why don’t I give this low-carb thing a try

I have decided to try eating very few carbs for the next week or three, to see what happens.

In the past I have been skeptical of the low-carb (or no-carb) diets, mostly because I feel it should be possible to eat a “balanced” diet, in moderation, and be well, live happy. I have a feeling that the low-carb craze is a direct result of the “low fat” craze that has been omnipresent in this country & culture for some decades. We have become so used to “low fat” items and have traded carbs for fats. Now, the pendulum swings the other way and “low carb” is the craze, but neither of these appeals to my inner sense of symmetry.

However, the following factors have made me decide to try it, at least for a while.

  • I have decided that there is probably no harm in trying it for a while, and much possibly to gain.
  • I know I should probably eat less (of everything, but mostly less carbs).
  • I have for some time thought that I probably eat about the right amount of food. This was not well-supported by the evidence: I can’t deny that I eat a lot, more than can reasonably be described as “normal”.
  • What I have read about carbohydrates and insulin leads me to conclude that an excess of carbs makes a person crave more carbs. Therefore, the process is not self-correcting — it is possible for the system to get out of whack, and it’s very likely that my own carb/sweets craving is out of proportion with my actual needs — way out.
  • Similarly, I entertained the thought that that all I would need to do is exercise and everything would be OK. Exercise is important to me, but so far I have not been willing or able to do the proper amount. I hope to be able to reach and maintain a “normal” amount of exercise, but it seems very unlikely that I will do the extra exercise needed to offset carelessness in the eating department. Besides, adding exercise to my life requires a time commitment, and eating less food does not.
  • I used to somewhat enjoy being carefree (a.k.a. careless) with my eating. I am in the habit of just eating whatever is in front of me, or whatever sounds good, and to eat until I feel full. I have decided that I’m getting too old to be careless in this way. I already have some minor health consequences from eating too much. I would like to avoid major ones.
  • I have decided that the best first step toward making eating a more conscious, informed decision is to try limiting my food intake as much as possible. This is probably the only way I will discover exactly what my body needs. I would like to be more aware of how my body reacts to food and the lack of it.
  • Finally, I pride myself on being disciplined and careful in other aspects of my life. My eating habits are out of step with this vision of my enlightened self. After all, if my decisions about what to eat are not up to me, they are certainly not up to anyone else :) I believe I have the willpower reserves. There is no time like the present to put it to the test.

So, the current plan is to go low-carb for a while (temporary) but also in general to get in tune with what my body needs, and eat less. This will be hard, but not impossible. I love great food, especially sweets and rich foods, but I think in time I can learn to love them in smaller amounts.

0 thoughts on “why don’t I give this low-carb thing a try

  1. tersa

    On my soapbox (i.e., I agree with you, and here is why…)

    Good luck with this! And if you would like advice, a sounding board, or whatnot, my door is open.

    I did Atkins rather successfully for about 6-8 months and lost a good deal of weight on it. Everything you said above rings true to what I believe, and what also goes for me.

    Long-term, I believe there are some risks involved (the biggest one I’ve heard of is kidney damage), but I am of the non-medically educated opinion that that could be avoided or mitigated by not going completely drastic on cutting out carbs for long periods of time and making very very sure to drink lots of water.

    No matter what people think, I agree with Dr. Atkins and the other low-carb advocates that non-fiber carbohydrates are *not* as essential to good health as the FDA has educated us to believe.

    Even before I started doing Weight Watchers, I’d already been following something along the lines of what you’re doing. I’d switched to low-carb wheat bread, low-carb or whole wheat pastas, low-carb and/or whole wheat tortillas, brown rice, etc. and trying to avoid high glycemic index foods like white sugar, white flour, and white rice. Those latter are especially the ones which damage the insulin regulation and blood sugar levels and contribute to the yo-yo affect of blood sugar peaks and crashes. Now that I’m on Weight Watchers, I am *still* selecting low carb where I can, if it also fits into the ‘low calorie/points’ category as well–doing this also tends to find me high-fiber and/or low-fat foods as well.

    One more ‘warning’: if you can, avoid aspartame. Some studies have shown that it triggers insulin production just like sugar does, which would also create blood sugar crashes. Splenda/sucralose is so far safe in that regards.

    1. merlinofchaos

      Re: On my soapbox (i.e., I agree with you, and here is why…)

      One more ‘warning’: if you can, avoid aspartame. Some studies have shown that it triggers insulin production just like sugar does, which would also create blood sugar crashes. Splenda/sucralose is so far safe in that regards.

      Oi. I’d missed that one. I don’t think I was having that problem; I’m a diet coke addict, and have been for years, and I still lost 40 pounds on a low carb diet. Tho. Maybe I would’ve lost more.

    2. nekodojo

      Re: On my soapbox (i.e., I agree with you, and here is why…)

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it.

      I will keep everyone posted. And yes, I have plenty of splenda on hand… I never could get the hang of aspartame drinks, though sometimes I have a diet coke with lunch if there is nothing else appealing. So far my favorite “diet” drinks are water+squirt of lemon juice+splenda and iced tea with splenda.

