Tuesday, July 17, 2012
One thing I love to do is defy stereotypes. In 3rd grade, a boy told me girls could never be as good at math as boys. So I went to college, studied math/electrical engineering/computer science, and I'm now a computer programmer! When I switched to a low carb diet, I defied the portrayal of all-you-can-eat-bacon and-steak by eating way more veggies and fruit than my low fat days.
Back when I weighed 160lbs, I tried numerous diets and failed. Mostly because I didn't know what the heck I was doing. I was just trying something - anything - in order to lose weight. Sometimes it worked, most of the time it didn't.
At one point, I thought I'd try 'Atkins'. Except it wasn't Atkins at all. I didn't buy the book. I didn't know the reason for the methodology. I just thought, hey all the meat you can eat! So I ate more meat in the form of double quarter pounders.
Yes, people. I was really that stupid.
"Youth is wasted on the young."
So obviously I didn't lose weight. I gained weight and dismissed that Atkins doesn't work.
Years later when I grew a brain, I actually did research. When I decided to switch to low-carb, I read as many books as possible until I understood what I was supposed to accomplish. I think Atkins is great for bariatric patients who have a lot to lose. However, the level of restriction was unnecessary for me because I was non diabetic, and already lost most of my weight. I ended up choosing the "Protein Power" method, which allowed more flexibility.
One of the things that bugs me on the message boards is people who said they tried low carb and it didn't work. I'm not going to deny that it might not work as well for everyone. What raises my shackles is sometimes if you ask them which book they read, and they didn't read one.
If you didn't read a book, you're just fumbling around like I was with my double quarter pounders.
Low carb is very different than the conventional knowledge most of us were raised on. If you didn't read one of the many books out there, then you don't know the mechanism that makes it work.
Even worse, you don't know what pitfalls you're setting yourself up for. Particularly in mineral balance.
Strangely, when I switched to low carb, I found I was hitting my vitamin/mineral needs more easily. I credit the additional produce consumption, for sure. But there were still supplements I needed.
SODIUM - This is one that throws people for a loop when switching from high carb to low carb. High carb diets causes sodium retention due to increased insulin load. Insulin tells the kidneys to retain water and sodium. Elevated insulin levels tell the kidneys to retain a lot of water. Low carb diets flushes that water and sodium out of the kidneys. It is true that first week on induction (if doing Atkins) is mostly water loss due to this reason. Reduced insulin load signals the kidneys to release the retained water. Sodium goes with it.
An essential part of what makes low carb work is the low processed foods. Please, people, stop buying the Atkins bars. This is another one of the stereotypes that I cringe at. The Atkins bars are a marketing gimmick and a processed food. Ditch it.
When you're eating less processed food, you are also eating less sodium. If you are eating less grains and starches, you have lower insulin load, thus less sodium retention. Thus, you need to add sodium back into the system. The best salt to add is Celtic Sea Salt or Himalayan Pink Salt. Both contain other essential minerals like magnesium and potassium (which I'll cover shortly). Do not use ordinary table salt, which has been bleached and stripped clean of all these minerals.
POTASSIUM - Potassium, along with sodium, are essential for regulating electrical signals in our bodies, and heart rhythm. Our bodies like to keep our potassium/sodium ratios at a certain level, and expels excess in normal circumstances. But when we have an imbalance due to excess insulin, then excess sodium is retained and the ratio is skewed.
Back in my high carb days, I used to suffer from arrhythmia and spontaneous tachycardia events. I went to several cardiac specialists, who were never able to determine the reason why, but they said it was benign. When I switched to low carb, these disappeared, or at least to the point where I don't notice. I could never prove it, but I suspect that excess sodium from elevated insulin levels was interfering with heart rhythm by way of blood pressure. My blood pressure dropped significantly after going low-carb.
When switching to a low carb diet, there is a side effect. When the kidneys release retained water, they also flush potassium along with sodium. Sodium and potassium are also lost through perspiration. This lost sodium/potassium MUST be restored.
