how I lost it: eating

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 (If you missed the first post in this health series, start here at how I lost it: a journey)

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 {breakfast: poached eggs, prosciutto, and butter sauce}

It's written.  The most thorough and hopefully inspiring post written in this space.  Within the text and photographs of this post lies one of the most talked about subjects between my husband and myself this year.  And certainly a subject that has most dramatically affected our personal lives and family life:  food.

low carb, weight loss, gary taubes, pale

Although Bobby had already begun his research and curiosity with what would eventually change the way we look at food, I really came around to accepting this path after Bobby made me sit and listen to a book in the car during a long car ride.  The book is called [amazon_link id="0307474259" target="_blank" ]Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It[/amazon_link] and the arguments in it regarding nutrition and obesity sealed the deal for Bobby, at the same time turning me into a sour puss for a few weeks. However, after much discussion, pondering, and implementation, I have come to believe that a low carb, high fat (LCHF) approach does much to improve my health and the health of my family.

Here is where our journey began with eating a LCHF diet and having it affect so many aspects of our health and lives.

Without going into the details of the evolution of the whole process of our eating this year, I'll be the first to say that Bobby had a huge impact on me.  While I had ups and downs of being a disciplined eater, trying to figure out if I wanted to follow his lead in this approach or just stick to the comfort foods I craved and have spent a lifetime eating, he definitely proved to me that maybe change is a good thing, a wonderful thing.

To date, Bobby and I have lost a total of 98 lbs. together this year.  (That's three more pounds from the original how I lost it post.)  I'm excited to share what we eat, the facts, and incredible research behind it.  I thought that my well-read husband would do a much better job explaining the details than I would so I asked him to write this post.  And you'll notice a selection of some of the foods that we enjoy as a family throughout the post.  This is my simple contribution to this post with many recipes to share on future posts.

So please, sit back, with a handful of nuts in hand, and enjoy and learn from some, hopefully new, nuggets of insight Bobby has so nicely outlined.

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 {snack: homemade plain yogurt, berries, sprinkling of coconut sugar}

Over to you, Bobby....

Food has played an integral part in Nicole and my weight-loss and health improvement journey. In fact, I’d say that changing our diet has accounted for 80% of our results. In fact, for 6 months of this year, I didn’t exercise at all. And during those 6 month, I lost about 30 pounds. That's not to say that exercise isn't important. I'm suggesting that the decisions you make about what you eat have a much larger impact on your weight and health than whether or not you decide to do an extra round of sit-ups.

Nicole and I have been following a low carbohydrate, high fat (LCHF) approach to food and feel that it offers incredible health benefits while offering us plenty of variety, flavor, indulgence, and flexibility. (You may have heard of Paleo, Primal, Ketogenic, South Beach, Mediterranean, Weston A Price, and Atkins.  Each of these is, to one degree or another, a low carb diet.  Our family falls mostly into the Paleo/Primal category.)

Here's what we eat on a LCHF diet:

  • Meat (beef, chicken, pork, fish, eggs, etc.)
  • Dairy (cheese, sour cream, butter, heavy cream, yogurt, etc.)
  • Nuts (pecans, walnuts, almonds, etc.)
  • Non-Starchy vegetables (broccoli, spinach, leafy greens, brussel sprouts, asparagus, cauliflower, etc.)
  • Berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries)
  • Seeds (flax, hemp, sesame, sunflower)
  • Healthy fats (coconut oil, olive oil, ghee, etc.)

Foods we avoid or limit:

  • Grains (wheat, oats, barley, rice, etc.)
  • Starchy vegetables (potatoes, beets, squash, corn, etc.)
  • Legumes (any kind of beans)
  • High-sugar fruits (oranges, bananas, pineapple, mango, apples, etc.)
  • Sweets (anything with added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, etc.)
  • Sugary drinks (fruit juice, soda, milk)

*It's me, Nicole. I have to jump in on this. The kids and I aren't as strict as Bobby--we enjoy fruit (me in moderation) and enjoy baking "grain-free" and "sugar free" snacks and treats from time to time.  

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{breakfast: grain-free cereal}

A week's sampling of breakfasts in our house:

  • Eggs--fried, scrambled, poached, omelet, or baked with sausage or bacon (Nicole and I have eggs, some style, most mornings)
  • Greek yogurt with berries and nuts
  • Protein smoothie
  • Grain-free granola, cereal, or hot porridge

Lunch:

  • Big salads with chicken, hard-boiled egg, bacon bits, onion, parmesan cheese, olives, avocado, and ranch or bleu cheese dressing
  • Deli meat and cheese roll ups, apple and peanut or almond butter, yogurt
  • Tuna salad, cheese slices, roasted pecans, and grain-free parmesan crackers
  • Raw vegetables, homemade cheese and bacon dip, pistachios, and smoked gouda--all on a platter

Dinner:

  • A protein (chicken, beef, fish, etc.) with two vegetables (with plenty of ghee--clarified butter--or coconut oil or in a heavy cream sauce)
  • Grain-free quiche or cheese souffle with two vegetables
  • Stroganoff, mashed cauliflower, and two vegetables

Late night treat:

  • Whipped cream, cocoa, sweetened with stevia or coconut sugar, topped with a handful of berries
  • 1-2 squares of dark, dark chocolate (80% dark or higher)
  • A chocolate truffle or two

Basically, we took the cereal and toast away from breakfast, removed sandwiches from lunch, and potatoes and rice from dinner.

