Tuesday, June 07, 2011
I've switched my body to a different type of fuel.
For many years, I understood that our bodies prefer glucose from carbohydrates. When we eat carbohydrates, they all break down into glucose. Whole wheat or white, it becomes glucose. If you eat a teaspoon of sugar, it breaks down into glucose. Our brains love glucose.
I was so scared of the low carb diets because I was told that it deprives your body of glucose, and shuts down. Well, this is only partially true. It does indeed deprive your body of glucose. But here's what I didn't know. Your liver is capable of producing all the glucose you need. In the absence of glucose from carbohydrates, fat and protein can be converted to glucose. This glucose is then used by our brain and other organs.
So in the absence of glucose, what do we use for fuel? Ketones. Ketones are the by-product of when your liver and kidney converts stored body fat. Your brain and all other organs will run on ketones, when there is no glucose. Your body CAN use either. If we couldn't, there would be NO point in the body storing fat for energy during fast and famine. The minute glucose was unavailable, we'd drop dead like a car out of gas.
Since I carry more bodyfat than I should, what I have done is simply rearranged my food so I switch from running primarily on glucose, to mostly running on ketones.
I am not doing an Atkins style low carb, where the goal is to get your body running 100% on ketones. I'm not sure what my fuel mix is, but I've structured it so I get a small amount of glucose, then let my body dip into ketones to make up the difference for my energy needs.
We've often heard about how low carb forces the body to go into starvation mode.
This is true.
Wait, wait. Stay with me! Yes, it is true. The body burns ketones when it is starving. However, IF you eat the right amount of protein and fat, your body will burn ketones, but it will NOT consume your muscle tissue. It will use the incoming protein instead. I trick my body into burning stored fat like it was famine, but there is plenty of incoming calories. I am not nutritionally starved.
The body requires amino acids from protein in order to function. If you were to suddenly stop eating, your body would create ketones, AND consume your lean muscle tissue for the amino acids. It will eat itself.
If you stop eating carbohydrates so there's no incoming glucose, BUT eat a good amount of protein and fat (fat is required!!), then your body will produce ketones, and break down the incoming protein for the amino acids. It will leave your muscles alone. In some cases, it will take the extra protein and actually add to your muscle mass!
This is how Eskimos, Mongolians, and Masai people can eat diets of 80% protein and fat.
What this means is, instead of running on sugar, I am running on fat. If you want to be a fat burner, you have to eat fat. But here's the big caveat. You can only eat mostly fat in the absence of carbohydrates! If a carb load raises your insulin, then all that incoming fat will get turned into cholesterol, triglycerides and body fat, instead of fuel.
The experts were right in that sense. Fat can indeed raise cholesterol and triglycerides, but they fail to mention that only happens in the presence of a LARGE amount of carbohydrates.
Burger, bun and french fries, anyone?
It was a REALLY big leap for me to feel comfortable eating as much fat as I have. I kept thinking about the "Omnivore's Dilemma". The part in the book where Michael Pollan discusses his hesitation and fear about eating a chanterelle mushroom he harvested. Plants have evolved many defense mechanisms to prevent being eaten by other things. Humans and rats have evolved to observe and remember whether certain foods and smell make us ill. We also observe others of our species consuming things to see if they keel over and die. Every once in a while, one of our brave will attempt to taste something, to see if it is a new tasty morsel.
It's this defense mechanism that made it really hard for me to take the leap and feel comfortable eating full fat cottage cheese, butter, and a meat portion with every meal. It's silly, but for many days, I felt guilt with the pat of butter on my broccoli. "I shouldn't be eating this," I'd think. I'd wait for like an hour after a meal, wondering if my heart would explode. Totally irrational.
Even still, I always thought it odd how we avoided fatty foods. Unprocessed foods suddenly became processed foods. Skim milk. No fat cottage cheese. Reduced fat cheese. Margarine instead of butter. Egg whites without the yolk.