Muscle weaknesses, cramps, and palpitations are a few symptoms of low potassium.
Everyone knows bananas are rich in potassium, but many chose to forgo them because of the high sugar content. No problem. Choose these other high potassium/low sugar veggies:
Tomatoes/sun dried tomatoes
Zucchinis with skin (my favorite!!)
Green snap beans
Once you are out of induction, have a sweet potato. More potassium per gram than a banana.
TONS of veggie potassium sources. You have no reason not to eat these every day. If you say, "But I don't like any of these vegetables", you're making it harder for the rest of us by perpetuating stereotypes, and discouraging people who might be helped by this.
There are over the counter potassium supplements, but proceed with extreme caution. If you are on medication of any kind, check before taking a potassium supplement. Potassium overdose is rare because normally our bodies will remove excess through the kidneys. Certain medications interfere with this process, and cause potassium to be retained. Impaired kidney function will also interfere with this. Unnaturally high levels of potassium is deadly. But you read the books, and you already know this, right?
CALCIUM - One of the arguments made to dissuade people from trying low carb is that it leeches calcium from bones, thus increasing risk of osteoporosis. Well, this is actually true, but you need to know why. You read the books, but let's review anyway. Our bodies like to keep a neutral pH of about 7.4, and will aggressively change body chemistry to keep it there. Eating protein, and ketone production from burning fat does have a slight acidifying effect. How this is countered is usually with calcium. If you aren't eating dietary calcium, then this calcium will be taken from bones. So continue to take your calcium supplements. The ingested calcium will be used to maintain neutral body pH, excess will be flushed through kidneys.
One other point about calcium. Bone density comes from weight training. If you want to lower your risk of osteoporosis, pick up the weights. Eating calcium alone won't make stronger bones.
MAGNESIUM AND ZINC - These two minerals almost all of us will have some deficiency with. I had trouble meeting the minimum requirements even in my low-fat diet days. The reason is because modern conventional produce is mostly devoid of minerals that used to be abundant. The plants are fed with steroid level artificial fertilizers, instead of naturally nutrient rich topsoil.
Magnesium is important for almost 300 different biologic functions, including metabolism. Magnesium deficiencies can also trigger cravings. It was primarily obtained by our paleo ancestors in drinking water. City tap water is a poor source of magnesium these days, and if you use a reverse osmosis filter or similar like I do, all of it is stripped out. (I remineralize my water with a couple rocks of Himalayan salt).
Zinc is essential for the immune system. Zinc deficiencies are more serious for children, but not deadly. Not right away anyway. The suppressed immune system will allow other diseases to proliferate to eventually kill you. Phytates from beans and whole grains from high carb diets suppresses zinc absorption. Increased zinc supplements may be needed in these cases.
No matter what diet paradigm you choose, BUY THE BOOK. If you want to be vegetarian, read "Becoming Vegetarian", which will tell you how to get all the nutrition you need. B12 is essential, it is not optional. I was appalled when I saw a comment from a vegetarian member on a spark blog saying that B12 is overblown, and she gets enough from the vegetables she eats. No, no, no! If you're not eating animal protein, then you must take a B12 supplement or fortified B12 foods. Less of a problem for ovo-lacto vegetarians, but the less animal products, the more supplementation needed. B12 deficiency will lead to permanent brain and nervous system damage. Don't mess around. Don't assume you're getting enough because you feel fine. B12 deficiency will take 10-15 years to manifest as a crippling impairment. If you want to be an informed vegetarian, I'll support you. But the person I mentioned above is making the same mistake as my double quarter pounder diet.
I'm not sparing the rod for low-carb either. If you want to try low carb, read one of the many books first. You, too, won't get the best out of it if you don't know the whys and hows.
My recommendations (for the record, I have read ALL of these):
"NEW ATKINS FOR A NEW YOU" - Dr. Westman, Dr. Phinney, Dr. Volek
It enjoys a wide following as the most popular low carb plan among all fitness levels. Ideal for people who are obese or morbidly obese, or have severe metabolic syndrome, because that was for whom the diet was originally designed.
