Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Nutrition Debate #184: “VLC = Not So Much Thinking”

My editor made this comment in the margin of one of my columns recently, and it occurred to me she had made (as usual) a really cogent observation. The full comment was, “I suppose that making people think about food choices is the key, but VLC = not so much thinking. That’s a real plus for me.” It’s all the more interesting since neither she nor her husband is diabetic; but besides being a great editor/collaborator, she really knows about healthy eating and good nutrition.

Of course, “making people think about food choices IS the key” to healthy eating whether you’re diabetic (or pre-diabetic) or not. I am coming increasingly to think it is also the way everyone should eat…in part because it is the way we all used to eat. We were healthier as a population before the advent of manufactured and processed foods. That’s a fact.

But I also know that what turns many people off about VLC is the prospect of numbers and counting carbohydrates. If it’s not counting calories, it’s counting carbs and fat and protein. I admit, I used to do it compulsively (which is my nature), but it’s not necessary. That’s my editor’s point. And the point of many other experts in VLC who recognize and accept that many people have an aversion to obsessing over numbers. Well, it’s not necessary to do that. (Am I repeating myself?) All you have to do to adopt this Way of Eating is to understand the basic principles and then adhere to them.  Not much thinking.

Strict adherence is a daunting prospect to some, but with an open mind (and strict adherence) you will quickly learn that hunger will not be a driver of non-adherence. You will not be hungry if you adhere strictly to the basic principles. It’s that simple. It may take a few days (maybe a little longer for some), but your hunger will disappear. Your hormones will take over. They will detect that since you’re not eating carbs, there must be none available. (Your hormones don’t know about your stash.) Hormones operate entirely within the milieu intérieur – inside the body. Admittedly, my eyes at times betray me when they see food, but that’s another biological imperative that we can to control with our will (and a little trickery), if we’re not hungry. Our body has many drivers/actuators of survival, hormones being just one. Sight and smell are others.

Your hormones are acutely attuned to what you put in your mouth for energy. If you only eat a few carbs, your body uses those, with protein and fat first, and then it will use your body’s stored carbs (glycogen) for energy, then the fat you ate (that usually accompanies protein). And then, if you don’t eat too much fat and protein, it will use your body fat for energy. Voila! Bingo! You’re losing body fat and all you had to do was eat VLC. (Note: if you don’t eat some protein 2 or 3 times a day, your body will use your muscle for energy too, so be sure to eat a small amount of protein 2 or 3 times a day.

So, “not so much thinking” works, so long as you know what a carbohydrate food is and which foods have more and which have fewer. There is a learning curve to that, but it doesn’t require so much thinking. It just requires strict adherence. I started on Atkins Induction and stayed on it for 9 months, losing 60 pounds. Notice I didn’t mention that Atkins Induction is 20 net grams of carbohydrate a day. You don’t need to know that. You just need to strictly eat just what Atkins Induction says you can eat. They (and many other sites) have lots of helpful lists of foods you can eat, and what foods you can’t eat.

And if you want to succeed, please don’t give yourself a “holiday” or day off. I don’t mean, nor do I expect, that you won’t cheat. I do.  I just mean don’t plan to do it. (You won’t feel deprived, especially if you’re not hungry, and you have more energy, and you feel better, and you’re losing weight and your lab tests keep improving. Just don’t think that you can succeed if you only do this VLC 5 or 6 days a week. It won’t work. You can’t fool your body. It’ll think you found your stash, and everything is now hunky dory. It will stop burning your body fat and start saving it, and banking more, for the next “famine.” It’s doesn’t know we now live in a world of plenty, a veritable cornucopia of abundant and readily available food.

And the trigger for this new “hunky dory” hormonal message will be that silly Reese’s Cup you picked up on the checkout line. “Eye candy.” It will trigger a glucose and then an insulin response, which means it will shut down your fat burning metabolism and restart the glucose burning metabolism that causes the pancreas to secrete and pump insulin to carry the sugar energy (glucose) to your cells. I repeat: Fat. Burning. Stops. And your body, thinking the cornucopia is flowing again, will ask for more “sugar.” Your hormones will send you hunger, “feed me” signals, relentlessly craving more “sugar.”

Of course, the simplest, easiest and quickest sugars to digest are the liquid ones, and then the ones that have already been pre-digested by processing. And these are the very ones that have been damaged in the manufacturing process. So, as my editor/collaborator says, “making people think about food choices” is what we need to do. Please tell us how we are doing.
As I write this (in January), The Nutrition Debate has just passed the 50,000 page views mark, with 40,000 of those in the last year. We’d like to know what you like about this blog and what you don’t. What would you like me to write about going forward? And what would you like me to write about less? Do you open and read the hyperlinks provided? Who are your favorite writers/bloggers? Do you read this column in Google Translate? Did you know it is available in 77 languages? And finally, are you a type 2 diabetic, or prediabetic, or just someone interested in healthy eating and the nutrition debate?


  1. Cheating in the common sense has not appealed to me since I started VLC a few years ago. The smell of sugar offends me, especially when it's in over-manufactured "food." I would rather smell the cat box than a box of sugary cereal. This is a very handy thing, I'd have to hold my nose to eat a HoHo. If I do cheat, it's during apple season. Honey Crisp apples are heavenly. I only buy 2 at a time, and only eat half of one a day. That's all I need.

    I'm a T2 diabetic, I like most everything you write because it is an affirmation that I'm staying on the right track, even when it seems things aren't working for me. VLC has kept my blood sugar down, and kept me healthy, but I don't lose weight on it anymore. Sigh.

    1. You're lucky, Jan. I could do without potatoes, although I loved them roasted around a leg of lamb and served with gravy. I never ate bread at home, but I liked it in a restaurant. I ate rice with Chinese food, but can't eat either now. The corn starch in the hot and sour soup and/or the main dish will add 4 pounds (of water) overnight and stop ketosis dead! And I love(d) ice cream. So, there are lots of things I miss. So, it is very handy indeed to be turned off by things we shouldn't do.

      When I am in ketosis, I am not hungry and my insulin sensitivity increases. When I cheat (I finished an open bag of corn chips last night from a party we had 10 days ago), my blood sugar skyrockets (fbg = 130 this morning), and it will take 3 or 4 days to get back to normal (80-100) even if I eat 10-15g of carbs a DAY!)

      So, it is a constant battle for me. A see-saw. I know there are those who can do better than I, and many who don't do as well. That's just the way it is. I accept that. I can only strive to do better.