So after a month trial on myself, I am running on fat. I eat vegetables and fruit for carbohydrates. No grain or starches. I increased my protein and fat to supposed "unsafe" levels. I still eat high quality protein and fat, though. Common sense. Chicken, pork, salmon, tuna, crab, shrimp, beef, eggs, etc. Not hot dogs or chicken nuggets.
If they were right, I should be getting worse, not better, right?
In one month, I have dropped my bodyfat from 38% to 32%. Something I have been unable to do for 2 years on the traditional diet.
My resting heart rate has dropped from 76bpm to 60bpm.
Here's the scoop on my exercise performance. Despite the warnings that eating fewer carbs would destroy exercise performance, I have actually got better. At least for the type of exercise I do. Take a look at my photo gallery. I am a long distance, endurance performer. I do activities that take more than one hour, or all day. Snorkeling, diving, hiking, biking, kayaking, sailing, etc, etc. Switching to fat burner has made my endurance activities EASIER.
Maybe because my heart is working more efficiently? Maybe because I have stored fat available, my body has plenty of sustained energy available? When running primarily on glucose, when I run out, I crash. We went snorkeling recently, and despite some pretty choppy waters, I never got tired or ran out of steam like I had in the past. I felt like I could go forever.
I get the same on my daily elliptical exercise. For steady state, I can sustain my rate continuously in a way that I never did before. I used to have to sustain for a little while, then slow down to recover, then start up again. Now, I can maintain continuous the entire 30 minutes (or longer). It's wonderful.
On the other hand, I have read that those who use primarily ketones for fuel do have decreased sprinting performance. Sprinters do better with glucose. Just how the body work. Glucose gives fast bursts. Ketones sustain.
I feel like I'm running on diesel.
So going back to the "Omnivore's Dilemma". I've eaten the mushroom, and I got a positive response. This encourages me to stick with it. It is true I don't know what the long term risks are. I'm hoping my high vegetable/fruit consumption will offset any potential increased cancer risks. However, I feel I am getting the right feedback to reduce my diabetes and cardiac risks.
Monday, June 06, 2011
Less ranting in this post, promise. Sorry about the doom and gloom in the last one, I'm just...yeah. Let's just leave it at that.
This morning, I am FINALLY below the 130 threshold! 129.7. I took some pictures to compare with my "before" state. Most of my change is in my belly flattening! I've got more of a "cinch" in the middle for the start of an hourglass!
So now that I feel confident that things are going the way that I want, and there's less mystery, I feel like I can actually make plans and goals again. In the back of my mind, I was always afraid I would never finish losing the weight. I would always be "FitFat".
Things are just fitting together. I can beat this!
So when I reach my goal weight of 120, I'm going to buy myself a wetsuit. I really need one, with my diving, kayaking and snorkeling. Getting stung by jellyfish while snorkeling is not fun. I need it. But I've been putting it off because I don't want to be the fat girl in a wet suit.
Oh, also need to get that wedding dress! ;)
Monday, June 06, 2011
Wow. My change in diet had some really unexpected twists.
I thought I finally figured out what was causing my weight loss issues. The whole thing about metabolic response that I've been blogging about for weeks. But it uncovered some health issues that I didn't even know were related.
I suddenly became sick last Thursday. I woke up and I had the feeling of cold/flu symptoms. I called in sick to work Thursday/Friday because I couldn't think straight.
Then I developed some thrush symptoms. A white coating on my tongue. Weird. (For the record, I am not immuno-compromised.)
I started doing some research and found something called "Atkins flu" or "low carb die-off". Apparently, a number of us are overrun with candida, and we don't even know it. High carb/high sugar diets feed candida. Overuse of antibiotics kills off natural flora that allows candida to overrun our immune systems. Many people will have unexplained illnesses like IBS. Recurrent yeast infections, obviously. Some have sugar cravings and can't lose weight. Some, like myself, don't really have any symptoms, except strange chronic symptoms like ear infections, that no one would possibly ever connect with a systemic fungal infection.