"PROTEIN POWER" - Dr. Michael Eades, Dr. Mary Eades
For those who think Atkins might be a little too restrictive to stick with. This is the one I favor.
"PALEO DIET" - Dr. Loren Cordain
Great for people who are purists. Kind of like an omnivore "Raw Food" diet.
"PRIMAL BLUEPRINT" - Mark Sisson
Unlike the others, he's not a doctor. Just a former ironman triathelete who reformed his diet and lifestyle based on paleo principles. He has a very large following for its easy to follow and moderate restrictions.
Sometimes we'll read the books and the diet still doesn't work out for whatever reason. At least we have an informed base for discussion.
Which did you chose? If you haven't yet, what's it going to be?
Monday, July 16, 2012
Spark friend 4A-Healthy-BMI posted this link over the weekend comparing BMIs with people across the globe.
25BMI - Normal (upper range)
National Average - Below Average (lower than 76% of females age 30-44)
Global Average - Above Average (higher than 58% of females age 30-44)
I'm most like someone from Hungary.
Playing with the sliders, I'm just above the threshold of the 24BMI global average for my age group.
More women in my age group are overweight or obese than I am. I am on the high side of 'normal'. That means the 'average' is overweight or obese. 'Normal' weight is below average.
Playing with the tool some more, I put in my starting weight of 160lbs.
31BMI - Obese
National Average - Above Average (lower than 62% of females age 30-44)
Global Average - Above Average (higher than 91% of females age 30-44)
I knew the global average was going to be bad. The national average, though, is still startling. Even obese, there are a staggering number of US women who are morbidly obese. I had 44% bodyfat at 160lbs, and that is just in the 60th percentile. I had to push the weight in the calculator to 200lbs in order to reach the 90th percentile with 39BMI.
I put in my husband's info, and he was mortified. I'm not going to share the specifics because it's his personal info. But needless to say, it was a wakeup call.
If we're going to turn this around, we're going to have to admit there is something flawed about the advice we've been given in the past 30 years.
I looked up statistics from the CDC to see if Americans were following the advice of "exercise more, eat less".
Since 1974, Americans have increased their net average calories.
1971-1974 Average calories (age adjusted):
2005-2008 Average calories (age adjusted):
How about composition?
Men: 42.4 | 16.5 | 36.9
Women: 45.4 | 16.9 | 36.1
Men: 47.4 | 15.6 | 33.6
Women: 49.5 | 15.8 | 33.8
The general dietary advice starting back in the 80s was eat less fat and more grains. While the numbers may not seem huge, the general trend is that Americans tried to follow this advice. Carbs went up, fat and protein went down. Thus the general increase in calories is primarily coming from carbohydrates.
The next piece is whether Americans followed the advice to exercise more.
1998 Met aerobic guidelines:
2010 Met aerobic guidelines:
Again, general trend is Americans are attempting to exercise more. At least half the population meets the minimum guidelines for regular exercise. This exercise should be compensating for the general calorie increase, and thus slowing the trend. But this isn't happening.
Healthy weight Americans (18.5-24.9BMI) 1960-1962
Healthy weight Americans (18.5-24.9BMI) 2007-2010
Wow. The number of healthy weight Americans has dropped at a staggering pace. Let's look at this again. If at least 50% of Americans in 2008 are meeting regular exercise, then why isn't at least 50% of the overweight/obesity rate dropping? Obesity and morbid obesity are still climbing. There is no sign of it leveling out or dropping, despite aggressive campaigning.
Let's stop blaming compliance. Americans have shifted their macronutrients, and are exercising more. There are enough people complying that it should have shifted the national statistics. If it were working, the trend for obesity should slow or trend down. If this was all to the story, then this should have resulted in a slight general decrease in overall body weight, or at least a halt.
I see people working their butts off at the gym week after week who seem to never lose weight. I used to be one of those people, so I understand the story all too well. Do everything right, and there's no reward.
