Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Low-Carbing and Freedom!

I know I haven't blogged much, but I've been sticking to the low-carb way of eating very strictly. Anyway, the reason that I'm posting today is that I wanted to share the way eating this way has counter-intuitively made me feel more free than ever before, in two ways:

Food Freedom

I used to count calories every day. I used to fight hunger and cravings every day. Consequently, I used to binge almost every day. If you're struggling with your body's deep desires, chances are you're going to lose. At least if you're me. :-) In my case, when I restricted calories, my body would beg me to eat, just as if I hold my breath, my body begs me to breathe. The begging for food was less severe than the begging for air, but ultimately proved to be just as irresistible.

Eating low carbs, I never struggle with hunger, because I can eat as much as I want. It sounds like one of those scams I lambasted in the previous post, but it's true. If I'm hungry late at night, I can make myself a three-egg omelette with cheddar cheese and a few pork sausage patties on the side. No more eating a bowl of oatmeal and hoping (even though I know better) it does the trick, then reaching for something else, and then something else, and then, finally, binging. If not that day, then the next, or the one after that. I

And if I'm extra hungry at dinner one day, I can have a big steak. With butter. And buttered vegetables. And things are so much better with butter on them! Just try to be hungry after eating a big steak with buttered veggies.

But don't I sometimes crave carbs? Well, sort of. I definitely get to thinking sometimes that it would be awfully nice to have some sugary desserts or a big bowl of pasta. But it's a mental craving, not a physical one. My brain may not be able to resist my body's cravings for long, but these mental cravings are so much weaker and more controllable. Besides, as Jimmy Moore pointed out in one of his YouTube videos, eating something with a lot of fat in it -- which I can do whenever I want now -- does wonders to get rid of cravings.

Exercise Freedom

As I've mentioned before, I'm one of those weirdos who likes to exercise. Even so, before I started low-carbing, I always felt a certain obligation. It wasn't enough to just enjoy myself playing basketball, I had to make sure I was doing it enough to burn calories. I had to go even when I didn't want to. And as anyone who likes to read but hated reading for school knows, even enjoyable things are less fun when you're obliged to do them. Now if I really don't feel like playing basketball one day, I just don't. I know that I might lose weight a little faster if I exercise more, but I no longer fear that I'm going to gain weight (or even stop losing) if I just skip a few days.

Overall Freedom

Overall, I just feel like I'm finally free from the struggle. I don't have to fight with myself about food or exercise and I don't have to feel like a failure when the hungry or "lazy" part of me defeats the "good" or "motivated" part. I just eat low-carb and everything else pretty much takes care of itself.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

The Weight-Loss Industry: Con-men and Crooks

That weight-loss industry pisses me off. From the weight-loss programs that prominently display people who have lost lots of weight while adding in tiny print "results not typical" to commercials for ab machines that imply that they'll help you lose weight to the freaking Atkins-brand bars and shakes which are, as far as I can tell from participants of the Active Low-Carber Forums, universally detrimental to actually losing weight on the Atkins program, to all forms of "diet pills" that either don't work or are dangerous, or both. They are just taking advantage of the desperate and the uniformed. Absolutely disgusting.

It all reminds me of that Simpsons episode when, with little Lisa's help, the evil Mr. Burns creates a recycling plant. He has Lisa convinced that he has changed, until he shows her the "best part" of his plant: he has attached millions of recycled plastic six-pack holders to drain tons of fish and wildlife from the sea to create the "L'il Lisa Slurry," an all-purpose industrial chemical.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Notes After One Week of Low-Carbing

