Phat and Fat: Low-Carb Eats

April 25th, 2012 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Like New Yorkers about rent-stabilized apartments, we just have to know what a dieter eats. It’s the treasure map on the shared quest.

After typical and near total lameness from doctors and a nutritionist, I applied my fastidious nature and research experience to the task for me. For the impatient who need to gather essential information, I’d advise Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories or even his somewhat simplified version Why We Get Fat. After hitting libraries and online sources, mostly medical and scientific, I found that Good Calories included the punchlines of nearly every solid work I found on my own, plus much more. I could have started there, but likely would not have felt comfortable until I confirmed things.

On the no-no side, I can’t stress enough that for me, the diet clichés simply don’t work:

  • WRONG. Everything in moderation is ideal.
  • WRONG. Low fat and high complex carbohydrates are the key.
  • WRONG. Consumer fewer calories than your estimated expenditures and all will be well.

Despite my assiduous devotion to those medical platitudes, my fat and weight crept up. The simpleminded docs, nurses and nutritionist could only conclude that I and my two nutrition/exercise programs were lying and given bad data. Their assertions just had to be accurate!

Yet, truth be told, I am like many adults who do not fit those silly saws. In my particular case, I share much physical history with others I know and read about. For example, several times, I have lost more than 10% of my body weight and fat. That turns down your metabolism substantially, making losing and maintaining weight/fat harder…likely forever. Also, aging does much the same. Moreover, I am an almost pure mesomorph, tending to broad shoulders and large muscle mass top and bottom. I have an efficient metabolism, which means exercise burns up less than the gym machines measure and software estimate. I see from various research that many of us end up switching to slow-twitch muscles after such body changes, which also means greater efficiency in exercise. Drat.

A non-scientist, the late Robert Atkins has a keen chapter in Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution that covers other reasons for metabolic resistance, as it’s known. Even staid old calories-in/calories-out folk like the Mayo Clinic report that some drugs, like beta blockers, can decrease metabolic rate by up to 13% (huge when you want to lose or control). Likewise, hormones, anti-depressants, anti-arthritis, steroids and on and on can hose metabolism. In the tablet and pill-happy medical environment we inhabit, that’s a big deal.

Marketing Opportunity: In a little side rant, I would pay for a smart, learning diet program. My mother and niece also recorded their nutrition and exercise for years. We’re all honest and thorough; it would have done us no good to cheat. We found the calories-in/calories out to be near worthless for us. There’s likely a huge market for a piece of software that follows your intake and expenditure, and correlates them with your ongoing weight and body-fat measurements. Then it would tweak what is actually happening in your unique system. It would rationalize the basal metabolism rate and provide meaningful measures of exercise expenditures for you.

My mouth

Draw your own conclusions when you read about nutrition. I came to low-carb and started on it. I’m losing fat and weight at a decent clip and intend to keep it up and eventually move simply into maintenance. A big plus on the far end is that this appeals to my scientific bent. I can tweak my diet in ways neither my medical sorts or the software have been able to do.

The short of it is for me, I modified the Atkins. I just don’t want to consume the levels of fat he suggested. I’ve been leaning low-fat for a long time and moved up to moderate amounts. I’ve nearly eliminated fruit, have not consumed bread in six weeks, nor even allegedly healthy starches like brown rice. I eat fish, meat, eggs, cheeses, olive oil, mayonnaise, and low-carb veggies. I rarely touch a beer, instead have a bourbon or malt whiskey (carb-free) or dry wine (low-carb).

Fortunately, over the years, I have come to care less and less for sweets. I do like a piece of dark chocolate, but can ignore a full cookie jar, ice cream in the freezer, or a restaurant’s dessert menu. I’m a very good break baker and have not come to terms with what I’ll do to ease back into small amounts down the line.

There are several popular low-carb variations. I suspect any of them would be a major change for most of us, and would do what I want done. As far as my body, I’ve been sold and re-sold defective goods in health comes from high-complex carbs and low fat. It doesn’t work for Mike.

Instead, I have increased my daily calories substantially from about 1100 to about 1500. I’m trimming down. My pants are looser (remember, pants don’t lie!). I’m sleeping better. I’m flat out happier. I eat as much as I want of protein, veggies and fat, never feeling hungry or deprived.

As a serious cook, I see the challenges here. Each low-carb diet book has its recipes, but many are not sensual and amusing enough for me. I’ll work on that.

Yet a diet starting the day with a cheese omelet or scrambled eggs with sausage or no-carb ham, plus celery, salad or other low-carb green is a satisfying start. To my point of fat, most low-carb book would use all whole eggs. Instead, I use one egg and two or three whites, with a teaspoon or so of olive oil in the pan. I’m getting the fat, but maybe half of what an Atkins meal calls for. Again, this is working for me in weight and body-fat drops week after week. I remain emotionally comfortable with the amount of fat I consume too, even if I might be losing faster with more fat.

That Science

To my call for a smart, heuristic diet software package, a very appealing aspect of switching to low carbs is the anticipation of finding a personal plan in the end. In Atkins for example, you start out with severe carb restrictions, under 20 grams a day. You slowly up it as you switch to on-going loss, like an average of five more grams a week.

That turned out to be not all that hard in practice. For years, I’ve used CrossTrainer to record all I eat and exercise; it can be set to low-carb so that it plainly displays running counts as well as what’s in any given food before you add it. There are many others, in fact Lockergnome god Chris Pirillo tested buckets of them and swears by CalorieKing. His point and mine, of course, is to use it and record every damned morsel, sip and step. Let’s be adult about this.

The Atkins operation also wants to own you. It will send a free get-started package for you email address as well as give you a wide variety of free online tools. It wants to sell you books and its energy bars and such. The package they mail includes a nifty pocket-sized carb counter that suits most foods…and takes the excuse out of traveling or restaurants.

So assuming I keep this up and get back to my svelte self, the scientific tweaking comes into play. While the RDA for carbs is 300 grams a day, that certainly won’t work for me. The idea is to keep counting, keep increasing, keep weighing/measuring body fat. When a specific level, say 60 a day or 110 or whatever, shows up a week or two going the wrong way, I need to go back down.

I am anal retentive enough that weighing and using the body-fat machine (takes about 30 seconds) weekly is fine, as is continuing to track carbs, and for no particular reason it seems, calories, daily is OK too. I keep a notebook for when I travel and know enough about what to eat and not that I’m close without the running totals. That’s me and others might have to use a smartphone or laptop with an online app.

This series includes:

Call it Lifestyle on the intellectual and emotional commitment to low-carb
Watching the Struggle on my grandmothers diet woes
Wrestling with Fat on overcoming fear of dietary fats
Hunger? do you starve on a low-carb diet?
Low-Carb Eats on what’s on the menu in the regimen
How Much of What Food on calories-in/calories-out cliché
Dr. Cadaver on mindless trust in group averages
Who’s Counting on body fast v. weight
Part 1 on pants don’t lie
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