Low Carbing? A Personal Perspective by April S. Fields
At the end of Labor Day weekend 1999, after feasting with friends on burgers and chips and homemade ice cream, my husband, Ron, and I decided it was time to shed a few pounds. To give you a visual, think of a total of seven, ten-pound sacks of potatoes as our weight loss goal. After several false starts -with the best of intentions, mind you - we finally found a groove where we were comfortable.
Choosing a diet is, after all, a highly individual endeavor. It isn't the same as it used to be, when you just stopped eating and languished on 500 calories a day until you couldn't take it anymore and started chewing your own fist. No, starvation dieting is definitely out. Seems they discovered something referred to as the "famine syndrome" where the body shuts down the metabolism to hold on to fat storage as a self-protection mechanism. It's always something.
Nowadays, an enlightened dieter is forced to engage not only self-control and behavior modification - one must also come to terms with a certain understanding about his/her own body, psyche, lifestyle and limitations. In short, modern dieting has become something of a science.
For example, I learned that I am not over weight because of over-eating. I am more of a nibbler/snacker. Routinely, I never eat more than one helping and often leave food on my plate. My weakness is, and always has been, sugar. To put it bluntly, I am a sweet freak. As a result, and to my detriment, I have always had to deal with blood sugar swings during the day which lead me to grab for the first easiest thing to stop the shakes - like a cookie or a piece of hard candy. This, of course, kept me trapped on a sort of insulin /glucose roller coaster. Definitely not healthy, and possibly, if allowed to go unchecked could have pushed me into very real and serious illness.
When I was finally serious about changing my weight, I had to get honest, as well, about my ingrained eating habits. It seemed to me, my best chance at losing the ugly fat, keeping it off and regaining control over my blood sugar levels was a diet that would keep me satisfied as well as stabilized. So, after a bit of research, Ron and I embarked on the, often controversial, Atkins Low-Carb Diet.
I make no claims for or against the diet - this is only to give you our personal experience and perspective.
For those brave souls who are willing to fend off the negative opinions of well-meaning friends and relatives, and give the Low-Carb way of eating a try, I will also include some tasty low-carb recipes that I have developed.
Once we made our commitment to give it a try, we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was pretty much a no-brainer. The diet allows for plenty of protein and some fat, which digests slowly so you don't find yourself hungry, thus tempted, between meals. This fat intake, which is important to the diet, is probably the most controversial issue, given that we have been immersed in the LOW-FAT era for better than two decades.
In the first seven weeks of our low-carb diet the fat we consumed did not seem to matter and I lost sixteen pounds, Ron lost fourteen. Then I started using the treadmill every other day, so I started to also see results in my shape; suddenly I had one again.
What I understand now is that, though we all manufacture cholesterol, some people are prone to over manufacture and added fat to their diet might contribute to clogged arteries. This then, is another reason for knowing your own body and then determining what is best for you.
The first thing to understand about a low-carb diet is that you cannot sorta-kinda do it. And you cannot combine it with other diets like low-fat because the principles and dynamics are completely different. In the first two weeks, while your body is adjusting to understand the message that it's expected to burn its own stored fat, (HELLO, metabolism, I knew you were in there somewhere) there is zero tolerance. No licking a spoon, no taking just a taste. NO CARBS other than the twenty per day.
Well, this puts some people off, at the git-go. After all, carbs are in literally everything! But mostly, the diet seems difficult at first because you have to make a conscious effort to consider everything that you eat. And yes, this is work and takes commitment, no one is claiming any weight loss diet is a picnic.
It boils down to perspective anyway. What do you love? I love real butter, cream and cheese and some people hate those things. To each his own. Yes, you have to drink no less than 2 quarts of water a day and you discover, for a while anyway, you need to map out the location of where every public restroom is in any destination away from home. And indeed you do have to give up some things you have always thought you could not live without. But ultimately it's all about wanting to badly enough - just like anything else. If you can say you sincerely want to lose weight more than you want to eat potatoes, bread and rice then you are ready to try it.
If it doesn't work you can always quit, but you can't know if it will be right for you unless you begin. And the good news is, after you lose your weight you can add back in, prudently, some of those things you had to leave go.
Of course, if you choose to lose weight, whatever diet you go with means you will need to make it a lifestyle. You cannot lose the weight and then go back to the way you used to eat. This is the first stark reality and commitment you must meet face on before you begin, otherwise the time and effort will have been a huge waste of time.
The deciding factor has to be, what diet or Way-Of-Eating (WOE) lifestyle can you live with?
