegetables will go a long way towards ensuring you are getting enough fiber in your diet.

#11 Eating Too Much

It’s true that you don’t have to count calories on a slow-carb diet. But that doesn’t mean calories don’t count.  The great thing about slow-carb eating is that protein and fat are satiating and you don’t get as hungry as quickly as you do when eating high carb.  

Some people make the mistake, however, of thinking they can just keep eating and eating and still lose weight as long as the food is slow-carb.  

Listen to your body–eat when you are hungry, and stop when you are comfortable.  In fact, it takes about 20 minutes for your body to register “full”, so push yourself away from the table when 80% full, wait a bit and then if you are still hungry later come back for more.  Chances are you won’t be.

# 12 Lack of Planning

When you first start out on a new way of eating, you’ll run into old “‘habits” that need to be changed to new healthier ones. No longer can you mindlessly hit the drive-thru or snack on chips and dip while watching TV. This is a good thing.

Pausing to re-consider our habits is a constructive step towards making improvements in our lives (*note: read Gretchen Rubin’s “Better Than Before” book for strategies to change habits). In the case of eating, it’s important to plan ahead for a while, until our new habits come naturally.

Nothing will sabotage your goals more quickly than realizing that you’re hungry but you don’t know what to eat. You’ll reach for the most convenient thing you can find, and that is often a readily available, high carb snack.

#13 Getting into a Rut

Tim Ferriss talks about eating the same thing over and over as a strategy (actually it’s one of his 5 rules) for weight loss.  This works well for a while, but eventually people get bored and start looking for variety. 

This way of eating should be viewed as a lifestyle change rather than a diet and eating the same things over and over can help you achieve your weight loss goals, but not necessarily “maintain” them unless you add variety to your diet. 

A varied diet is also better nutritionally.  Basically, what helps here the most is learn to cook.  Most dishes can be modified to decrease carbs.

#14 Problem Ingredients in “Low-Carb” Packaged Foods

Many protein bars and many “health drinks” are loaded with sugar and carbs.  Learn to read labels and give a cautious look towards products that talk about “net carbs” or “impact carbs”.  Be wary of “sugar free” products if they have things like maltitol in them (a sugar replacement that is just as bad as sugar).

#15 Carb Creep

Set a personal carb limit that works for you and if the scale starts to creep up more than 3 pounds, pay attention.  Pay attention to the candy jar at work, to the “just a little sugar in my coffee”, to the “well, just this little bit can’t hurt” self-talk.  Carb creep is subtle and can become a vicious cycle.  If you notice carb creep, start over for a few days to a week with the strict protocol.

#16  No Exercise

While you don’t really need to exercise to lose weight at the beginning of the diet, at some point you will need to build some muscle to keep your metabolism high and maintain the weight loss.  

Resistance training of some sort, coupled with some high intensity interval training is the quickest way to build muscle and lose weight.  There are many different forms of this type of exercise.  Choose something that fits your lifestyle and that you can stick with in the long run….just make sure a part of your regime includes some resistance or strength exercises.

If you have a YMCA near you, they offer a huge range of resistance, cardio and mobility classes. What I like about their classes is that many of them have been standardized by long term professionals and then given to the various instructors to learn and incorporate. You don’t have to rely on the whims or belief systems of the different trainers (they tend to vary a lot and can be quite dogmatic).

Many of these mistakes on the slow carb diet actually apply to most of the low carb approaches that are currently popular. If you are not sure which type of diet approach is best for you, this post may help you decide. It is a summary of the pros and cons of keto vs. slow carb vs. low carb.


  1. michalakozinovagmailcom on November 5, 2019 at 11:01 am

    Great article!

  2. jackieschwabe on November 5, 2019 at 9:53 am

    Glad you added exercise there at the end.

    • dorothy stainbrook on November 5, 2019 at 9:56 am

      Yes, exercise is important for health and longevity, but for fat loss diet and sleep are the biggest bang for the buck

  3. Scott Maderer on November 5, 2019 at 8:19 am

    For me water and vegetables are the most challenging areas to hit daily…

    • dorothy stainbrook on November 5, 2019 at 9:27 am

      Water is the tough one for me also Scott. Really important on a high protein diet however, as protein is a diuretic. Vegetables seems to be challenging for most people. Both figuring out how to cook them and also making them tasty is the challenge. I’m trying to focus on vegetable recipes in 2020 so stay tuned.

  4. Tristen Jones on October 7, 2019 at 3:16 pm

    Good ideas for me to consider. Trying to get more veggies in my life

  5. jackieschwabe on October 7, 2019 at 9:27 am

    Seems not drinking enough water is the issue in lots of diets. 🙂 . Thank you for sharing the details.

    • dorothy stainbrook on October 7, 2019 at 9:35 am

      Yes, although it is even more important with high protein diets, as a lot of protein can have diuretic properties and it is critical to replenish the water.

  6. Gwen Riedl on August 9, 2019 at 6:09 pm

    Dorothy, I love your articles. They are full of good information and I always learn a lot.

  7. Christi on August 3, 2017 at 6:09 am

    I’m very confused about the difference between keto and slow carb diets. Is a slow carb diet a form of a keto diet? Why is a cheat day workable on slow carb but not advised on keto I’d weight loss is the goal?

    • dorothy stainbrook on August 7, 2017 at 12:53 pm

      They are different ways of eating. Both are considered low carb. Keto is much lower in carbs and higher in fat and does not include a cheat day or beans. The goal of keto is primarily focused on health and reversing inflammatory disease and help people with insulin resistance. It does usually result in fat loss also. Slow carb is more focused on bringing a healthy, sustainable way of eating into your life that will result in fat loss.

