Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Nutrition Debate #75: Low Carb Dieting the “Cold Turkey” Way


If you haven’t tried low carb dieting before, one of the first questions you will ask yourself is, “Do I want to just cut down on carbs gradually, or do I want to go ‘cold turkey’”? For the uninitiated, “cold turkey” refers to a sudden and abrupt cessation rather than a gradual reduction. I make the argument that going “cold turkey” (with respect to eating carbs) is by far the better choice. It has all the advantages of cessation and none of the disadvantages of gradual reduction.

The principal advantages are 1) you won’t feel hungry (because you’re burning fat), 2) you won’t crave snacks (to feed your sugar addiction), 3) you will feel full of energy (because ketosis is ‘the natural state’), and 4) you won’t be thinking about food all the time (because your body is ‘happy’). Of course, if you haven’t tried this before, YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary), and there may be a few bumps in the road until you “get there;” but in a short time (1-2 weeks) you WILL get there, and all these advantages will come to you. They will come if you are disciplined and do not stray from this path.

The disadvantages of gradual reduction are that you will never get to ketosis, and without ketosis you will always be a sugar burner. A sugar burner needs to eat carbs in order to satisfy hunger. If you just eat fewer carbs, gradual reduction translates to gradual starvation. The food you eat is digested for the most part in a few hours. After that your blood sugar, which surged as the digested carbs entered your blood stream, will drop. That elicits a call for more carbs since the insulin that carried the glucose (sugar from digested carbs) to your cells is still in your blood stream (especially if you are already insulin resistant), and it won’t allow the fat you have in storage to supply the energy your body needs.

It tells you to eat more carbs to supply energy. Save the fat. Use carbs which appear to be abundant. Eat more now to prepare for leaner times later. It’s all in your best interest, your body knows this. These primordial mechanisms were developed in our Paleolithic ancestral times. It’s only been a thousand generations and our genes haven’t adapted to the year-round abundance of food we now have, and to all the processed foods that convert to sugar so quickly.

So, if you can’t get to ketosis by reducing carbs, you’re not going to succeed. Gradual reduction means “slow starvation” with all the disadvantages: hunger, craving, and volatile blood sugars (spikes and dips, leading to feeling tired, sleepy, listless, and then “pumped”). All these disadvantages are perpetual. They are with you always, whether you are dieting by gradual reduction of carbs or just eating a normal “balanced” diet, as recommended by our government. That’s because when you are a “sugar burner,” you have to continuously “prime the pump” to keep water (energy) flowing.

In contrast, dieting by going “cold turkey” with carbs is “slow starvation” without any of the disadvantages mentioned above (hunger, craving, volatile blood sugars), and all of the advantages: You quickly (more or less) become a fat burner. You’re not hungry and your body doesn’t crave sugar because it transitioned to burning fat, your body fat, for energy. That is, so long as you don’t feed it too much food – too many carbs, or even too much protein. It will burn the few carbs you eat first, then glucose it makes from some of the protein you eat (so be careful not to eat too much), then the fat you eat, and then the fat your body stored for just this purpose and time – when it is needed.

Obviously, since your body fat is last in line, as it was designed to be, you’ll have be diligent with respect to the first three sources of energy your body will use. But that’s easier than it looks, if you learn to eat carefully and not too much.  In The Nutrition Debate #69, “In Praise of Small Meals” here, I discuss this in some detail, including describing what I eat. What I didn’t mention there, and I feel may be an important consideration, if you stop eating carbs almost entirely and eat just protein and fat, won’t that increase your food budget? Not really, because you will eat a lot less, honestly.

It’s hard to get used to, having eaten too much for my entire life, but if I listen to my stomach, and monitor my meter and my scale, and think about how my ancestral forbearers lived, and how good I feel now that my body seems to be very happy not to be fat and heavily medicated and suffering from a “progressive” disease (Type 2 diabetes) and  high blood pressure, I’m very thankful that my doctor found this Way of Eating (after reading Gary Taubes’ “What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie”), and suggested more than 10 years ago that I try Atkins Induction (<20g carbs a day). Thanks, doc.
© Dan Brown 11/17/12

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