Monday, January 30, 2012

Busting Through My Stall

One of my new year's resolutions was to do a 30-day, very clean Paleo experiment. I chose a hybrid of the Perfect Health Diet and Chris Kresser's Personal Paleo Code reset diet. So for the past 30 days, I gave up dairy, artificial sweeteners, dark chocolate, most packaged and processed foods, and all forms of sweeteners, artificial or not (e.g., no more maple or rice syrup). I avoided eating out as much as possible and concentrated on eating real, whole foods that I cooked myself. I made sure to eat safe starches each and every day, in the form of sweet potatoes, potatoes, or rice. I do not drink alcohol, coffee, and caffeinated teas, so they were not a problem for me. And I paid attention to calories, as they matter. Today is day 30 of this experiment.

What Happened 
So what happened? Several things, all of them good.

First, I busted through my stall. For about six months, I had stalled in the 242-245 pound range, though in recent weeks I had gotten up to has high as 249. That was a good 25-30 pounds above my ideal weight (I am tall). On January 1, 2012, I weighed 249.8 pounds and this morning, January 30, 2012, I weighed 233.8 pounds, for a total loss of 16 pounds.

Second, my blood glucose levels were excellent. They fell, and rapidly. In particular, my fasting blood glucose levels were a bit high (the "dawn phenomenon"), but they fell to below 100 most mornings. One-hour readings were almost always below 120 and two-hour readings were close to 100.

Third, I broke an addiction to artificial sweeteners. I haven't had anything with an artificial sweetener for 30 days now and have drunk nothing but water and herbal tea. Something caused me to have big headaches the first week, as I was weaning myself from non-natural foods. It was like the caffeine withdrawal I had when I finally gave up diet colas three years ago (I am not a coffee or caffeinated tea drinker). I don't know what caused the headaches, but I am wondering if it wasn't all the artificial sweeteners I had been consuming.

Why I Believe it Worked
So why was I able to drop 16 pounds in 30 days, when I was stalled for six months? Because I was consuming fewer calories, bottom line. When you cut out dairy, sweeteners (artificial and real), chocolate, and other processed foods, you simply eat less. I noticed that immediately, when I realized the range of foods available for me to eat was quite limited. I also stopped snacking. Plus the foods I actually ate were whole and real. I only ate out when I absolutely could not help it.

After going gangbusters on a low carb diet, I got sloppy and started eating things that were probably not good for me. Dark chocolate tops that list. I pretty much ate some chocolate almost every day and for me, chocolate is a trigger food. Also, I bought into all the "high fat low carb" fairy tale hype I had seen on the Internet. So I was making an effort to add fat to everything. What I didn't really realize was that a low carb or Paleo diet is already high fat; you don't have to add fat to make it high fat. When you cut back on carbs, fat fills the void. Naturally.

I also ate a lot of energy dense foods as snacks, such as cheeses, almonds, almond flour, other nuts, and ice cream. You simply cannot eat all you want of these types of food and lose weight; calories count. This is a message that needs repeating on the Internet.

Challenges I Faced
It wasn't easy to do. I got withdrawal headaches from something that were very unpleasant for the first week. Then my father passed away and I spent 10 days on the road, eating what I could, when I could. On only one occasion during the funeral trip was I forced to make a compromise. I hadn't eaten much and, because of traveling, had to eat on the road. I probably consumed fewer than 1,000 calories that day, but I did buy a stick of beef jerky and some smokehouse almonds from a convenience store to get through that particular situation. I also had a really bad cold two weeks into the process and took some cold medication (but not a lot) . I had wanted to have a chemical free experience, but life happened.

Lessons Learned
Here are some lessons I learned:

  • Calories count. 
  • Whole foods are best. 
  • I was addicted to chocolate, which means I will probably have to avoid it in the future. 
  • I can survive without diet soda. 
  • I miss cheese, but will not go overboard with it when it is reintroduced. 
  • Coconut oil is my friend. 
  • I got sloppy and careless on the low carb diet, and consumed too many calories each day, which is why I stalled.
  • Paleo is a much better eating philosophy than low carb.
  • The low carb conventional wisdom found on the web (e.g., "Add fat!") is wrong.
  • However, as a road warrior, low carb is easier to live with than clean Paleo, if one is forced to eat out a lot.