      Thanks again

      1. klwalton

        Re: On my soapbox (i.e., I agree with you, and here is why…)

        If you’ve been reading my journal, you know I’m also doing something like this.

        I’ve found the many-vegetable regime to be splendid, for many reasons. I do not miss potatoes as much as I thought I would, and I miss bread not at all.

        My favorite beverage is mineral water with a squeeze of lime.

        Good luck!

        1. nekodojo

          Re: On my soapbox (i.e., I agree with you, and here is why…)

          Thanks for the comment. I have drooled over several of your food entries. And the support is much appreciated.

  2. merlinofchaos

    Given your goals, I can’t recommend the low carb diet.

    Having done the low carb diet, and actually being quite the fan of it, even though I’m no longer doing it, I can say one thing about it: It is a very unforgiving diet.

    The low-carb diet is a bad diet to do halfway. You’re either on it or off it, and the line between is a very, *very* unhealthy place to be.

    I think a pure low carb diet is, in fact, one of the most effective weight loss diets you can do. But the trouble with reducing your carbohydrate intake means that you’re increasing your protein intake (which is good) and your fat intake (which is bad). Now, you can go very low carb mostly low fats–and that’s where you get to the South Beach diet, which has a little more general acceptance than, say, Atkins.

    With that said, here is, in slightly incorrect terms, what happens: When you reduce your carbohydrate intake to a certain point, you get very high levels of glucacon and very low levels of insulin; your body, if it is working properly, only produces insulin in response to carbohydrates (i.e, sugar, but other things, too) in your blood.

    It turns out that, to properly digest fats taken in, you need insulin in some fashion, which is where I get a little hazy on the exact process. Anyway, if you’re properly low carb, the fats you take in are pretty much extraneous and don’t get processed.

    If, on the other hand, you miss, and your insulin is a little too high, your body will greedily process all those fats and, um. You don’t want it to do that. This is where the diet becomes unhealthy, as far as I have seen/read — if you get your carb intake wrong, say by miscounting or faulty labelling or simple cheating, you actually put yourself at extreme risk of things like cholesterol.

    South Beach attempts to mitigate this by forcing you into an eating routine that includes only the good fats, so that if you process them it won’t be quite so bad for you, and then you can ease up a little on the carbs and not have to stay quite as low as you need to on other diets. In some ways it’s a more restrictive diet.

    Atkins in particular practices choosing only high glycemic index carbs. I found when eating Atkins products that even those high glycemic index carbs counted, and I’d stop losing weight while on them; once I stopped, I was losing weight again.

    Given what I know of you and the problems you have, I think you’d be better off joining the Club (me, Leigh Ann, Jeremy, Leon, a few others you may or may not know) doing Weight Watchers. With WW, the worst that happens if you mess up is you just don’t lose any weight. And even messing up on WW is still healthier than just eating what you like. So that’s a good deal, and I think it’s important, especially when you’re just trying something out.

    Also, we can do the whole compare-notes thing; LAM posts daily on her journal in locked posts, and I posted every couple of days myself (also in locked posts). Jeremy and Leon not as much, but still a little. Mutual support is always nice. Also it means i can continue to cook for you at the games since you’ll be on the same sort of diet I am =)

    1. nekodojo

      I think I understand what you mean.(*) You are probably saying both of: 1. don’t do a “half assed” approach to low-carb – if you cheat and sneak in a few carbs here and there, that pretty much torpedoes the effort, and 2. don’t compensate for lack of carbs by increasing fat intake.

      I have historically had a casual, almost random approach to food. Which is why the “half assed” diet appeals to me (i.e. eat half of what’s on your plate and generally speaking, you lose half your ass). However, this casual approach to food is something I want to change. I need to become incredibly attentive to what I stuff in my face. For my survival, literally.

      So, what I meant to say is that I would like to try the low-carb diet *seriously*, but as a temporary measure, not as a permanent lifestyle change. I didn’t mean to imply that I’m going to half-try it, though that is probably what it sounded like, and would be consistent with my habits up until now. I really want to use the low-carb diet for what it’s good at: losing weight quickly and then getting off the damn thing before hurting myself.

      I am also not planning to go overboard on fats, like I have seen some diets mention. I recognize that I already go overboard on carbs, so I’m not planning to drastically overcompensate by diving into the butter and mayo. These type of diets bother me… see above comments about moderation and symmetry… even if the fatty foods are inert in the diet, that approach will not lead me to discover the truth about what my body really needs. So I’m deliberately planning to choose lean meats and high-fiber vegetables and not load up on fats.

      Anyway… I am planning to re-evaluate things in a couple of weeks. If I don’t lose any weight, it will have been an interesting experiment, and I will hopefully be one step closer to understanding my body and learning whether a minimalist approach to food might suit me.

      (*) That is, I think I understand your concerns here. I very much value your advice, so let me know if I’m not understanding you completely.