Sparker WHIPPEACHZ left a comment on one of my blogs about candida albicans. I had already found the info on the "die-off" at that point, but I dug around a bit more, and this confirmed my suspicion. Apparently what happens, when you stop feeding the fungus with sugar of any kind, they kind of go into death throes. When they die, they leave toxins (that won't kill you), but need to be eliminated by the body, making you feel miserable. They may also suddenly appear in places, attempting to find some place to survive, on the skin, or in my case, in my sinuses and my throat. This does not happen in everyone. Only people who have a large imbalance.
Apparently I am a "lucky" one.
I eliminated my grain/starch consumption drastically, which forced it out more quickly. If I had tapered back slowly, I might have had milder symptoms, and never been aware of what it was.
So now I don't think I had a cold/flu at all, but the death throes of these out of control fungus. They live on all of us. If our natural flora is working balanced, then they don't get out of hand. They are only a problem when they go out of control.
In my case, it was feeding the beast with my high carb/high sugar diet. I mentioned the use of antibiotics to handle frequent ear infections, which obviously leads to a vicious cycle. I'm hoping my dietary changes will eliminate both problems, permanently.
Obviously, this is a lifestyle change. If I go back to a high carb/high sugar diet, then I will encourage this imbalance. I had no intention of going back anyway, but this is certainly extra incentive.
Now I know what it is, I have done lots of research in how to treat it.
1. Continue to starve it of sugar - no starches/grains. I'm already doing this.
2. Gargle with apple cider vinegar. This raises the pH in my mouth - they do not like alkaline environments. Just gargling with it this morning almost immediately cleared up my sinuses. Unexpected, but welcome!
3. Cook with coconut oil. Coconut oil is a natural antifungal. This was not easy to find, but I found some at a high end organic grocery.
4. Lemon juice. Lemons are a natural antimicrobial for a lot of things.
5. Homemade yogurt. I am SO glad I learned how to make yogurt recently! I'm trying to find recipes for coconut yogurt, so I can clear up my issues (and not inflame existing) sooner.
I'm glad I already eliminated sugary drinks and candy bars a long time ago, or this infection (and cure) might be a lot worse. I think my high grain/starch diet was continuing to feed it. This may indeed be a contributor why I lost 30lbs, but my weight loss stalled.
My focus is on clearing this up. Time will tell whether I restore balance enough so that I can enjoy things like pasta occasionally. I think I am not so bad off since I have had years head start to clean up my diet. In my mind, this is clearly a medical issue, now. I cannot go back to eating a starch with every meal.
50 grams of potatoes converts in the body into the equivalent of 1/4 cup sugar. Would you serve a quarter cup sugar 3 times a day with your meals?
I'm trying not to be infuriated. I did this for years, because this was supposed to be the most healthy way to eat, and have good health.
Many Sparkers are skeptical bunches. Many are quick to jump on message board posts about weird fad diets, detoxes and cleanses as snake oil scams.
How many of these skeptics have the same skepticism for the government dietary advice? Why is 60-25-15 for carbs/fat/protein the accepted "right" way?
Do you know how pig farmers fatten hogs? They use a feed formula of 61% carbohydrates, 25% fat, and 14% protein.
This is almost identical to the USDA food pyramid.
How is this supposed to keep people slim and healthy, but adds fat to pigs for profit?
The new USDA "Food Plate" isn't much better.
I say replace that grain portion with more veggies.
Many skeptics will say this sounds like holistic, new-agey, mumbo jumbo. If I hadn't gone through this experience, I might have agreed. Heck, I did agree at one time.
What I am going through is real. I say the USDA feed lot pyramid is the junk science.
Sunday, June 05, 2011
I know I keep writing about the same topic, and I probably sound like a broken record. I can't tell you what a relief it is to finally feel like I'm the one in charge, and not some mysterious, unknown and whimsical thing.
Since I've altered my carbohydrate composition, things don't quite work in terms of the calories in/out equation for the most part. My weight doesn't drop necessarily in terms of if I eat 500 calories less per day, then I lose 2 pounds per week. There is a steady drop, but it isn't necessarily in terms of pure calorie deficits. It would be impossible to tell unless I knew what my insulin load was at any given time.
