Friday, January 7, 2011

In the Name of Science

You may recall that I have embraced a (Gary Taubes-endorsed), low carbohydrate lifestyle - if only experimentally - so I thought I'd give you a bit of information about how I am acting as my own personal guinea pig...

It seems that the best way to determine whether (at least in the case of my own physiology) insulin imbalance is the cause of abdominal weight is to change up the composition of my diet - while (natch) preserving a key control.

You know how those scientists like to use control methodology. In this case, while considering the number of calories consumed is not an element of low-carbohydrate eating (remember, Mr. Taubes does not promote any particular diet, simply the science that underpins them), it's the only variable I have at my disposal.

(Sidebar: I've debated discussing my food diary in detail - the number of healthy, balanced calories I aim to eat daily - have aimed to eat daily for years. I'm loathe to dig into this, not because I'm coy, but because it's not the sort of information I'd like to see floating eternally upon the ethernet. Out of context, it might be used inappropriately. So let's leave it at, if you'd like to know specifics - because you are a woman working to develop your own conscious relationship to food - give me a shout. Otherwise, suffice it to say that I believe in vegetables and adequate (though not excessive) energy intake. My pictures confirm that I have no shortage of body fat...)

Now, according to the low-carb peeps, I'm misguided to be keeping a record of calories at all. Oh, carbs and protein and fat grams, I am welcome to chart all day, but calories - those are so 1989. Whatevs, I like lists and food diaries like calories, so there you go.

Fortuitously, though, if I want to see the impact of low carb eating on my own body, I can change the composition of those calories, while not exceeding the upper threshold, and see what occurs.

If you happen to be an actual scientist, reading this, and you disagree that my experimental method has any value - by all means, let me know. I mean, I was an English major.

Otherwise, we'll see how it goes as I aim to eat approximately 75 grams of carbohydrates a day (not even in the realm of Atkins' extremism), picking up the slack with 100-plus grams of protein and however much fat I come across. There are no refined foods on this eating plan. There is, however, red wine - because I don't choose to live without it. As a result, a good amount of my daily carbs are going towards my evening "chill out". (Note: Depending on what you read, red wine has 5 grams of carbs per 5 ounces, or 20 grams of carbs - if you include the alcohol. Different people metabolize alcohol with different efficiency. I'm assuming, conservatively, that I fall into the "not so efficient metabolizer" category, at least for now...)

If any of you have tried this experiment on yourselves - or would like to debate the merits of high protein, high fat (non-refined) diets, comment away!

I'm going to do this for 2 months - or till I determine that it might not be optimal for my body, should the evidence arise - and see what happens. If I become more lean in my midsection over that time, I will gradually return the carbs to my diet, till I determine a tipping point. After all, I'm not eschewing rice and cookies for no good reason!

So far, it's been interesting, if a bit drab. There's nothing I want so much as that which I've decided to forgo... I don't even like bread, and now I look at it with intrigue. Ah, that's deprivation mentality for you.


  1. I've been reading this with more curiousity on the effects than thinking it would work for me. I'm a died in the wool weight watchers girl, and the old "you can't eat this" makes me definitely want it even more, and always backfires on me.

  2. Good luck! Brings back memories of the "sandwiches" that were basically meat and toppings wrapped in lettuce, and zoodles instead of pasta (zucchini shredded with a potato peeler and lightly waiters). My mom first started her low-carb kick a year or two before I moved out of the house. Basically she avoided the big carbs, but all the veggies etc were still okay (carrots were iffy IIRC). It works pretty well for her when she's on it, though she tends to fall off every couple of years. Have fun :)

    I recall reading about a small study that suggested that people on same-calorie diets lost more weight on low-carb versions. However, it was quite a small group. Be interesting to find out if they've done any larger ones and what the results were.

  3. Glad to find another Taubes reader out here.

    I lost quite a bit of weight a few years ago (and have kept 85% of it off) by cutting back on processed carbs and sugars. Now, with my post-menopausal weight creep, I've enlisted a bit more stringent version of the same thing to try to get back down to a smaller version of my curvy self. I tried WW for a while, but the constant hunger and the dry skin and peeling nails from the low fat content always do me in after a few weeks. I just read Taubes' new book which is a condensed and updated version of GCBC, so am fired up again. The best part of this way of eating is that I really don't get hungry, at least not the kind of grawing, cravings-inducing hunger that you can't push aside. One suggestion for when you just have to have SOMETHING that feels carb-y: a small square of dark chocolate (70+% cacao). Comes in around 3g carb, and VERY satisfying. I also picked up some roasted, unsalted almonds in individual serving packs that are pretty low in carbs. Won't have those every day, but good for a little variety. I indulge in a glass of wine most nights too. Tonight I'm treating myself to a bourbon on the rocks, 0 carbs.

    In the last two weeks, I've budged my weight back down lower than it's been since before I was pregnant, and I'm pretty darn jazzed about that. I'm not counting calories, but do try to keep portions reasonable.

  4. Elle: What is it about deciding not to do something that makes it so appealing?? :-)

    Tanit: OK, I draw the line at zoodles :-)! Interesting study - it's kind of what I'm trying to prove on myself. Here's hoping...