  • Down 8 lbs, 6 on day four and 2 on day five.
  • I've averaged 3466 calories eaten and 3666 burned. Following the fat = calories in - calories out hypothesis, I should have lost half a pound. But I lost 8. It doesn't feel like water weight, either. Ordinarily, averaging 3500 or so calories for a week would be pretty good for me, if I was trying to limit my calories. Much lower and I'd really have to work at it. This, in contrast, was effortless.
  • I averaged 69 g of carbs (44 g "net" carbs), 229 g fat, 234 g protein, and 31 g alcohol. Put another way, carbs were 5% of my total calories, fat 61%, protein 28%, and alcohol 7%.
  • I played in my Tuesday night basketball game on Day 1 and Day 8 (tonight) and the difference in what I could do and how I felt is extraordinary. For the last few months, I've been struggling up and down the court and couldn't do anything on offense except pass and shoot. Tonight, I drove the lane a few times and wasn't dying for a break after each game.
  • My mood and energy have been on average noticeably better than normal. I didn't experience any "induction flu."
  • Hunger rare and not panicky. The meals are all very satisfying, the snacks enough to tide me over.
  • Alcohol came from a few glasses of scotch on a couple evenings (what a diet!) and a lite beer or two here and there.
  • Sleep not as deep or uninterrupted as usual, but I feel much better than normal in the mornings regardless. Did have two nightmares which caused me to shout and disturb the gf, although they wouldn't have particularly bothered me if they hadn't bothered her. I've experienced such nightmares in the past when not eating carbs before bed.
  • Typical breakfast: 3 eggs w/ 2 oz cheddar, or an Atkins shake if not that hungry. ("Not that hungry!") Got omelets from two restaurants, one with a big side of bacon. Hold the home fries.
  • Lunch: Big salad with full-fat, naturally low-carb dressing, cheese and tuna/chicken salad; or meatballs from the freezer case.
  • Afternoon snack: Almonds and/or cashews or Atkins shake and 1/2 cucumber. Twice snuck nuts into movie as snack since theaters have zero low-carb foods as far as I can tell.
  • Dinner: Meatballs from the freezer case or restaurant meal I estimate as low carb. Restaurant meals included chicken with cashews or peanuts (twice) and a rib-eye steak with asparagus and broccoli (once.) I threw out my satay chicken appetizer once when it tasted suspiciously sweet and I found myself devouring rather than eating it. Looked it up online, it has significant amounts of sugar.
  • PM snack 1: Nuts or Atkins shake.
  • PM snack 2: Eggs 'n cheddar. Twice with real sausage links.
  • Midnight snack if I wake up hungry: 3 slices of mozzarella.
  • I drank probably 1.5 liters of diet coke per day (normal for me) and sometimes had black coffee (which is the way I like it.) Didn't drink a whole lot of water.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Notes on Gary Taubes' Lecture at Berkeley

I watched this video over the last two days. I highly recommend it, although I cannot (yet?) say whether he is actually correct or not.

A few things that jumped out at me:
  1. An analogy: we don't say that growing kids grow because they eat a lot, we say that they eat a lot because they are growing. Couldn't the same be true of fat?
  2. Fat cells are active, not passive. Therefore, they can "tell" the body to modify its calorie intake and expenditure. Rats who are deprived of calories slow down and conserve while those overfed are more active and don't gain.
  3. Insulin is necessary for fat storage and carbohydrate intake causes insulin.
  4. Before 1950 it was "common knowledge" in the scientific and lay communities that carbs cause obesity and that the way to lose weight was to reduce carb intake.
  5. The idea that obesity is caused by "sloth and gluttony" is so ingrained that scientists have trouble seeing past it even when the carb-obesity data are right in front of them.

Number 1 really got me. It cuts right to the heart of the willpower debate. Suppose we didn't want kids to grow -- would we insist that they eat less and exercise more? Suppose some succeeded? Would that prove that growing is caused by overeating or being sedentary? By analogy then, if our bodies grow fat because of insulin the way children grow height because of other hormones, then treating the problem by maintaining a calorie deficit doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Why not fix the root cause (excess insulin due to carbs) rather than struggling with our own bodies?

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Weightloss and Willpower

Regina Willshire has a good post about willpower and weight loss maintenance. Excerpt:
The rising incidence of obesity in the United States is not new - for decades now we've watched as each year more and more of our population is classified as overweight or obese; and it does not appear to be reversing, despite the continuous messages to eat less and move more, be aware of calories in and calories out, just do it and stick to it.