While I've been sick with a cold, I haven't worried about losing weight, obviously. It's more important that my body gets the calories it needs, builds armies of white blood cells, and kicks invaders out of my body. So I've been pampering it with good, nutritious food. I have kept my carb grams and composition the same, though. I've kept my carbs at around 70-80g made up of high volumes of veggies and fruits. No starchy carbs. High quality lean meats and nutrient packed fats like nuts. Lots of homemade veggie soups (no noodles).
The net effect is, I'm getting better rapidly. While I'm a little sniffly, I'm feeling well enough to go for a walk in the sun today. I think the vitamin D would do me good. My weight has stayed completely stable. I'm at the same place where I started before I got sick. The wonderful thing about keeping my blood sugar stable is my weight is very stable. No more wild swings in weight or mood, for unknown reasons.
And as mentioned yesterday, for probably the first time ever, I got through a cold without a corresponding ear infection. I thought surgery was the only way I was going to get relief. As a chronic sufferer, I can't tell you what a relief this is, to go through a simple cold without using a lot of decongestants and fearing the tickle and pressure build up in my ear. Without having to get an antibiotic if it got out of control. I don't like to use antibiotics, but when I have an ear infection, I don't have a choice. The pain is insufferable, and the risk of loss of hearing is great. The antibiotics had the net effect of wrecking havoc on my body in other ways.
My running theory is with less blood sugar, there is less food for bacteria that cause my ear infections. Die, suckers, die!
While my dietary change is anecdotal (there's no way I could prove causation), if it at all had a part, it is already a contributor to improving my quality of life. I'm sticking with it.
Saturday, June 04, 2011
At one time, I weighed 160. At my height of 5'0, that made me obese. I was able to lose 30 lbs, but I stabilized at 130. No matter what I did, I hovered near 130-135. A few times I dipped below 130, but I never stayed there for long.
Whenever I explained this problem, people treated it like it was my fault. "How much are you exercising?" "What are you eating?" The last question was valid, actually, but not in the way I expected. It was baffling. I dare make the claim that I had one of the cleanest food diaries on Spark. My only processed food was Kashi cereal. No fast food. Lots of veggies and fruit. Low fat/meat.
But there was something more. I was eating a lot of starches and grains. Afraid of the low-carb, I ate a serving of starch or grain with every meal because this is what I was told we are supposed to do. Cereal at breakfast. Bread at lunch. Rice, pasta or potatoes at dinner. All I had to do was watch my calories, they said.
For many people, this may not be a problem. They can lose weight happily all the way to goal, munching cereal, breads and pastas.
Is it genetics? In a sense, yes. Some of us, I have discovered, are more carb sensitive than others.
Lack of exercise was not my problem. Take a look at my photo gallery. I am an active person. I love activity. Getting me out of my chair to go biking, kayaking, snorkeling, swimming - almost anything - is not a problem.
FitGirl15 described this perfectly. I am "FitFat".
I have the internals of an athlete, and the physique of a couch potato.
I am the most active person out of my group of friends. Yet I stayed around 130-135lbs. Unambiguously "overweight". Some said it was just genetics. Some said that I was healthy, so why worry about a little extra fat? Some suggested going vegetarian. None suggested the maligned 'low carb'.
It is almost taboo to mention such a thing. Try anything, but don't stop eating bread. That's dangerous.
I cut back my sugar consumption back a long time ago. I stopped drinking 32-64oz of fully leaded Coke per day. I quit eating Snickers candy bars. I stopped buying boxes of Little Debbie snack cakes. All that played a part in losing 30 lbs. But years of this kind of abuse apparently took its toll. I am more insulin resistant than I realized. I thought insulin resistance was only important for diabetics.
The sad thing is, I believe I was already in a minor state of insulin resistance, but none of my doctors were going to do anything about it until I was on the verge of Type II. I don't blame them. It's not easy to spot on the radar.
Just the fact that I carry more bodyfat than I should means I have more insulin resistance than I should, however. Excess insulin floating around means my body will never dip into my fat stores, even though there is plenty of fat energy available. I am in a state of imbalance.
