Two years ago my husband introduced me to the low-carb/high-fat diet. It goes by various names: Primal, Paleo, South Beach, Atkins. There are slight differences among these but the overall theory is (a) sugars are bad, (b) carbs are sugars, therefore (c) carbs are bad. Primal/Paleo types recognize that animal fats, and those found in such foods as avocados, coconuts, and nuts, are very healthy. I watched Husband lose over 60 lbs on this diet without even exercising, read one of the Low-Carb Bibles (Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories), and decided to give it a try.
I lost weight quite effortlessly, with no change in activity level and no calorie counting. In fact I ate far more calories than I normally do. It was an exciting time: I lost 20 lbs in about 3 months, more than my goal of 10 lbs, and I was thrilled. I swore I would never go back to my old weight. But then I started eating carbs again, certain I could control myself, but the cravings began again and I fell off the wagon, and several months later had gained back all the weight I lost.
I recently decided it was time for me to lose the extra pounds, and I set out to do exactly what I had done before. But I failed almost immediately. The first obstacle was that our financial situation has changed and we are on a tight budget. I could not afford the kinds of foods I needed to stick with low carb (lots of nuts, dried fruits, etc). I had gotten used to eating foods I really enjoyed (nothing horribly unhealthy, but things like rice and beans, risotto, guacamole with tortilla chips, homemade hamburgers on actual buns, quesadillas with roasted veggies) and many of these were now off the list. For whatever reason, I became rather depressed (I don’t meant that in the clinical sense of the word) about what I was faced with eating. I was feeling deprived and miserable; not “deprived” in a caloric sense – you never go hungry on a low carb diet – but deprived of things that “normal people” ate and which I really enjoyed. Finally, I couldn’t even get past my carb addiction – despite knowing that the cravings would go away if I just held in there for a couple of weeks, I caved in to the cravings more often than not and, consequently, my weight wasn’t budging.
I then began to ask myself why I was making myself so miserable, agonizing over everything I ate, all for the sake of 10 lbs. Surely life was too short to let a few extra pounds rob me of the joy of eating? It’s not like I eat a ton of garbage, and it’s not like live a totally sedentary lifestyle: I walk, hike, and cycle regularly with my dog. I decided to let go of all dietary considerations and just eat “normally”. On the bright side, I haven’t gained any weight. But on the down side, I honestly don’t feel great in my body right now. Where I feel great in my body is still, according to all the charts, more than I should weigh, but I don’t place much faith in those charts. Ten pounds lost would make me very happy. I began to wonder if there was some way to compromise between going full-on low-carb while still losing weight.
My little theory is that going low-carb allows one to lose weight without depending on exercise or reduced calorie intake. It certainly worked for me. On the other hand, I know people can lose weight by following the old “eat less, exercise more” thing. In my experience, that doesn’t work well for me (and Gary Taubes’ book goes into fascinating detail about why the “calories in, calories out” concept is way oversimplified) but perhaps, I thought, if I was willing to accept that the rate of weight loss would be slow, I could find a place in the middle where it would work for me: don’t overdo it on the carbs, watch the calories without going hungry, and see what happens.
I joined a free online fitness program where I can track my caloric intake and exercise. I’m not paying attention to their fat and carb requirements, which are too low and too high, respectively, in my opinion. I have found that, just as the website says, the act of simply tracking my food has already made me more mindful about what I’m eating and whether I’m truly hungry or just craving something. I’m on day three and so far I’ve learned that, at baseline, I don’t overeat to any significant extent. I can understand now why my weight has been fairly constant for the last several weeks: I’d guess, based on what I know now, that my average daily caloric intake is around that required for maintenance (about 2000 calories).
I’m not restricting myself from any type of food, but I’m also not going crazy either. Breakfast is often a bowl of Cheerios (the only commercial cereal I know of with no sugar) or poached eggs on white toast. I have been enjoying ham sandwiches for lunch. I’m happy being able to eat these foods, but I’m also cautious about overdoing it. I don’t feel deprived. I do find that I wake up hungry, which I didn’t when on a low-carb diet. And I do have to be very mindful of my carb addiction. According to the website, simply logging my calories will serve to keep me on track, and the site is well set up to make doing so easy. My hope is that I can lose weight, although I do not expect it to be as fast as with a low-carb diet, and then keep it off by being mindful of my intake. Otherwise I don’t intend to restrict myself and, at this time of year, it’s easy to get lots of exercise. I’m even considering taking up running again.
It will be interesting to see how this works.