Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Nutrition Debate #76: Holiday Indulgences for Low Carbers


If you thought this post was going to be about eating just a smidgen of this and a taste of that, I’m sorry to disappoint. This column is about “commitment,” what it means and how it can come to pass. It is not a lecture, however. This is my experience with “commitment” – both the physical and mental aspects of it – and how it seems to me to be a progressive rather than a “cold turkey” kind of thing, once, that is, you have “committed” to going “all-in” to Very Low Carb eating in the first place.  Of course, as always, YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary) as low carbers are wont to say.

The subject came to mind for me after reading a post on the Bernstein Diabetes Forum the day after Thanksgiving when a Newbie wrote about eating just a smidgen of this and a taste of that from the bounty on the table. Another poster responded rather harshly, I thought at first, coming down pretty hard on the Newbie. He lectured her about “commitment,” albeit with a smiley face postscript. Of course my “take” on this was in the context of someone who has been doing Very Low Carb on and off (at the moment “on”) for over 10 years. I too had been exposed to a bountiful Thanksgiving table, and I had a fasting blood glucose the morning after of 92. So, who better than the self-righteous to express sanctimonious indignation at small indulgences on such special occasions as holiday dinners with family?

I think the problem does not begin with holiday indulgences, however. It begins with the idea of denial and deprivation. Many low carbers try from the beginning, perhaps on being diagnosed a Type 2 diabetic or pre-diabetic, to go halfway instead of “all in.” This approach is understandable and is certainly in keeping with the advice of the vast majority of physicians and diabetes educators. They believe that compliance with major dietary change is difficult. This belief is true even for the enlightened ones who know that a “balanced” diet, containing far too many carbs is “bad medicine” for anyone who can no longer tolerate carbohydrates without doing harm. But the harm is slow, nearly “invisible” and many years in the making. Besides Type 2 diabetes (if you continue to eat moderate amounts of carbohydrate) is regarded by the medical community as a “progressive disease” and as such is treatable with progressively more medications and eventually injected insulin. And that’s all well and good, if you can dodge retinopathy, neuropathy, ED or other forms of autonomic dysfunction. That is, until you die from one of the dreaded complications or a related disease such as heart disease.

But going halfway instead of all-in still leaves a lingering feeling of denial and deprivation, and, if you need to lose weight, as most Type 2 diabetics do, it doesn’t get you there. You need to commit “all-in” to low carb eating to get to the point where you are not “craving sugar” (all forms of carbohydrate, both simple sugars and complex carbohydrates), which becomes glucose through digestion and circulates in the blood. As long as you are a “sugar burner,” you will feel “hungry” at times, and you will continue to retain the idea of being denied and deprived. If you are not hungry, you will feel very differently.  It's a hard thing to describe to someone who’s been hungry for a very long time, as many diabetics and struggling dieters have been.

The best evidence of this is the recipe section on most low carb diabetes websites. It is replete with “substitutes” for desserts and other favorite high-carb dishes. In reality, most of them are reduced carb, but they’re still carbs! People are just not willing to give up dessert! Even I have sometimes written that on special occasions I’ve eaten berries in heavy cream. I’m sure I wrote this because I read in various places that such an “indulgence” was permitted on special occasions. But they are still just carbs (simple sugars actually: sucrose, glucose and fructose), justified by their phytochemicals and fiber, and the idea of a permitted “small indulgence.” If you have eaten a small meal, or even a big plate full of dark meat turkey (no gravy), and cauliflower and Brussels sprouts roasted in olive oil, as I did this year on Thanksgiving, you are no longer hungry and you don’t need dessert! Especially, if you had a few nuts and some cheese (no crackers) before dinner and some wine both before and with dinner. That is a feast meal indeed! Dessert held no interest for me (and I wasn’t even offered any of the homemade pecan or apple pies that were served).

That wasn’t always the case. My wife or my host used to always ask if I wanted dessert. They know not to ask now, and I no longer have to politely decline. I have reached the point where I can say I have “commitment.” This is in part due to the example others have shown me on the Internet Forum I visit. There are some stellar examples there who’ve inspired me to think it is possible to have “commitment.” And I now know that it is. I hope I can inspire you to feel that way too.

I feel pretty secure that I am “there” now, but we’ll see. It is now the day after Thanksgiving as I write this and the cookie baking season has begun. There are ten pounds of flour on the counter and five pounds of butter in the freezer. Soon the smell of some of my favorite types of cookies will be wafting through the house. I have never before been 100% successful in avoiding the feeling of being denied and deprived when it comes to home-baked cookies. This will be a test. We’ll see if I really do have “commitment” this year.

© Dan Brown 11/24/12

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