I'm not going to attempt to explain what I understand about the whole nutritional process because it is better described in the plethora of Low-Carb Diet books that are now on the market. I recommend choosing one and reading the whole thing before attempting to do the diet. Also, a check up from your doctor is a good idea. The truth is - no one weight-loss diet is perfect for everyone. There are far too many variables.
I state, for the record, that this diet routine might not work for you but it worked for us to lose the weight and it is working for us to keep the weight off three years later. I feel better, not just because I am a more healthy weight, but because I am now eating healthier than ever before- and I'm exercising, albeit not too heavily, which I wasn't doing before at all.
Amazingly, I lost some of the cravings that I had always been enslaved to. Some of that is attributable to a theory now referred to as Carb Addition. Though this hasn't been proven by medical science, it seems not unreasonable to me and explains many things.
During the weight loss phase of our diet we were able to eat out at restaurants with no difficulty and we even ate very well on vacation trips without feeling deprived or tempted. (Well there was that one incident of the pecan crusted caramel apple at the festival that kept taunting me - "Oh April, you know you want me…." But I proudly report - I resisted.) Otherwise we ate things like crab legs dripping with real butter, steak and salad -eggs and bacon. Such a hardship!
Now here's the kicker - we lost weight while we were on vacation! We also lost weight during the holidays because, by then, I had learned a few tricks for making traditional dishes low-carb and …wonderful desserts. To make my point - the following is a comparison of a typical food day PRE-DIET and a typical food day - DURING-DIET.
Pre-diet (typical and representative)
Breakfast - cup of coffee - two spoons sugar and two spoons powdered creamer Large glass of orange juice. Large bowl of sugared cereal - skim milk. (what a laugh).
Lunch - (if away from home) Burger, fries, sweet iced tea.
Lunch - (if at home) Oatmeal cookie with peanut butter. Cola or large milk.
During the day - odd pieces of hard candy (readily available on desk, in car, in purse, etc.) at will to curb the shakes.
Afternoon - chips or popcorn -cup of coffee with sugar and powdered cream.
Dinner - Meat, vegetable, bread, potato or rice or pasta, and salad with dressing.
Before bedtime snack. Big bowl of vanilla ice cream or cookies and milk.
During-diet (Typical and representative)
Breakfast - cup of coffee - Heavy cream (not half and half) and packet of Stevia herbal sweetener Two boiled eggs - I only eat the whites because I don't much care for the yellows. (personal choice). Two slices of bacon or link sausage. Large glass of iced fruited herbal tea. (my recipe) Vitamins and supplements.
Mid morning - slice of cheese -only if I feel hunger. (not usually)
Lunch -(If away from home) - Grilled chicken salad or burger with lettuce tomato and mustard discarding the buns. Iced tea with sweetener or water with lemon.
Lunch (If at home) - Bacon/lettuce/tomato salad (my recipe) herbal tea or coffee with real cream and Stevia.
Afternoon - handful of barbeque pork rinds or a cup of hot chocolate (my recipe) or cheese cubes
Dinner - Steak - romaine salad with honey mustard dressing (my recipe) OR fish and cold slaw (my recipe) OR grilled pork chops and grilled asparagus or chicken (no breading) and broccoli OR roast beef and fried yellow squash or corned beef and cabbage, OR steak soup (my recipe) or just about any meat and a variety of fresh vegetables. AND DESSERT (my recipes, see below).
Before bedtime snack - Cold Vanilla milk (my recipe)
There, tell me I wasn't a happy camper while I was losing weight -on average two pounds a week. And the best part is - drum roll please - I never have the shakes and debilitating dizzy spells between meals anymore. I have all but lost my sugar cravings because I no longer suffer from that blood sugar swinging pendulum. My obsession with desserts is more a psychological problem than a craving. Just knowing that I CAN have a guilt-free sweet keeps me happy and satisfied with the restrictions I must abide by, which include potatoes, rice, breads and other rich starches.
It took five months and five days for me to lose thirty-five pounds. I then lost another ten pounds over the next year because I added some carbs back into my daily count and slowed down the process. I realized that sugar is my personal nemesis and I have learned how many products have hidden sugars in them. I am a veteran label reader now. Eventually I have been able to add the "good for you" complex carbohydrates back into my diet, like whole grain bread and a little rice, and fruits, simply because I have learned to recognize the simple carbohydrates that are not good for me. Finally, and perhaps more importantly, I know how to limit my portions.
Though the controversy of low-carb rages on, I can only tell you how it has affected me. My blood sugar levels are completely under control, my blood pressure is normal, my cholesterol is normal and I have more energy, no headaches, sleep better, and I definitely am eating healthier than before. It's hard to argue with success.