Why Low Carb?

To be honest, I initially decided on a LCHF diet solely because of my desire to lose weight. From all that I'd read and from the experiences of friends and family, it was pretty clear to me that cutting out carbs would cause me to drop weight. In the beginning, people would notice that I'd lost a few pounds and would ask, "How'd you do it?" I'd tell them that I'd been cutting down on carbs and, when I sensed their apparent concern, I'd assure them that my adoption of a low-carb diet was only a temporary, stop gap until I'd gotten down to my desired weight. Once at my target weight, I'd explain, I'd adapt a more moderate, long-term strategy. The implication here, both from the reaction of others and from my response, is that while a "low carb" or "Atkins" diet is good for short-term and, in most cases, temporary weight loss, it's not a healthy, long-term approach. The unspoken concern here is that this type of diet is unhealthy. Specifically, it is widely believed by the medical establishment and the public at large that a LCHF diet will likely lead to a dramatically increased risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases. This is the rub.

What I've learned over the past year, and what I'll attempt to share in this post is that a LCHF diet is not only best approach to weight loss, it is also a very healthy long-term approach to food and health. Not only will a LCHF diet help you get rid of excess weight, it can dramatically reduce your chances of getting cancer, stroke, Alzheimer's and dementia, and other chronic diseases. Also, it's been shown that a LCHF diet can successfully treat ADHD, Type 2 diabetes, depression and other diseases.

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{lunch: sauteed chicken sausage, red bell pepper, and guacamole salad}

As I see it, there are three 3 ways to look at the evidence for a carbohydrate-restricted diet;

  1. Observing peoples that eat LCHF diets around the world.
  2. Biology - How the body processes, stores, and utilizes the food we eat.
  3. Scientific Studies - What they say about low carb diets, the role of cholesterol in heart disease, etc.

1. Observing

Let’s take the Inuit peoples of the north. Traditional Inuit diets vary from group to group, but nearly all of them consist almost entirely of meat. They get 75-90% of their daily calories from fat. The FDA recommends 15-25% of calories from fat. They ate almost no vegetables and almost zero carbohydrates. So, naturally they had high incidences of cancer and heart disease, right? Nope. Both were nearly non-existent. (I’m using the past tense here because many formerly secluded cultures, including the Inuit, have now adopted a Western, high-carb diet. Along with that has come chronic disease.)

Two Canadian scientists lived with the Inuit for a year during the 1930s, observed them, ate as they ate and found that these peoples were perfectly healthy. No heart disease. No high blood pressure. No cancer. When they returned from living in the arctic, they agreed to be subjected to clinical examination for months. The results of the study were published in the Journal of The American Medical Association. The conclusion was:

"the clinical observations and laboratory studies gave no evidence that any ill effects had occurred from the prolonged use of the exclusive meat diet.

There are many other examples that we could look to; The Masai in Kenya that eat meat, milk, and blood and have very little heart disease. The Pima Indians who, before introducing white flour and sugar into their diets, ate mostly meat and vegetables and had almost no heart disease, cancer, or obesity (and now have astronomically high rates of all three after 100 years on a high-carb, Western diet).

For those of you that are wondering why groups of people that eat rice (like the Japanese, for example) aren't as fat, this post has helped me understand this phenomenon a bit better. In short, it’s all about the comparative amounts of carbohydrates in different diets as well as the total and comparative glycemic load of the diets. In other words, rice is much less fattening than bread, sweets, and sugary drinks.

The message here is not that you need to eat a meat-only diet to be healthy. The message is that, in looking at various groups of people and what they eat, it appears that our post-WWII, Western notion that the only healthy diet is one in which the majority of calories come from carbohydrates may not be accurate. These observations are just that, observations.  They are not proof of anything. For me, these observations led me to dive deeper into the science. So, let's dive in.

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{breakfast: grain-free chocolate-coconut pancakes and bacon}

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{on-the-go: egg cups}

2. The Biology: Calories, Insulin, and Common Sense

This is where it gets really interesting…..and technical. The more I read about how the body processes the food we eat, the less I want to eat carbohydrates. So here are the basics.

