Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Nutrition Debate #105: My Low-Carb Eating – Then and Now

A couple of people who read my column before it is published (my wife and then my editor), have told me recently that the Very Low Carb diet that I now espouse is either “too hard” or “unpalatable” or otherwise not likely to be tried, especially by “newbies” or other people who are interested in and otherwise convinced that low carb is the way to go as a Lifestyle or Way of Eating (WOE). So, my wife tells me, I need to address that.

Many people are now open to the prospect that good outcomes are at least possible through reducing the carb content of the diet:  losing weight, feeling great, and other good health markers like blood glucose, blood lipids and blood pressure. This applies to people who, through diet alone, or with minimum medications, wish to delay the onset or treat conditions like Type 2 diabetics, pre-diabetics, Metabolic Syndrome, and to avert heart disease, stroke, many cancers, and even cognitive impairment (Alzheimer’s, etc.). Such outcomes are seen by many people who try this Lifestyle.

Improvements in the way you feel will manifest quickly when you switch from being a sugar burner to a fat burner. You will see it in the loss of hunger, in feeling full of energy instead of sleepy, in your elevated mood, and in the lab report numbers your doc will see. Your doctor should also be aware that reductions in all-cause mortality and the co-morbidities of all these diseases of (Western) civilization are now also widely reported in the scientific literature.  All you have to do, in addition to limiting carbs in general, is eschew our Neolithic ways, including eating grains (especially in processed foods), excessive fructose (in sugar mostly) and excessive use and reuse of (damaged) vegetable oils.

You must also avoid telling your doctor how you managed to achieve all these good things. Unless he or she is very enlightened, they won’t believe you anyway; but they will be very happy with your “outcomes,” which covers their backside. And, if they’re like mine, who does know (in fact, he suggested I try Atkins Induction, to lose weight), they will be very happy for you. Besides, they won’t have to cajole or hector you to change your ways. They’ll just look at the results and smile. Then, they will say to you, “Just keep on doing what you are doing.” Either they are in denial that what you are doing should work, or they don’t want to admit that their “prescription” for healthy eating is wrong, or they don’t want to take the time to find out. They just want to make a few notes on your chart and move on.

That’s okay. You’ve taken over. You’re in charge. You decide what you eat and what you don’t eat. And how much. You eat when you’re hungry, and you eat mostly to satisfy your hunger. You listen to your body. It will tell you if it is “happy” (or “unhappy”). Actually, if you listen to your body, you will learn that “you,” in the conscious sense, are actually not in charge. It is. Your body (a much more powerful force than your willpower) maintains you in the harmonic state called homeostasis. It tells you when to eat and how much. And if you stick to a low carb eating program, it will also not tell you that it is “hungry” very often. Your metabolism will work the way it is supposed to. Eat and digest (the ‘fed’ state), and don’t eat (the ‘fasting’ state). No grazing. A good way to lose weight is to not eat for at least 14 to 16 hours every day, and don’t snack between meals. Just eat three small meals, of mostly protein and fat, spaced 4 to 5 hours apart.

Anyway, this is all preface to “then and now.” What my “constructive critics” meant was that I was being too zealous. My wife said, “Not everyone is like you.” And my editor gagged at the idea of eating a can of sardines with a tablespoon of coconut oil on top. Okay, I get it. But I didn’t start off like that. I recall that when I first started eating low carb more than 10 years ago, I ate on average maybe 50 grams of carbohydrate a day some weeks, and maybe 1,800 or even 2,200 calories a day, and I occasionally binged. But I weighed 375 pounds, and I was transitioning from a lifestyle of indulgence to a much more disciplined Way of Eating. But I still lost weight – about 2 pounds a week, altogether 170 pounds.

The amazing thing is that within a day or two of starting on strict Atkins Induction I was getting “hypos” every day, and I just had to eat a candy bar (LOL). I called the doctor, and he first told me to drop one med altogether.  Then, a day or two later, when the hypos continued, he ordered me to cut the other two medications in half and then soon thereafter to cut them in half again. Eventually, when I started Bernstein, I was able to drop one of those (the sulfonylurea) altogether. From the beginning (on Atkins Induction) my blood sugars came into control (which they were not even on all three meds), and my A1c dropped into the “non-diabetic’ range, where it has stayed now for more than 10 years.
So, the message is: You don’t have to be a fanatic to make this Way of Eating work for you. It is a hard transition from a high-carb lifestyle to one of good health and feeling good, both physically and about yourself. But it is gradual. Start out wherever you can – say at 20g of carbohydrate a meal, or maybe even 100 grams a day. Remember, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) on the Nutrition Facts panel on processed (boxed and bagged) foods is 300 grams of carbohydrate a day. That’s 60% of your daily food intake on a 2,000 calorie a day diet. Reducing that by two-thirds (to 100g/day) is a big step in itself. Then, after your body (and your conscious you) has acclimated, if you still haven’t met your BG targets, cut it again to say 20g/meal. Eventually, you may get to where I and my body am/are happily now: under 15g of carbs a day.


  1. I think it would be more difficult to stay on a low carb diet if I were not diabetic. My meter is my guide, in my case it it has nothing to do with will power or asceticism. As long as it's happy, I'm happy.

    1. Absolutely! BUT, harder even for a type 2 diabetic than for type 1, or even for a gluten intolerant person and someone with any food sensitivity that is disabling or even life-threatening (peanuts, etc.)

      The downside for a type 2 is 'just' an elevated blood sugar, and most people are for the most part unaware of elevated blood sugars. They can go for years just blissfully ignoring their intolerance, and most, including me, do. I ignored my diabetes for 16 years, leaving it to my doctor to be in charge. He, of course, monitored me and gave me more and more medications and my disease worsened.

      So, my message (as you know), is to take charge early, of find a doctor who knows enought to steer you in the right direction to get it right. Remember, my doctor was a cardio, and his main interest was to bet my weight down to avoid CVD. He just casually mentioned (ATkins) "just may help your diabetes too." Phewww....