Oddly it seems, the louder the messages get, the fatter the population grows.

Yet, while it's acknowledged that in the long-term dieting doesn't seem to result in long-term weight stabilization and maintenance, few are asking why.

Instead we're left with the idea that all these tens of millions of people who lose weight on a diet lack the willpower and resolve to maintain a healthy-balanced diet in the long-term.

I've heard maintaining a calorie-restricted diet compared to holding one's breath. Some people can do it for longer than others, but eventually, we all give up.

I think Dave sums it up perfectly in the comments to that post:
I think people have trouble sticking to "diets" because they're forced into deciding between some disease that may occur in the future, or signals from their body that they're going to die NOW if they don't get some food. Widespread failure should be no surprise, and the whole "willpower" thing is idiotic. In any other context, having the willpower to cause your own death would be considered mental illness.

Maybe I'm just making excuses, but I don't think so. Being fat sucks and I've struggled more-or-less continuously to lose weight for the last ten years, while my weight has gone up and up, taking only short downward diversions before rebounding. Every time I try to cut calories, I start getting seriously hungry, which leads to either binging and gaining so fast it's scary or, if I'm lucky, going back to the slow but steady pace of weight increase that's been typical for me.

I'm desperately hoping that cutting the carbs will short-circuit my body's signals that I'm doing something terribly wrong every time I cut calories. The hypothesis is that my body's intense urgings for more food than I should be eating are the result of a reaction to carbohydrates and not something just innately screwed-up about me.

I'm going to give this low-carb thing a real try and see if it works.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Hunger vs. Cravings

It's funny: I thought I was hungry about two hours ago, but whenever I think about having my final snack of the day which does not include carbs, I can kind of take it or leave it. Now, finally, my stomach is starting to ask for it. Two hours ago, I was craving carbs. Now, I'm finally getting hungry.

Off to my cheddar omelet.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hypoglycemia, Carbs, and Hunger

Effects of a high-protein ketogenic diet on hunger, appetite, and weight loss in obese men feeding ad libitum. Via Jimmy Moore's Living La Vida Low Carb blog.

The hardest part of dieting for me is the hunger, or perhaps, the cravings. By cravings, I don't mean just really wanting a candy bar, but intense, nearly overwhelming feelings that I have to eat something now. It's not actual hunger, because I don't have the stomach growling or the feeling of emptiness in my gut, but it is like every cell in my body is just screaming at me to eat. Eventually, I give in.

Since I was a teenager, I've thought that I have reactive hypoglycemia. If I go more than 3 or 4 hours without eating, I start feeling light-headed, and if I have too much sugar or carbs without protein, I get shaky and "hungry" within an hour. Every day of my life since high school has been either a struggle between feeling well and not overeating or feeling pretty well while eating enough to gain up to a pound a week.

By eating small meals or snacks every three hours that I'm awake, including right when I wake and right before I go to bed, I can just barely negotiate that line of feeling well and losing weight. Eat too much at an early meal, though, and there's no way for me to end the day without either going over my calorie limit or feeling like crap.

The only breaks I've gotten from this struggle are the few times I've specifically restricted carbs. Once, I completely abstained from sweets for two months and I felt better than I'd felt in years while simultaneously losing 30 pounds, all with no struggle or serious effort. On several other occasions, I attempted more severe, Atkins-like low carb diets. For the first 2 or 3 days, I felt awful, but by day 4 or 5, I felt amazing -- I had high energy and the near-constant desire to eat was just... gone. I woke up in the mornings without the grogginess that is my constant companion most mornings of my life.

I believed for years that my intense cravings and inability to stick to a diet were due to a condition called reactive hypoglycemia. Now I'm thinking that what I thought of as hypoglycemia could perhaps be more accurately described as a refined carbohydrate addiction. I need my fix every few hours and if I don't get it, I feel like hell. If I remove refined carbs entirely, I feel awful for a couple of days (withdrawal?) and then the cravings just go away.

