Low carb dieting

Cheese selection
photo credit: richard_north

Low carb eating has a bad press, and often with good reason.  The very low carb diets such as the notorious Atkins plan involve extremely high levels of saturated fat (bad news for the ticker) and protein (which, so I believe, can damage the kidneys in high levels).

Despite this, I frequently experiment with low carb diets.   I never stay on it for too long – mainly because I get the calling from chocolate fudge cake, haribo, or pizza.  (Damn those carbs and their peer pressure).

But when I’m on it, I feel so much better: I have more energy, my skin clears up, and I feel more in control.

As I’ve mentioned, one of my goals is to lose weight.  So far that plan is going extremely badly.  Despite bashing out the miles on the treadmill week after week, those fat cells just keep storing up every morsel I give ‘em like a hamster shoving food into its cheeks for the winter.

So today is DAY 1 of my new eating and exercise plan.  I will be blogging about it here and I expect you lovely readers to keep me on the straight and narrow.

So here’s what my plan looks like.  It is not based on any particular diet but bits from all of them – and it is not no carb, but low carb.  It is also low in saturated fat (in theory), thus avoiding the major health pitfall of typical low carb regimes.

It is also meant to be something I can stick to long term.  Which means the following:

–          No meticulous measuring

–          No calorie counting

–          No beating myself up if I fall off the wagon

–          No ‘all or nothing’ thinking

All I am going to do is follow these rules:

1. No grains, wheat, etc

Bread

2. No sugar

Sugar
 

3. As much veg as possible

Fruit and Veg

4. Unlimited good fat

Avacados for Guac

5. Minimal saturated fat

Bacon

6. Unlimited protein

Cottage Cheese Salad w/Olives, Grape Tomatoes, & Fresh Tarragon

(Photo credits from top to bottom: rprata; Uwe Hermann; sjdunphy; ericskiff; kjetil_r; kellyhogaboom)

No carb weighing.  No calorie counting.  No portion control.  I follow the rules above, eat when I’m hungry, and that’s it.

When I take this plan seriously, I find it beneficial in numerous ways:

  1. I have bags of energy.  I’m not a scientist or a nutritionist, so I’m not really sure why this is.  However, my lay-person’s guess would be that my blood sugar is level and my brain isn’t engaged in controlling insulin.
  2. I’m not hungry.  Ever.  Even if I want food, I don’t have that gnawing feeling, where you’d run over your own grandmother for some food and your stomach sounds likes a the mating call of a humpback whale.
  3. My skin clears up.  Again, I’m not an expert on why this is, but after consulting the unquestionable and totally reliable oracle of Google I suspect this is to do with hormones.  Eating cake and producing too much insulin can cause the things to punish you with a patchwork of zits. Thanks hormones.
  4. I lose weight.  Everyone knows that dropping the carbs is the fastest way to lose weight.

However, this is deceptive: a lot of this is water lost from the liver and the muscles (the body’s glycogen stores).

So as soon as you start celebrating, a well-earned biscuit crosses your lips, replenishes the glycogen and BOOM you gain a stone in one day, and spend the next 24 hours wailing into a bowl of coco-pops and resigning to a life of fat.

In short: weight loss from a low carb diet is not reliable.  It’s best not to do it solely for this reason.

This diet isn’t for everyone.  It works well for me because I don’t have too much of a sweet tooth (I’d much rather have a slab of cheese than a piece of cake any day).  I am also a little sensitive to sugar, and if I overdo it I end up with the shakes three hours later.  So generally I feel much better this way.

The one snag is getting up the energy to go running.

dog on treadmill
photo credit: normanack

Obviously running is much more difficult if you’re running on empty, and the general wisdom is that running on a low carb diet is not to be recommended.

I find, however, that doing the bulk of running with a depleted glycogen store teaches my body to burn fat for energy.  This massively improves my stamina.

I’m told that there are precisely a gazillion miles’ worth of running stored in fat cells, if only we could access to them. (Nothing like a bit of scientific precision to back up your point).  So, bizarrely, I find my running actually benefits from doing some low-carb training.  Then when I do a long run, or take part in a race, I eat some carbs.

This is all controversial and not proven, and again it’s not for everyone, but there is a school of thought that this type of training can be beneficial (known as ‘train low-compete high – you can read more here: http://dinedashdeadlift.com/2012/04/12/train-low-compete-high-irunnerblog-post/ )

Unfortunately, I am not very disciplined and I slip up on this diet quite frequently.  I’m the kind of person that has one biscuit and thinks: ‘Well, diet’s ruined now, I might as well get started on this family-sized pie.’  But I am quite convinced that if I would just engage myself and stay the course, this plan is by far the healthiest and most effective – for me.  Not for everyone.

But whatever the experts say, I do think it is sometimes worthwhile listening to your body.  Cavemen didn’t evolve on a diet of bread and pasta – which is something worth thinking about.

Would you ever consider eating a low carb diet? Or do you think the low-fat paradigm is sacrosanct? Let me know!

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