Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Nutrition Debate #129: Low Carb Diet Record Keeping


When I first started Low Carb Dieting in 2002 (Atkins Induction), I knew I needed to keep track of my carbs. The Induction Phase of Atkins, which I followed religiously for nine months, losing 60 pounds (1 ½ lbs a week), required that I eat no more than 20 grams of carbohydrate a day. To be sure that I followed this prescription, I created a chart in Excel and recorded everything I ate each day, estimating the carb content of each food. An example of one of these early charts that helped me get started on Low Carb Dieting (from Nov. 2006) can be seen here. In addition, I also weighed myself daily and took fasting and postprandial blood glucose readings to see how various foods affected my blood sugar.

There were two important aspects to this activity: 1) I acquired a knowledge base of what foods contained carbs and how many, 2) by recording everything I ate, I kept myself honest. I call these two aspects “accountability.” I continued to do this for the entire time I was on strict Atkins Induction and, on and off, for several years thereafter. Eventually, however, I slackened off with the inevitable result that I gained back some (12lbs.) of the 60 that I had lost.

By that time I had become interested in on-line forums (Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Forum in particular), and had read several books (including 2 of Dr. B’s), and I learned that I had to keep track of more than just carbs. So, I subscribed to one of the on-line calculators and started keeping track of calories, protein and fat, as well as carbohydrate grams. This further increased my knowledge base and accountability. I learned among many other things that a large amount of the protein we eat can become glucose (through a secondary process called gluconeogenesis) and that therefore protein also needed to be limited. After some further research, I figured out how much protein I should eat with each meal.

I also learned that even if I am eating Very Low Carb ( 20g/day of carbs), if I eat too much fat to the point where I am not in negative energy balance, I will not lose weight because I am not burning body fat – just dietary fat (the fat I eat).  This learning and record keeping paid off. I started on the Bernstein Diet and lost 100 pounds in 50 weeks (2lbs/week).

Many people who try Low Carb Dieting don’t lose weight and complain they are not cheating, honestly. When I ask them what they are eating and they tell me, I point out that this and that are carbs, or that they really don’t need to snack, or that they are just eating too many calories. They respond either that they didn’t know that, or that they just “cannot” give up this or that food. Okay. That’s a choice, but they cannot say they were eating a restricted calorie Very Low Carb diet. If they were, they would lose weight. “You can’t fool Mother Nature” (your biological system’s metabolic balance).

I suppose you have to be a certain kind of person to keep detailed records. Some would say an obsessive-compulsive; but an O-C personality that channels that trait in a positive way will benefit from doing it. Honesty is a slippery bugger. I think I’m pretty smart and pretty honest. Note both words are qualified. I guess I think I’m also smart enough to fool myself. I think most of us are. For us the only check on doing that are the facts, “just the facts m’am” (a la Jack Webb). Keeping a chart, and recording everything you eat – even the “cheat” after dinner or the candy bar at the gas station when you fill up – will remind you of the price you paid. It’s pretty easy to “forget” otherwise. That’s how smart we are.

I’ve been doing this Very Low Carb dieting for 11 years, on and off. When I’m on, I’m losing weight. When I’m off, I’m staying “pretty flat” or gaining a little. “Pretty flat” really means “creeping up ever so slowly.” Gaining 1/3 of a pound a week for 4 years is 70 pounds. That’s what happened to me. Now I am moving down again, but at what price did I gain? Along with my weight my A1c’s, blood pressure and LDL cholesterol also crept back up.  We’re talking about my health here, folks. So, there’s more at stake than just weight. Maintaining the weight loss and all the health benefits that accrue to it are equally important. In fact, isn’t that the best reason for losing weight in the first place?

PS: After 10 years of acquiring a solid base of knowledge and experience, and having much better control of my impulse to eat carbs and snack before and after dinner, I am now losing weight without charts. The “trick” is keeping honest.
Are you more likely to tell the truth to others, than to yourself?

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