    Deja: Fascinating comment! I did enjoy the new Taubes book, if only because it got me back into the philosophy of it all. Low fat is not my scene - never has been, never will be. I can't deal with hunger and, I agree, the low carb thing does not result in hunger. Boredom, perhaps, but hunger - not at all. I do have 80% dark choc for just those occasions (who are we kidding, every night...). I love it's almost savoury quality and I think it goes well with a wedge of cheese.

    Good for you on returning to your pre-pregnancy stats! (Very impressive...)

  5. I read a great comment the other day: "Only eat foods without ingredients!" For example a chicken breast doesn't have ingredients but chicken nuggets do. The lady was talking about clean eating, which is somethig I strive to do, and I thought it was the perfect way to sum it up.
    Best wishes on your "experiment"!

  6. Actually I liked the zoodles ;) as long as you didn't overcook. Spaghetti squash works well, too. I will probably have to buckle down to such a program one of these years, though for now I need to improve my activity levels much more than my diet. Hard to do as a grad student and mom :P

  7. What has worked for me is NOT thinking about food. (Funny how Weight Watches mag is 75% about food). I've been helped by the support and philosphy of Overeaters Anonymous. (on the lines of AA for Alcoholics). It helps me by not focusing on FOOD, but on the whole emotional eating component. Like AA, you admit you're powerless over OE and SIMPLY (yeah right) vow to stick to an eating "plan" you make far in advance, just as an alcoholic sticks to abstinance. For overeating, abstinance means not following your daily plan. Good luck on your plan, whatever you choose. We all know how hard it is, and how important.

  8. Well, we're tyring vegan, but I can already see that it's possible to eat too much on this diet. I'll be interested to hear more about yours.

  9. Heather: I love that concept - though it's a bit difficult to understand till it's explained :-)

    Tanit: I don't know how you manage to be so productive, really. Being a student is enough to knock you out, never mind the rest of it!

    Anita: I hear you - and I sometimes wish that I could just forget about it. But I'm very inclined to overdo everything unless I have a plan. It's a good thing there are as many methods as types of eaters. It's just a matter of finding the right one (which is no small feat :-))

    Susan: While I admire your fortitude, that is one diet I'm pretty sure I'll never get to. It really just doesn't work with any of my core habits. Mind you, I know a few people who have made it work so well for them...

  10. I lost a lot of weight doing low carb and I generally feel better doing it, although I still struggle with my inner sweet demon, meaning that I can go for months and months without eating anything sweet or baked or any of that and then one bite and I'm done for.

    That said I do feel better. I lost a lot of weight off my waist and have one again. It offset post-menopausal weight changes and I'd go for it. I did a bit more carbs over Christmas because I have a carb crazy family, went up in weight, but I've been mostly off since then and have knocked off that holiday fluff. And I don't watch the calories, just the carbs, but really when I do count the calories, they aren't as bad as I would have thought, and I'm never hungry. Low fat was never my thing though -- did terrible things to my hair and skin. And I'm not bored, but I love to cook, am discovering I love meat, and I've always loved vegetables, especially the green kind that are low in carbs.

    My skin is better and my blood work is fabulous. MY internist and cardiologist, who don't approve of low carbs and don't know I am doing it, tell me to keep doing whatever I'm doing, so I figure what they doesn't know won't hurt them. And my Gyn has no problem and thinks most of her patients, especially the older ones, should at least reduce carbs if not eliminate them.

    I haven't read the new Taubes book, figuring it was just a shorter version of the first, but now I think I may.

  11. Hi K-Line, I found your blog from Already Pretty :) I'm a big reader of blogs but not a prolific poster, but this topic caught my eye because in the light of New Year's goals and all, the topic of tweaking one's diet has been coming up amongst friends, relatives, and co-workers, with lots of interesting variety and perspectives.

    I personally don't go the extreme of Atkins/super low carb, but I HAVE found that building my eating around protein+fruits+veggies and some dairy to be the thing that works best for me in terms of metabolism and energy. I tend to be a bit hypoglycemic (runs in the family) and low blood sugar makes me irritable, woozy, tired, etc. High carb and/or refined sugar just makes me seesaw all over the places and sets me up for cravings and crashes. And my protein comes from some meat (mostly chicken and fish with the occasional beef item) but a lot from dairy, eggs, nuts, etc. It's been trial and error and seeing what I can do with my time and budget and schedule instead of trying to use a pre-formed plan. And in all the talks with friends, relatives, and co-workers, it seems that each person who finds something that appeals to and works for them tends to stick with it long term, whether it's low carb or low fat, vegan or Paleo. Better eating is worth it!

  12. Mardel: YOu see - if you're as healthy as can be (esp. cardiovascularly) with that kind of diet - it shows (at least anecdotally) that it isn't witchery! And I do think the book is a rehash of the old one, largely, with a bit of new. I don't know if I'd rush out to get it. But when it comes your way, do read it!

    BTW, my sweet tooth is a monster. I am always trying to keep it in check but I realize more and more, it's not about hunger at all. It's about addiction. Legal addiction, but nonetheless...

    Kylara: I tend toward hypoglycemia too! It seems like you've got a plan that's working for you. I have been less "low carb" in the past, but I have the urge to shake up my metabolism a bit these days.