Monday, December 26, 2011

Taubes on Low Carb Stalls

Low carb diets stall if you need to lose more than 17-19% of your body weight. That's the dirty little secret about low carb diets, one that I wish I had known. Weight Watchers took me all the way to goal, but low carb stalls. This has left me about 25-30 pounds short of my goal.

The good news is that I am weight stable; the bad news is that I am no longer going down. This is also very common.

Gary Taubes slickly warned us all of this phenomenon in his book, Why We Get Fat. So I can't say I wasn't warned, but he sugar coats the reality. The following quote is from pp. 204-205 of the 2010 hardback edition of his book:

"The fewer carbohydrates we consume, the leaner we will be. This is clear. But there's no guarantee that the leanest we can be will ever be as lean as we'd like. This is a reality to be faced... [I]f you are not actively losing fat and yet want to be leaner still, the only viable option (short of surgery or the prospect that the pharmaceutical industry will come through with a safe and effective anti-obesity pill) is to eat still fewer carbohydrates, identify and avoid other foods that might stimulate significant insulin secretion--diet sodas, dairy products (cream, for instance), coffee, and nots, among others--and have more patience." (The bold and italicized emphasis is mine).

Why is this aspect of the low carb experience not given more exposure? I had to learn about it by reading the What They Don't Tell You About Low Carb Diets web site (a very good web site, which I highly recommend). And is patience the only way to get to goal? Carbsane has stalled, but been weight stable, for over three years now. How much more patience is needed? Lots of suggestions for busting through stalls, such as drinking more water, intermittent fasting (Taubes on p. 205 of the book referenced above), counting calories, etc.

Or perhaps low carb is not the answer, or at least, not the entire answer, to losing weight. I do not want to remain obese, even if other health markers are good (e.g., normal blood pressure, stabilized blood glucose levels). That is not a good strategy.

So over the next few months, I am going to explore other options. I remain committed to the Perfect Health Diet way of eating, but I am going to aggressively monitor calories and experiment with various foods that may or may not be causing me to stall. I have a goal in mind: I will be taking a group of students on a study abroad trip to Europe this summer (gratuitous link to my study abroad blog) and I want to be thin enough to go paragliding in Interlaken, Switzerland. The upper limit is 220 pounds, so that is my goal. I should be able to lose another 25 pounds in the next six months or so and be ready for the paragliding activity.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

More Fairy Tale Advice

Want a current example of a low carb fairy tale?  A so-called, self-proclaimed "diet doctor" sends this message: eat as much "real food" as you like this holiday season, "because counting calories isn't necessary when eating real food." *

While this message might work for someone who is not/has never been obese, it is absolutely the wrong message to send to an obese, or formerly obese, person struggling to lose weight. You simply do not tell a person with eating issues that they can eat as much as they like and still lose weight. Even if it is grass-fed beef, pastured butter and raw, pastured cream, if you eat too much of it, you will gain weight.

Many thoughtful low carb luminaries recommend calorie counting (e.g., Jenny RuhlStargazey, and, most prominently of all, Drs. Volek and Phinney in their book, The Art and Science of Low Carb Living). Carbohydrate restriction and calorie counting is the key to weight loss success. Eating moderately, as Volek and Phinney point out, is also the key to maintaining that weight loss. This is especially important for people who are obese or formerly obese.

If you restrict your carbs and pay attention to calories, you will lose weight. If you consume too many calories, you will gain weight. Even if those calories come from the "real food" you are eating.

A parting comment:  Kurt Harris, M.D., has some hard hitting advice about eating too much low carb/Paleo foods and yet remaining obese, despite improved markers of health. His take in a nutshell: become lean.  Eating junk and being thin is preferable to eating clean low carb/Paleo and being fat.

*Note: I actually agree with much (but not all; I would never eat canola oil, for example) of the Diet Doctor's prescription for weight loss, as long as one is brutally honest about this point: "Eat when you are hungry until you are satisfied" (from his list of approved foods). It's just that the obese and formerly obese need to be very honest about both hunger and satisfaction. All too often, the"until you are satisfied" part is lost behind the "Eat when you are hungry" advice. And all too often, the justification for overeating is, "Don't count calories, count carbs." Eating a cup of cream a day will sabotage your weight loss strategy, even if there aren't very many carbs in that cream.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Low Carb Fairy Tales

Obesity is a complex problem. But, as is human tendency, we want a simple answer to a complex problem. And low carb is a simple answer. Yes, you can lose weight, but this is almost by accident, as when you go low carb, you cut out wheat and sugar, two very problematic things.

Low carb proponents tell the obese exactly what they want to hear:

1) It's not my fault I am fat; my metabolism is broken.
2) I can eat all the fat and protein I want and still lose weight, because low carb gives me a metabolic advantage.
3) Calories don't count, only carbs matter, since all carbs are fattening.
4) Exercise doesn't matter.
5) Carbs increase insulin, which increases fat storage. Cut the carbs and burn fat.
6) Add yummy fat to your diet to be even more healthy and speed up weight loss.

Isn't that nice? Only it's not true: it's merely a fairy tale, with very little empirical science to back it up.

But it is one heck of a persuasive argument to tell an obese person. It shifts the blame from your willpower to something you can't control: an out of whack metabolism. And it worked! At least at first. Then it stalled as it always does after 17-20% weight loss and I got wiser.

It was like learning that Santa Claus is not real: low carb is not the magic weight loss bullet I thought it was.

What I really wanted was a simple solution to what I now know is a complex problem. I didn't want my being fat to be blamed on my sloth and gluttony, I wanted another explanation (broken metabolismfattening carbs!). I didn't want to exercise and I didn't want to count calories. I wanted to eat until I was full and lose weight. Nice, neat, simple, compelling, and wrong.

I am currently following the Perfect Health Diet, a scientifically developed Paleo diet that is not based on fairy tales and which encourages exercise and calorie counting, is already high fat (you don't have to add any more), and complex. But that is okay, because I no longer believe in Santa Claus.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Taking Refuge in the Asylum

So why have I been silent for the past few weeks? The safe starch debate really got to me, especially the smug, sanctimonious responses of many low carbers.

I have decided I no longer want to be identified as a "low carber" and prefer the "Paleo" moniker instead, at least the Perfect Health Diet version of it. Which means I am at a crossroads as to what to do with my blog, as it is called "Low Carb Wisdom." I am seeing there is no wisdom in low carb circles, just dogma. So it's time to hit the exits. I'm not saying I am abondoning the blog, but I am taking... a pause.

In the mean time, I have sought refuge in the Carb Sane Asylum. You might want to check in if you show any sign of these symptoms.