I am a libra. I cannot stand imbalance.
We need to stop treating every person's situation with the exact same hammer.
There is another kind of sugar that I did not suspect and wasn't aware of. Grain/starch carbohydrates. I knew whole wheat is better than white bread, but switching to multi grains was not enough to swing the tide.
Vegetables and fruit are carbohydrates, but they are lower sugar, and usually come with fiber, which slows blood sugar. Breads and starches are treated like sugar by the body. Some will have no problems with this. Others, do.
No bran muffin can compare to the fiber in an apple for the calories. 5g fiber/340 calories in a Tim Horton bran muffin, versus 4.6g fiber/70 calories in an apple.
I remember going to a Native American museum. There was a display of a Native American skull with advanced tooth decay. It was about early dentistry, and various attempts to fix the decay. The display said the decay came from eating corn, which gets dissolved into sugar by our saliva.
I have always had problems with my dental history. Obviously from cola and Ding Dong abuse, I have fillings on almost all of my molars. Even years after quitting cola, I had early stages of periodontal disease. I build up plaque on my teeth rapidly, and have to see the dentist every 3 months to get it scrapped off. My dentist says it is body chemistry - some people build plaque more easily than others.
I wonder. I wonder if it was the 160-200g of grain/starch carbohydrates I was eating per day, that was converted to sugar. The sugar then feeds the bacteria that causes my wild plaque build up. I'll be very interested to see what my dentist says the next time I see her, now that I have cut down to 70g carbs, almost all vegetable/fruit. It's amazing how many calories are reduced when there is little bread, rice, or potatoes.
Note that in no way am I advocating an all bacon diet. I think a diet low in vegetables and fruit will increase cancer risk. Beta carotene and fiber from veg/fruit are known to lower cancer risk. However, I now believe that high grain carb diets are contributors to a number of diseases from diabetes to gingivitis.
Eating a high amount of vegetables is something we can all improve to do. I'm just choosing to pass on the bread portion.
Does it mean I will never again touch rice, pasta, or bread? Unlikely. I'm sure I will enjoy occasionally. I'm just changing a few things. Instead of pasta as a main course, I'll instead make a side portion of carbonara, and serve it with a main portion of chicken parmesan.
More protein doesn't have to mean meat, if that is the choice.
There is a strange thing when I mention to people what I am doing. There is almost a revulsion, "Oh no, you're not doing low-carb are you?" They start going into how all the meat and fat is going to cause a heart attack and kidney damage.
I know, because I've been that person too. A friend of mine went low-carb before her wedding. She dropped fat like crazy. She didn't do the stereotypical Atkins where she had gobs of bacon and cheese. We ate lots of sushi, and she just ate the sashimi, rather than the rice rolls. She ate plenty of vegetables, also breaking the low-carb stereotype. She looked great at her wedding. Had a healthy baby. Lost all her pregnancy weight (she only gained 17lbs) doing the same thing.
So I can understand the fear people have about my sudden dietary change. But there is something else too. There is almost a fear of, what if I am right? What if after years of spinning my wheels getting nowhere, I finally defeat the myth that this is my destiny, to always be teetering on the edge of fabulous?
After years of seeing my weight cycle up and down between 130-135lbs, I finally feel I got a handle of this. On just this change of dropping the grain/starch portion with every meal, I am only seeing my weight slide down. The way it should be. I'm sure I would be seeing even better results if I could exercise. At the moment, I'm suffering from a cold. But here's a very strange, anecdotal coincidence. Every time I have a cold, I almost always got an ear infection to go with it. I have a malformed sinus duct that tends to clog with fluid when I get sick, which leads to an ear infection. I usually try to pump massive amounts of sudafed to keep my sinus from building fluid. This time, my cold is clearing up, with no sudafed, and no ear infection (knock on wood). I didn't get the tell tale pressure buildup in my ear. No grain sugars to feed bacteria to clog my sinuses? Totally anecdotal, I admit. But whatever it is, I am going to take it as a blessing.
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