Monday, June 24, 2019

Retrospective #129: Very Low Carb Record Keeping

When I first started to eat Very Low Carb in 2002, I did Atkins Induction. I knew that I needed to eat no more than 20 grams of carbohydrate a day. I followed the Induction phase religiously for nine months and lost 60 pounds (1½ lbs. a week). To be sure that I followed this very restricted diet, I created a chart in Excel and recorded everything I ate each day, estimating the carb content of each portion. In addition, I also weighed myself daily and took fasting and sometimes postprandial blood glucose readings to see how various foods affected my blood sugar.
There were two important aspects to this activity: 1) I kept myself honest and 2) I acquired a knowledge base of what foods contained carbs and how many. 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. When, after several years I slacked off, I gained back 12 pounds of the 60 that I had lost. Conclusion, I lost accountability.
Those were the early days of online internet groups. I become interested in several, eventually settling on one, Bernstein’s Diabetes Forum. I also had read several books, and I learned that I should keep track of more than just carbs. So, I subscribed to an on-line calculator and started keeping track of calories, protein and fat, as well as carb grams. This further increased my knowledge base and accountability. Among many other things I learned that a large amount of the protein we eat can become glucose through a secondary process called gluconeogenesis. I therefore needed to count protein and to figure 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 the fat I eat.  This learning and record keeping paid off. On the Bernstein Diet and lost 100 pounds in 50 weeks (2lbs/week).
Many people who try Very Low Carb don’t lose weight and complain they are not cheating, honestly. When they tell me what they are eating, 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 their 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 your body’s harmonic biological system.
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’m also smart enough to fool myself (rationalize). I think most of us are. For us the only check on doing that are the facts. 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 can be.
I’ve now been doing this Very Low Carb dieting for 17 years, on and off. When I’m on, I’m losing weight. When I’m off, I’m gaining, “creeping up ever so slowly.” Gaining 1/3 of a pound a week over 4 years is 70 pounds. That’s what happened to me in 2013. Then I started 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 a lot more at stake here than just weight. Maintaining the weight loss and all the health benefits that accrue with 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 transitioned to losing weight without charts. You can do it too, or if you hate keeping records as most people do, do it without having to see it in black and white. The “trick” is keeping honest: accountability. If you eat Very Low Carb strictly, and even do occasional Intermittent Fasting, you won’t be hungry. So, why would you cheat on yourself?

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