Unfortunately, the no-sweets period of my life ended with many months of binging on around 1750 calories of chocolate chip cookies per night, leading to the inevitable result of an extra 15 lbs a month. The Atkins-like low-carb pushes never made it to a weak before I decided I couldn't live like that even though I'd already dropped 5 lbs and felt great. I don't think I can go completely low-carb or completely sweets-free.

Anyway, as a New Year's resolution, I'm giving weight loss another serious try. I'm counting calories every day on FitDay and again, I'm running into the problem of hunger or cravings. Usually at this point I would give up, maybe recording my 4000 calorie days for a week or two before giving up the exercise as fruitless. This time, though, I'm more motivated than usual, so I find myself forced to confront this issue. Surely I can find a way to limit myself to 3000 calories without feeling awful, right?

Anyway, I'm coming around to the idea that carbs may be the source of my struggle. First, I read an article called "What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?" by Gary Taubes, a science writer. Then I read this interview. And then I got his book, which I have so far only skimmed. Taubes's argument is that there is very little empirical evidence for the low-fat diet that has been pushed for the last few decades by various establishments, and that it is in fact refined carbohydrates that have led to the increase in obesity. He argues that refined carbs stimulate the body to store fat and also to send the signal for more food, resulting almost invariably in overeating.

Taubes, like Atkins, presents a whole bunch of scientific data supporting his view. Unfortunately, as a computer programmer and not an endocrinologist or health professional, I'm not personally qualified to judge whether Taubes and Atkins are following the science better than everybody else. Generally, I'd bet on the establishment when a maverick challenges its accepted wisdom. I believe in science and I'm skeptical about individuals who think they've outsmarted the scientific community.

But here's the thing. Even the establishment cannot seem to point to any evidence that shows a low-carb diet is any worse than a low-fat, or even balanced, diet. I've seen several studies that show that low-carb diets are perhaps even more effective than low-fat ones, and may be easier to stick to. I know personally of several respected physicians who believe in low-carb dieting.

Above all, though, I just know from my experience that carbs mess with me. Of course, if I eat fewer calories than I burn, wherever those calories come from, I will lose weight. I've done it a dozen times. However, I also know that if I cut calories without paying attention to my carbs, I have to struggle with hunger and cravings every day.

This brings me back to the paper that I linked to at the top of this post. It's conclusion: In the short term, high-protein, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets reduce hunger and lower food intake significantly more than do high-protein, medium-carbohydrate nonketogenic diets. "Reduce hunger and lower food intake." That's exactly what I'm looking for. Trying to force myself to restrict intake while fighting desperate cravings is like hitting my head against the wall. Maybe I can get my body to help me lose weight instead of fighting me.

I'm not ready to go on a program as strict as Atkins. I'm just not a super-disciplined person and I'm not willing to give up that flexibility. But I am going to start paying more attention to my carbs. As long as I'm able to keep my daily calorie intake as low as I need to, I'm not going to worry about my carb intake too much. But when I struggle, as I so often do, I know that I now have a trick up my sleeve to make the cravings stop. I can just cut back on the refined carbs, and the cravings will go away on their own. Instead of eating refined carbs when I'm craving more food than I should eat, I'll have some more protein, or perhaps some complex carbs like old-fashioned oatmeal. Maybe I'll go two- or three-hundred calories over my limit for that day, but I know the next day will be easier. The next day I won't have the cravings, or they will at least be smaller.

Today, I'm sticking fast to my limit, for the first time in months. (I've gone slightly over every day this week, leaving me with enough deficit to lose, but not as fast as I'd like.) I can say that confidently, because I'm going to bed soon, I'm not hungry and I don't have strong cravings, and I still have a big bowl of oatmeal ahead of me. Today I'm managing because I did not substitute a fudge brownie for a sensible snack and try to cram in a 500-calorie cookie as an essential part of my lunch. I did have a small, 200-calorie candy bar, and even two beers, but the majority of my food has been balanced, healthy, and most importantly, low in refined carbs.

Now to my oatmeal. Wish me luck!

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