All of the food we eat contains varying levels of 3 macronutrients; Carbohydrates, Protein, and Fat. These are the 3 variables that are the most important variables in any diet. Much of the debate in the field of nutrition centers around the ratios of these macronutrients within a given diet. Ok, so who cares? Let me explain.

The traditional view of nutrition says that when it comes to weight loss, a calorie is a calorie. You’ll gain the same amount of weight if you eat 5,000 calories of twinkles or 5,000 calories of broccoli. According to the reigning nutritional dogma, The ratio of your dietary fat, carbs, and protein doesnt matter. If you take in fewer calories than you burn, you’ll lose weight. This is true, in a sense. Yes, the body will gain weight if there is a positive energy balance (you consume more calories than you burn), but what drives us to eat more or to expend less energy is our hormones, specifically insulin. Dr. Peter Attia explains this better than I can.

[youtube]2PoRh5Kzab8[/youtube]

So the argument that Dr. Attia is making is that our drive to eat too much or move too little is caused by hormones in our body. This concept is key to understanding why we get fat or why we lose weight. This is one of the key takeaways from Gary Taubes’ book, [amazon_link id="0307474259" target="_blank" ]Why We Get Fat[/amazon_link]. According to Taubes, it’s all about insulin.  (This book totally changed my life and is a great starting point if you're interested in looking into this further.)

If you'd like another explanation (this time with cool animation) on why we get fat, watch the video below from Dr. Robert Lustig.[youtube]Yo3TRbkIrow[/youtube]

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{lunch: sauteed chicken breast, specialty cheese, olives, tomatoes, and creamy dressing}

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{breakfast: Scotch-Italian eggs. prosciutto-wrapped hard boiled eggs in a butter sauce}

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{snack: homemade almond butter on anything-- a spoon, apple, or added to a protein shake}

The problem is when there is too much sugar (glucose) in the blood. When your cells already have all of the glucose that they need, then the excess sugar in your blood has to go somewhere. Where does it go?

Into your fat cells. That’s right. You can’t get fatter without insulin.

“…obesity is impossible in the absence of adequate tissue concentrations of insulin.” – M. Goldberg, in Journal of the American Medical Association

Not only is insulin what makes us fat, it is also the hormone that can prevent us from losing weight. In order for our fat cells to “give up” fat, there can’t be too much insulin in the blood. If your insulin levels are too high, you’re fat cells will stay fat. 

 “Fat is mobilized [burned] when insulin secretion diminishes.” – The American Medical Association

So what triggers insulin response in the body? Carbs. This is why Gary Taubes characterizes the relationship of carbs to weight gain like this: Carbohydrate consumption drives insulin production which drives fat accumulation.

Carbs —> Insulin —> Fat Accumulation

Basically, the more carbs you eat, the more fat your body will store (or hold onto). The fewer carbs you eat, the leaner you’ll get.

 3. The Clinical Studies

Ok, so all of this theory is interesting, but does it work in real life? Specifically, does a high fat-low carb diet really help you lose weight? Is it better than a high carb, low fat diet for weight loss? And here’s the big one: Is a low carb diet safe? Does it lead to heart disease and other chronic disease?

There are a lot of studies, so I’ll just share a few of my favorites:

First, let’s look at the “A to Z Weight Loss Study”. In this study, women were put on one of the following 4 diets; Atkins (low carb), Zone (moderate carb), Learn (FDA recommended carbs), and Ornish (high carb, low fat). Not only did the Atkins group lose the most weight, their risk factors for heart disease and stroke were lowered the most out of all of the diet!  In every single category, the low-carb diet had the best results, including LDL (“bad” cholesterol), HDL (“good” cholesterol), triglycerides, % body fat, insulin levels, and blood pressure. When the lead author of the study presented the findings at a conference, he points out that he is a 25-year vegetarian and that the results of this study shocked him.

Here’s another study where the people on the low-carb diet lost more weight than on a low fat, high carb diet. In addition to losing more weight, their overall health (cholesterol, triglycerides, body fat) improved more on the low carb diet.

Short-term high protein weight loss diets had beneficial effects on total cholesterol and triacylglycerol in overweight and obese subjects and achieved greater weight loss and better lipid results in subjects at increased risk of CVD.

In this study, women on the low-carb diet lost more weight and body fat than those on the traditional diet and had shown no indication of increased health risks.

Based on these data, a very low carbohydrate diet is more effective than a low fat diet for short-term weight loss and, over 6 months, is not associated with deleterious effects on important cardiovascular risk factors in healthy women

Here’s another study, and another, and another.

So we’ve shown from the above studies that, measuring by the indicators doctors use to determine if you’re at risk for chronic disease (heart disease, stroke, etc.), low carb diets are not only not dangerous, they are actually better than the typical, high carb, low fat diet in preventing those deadly diseases.