At what point do we admit the strategy for the past 30 years isn't working as a cover-all blanket, and we need a new solution? Or multiple solutions? One diet does not rule them all? While most of human history has been about surviving starvation, Americans are now tasked with surviving being crushed under our own body weight.
I was only able to break out of being a statistic when I looked at my own results and said, you know what? My real world result said this wasn't working.
Sunday, July 15, 2012
Many of you know my story by now. In 2000, I gained 40 lbs to become obese at 160lbs on my small 5'0" frame. After moving to Seattle in 2003, I managed to lose about 20lbs doing not much more than eliminating processed foods and walking everywhere. In 2005, when I stalled at 140lbs, I became focused about losing weight. 2 years later I joined Spark.
I struggled. My weight didn't budge one bit some weeks, no matter what I tried. In darker days, I questioned whether I was doomed.
My major kick in the pants weight loss motivator was the TV show "The Biggest Loser". In 2005, that was Season 2.
There's plenty of debate on whether the weight loss of the contestants is realistic or safe. Does the TV show set up unrealistic expectations?
That didn't matter to me. Here's what mattered to me.
I saw people who weighed over 300 pounds lose weight.
These people were in far worse condition than me. They had huge advantages with Bob and Jillian as their personal trainers, who forced them to get up when they wanted to stay down.
I had no one but me. If I wanted to see my weight change, I was the one who had to kick my butt to do it.
I came home from work, and tuned in to watch while I ate my dinner (which motivated me to eat more veggies lest I disappoint Bob and Jillian). I cheered for every one of them. I wanted every one of them to succeed. I cried when I saw them succeed, and when they failed.
I didn't learn a darn thing about good nutrition or exercise.
What I learned is a body CAN be made to lose fat.
I tried various methods over the years before I found the right one for me. But I never forgot what I learned from "The Biggest Loser". Somewhere, someway, my body could be made to get rid of the fat.
If other people who were in way worse shape than me could do it, why not me?
Sunday, July 15, 2012
Every few weeks or so, my husband and I make a day trip up to Charleston, SC. We love to walk around the town and on the beaches at the Isle of Palms. While we are there, we bring large coolers, and stock up on groceries at Costco, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. We don't have them locally where we live.
Eating as much organic meats and produce as we do is expensive. It is also harder to do where we live because it's not really a trend here. Thus we'll load up when we are in a neighborhood with these stores, then stash them in our large freezer. Wild caught fish, and organic fruit and veg are cheaper when bought in the freezer section, so this is another way I stock up. I still have to buy a fair amount of conventional meat and produce out of necessity. I try to minimize when we can.
Trader Joe's...well there isn't a better place to buy inexpensive wine! I became a wine drinker when I lived in Washington state. A decent bottle of table wine cost as much as a six pack of beer. I don't think I could tell you the nuances of a fine wine like a true connoisseur, but I know what I like. We found an amazing deal on organic wines at Joe's for $4 a bottle. We only bought a couple because we wanted to taste it first.
We came home, unloaded groceries, then made dinner. Ribeye steaks, roasted vegetable medley (onions, bell peppers, carrots, and celery), and mashed yukon potatoes. We opened the organic white wine, and it was amazing. It tasted of nectarines and honey. I'll be buying a case of this the next time we make a round.
The serving of mashed potato was maybe 50g. About the size of one portion from an ice cream scoop. This is a far cry from my days when I ate about 200g in one sitting.
As I took a bite, the potato burst with flavor. We seasoned it with just a little salt, pepper, butter and green onions. It was creamy and naturally sweet. I said to my husband, "I enjoy eating low carb, but sometimes a potato just tastes really good."
I'm not a role model for any particular health paradigm. Every diet can probably find a flaw in what I'm doing. I have definitively abandoned the low-fat diet, though.
About 2 years ago when I stalled on my weight loss, I thought eating too much protein was to blame. I cut back to about 40g per day, which was 15% of my total. Since I cut back protein and fat, I made up the calories difference with more carbohydrates in addition to my normal veg and fruit - brown rice, quinoa and potatoes. Protein only one meal a day. This was pretty close to an Ornish diet - 10%fat, 20%protein, 70%carbohydrates. This nearly wrecked my health.
