Thursday, April 29, 2010

Carbs can Make you Fat? How does that Work?

A few people have asked me how it is that carbohydrates can cause weight gain, but eating fat doesn't tend to do so. The thing is, "calories in, calories out" is a myth. Unlike a car that simply burns gas, our bodies respond differently to different fuels. There are a few reasons that carbohydrates, more so than fat or protein, can cause weight gain:

It's easy to overeat carbohydrates.
Most carbs aren't very filling. Everyone who has ever eaten half a box of cereal, a bag of chips or box of cookies in one sitting, raise your hand. Ever eaten a stick of butter or a whole jar of mayonnaise at once? I didn't think so.

Carbs are addictive for some people. Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist, recommends a low-carb, wheat-free diet to all his patients. He reports that 30% of them go through wheat withdrawal.

Carbs can make you hungry. Eating carbohydrates raises your blood sugar, which causes your body to release insulin into the bloodstream. In some people, this is followed by a dip in blood sugar, which causes hunger.

Keep in mind, though, that eating too much of anything can cause weight gain.

Carbohydrates affect your insulin levels.
Again, eating carbohydrates causes your body to release insulin into the blood stream. This process is more complicated than simply overeating. Another blogger, Sami Paju, explains the process very well in his post "The How and Why of Weight Loss" on his blog, excerpted here. He also talks about diabetes and the physical differences between hunter-gatherers (the original low-carb people) and farmers (high-carb people).

This is what Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades say about insulin: "[It] regulates blood sugar... It controls the storage of fat, it directs the flow of amino acids, fatty acids, and carbohydrate to the tissues, it regulates the liver's synthesis of cholesterol, it functions as a growth hormone, it is involved in appetite control, it drives the kidneys to retain fluid, and much, much more." In other words, insulin is very likely the most important hormone when it comes to your metabolism.

As stated above, insulin controls nutrient storage and its main purpose is to get excess sugar, amino acids and fats out of the blood and into the cells. In the context of this article, the take-away message is that the higher your insulin levels, the more inclined your body is to store nutrients as fat. And notice, that I said "nutrients" instead of "fat". Our bodies will turn the excess protein and carbohydrate into fat. You can eat all the no-fat or low-fat food in the world and still accumulate body fat! On the other hand, lower insulin levels promote the usage of stored fat, leading to weight loss.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Seeking Hidden Allergies

When I was nine years old, I had a allergy test that involved a nurse putting about 100 scratches on my back and applying a potential allergen to each scratch. If I remember right, I was allergic to about 90 things. I took weekly allergy shots for years after that, completely desensitizing me to needles. But the allergies never really left.

It's the wrong time of year for allergies, but I've had them over the past few weeks. I used to just take a Sudafed and ibuprofin and suffer until the pain went away. Lately, though, I've noticed that allergy attacks happen when I eat something different: non-dairy creamer, a particular brand of sausage (which probably has something that's not on the label), and a cookie (which contained wheat).

A test a few years ago showed that I don't have celiac, a condition where gluten (a protein in wheat) damages the intestines. But you don't have to have a permission slip from your doctor to eliminate things from your diet.

A few months ago, I eliminated everything but meat, eggs, nuts, greens, spices, baking cocoa and some condiments (like vinegar and mustard) from my diet. I felt great! By slowly adding back items that can be part of a low-carb plan, I've seen what I can and cannot tolerate. Basically, I ate a paleo diet (with a few exceptions like vinegar and cocoa), the diet humans and their ancestors were on for two million years. Then I added back technology dependent foods like the cookie (our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn't grow or eat grains). Then I paid attention to how I felt. No expensive, uncomfortable allergy test required.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Weight Loss for Lazy People (Like Me)

My calculus II teacher, Monica Fleischauer, once told our class, "Good mathematicians are basically lazy." I took that to mean that they didn't make extra work for themselves--the opposite of the saying, "You get out of it what you put into it."

The statement about being lazy seems to apply to losing weight. A few months ago when I was on Body-for-Life, I was working out six days a week: lifting weights, doing intense cardio workouts and ballet strength conditioning. And I'd gained 20 pounds over the last few years. About two months ago, I dropped BFL and slashed the carbs. I eat meat, eggs, nuts, greens, and protein powder drinks (homemade) until I'm satisfied. I'm pretty good about limiting the carbs. Last night, I had a Netflix night with half a bag of pork rinds, hot wings and a diet root beer. Right now, I'm enjoying a low-carb brownie made of protein powder, peanut butter, nuts and coconut, and a coffee with cream, no sugar. For exercise, this week I did about 30 minutes of strength training and went out on a school night for a dance class and dance afterward. Conventional wisdom says I should be putting on weight. The reality is that I'm back to what I weighed in high school: 118 pounds.

My mother is losing weight on her low-carb diet, too. She hasn't weighed herself, but she's having an easier time moving around, and her wedding rings are loose. At one time, she couldn't get them on. A bit of stretching is all the exercise she can do.

Even my dog, whom I've switched to low-carb dog food, feels firmer and less flabby. She's not as hungry as she used to be, either--at least, she doesn't constantly beg for food anymore. She can now sprint at 10 miles per hour on the treadmill and keep up with any dog at the dog park. She exercises because she loves it.

Besides giving us the little gem of wisdom about laziness as a virtue, Monica Fleischauer told us about the importance of identifying patterns in calculus. I think I see a pattern in low-carb diets: slash the carbs and lose weight whether you exercise a little or a lot.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Homage to the Low-carb Cookie God

Last Tuesday I had a chocolate chip cookie. "I've been awfully good, and one cookie won't hurt me," I rationalized. But eating that cookie gave me a stomach ache, acid reflux for two days and painful nasal congestion--the viscous, sticky kind that won't move--for four days.

How did one cookie make me feel so bad? Was is the extra carbs? According to Pepperidge Farm's web site, one of their chocolate chip cookies (similar to the one I ate) has 20g of carbohydate. That's quite a bit if you eat low-carb, but that's less than a Luna bar, which has 25g of carb--and which I can eat without any ill effects. The Luna bar also has more sugar. What the Luna bar doesn't have is wheat. I stopped eating wheat months ago; this was my first lapse since then.

There's a saying that it's not the poison, but the dose, but in my case, wheat is poison in any amount.

Some people are amazed at those of us who don't eat wheat, but I never found it the hardship that they make it out to be. The problem is boredom: meat, eggs, nuts and salad day after day makes even filet mignon unappetizing and drives a person to eat cheap chocolate chip cookies instead. So I bought a book called 500 Low-carb Recipes by Dana Carpender. The second recipe I tried was "Mom's Chocolate Chip Cookies." "With this recipe," Ms. Carpender proclaims, "I assume the title of Low-carb Cookie God." And the cookies were good: tasty with no reflux, sinusitis, blood sugar crash or carb cravings an hour later. I give thanks to the Carpender who has shown me the way to make cookies without the abomination called wheat.