Sunday, January 10, 2016

The VLC Diet Works (Except When It Doesn't)

Over five years ago, I encountered the idea of using a very-low-carb (VLC) diet to prevent hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), severe nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. To summarize my experience succinctly,

I tried it. It worked.

But things are rarely so cut and dried in this world, and there have been a few snags - for myself and others. Today I'm going to take a moment to discuss a few of those snags.

Let's dive in!

(1) We're still in testing stages. 

One experimental success does not a study make! We have yet to see if this diet (added to the other dietary changes I've made) will contribute to a truly changed health history (changing from all hyperemetic pregnancies to all non-hyperemetic).

There's also the issue of mild v. severe hyperemesis. By comparison, the HG that I get is mild. Success with mild HG does not necessarily extrapolate to guaranteed success with severe HG (though the original experiment of using the VLC diet for HG prevention was, indeed, done with a woman who suffered from severe HG).

(2) The VLC can cause amenorrhea.

I have heard from two women (both very thin women) that use of the VLC women completely stopped their menstrual cycles.

Okay, that's one way to prevent HG.

But in all seriousness, a diet can't be used to help a pregnancy condition if it prevents pregnancy in the first place.

I have not experienced any amenorrhea due to use of the VLC diet. However, I am not very thin (*sigh*). This would probably be more of an issue for women who are teetering on the edge of not having enough body fat to sustain female fertility.

I have also read several authors who opine that carbohydrates are absolutely essential for female fertility. A VLC diet may impair fertility in some or all women - it's at least a possibility.

I have also spoken with one woman who told me that a VLC diet drastically reduced her breastmilk supply, and she was forced to abandon it while nursing. That's another issue to consider. (I have used the VLC diet several times while breastfeeding and haven't experienced this, but others may.)

(3) The diet has not worked for everyone.

I have given the VLC diet sheets out to many, many women. Most I haven't heard back from. But I have heard of two women for whom the diet did not work in HG-prevention (one I heard from personally, one I heard of via a mutual friend).

Of course, I can't vouch for any of the details. One of the prerequisites is that the diet must be followed faithfully for at least two full cycles before conception to correct insulin regulation. I don't know how these sweet mamas used the diet. But the fact remains that it may not work for everyone.

My guess is that HG has multiple causes. I have heard of all of the following being underlying causes (proven) for HG:

- Thyroid disease
- Copper deficiency
- Adrenal fatigue
- H. pylori infection

I would think it very possible that some women may have multiple underlying causative factors contributing to their HG. If there's enough working against a woman, diet alone might not be good enough. That's why I believe that one of the best things we HG mamas can do for pre-conception HG prevention is to work on our other health problems (fatigue! allergies! female issues!) that might be leaking over into pregnancy problems.

(3) Difficulties with the VLC diet

As I've continued to read about nutrition, I have found two distinct camps of opinion regarding carb-restricted diets. In summary:

Camp #1

  • Carbs are absolutely essential for health, especially for women, specifically in the arenas of reproductive, thyroid, and adrenal health.*
  • Ketosis is harmful to the body. 

Camp #2
  • Carbs are not an essential nutrient, and it's better to avoid them or severely limit them.*
  • Ketosis is not only healthy, but preferable to carb-burning, and can be used to manage and heal various disease states. 

Honestly, it's hard to pick between the camps, because both present very convincing evidence.

There is a third camp, which is where I think I find myself:

Camp #3

  • Low-carb diets are good for some people in some circumstances. They are not for everyone all the time. 

In other words, low-carb diets can be incredibly healing, especially for those of us who grew up on the inflammatory, disease-causing low-fat high-carb diet. But that doesn't mean that a strict very-low-carb diet is a good thing all the time, for all people, in all seasons. 