One day in the mirror, I wondered why I suddenly looked so old. My eyesockets were sunken. I had ugly dark, almost blue-black, bags under my eyes. I got a stye under my left eye, which added to the growing grotesqueness of my face. I wore heavy amounts of concealer to try and hide my darkened bags. I wore lots of dark eyeliner under my eye to hide the stye because concealer and foundation enhanced it.
Despite my double chin from excess bodyfat, my face looked strangely gaunt. The skin on my cheeks seemed to sag as though they couldn't hold themselves up. My belly got bigger - I was getting fatter. It was mortifying. I could see myself deteriorating in the mirror, and I couldn't understand why. I didn't immediately connect it to the protein deficiency.
I couldn't stick with it. I abandoned it because I couldn't sustain it, not because I consciously realized what I was doing wrong. Once I started eating protein at every meal again, the dark bags under my eyes disappeared. My weird accelerated aging reversed. As the muscles in my face rebuilt, the stye under my eye disappeared so it no longer stuck out.
It was only then that I realized the connection.
I eat yogurt and cheese regularly, so I'm not quite paleo. I eat 60-80g carbs with potatoes and rice on occasion. I found that I can maintain ok if I eat a starchy carb once per day. I'm focusing on fat loss again, so I've cut back to once per week. I still drink wine and beer regularly.
I'm not an exemplar for low carb purism. I'll probably never be voted most popular blog because I think I am still too bitter and angry about being told low-fat is the only healthy diet, and actively deterred from something that would work for me. Perhaps I still harbor too much resentment to be truly persuasive or convincing.
I can't tell the story that people seem to want to hear: "I just counted calories, stuck with the plan, drank skim milk, and it all worked out!" This wasn't my story.
I don't believe that my diet is the end all be all diet for every person. But I'd appreciate if certain experts would stop trying to place blame that low-fat didn't work for me because it was somehow a failing on my part.
I'm really glad that someone (Dr. Mary Enig) challenged the belief that margarine was healthier than butter. I'll keep challenging that the FDA food pyramid (or plate) is the only healthy diet. It didn't work for me.
Friday, July 13, 2012
Over the 4th weekend, my husband and I took a road trip down the Florida coast. Since we had a lot of car time, I took my Nook eBook reader with me. I've become a fan of my favorite cooking magazines in eReader format. As you know, I'm trying to declutter my home and magazines take up an enormous amount of shelf space. I've experimented with various formats to save recipes I like, but allows me to declutter the magazine shelf. I love my mags on the Nook because I no longer have to worry about shelf space! Cataloging so I can find things is another story, but overall I think it is a win.
As I was 'flipping' through 'pages', I clicked tabs to bookmark interesting recipes. Later in the drive, my husband said to me, "Doesn't looking at pictures of the cakes and cookies make you hungry?"
This took me by surprise. Well, no. It didn't make me feel hungry or have cravings.
My husband and I are at odds with our diets. He drives me crazy when he comes home and starts raiding the fridge while I'm trying to finish cooking dinner. He battled me on how the amount of fat I eat is unhealthy. One day I challenged him to go a week eating a chicken cobb salad for lunch instead of his normal Subway sandwiches and tell me how he felt. At the end of the week, he admitted he didn't feel as hungry when he got home from work.
He understands that large quantities of carbs drives up hunger, but it doesn't stop him.
We've come to an agreement that I make protein and veg dinners without starchy carbs. He's gone back to his Subway sandwich lunches, and he raids the fridge every day when he comes home.
I wish he wouldn't, but I'm not going to nag or pressure him. It's not my style, and it would just build resentment anyway. So I lead by example.
Men have a metabolic advantage when it comes to losing weight. Men are genetically adapted to lose fat and gain muscle. Women are genetically inclined to gain fat and lose slower. Sucks, but it is what it is.
