Sunday, January 11, 2009

One Year of Low Carb, and Eight Lessons

It occurred to me today, as I was out battling all the stupid people in Wal-Mart who insist on leaving their carts in the middle of the aisle like they are the only person in the universe.... ok, that has nothing to do with anything, really... it occured to me today that it's been about a year since we really started eating low-carb.

It's been a hell of a year, with everything else that's happened. In some ways, I feel like I'm not exactly the poster child for a low carb way of life, because in the last year, I've lost (and kept off) only about 20 lbs... but on the other hand, Michael lost nearly 100 lbs. last year. And a way of life is just that... the way that you eat all the time, when you're "dieting" (a word I never use these days) and the rest of the time, too. It's long-term changes in eating habits that really change weight, not temporary things.

Anyway, I was thinking about what I've learned, and it's a LOT.

1. There is NO food group you "can't give up"....
People used to say to me that you get used to eating very low salt or low fat diets, and I kind of never believed them. And I hear people say all the time, "I could never give up bread." Or potatoes. Or pasta. I used to be a pasta junkie; these days I never eat it (maybe the occasional ounce of Dreamfields every other month or so), and I don't miss it at all. Same thing with bread and rice. When I started low carb, I used to salivate at the idea of potatoes... really, literally. We each had six tiny baby potatoes, the size of your thumb, the other night with dinner, and we both thought that was was too many potatoes, and we just weren't that interested. After a while, these just seem like things you don't eat. You get really, really used to it.

2. ... but it will take your head a long time to get used to this idea.
When I get very hungry or very low, I crave things that I no longer eat. It's all in my head. I still think of these things as the "good" things, on some weird level. It takes a lot longer to adjust your head than it does to adjust your tastebuds/stomach.

3. Fat is not your enemy...
I still have an awfully hard time convincing Michael of this... and it really is hard to wrap our head around, after years of being indoctrined in a low-fat, food pyramid world. But it's not fat that makes you fat; it's the interaction of fat and carbs when you have too many calories. And fat is satiety. When we at low fat, we were hungry all the time, even when we ate a ton of vegetables and such. Now we're never hungry... and we almost never fight about food.

4. ... but fat is not your friend, either.
Not your best friend, anyway. You can eat a lot of calories on a low-carb diet, but if you want to lose weight, you still have to create a calorie deficit on some level. I think that I am the most dramatic proof of this that there is. I have, as we all know, not lost a lot of weight this last year. Why? I eat too much. I eat too many calories to lose weight. But I haven't gained weight, either, despite having spent nearly all of the last year paying no attention to portion size or fat quantity or whatever. But now that I'm starting to do that, I'm losing weight. You can eat a diet that is not low fat without piling on the excess fat. Moderation, balance... these are good things in every phase of life.

5. People who haven't tried a low carb diet don't know what it is. Some people who have tried a low carb diet don't know what it is...
No, you don't eat only meat on the Atkins diet. Or bacon and eggs. Or no vegetables. Or no fruit, ever. Yes, vegetables do have carbs in them. Yes, some fruits are laden with sugar and are not that great for you even though they are fruit. And so on. One of my students told me that her roommate had gone on the Atkins diet and ate only peanut butter. What??? The misconceptions about the Atkins diet and low carb diets in general are do huge that it becomes tiresome at best to even mention that you eat this way.

6. ... and there's more than one way of eating low carb.
More accurately, there's a billion ways of eating low carb. I've read about every low carb book that there is, plus a lot of blogs, plus a lot of forums. I recommend Protein Power when asked, but when you get right down to it, everyone is different, and there's no perfect way of eating that works for everyone. It is easier for me to think of guidelines rather than absolute rules... and in doing that, we've adapted a way of eating that works well for both of us. There are things that we virtually never eat... bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, sugar, tropical fruits or grapes, and just about any processed food. But we do eat legumes in great moderation; Michael eats a lot of apples and berries, and I don't freak out if he has the occasional Starbucks biscotti. We don't worry too much about condiments used in very small amounts, and mostly we don't count carbs. After a while, you don't need to.

7. Junk is junk, low carb or high...
This is my particular soapbox, but if you want to feel healthy, you have to eat well. Eating well does not include a diet heavy in processed food, especially things like Atkins bars and substitutes for high-carb food. There's lots of fake stuff out there. None of it is good for your body. Even though I have a guilty love for Splenda in my tea, I'm pretty much totally with all the people who say, if it wasn't something that people ate 500 years ago, it's probably not good for you now.

8. ... and so life is better if you cook.
I know not everyone is a cook or wants to be a cook or whatever. I know that there are time issues, and I know that sometimes the last thing you want is to spend any time at all putting together a meal. But cooking is a skill like any other, and if you practice, you get better and faster at it. I cook 2-3 meals from scratch every day. I am lucky enough to have a flexible work schedule much of the time, and I've been doing this all the time for nearly 3 years now, so I've gotten pretty good and very fast at it. And it is a lot easier to eat low carb when you cook. It is hard and frustrating to eat low carb if you are trying to do it out of the frozen dinner section, because there's just about nothing suitable.

The one other thing that seems profoundly true to me is that, for me, this way of eating has been better than anything else that I've done. Although I've lost little weight, I look better... my body has reshaped considerably... and I have more energy than I've had in years. This is probably not for everyone, but it's a forever change for me, for medical reasons, scientific reasons, and because it just works with the way that I prefer to eat.

Now, if this next year can bring some real weight loss and fitness increase, I'll be really happy.


Roy and Hazel said...

Well done, both of you!

Eating real food, cooked fresh, and not just 'ready meals' reheated from the supermarket, has got to be better for our health.

I totally agree with your comments on portion control. When you suggested last year that I might be consuming too many calories, even though eating low carb, I paid attention to how much I was eating for the first time and realised that I was probably eating for a family of four! LOL

Keep at it, Nina and Michael. I'm right behind you both. You look at the mountain in front of you...but somehow you seem to forget how far you have come!

Nina said...

I think it would be easier to realize how far we've come if we felt better. It's been an awful medical year for Michael, and for me... well, I think I'd be happier if I'd just lose some weight. I'm a little discouraged about this, actually; I'm wondering if age and metabolism are just putting such huge roadblocks in front of me that it's impossible.

But that can't be true. So, back at it, I guess. Keep trying... and, yeah, I could be trying harder. So I think that's just what I have to do.