  8. Judi Abraham on June 5, 2017 at 9:03 pm

    Can I snack on skinny pop while on the slow carb diet?

    • dorothy stainbrook on July 19, 2017 at 3:04 pm

      Well….it is not compliant if you follow the rules strictly. That said, it is not horrible either if you need a transition snack. If your daily sugar and carbs are pretty low (less than 100 grams carbs and less than 25 grams sugar), you are probably OK with a little skinny pop. Strict slow carbers would call that heresy however.

  9. Heather Pollard on May 8, 2017 at 5:45 am

    I gained 4 pounds in my first “cheat day” it’s one day after and feeling discouraged. I have done everything to the plan except the beans. I have enough energy without hand I am getting my protein with meat and or eggs and veggies is this ok or do I have to eat beans (I hate beans ) lol

    • dorothy stainbrook on May 11, 2017 at 12:57 pm

      Hi Heather, To answer your questions I would have to see your food diary for a couple of weeks and get a better idea of your history, etc. That is really a coaching question. The questions I can answer here on the blog are just questions about the diet in general. There could by a number of different variables that are stalling your weight loss. You could also go over the the Q and A section of the coach.me site and get some free support there. There is a community of people on slow carb and they are pretty supportive and offer ideas. The site is https://www.coach.me

  10. Michael Wald on May 4, 2017 at 10:36 am

    Nice article. Your writing style makes it a breeze to read (no annoyingly fluffy intro paragraph). My questions is on adding enough fat. Do you have any tips on adding fats to the diet? How much, and what kinds? What has worked best for you? Thanks!

    • dorothy stainbrook on May 4, 2017 at 11:20 am

      Hi Michael! Thanks for the comments on writing style. Basically I’m just not that interesting to add in the personal notes, and whenever I am looking for info on the internet, I like to get to it pretty quickly, so I try to write that way also 🙂

      Re fat: Fat has lost the negative stigma it used to have towards health (even saturated fats). The only fats that are truly unhealthy are the trans fats (margarine, etc.). With respect to slow carb, it is a high protein – moderate fat – low carb way of eating. The fats that are listed in the book as compliant include: butter, some heavy whipping cream for coffee, avocados, olive oil, fatty/oily fish, full fat cottage cheese and a few other things. Depending on your strictness with slow carb and how low you go in carbs, you can also add in aged hard cheeses. Ketogenic diets are high fat – moderate protein – very low low carbs and with those diets you can add a lot more fat. Just be sure and avoid high fat together with high carb. That is the Standard American Diet that has got us into so much trouble with diabetes and obesity.

    • Christi on August 3, 2017 at 6:10 am

      I agree. Loved the info, delivery and flow!

  11. isap on September 23, 2016 at 11:13 am

    I started on Aug 29th…the first week I lost close to 4 pounds…by Sept 19th in the a.m. I was close 7 pounds down; however, this week it’s going the opposite direction. I feel so discouraged! I am not eating anything I am not allowed to during the 6 days; what I have a problem with is eating within the 30 minutes of waking up on the days I work out….I have to get up at 4:45 a.m. In your experience, do you have to eat legumes in the first meal? I found a protein powder made of fava beans and lentils; which I use in my protein shake; and I wonder if maybe it’s too much? How many grams of protein should we consume? Thank you!

    • dorothy stainbrook on September 27, 2016 at 1:08 pm

      Hi Marta, Based on my personal experience and my coaching experience, I no longer believe in or comply with the 30 grams protein within 30 minutes waking. It seems to be much more effective to eat when you are hungry and don’t eat when you are not hungry. That said, the first meal of the day should be as few of carbs as possible. I would not eat legumes in the first meal. Aim for around 20 grams of protein, some fat and only incidental carbs in the first meal. The legumes are there for the purpose of keeping fatigue away when you are only eating protein and veggies. I also would not use a protein shake with fava beans and lentils. Ferriss recommends a whey isolate protein shake and that is what I have seen be most effective.

  12. Paula C DiPaola on September 11, 2016 at 8:32 am

    I have been so faithful to this. 5 months, 20 to 30 carbs a day and I have hit a plateau for one month. So discouraged!

    • dorothy stainbrook on September 14, 2016 at 11:17 am

      Hi Paula, Plateaus can indeed be very discouraging. Every diet eventually hits a plateau. With respect to low carb diets, there are several things you can do. Sometimes you just have to wait it out, sometimes you need to tweek a few things that your body doesn’t respond well to (i.e., nuts) and sometimes you have to go to a more robust plan like a ketogenic diet (higher in fat, lower in protein). Your body can only use so much protein and if you are getting too much protein it may be turning into glucose through gluconeogenesis. The best way to tell is to get on an app called myfitnesspal.com and monitor closely and then start problem solving (tweeking). Hope that helps.

  13. […] on the Slow Carb Diet". I don't know if any of these apply to you but you can check it out: http://farmtojar.com/recipes/slo…low-carb-diet/. She does mention "carb creep" in #15 and setting a carb limit but not a carb count, and […]

  14. Chris Best on May 8, 2015 at 10:31 am

    These are very helpful. One thing that is helping me is to be aware of my feelings and attitude rather than trying to get better and happy right away. This helps to keep me motivated. When I try to change my mood too quickly I become disappointed or frustrated and can make it into a bigger thing than it needs to be.
    Usually my sleep is connected to the feelings.
    I am a little tired today.
    I have lost 12 pounds in 5 weeks.
    Thanks for your excellent resource.

  15. Steve on May 8, 2015 at 9:19 am

    Dorothy, great article. Thanks.

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