However, I lost weight at a faster rate than my husband. My husband lost some weight before our wedding by eating Lean Cuisines. He's regained almost all of it. I maintained my weight loss after we came back. This week I've focused more on weight loss, and I'm seeing results again.
There's a lot of debate about whether calories totals matter, or the macronutrient composition of calories. My non-expert opinion? It is both.
Yes, calories count. Are you surprised I say that? I thought low-carbers said calories don't matter! Eat as much bacon as you want, and lose weight!
Maybe that works for some people. It doesn't work for me. I am a petite woman at 5'0". My margins are smaller than the average person. I have less room for error. Thus, my technique has to be 'cleaner' than the average.
It worked the same when I practiced martial arts. Because I was smaller, I had to perform my technique better. I did not have girth and strength to overcome shortcomings with technique. If I placed my hands or feet in the wrong place, I could not budge someone bigger than me. However, if I performed it perfectly, larger opponents fell to the ground as anyone else.
Same with my weight loss. Calories matter for me. My technique has to be cleaner.
For some people, they probably can eat as much bacon as they want, as long as they keep carbs low. For me, keep carbs low, fat moderate, and moderate protein. I do better when I stick to leaner protein sources like fish.
I'm not really sure what dietary paradigm I fall under. My carbs intake of about 60-80g per day is high compared to some low carb diets, but it is very low compared to a low-fat diet. My fat intake is about 70-100g per day, which would make Dr. Ornish have a heart attack. Protein is 90g+ per day minimum. I eat yogurt and cheese on a regular basis, so I'm not really paleo.
My running average of carb/fat/protein is currently about 20%/55%/25%. While this is 'high fat' compared to Dr. Ornish, it's fairly low compared to some low carbers who go to 70% or higher. My calorie range tends to fall within 1400-1800.
1g Protein = 4 calories
1g Carb = 4 calories
1g Fat = 9 calories
My BMR is about 1800 calories per day with about 30 minutes moderate exercise.
Do you see why my range is narrow? If I must have minimum 90g protein, that is 360 calories. If I must have maximum 80g carbs (made up of veg and fruit), that is 320 calories. The rest of the calories need to come from fat. To meet my BMR limit, that is 1120 kcal / 9g = 124g fat maximum.
To meet 1800 calorie upper limit:
360/1800 = 20% protein
320/1800 = 18% carb
1120/1800 = 62% fat.
The only option I have is to pull back my fat grams to about 70-100g to make a deficit of about 55%. Making fat deficit works better for me than making a general calorie deficit.
70%+ fat doesn't work so well for me. No, it's not because I can feel my arteries clogging up. If I pulled back carbs further in order to meet 70% fat, then I sacrifice nutrition in the form of veggie and fruit. Not an option. 90g protein is minimum to preserve my lean mass and keep BMR revved high. Non negotiable.
Our bodies require two types of fuel - glucose and fat. Low fat diets mean you burn more glucose. Low carb diets means you burn more fat, both from dietary intake and stored body fat. When insulin levels are kept low, dietary fat is burned, not stored.
High performance athletes who are already slim can perform and do well with a higher carb intake. For dieters, though, it may be more challenging. It didn't work for me, anyway.
But eating very high fat diet also doesn't work so great for me because again, my margins are smaller. If I supply my body with a high level of dietary fat, it has no need to dip into stored fat. Thus I deprive it just a little bit of dietary fat, so it is encouraged to burn stored fat. This is backed up by Dr. Eades, who says that smaller women may need to eat leaner sources of protein than others.
While calories matter, it is harder for me to overeat if I don't overeat carbs. It is impossible for me to overeat protein and fat - there's a point where I have to stop. In my old high carb days, my stop point happened when my stomach became distended and felt like bursting. Now, I hit a stop point where my brain clicks off and food becomes unappetizing, well before the bursting point. I can overeat carbs quite easily. Left out of control, it will trigger a binge craze the following day.
My husband may think I'm superhuman because I can look at pictures of cakes and not go out of my mind. I think it is understanding how to get my biochemical messages under control, instead of letting them control me.
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