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{breakfast: fried eggs with chicken-apple sausage, herb-roasted tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, and goat cheese}

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{snack: grain-free carrot spice muffins}

Ok, But Isn't Eating Fat, Paticularly Saturated Fat, Bad For You?

For those still concerned that eating saturated fat is bad for you, you really should look at this study.  They sought to determine whether eating lots of saturated fat causes heart disease, an idea that has been nutritional gospel since the 1950s. This is a study of studies (a meta-analysis) that seeks to take a 30,000-ft. view of the available evidence and draw a more definitive conclusion. This analysis involved 347,747 people (that’s a huge study) and followed them for up to 23 years. The result?

"there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD (coronary heart disease) or CVD (cardiovascular disease).”

Another study basically says that what we’ve been told about saturated fat and heart disease from the authorities is at odds with the scientific evidence. In the author’s words,

 " Results and conclusions about saturated fat intake in relation to cardiovascular disease, from leading advisory committees, do not reflect the available scientific literature.”

 Ok, one last bit of information on the fat and cholesterol thing. Dr. Walter Willet, MD, is the chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and is one of the most respected nutritional researchers in the world. Here’s what he said about fat in the diet.

The relationship of fat intake to health is one of the areas that we have examined in detail over the last 20 years in our two large cohort studies: the Nurses Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.

We have found virtually no relationship between the percentage of calories from fat and any important health outcome.

Fat is not your foe. It's your friend. So why have we been told for so long that we should eat a low-fat diet? The answer to that question is beyond the scope of this post. From what I've learned, the explanation is a combination of bad science, groupthink, entrenched interests,  institutional intransigence, and pride.

Conclusion:

This year has been an exiting time of transformation, education, humility, and discovery for me. I do not pretend to have all the answers. What I can confidently say is that since I have dramatically changed my diet, I have seen dramatic results in my life. I've never been leaner (51.7 lbs. lost so far), happier, more energetic, and satisfied with what I eat. I hope that in reading this post you've learned something and, whether you decide that a low-carb approach is right for you or not, that our experience will cause you to further explore diet and lifestyle options that you haven't yet considered.

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{a favorite side: roasted broccoli with parmesan and ghee}

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{breakfast: grain-free 5 seed-almond granola}

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{breakfast: baked eggs with canadian bacon, diced tomatoes and chiles, herbs and goat cheese}

It's me, Nicole again.

I feel so grateful for all of the information and personal experiences that have led our family to this precise path.  It hasn't been necessarily easy exploring and trying something new but it has become something that feels right for us and is working. 

Lastly, here is what I've taken away from this particular year of eating, losing weight, and seeing a better way:

  •  I lost much more weight the seasons this year that I consciously removed grains, starches, refined sugar, and other high carbohydrate foods out of my diet compared to weeks of eating the same caloric intake but including carbs.
  • By eating a high fat/low carb diet I get fuller after meals (fat is slower to digest and leaves you fuller) and am truly satisfied between meals compared to feeling hungry a few hours after a carbohydrate meal.
  • I stopped counting calories because a high fat diet converts the fat to energy.  I stop eating when I'm full and still lose weight without calculating calories.
  • Eating fat makes you lean.
  • Since I consume few carbs, my body uses my fat to burn as energy, not carbs.
  • Like sugar, grains are addictive.  Once they're out of your system though, they aren't very tempting.  There's more sugar in one slice of whole wheat bread than in a standard candy bar.  Who knew?
  • Butter, coconut oil, and heavy cream become wonderful, filling additions to everything at most meals.
  • Bobby and I have more mental clarity from having removed grains and other carbs from our diet.  It is a proven fact.
  • Eating a high fat/low carb diet can be incredibly delicious.  And this lifestyle can be enjoyed by families with children, moms who like to bake, etc.  There are wonderful and plenteous resources, recipes, and new ingredients to try or use to replace carby ingredients.

 

We'd love to answer any questions you may have.  And thanks for making it all the way to the end.  :)

 

Books of interest:

[one_fourth]

[amazon_image id="031623480X" link="true" target="_blank" size="medium" ]Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers[/amazon_image]

[amazon_link id="031623480X" target="_blank" ]

Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's silent Killers [/amazon_link][/one_fourth]

[one_fourth]

[amazon_image id="0307474259" link="true" target="_blank" size="medium" ]Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It[/amazon_image][amazon_link id="0307474259" target="_blank" ]

Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It [/amazon_link][/one_fourth]

[one_fourth][amazon_image id="1400033462" link="true" target="_blank" size="medium" ]Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health[/amazon_image]

[amazon_link id="1400033462" target="_blank" ]

Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health[/amazon_link][/one_fourth]

[one_fourth_last][amazon_image id="1609611543" link="true" target="_blank" size="medium" ]Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health[/amazon_image]

[amazon_link id="1609611543" target="_blank" ]Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health[/amazon_link]

[/one_fourth_last]

 

the sleepy time gal (and guy)