      1. merlinofchaos

        You are probably saying both of: 1. don’t do a “half assed” approach to low-carb – if you cheat and sneak in a few carbs here and there, that pretty much torpedoes the effort, and 2. don’t compensate for lack of carbs by increasing fat intake.

        Half right–I’m saying that, but part of the reason is this: There is an extraordinary number of factors working against you in terms of habit, and it’s one of those diets where letting yourself return to old habits, even for a moment, can have far more deleterious effects than you realize.

        That said, as long as you understand that I think you’ll be safe.

        Oh, one other thing–agrimony mentioned kidney damage. I’ve read that high levels of protein can cause kidney stones and other assorted problems in people, as the kidney becomes overworked trying to deal with the very difficult to process proteins. I think the recommended solution is to drink so much water you have to pee every 30 minutes.

        1. nekodojo

          Good… I expect this to be a test of willpower vs. habit, and if I can’t stick to it strictly there will be no real point to continuing. Also I have a Dr. appt. soon so I will bring it up with him too.

          I normally drink a lot of water, I think like 2L/day or more.

    2. nekodojo

      oh! I also forgot to mention that I have been reading the writings of another friend. I think this is what finally convinced me that I need to try this, or at least I need to pay close attention to what I’m cramming in my face.


      Have a look at it and tell me what you think.

    3. alinsa

      Definately listen to what merlinofchaos says, and make sure you do some reading on your own. Atkins isn’t a “reduce calorie intake so you lose weight” diet… it’s not about balance at all, it’s about completely screwing up your body and tricking it into digesting your fat (and if you’re not careful, your muscles) rather than your food intake.

      And like he said, it’s not something you can really do halfway. There’s a line in the sand, such as it is — have fewer carbs than whatever your line is, and you go into ketosis and start burning fat. Have more carbs than that — even slightly — you don’t do ketosis and all you do is end up tired because you’re robbing the body of its primary power source — carbs. When you’re not burning fat and there’s very little carbs to burn, there’s not a lot your body can do for energy.

      Repeat after me: carbs are not bad … there’s nothing inherently evil about them, and I really tire of hearing all these people talk about how carbs are evil and you shouldn’t ever eat them because all they do is make you fat. Carbs are a necessary part of being human. It’s how our bodies are designed. Atkins is a short-term trick to get the body to burn off a bunch of fat, but it is not a long term answer. If you want to stay healthy in the long term, exercise and a balanced diet is the key.

      The problem with Atkins is that ketosis eventually becomes ketoacidosis… which basically means, your blood turns to acid. It’s what gives untreated diabetics kidney damage, and it’ll hapilly give you kidney damage, too. It takes a while for it to happen, so being on Atkins isn’t much of a short-term risk, but it’s not something you can do forever — it will eventually catch up with you.

      Good luck! Diets are always tough. The good part about Atkins is that the results tend to be fairly quick, so you can actually see a difference quickly, which makes for good encourgaement to keep yourself healthy. That, at least, should make things easier.

      1. nekodojo

        Excellent info. I will keep it in mind. I definitely intend to do v.low carb wholeheartedly – if I can’t stick to it I will quit. And I don’t intend for it to be a lifestyle change … it’s definitely temporary.

        The Atkins site claims that ketoacidosis is almost the opposite of ketosis, and is brought about by extremely high carbs and uncontrolled insulin. Not sure if this is correct. But I agree with you about it being short-term and I know there are a host of health risks of doing it long term. I fully intend to go with a balanced approach for the long term.

        Thanks for the comment and support!

  3. gregbo

    FYI, here’s how I lost weight:

    I cut out almost all red meat. I eat ham on bagels for lunch every third day; that’s about it. If I’m out socially and red meat is being served, I probably won’t eat much, if any, especially if there are other options such as fish or poultry.

    I walk every day (except on those rare occasions when I run). I haven’t measured the overall distance: 2-3 miles, perhaps. Yes, it is time consuming, but I can make it at least somewhat productive by doing things like translating from English to French.

    I only eat one large meal per day, usually at noon, sometimes around 6pm. I try not to eat a large meal any later than 8pm, unless I’m sure I’ll be awake long enough after that so the food will digest.

    I eat a lot less snack food. When I do snack, it’s almost always fruit.

    I have much less stress (and much more sleep) than I did when I was working.

    I don’t know how much weight I lost, because I don’t know what I weighed the last time I was working. I went from barely squeezing into a 38 waist to fitting comfortably in a 36 waist.

    1. nekodojo

      Thanks for the reply… it is encouraging.

      By most accounts the low-carb diet should be used for short periods and not as a lifestyle change, and that’s how I’m intending to use it. For the long term, I will probably end up with something very similar to your description, in terms of eating sensibly and exercising.

  4. gregbo

    One more thing … my weight loss was primarily motivated by having high blood pressure and knee problems. I didn’t really set out to lose weight. I just wanted my body to be more healthy.

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