I've spent considerable time in both the low-fat and low-carb camps. Here's what I've experienced:

  • The low-fat diet was easier to maintain, because it doesn't require eliminating food groups. 
  • BUT it was extremely unhealthy. I didn't realize until I got out of it how many of my health problems (fatigue, acne, joint pain, seasonal allergies) were due to a low-fat high-carb diet. 

  • I have experienced a lot of health benefits from going high-fat low-carb - namely, the elimination of the health problems mentioned above. There is no doubt in my mind that low-carb is healthier than low-fat. 
  • BUT very-low-carb is very difficult to maintain, being that it requires the elimination of entire food groups (fruit, beans, grains, starchy vegetables, sugars, most dairy). 
  • Additionally, I have noticed that my weight loss has stalled (for years) about 20 pounds higher than I would like to be. Some books have noted that the body does not like to be corralled into only one fuel type for the long-term, and that may be what I'm experiencing. 

My basic conclusion is that very-low-carb is healthier than low-fat - but harder to maintain over the long-term, and possibly not even healthy as a long-term strategy. It certainly isn't too practical or pleasant.

Also, I have found that carb cravings and the temptation to cheat never really go away. While I have indeed heard from many hardcore low-carb fans that they no longer desire sugar, grains, or carbs at all, that is not my experience. In my experience, the desire to eat carbs is ever-present. It's a constant exercise in rigorous self-control. Lately I have found that I can only make it three to four days before blowing it, because the carb cravings really get me down. At this point, I'm really not sure if the diet would even benefit me during a pregnancy because my track record in sticking to it lately has been so incredibly bad. 

A diet that requires strict self-discipline and self-denial is not practical in the long run. (I know any low-carbers out there will disagree with me, which is fine. That's just my experience.)

Yes, I did go an entire year without carbs. I've done it. I've been hardcore. But the only thing that made that possible was an intense amount of fear (of recurring hyperemesis). Without that motivation, I'm finding it very difficult to maintain. 

What do I conclude?

The VLC diet has its uses. It definitely worked (in conjunction with other methods) to prevent HG in our last pregnancy. But it's not for everyone, it can have negative side-effects, and it's very difficult to maintain. I certainly don't intend to keep it up longer than I have to.

Thoughts, anyone?

And to any low-carb people out there, I would love-love-love to hear any tips for battling carb cravings. Bring on the diet advice.

* I know that in the above post I have somewhat confused "low carb" and "very low carb" diets. I ask the reader's forgiveness!

* Notes:

Here are a few articles to browse -

From Camp #1 (Low-Carb = Bad) and Camp #3 (Low-Carb is good sometimes for some people but not all times for all people)

From the Camp #2 ("Low Carb = Good")


  1. I love the THM Plan! I find myself eating lots of FP (high protein, little carbs and fat) and S meals (High fat, protein and little carbs) :) Right now I'm eating a bowl of popcorn, lol so that's an E meal. :)

    I believe that once my body is stable as stable as can be, my pregnanices won't be as tough. The thought of having another HG pregnancy is a big motivator for healthy eating and supplementing. I'm also going to go as organic as I can.. (as the budget gives) and I have just put an order in for "grass finished" beef. I'm sure the quality of the meats we eat, affect the endocrine system too, which who knows, can have a huge impact on us HG women???

    Do you think I could take colloidal silver while nursing for the h.pylori?


    1. Oh, boy am I excited about THM! It's so neat. And it has the variety my diet has NOT had these past few years. I am - reluctantly - sticking with the VLC diet, but I'm going to start learning THM S and FP meals and snacks to start getting some fun and variety.

      I think preparing for pregnancy is awesome, and it's 90% diet. I look forward to reading about your adventures!!

      I have taken colloidal silver both while nursing and while pregnant, with no known ill effects. Both my midwife and "Dr. Google" were okay with it. It does make me nervous, since it's a metal, so I just try not to overdo it. Check out an article I'm going to post tomorrow - she has a very developed h. pylori protocol:

      Cheers, Cathy! :)


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