Moving Forward
I will be gradually reintroducing some of the foods I have not eaten for a while, but continue to pay attention to calories. I am getting near my goal of 215-220 pounds and I want to reach that, as I want to go paragliding in Switzerland this summer. I am still taking refuge in the Carbsane Asylum and not blindly accepting what I read on the web anymore. There are many wise voices on the web, but also lots of fairy tales.

18 comments:

  1. Those are great results, but I'm curious why you think potatoes are okay. I'm not disagreeing with you; I'm just asking.

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  2. @Beth: Thanks! And thanks for the retweet.

    @Jim Purdy: I generally follow the Perfect Health Diet version of Paleo (www.perfecthealth.com) and a cornerstone of that approach is that the body needs glucose. Why overwork the liver when there are safe starches, such as rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and taro root? I generally consume between 50 and 100 grams of safe starches per day.

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  3. First and foremost, my condolences on the loss of your father. May you and your family find peace.

    Secondly, congrats on busting through that plateau!! Awesome. I'm confident for you that you'll reach that paragliding goal.

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  4. Thanks for the kind words, Evelyn. My Dad was a good man. On that funeral trip, I stayed with my daughter and was able to cook in most days, which really helped.

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  5. I struggle with artificial sweeteners as well. I gave them up cold turkey last year and lasted a number of months without. they're a tough one for me. Congrats on persevering & busting thru that plateau - way to go! And so sorry about your father. My mom passed away about 7 years ago from breast cancer & it broke my heart I still miss her.

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  6. Congratulations on your continued health.

    I have lost count of the times I find myself posting in blog comments or in Diabetes forums that LCHF does NOT mean sitting on the couch with a tub of lard and a spoon!

    As I'm sure you know, "Low", "High" whatever is simply a descriptive term for the relative percentage of calories from each of the macronutrients. With fat having over twice the calories per gram of carbs or protein, it is relatively easy maths (even for me) to see that for a 2,000-2,500 calories per days diet, the substitution of just 43g of fat instead of 100g of carbs can tip the balance from low fat/high carb to low carb/high fat. This can be accomplished simply by no longer avoiding fat... eating real, whole food as you say... chicken with the skin on for example, regular ground beef rather than extra lean... cheaper also ;-)

    There may be some misleading advice out there but on balance I'd suggest that "adding natural fat to everything" is less harmful than "eat plenty of healthy whole grains".

    --

    I am interested in your switch from low carb to paleo and especially the part about adding back starches. I am reading anecdotal evidence (which I consider valid nonetheless) from several sources suggesting that starches can be added back -- As I recall Dr Atkins and Dr Richard K. Bernstein allow the adding back of carbs to a level that can be tolerated by the individual...

    I wonder if you know of anyone who has had similar success to yourself (specifically significant loss of excess fat mass and improved metabolic health) by going straight to a paleo diet including starches, without the interim step of low carb?

    The anecdotes I read online generally went low carb first and I wonder if this approach was not important to re-establish metabolic health so that increased starches could now be tolerated where perhaps they might not have been before?

    --

    While I agree that calories count at some level, I am also convinced by my reading and personal experience that we (like every other animal) have an innate ability to live in equilibrium with our natural environments. Some of us may have had bad eating habits ground into us as children but I still find that increasingly I can trust my own body to let me know when, how much and much and even to some extent what I need to eat. Obviously limiting myself almost exclusively to real, whole, local and seasonal food helps a great deal in that regard.

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  7. @FashionTribes Diet: Thanks for the kind words about my father. He was a good and influential man, who meant a lot to me. As for artificial sweeteners, I have consumed A LOT of them over the years. The solution I have decided for myself is to use real, as opposed to artificial, sweeteners, but in strict moderation. For example, maple syrup, in very small quantities, as a reward for eating something healthy, but distasteful, to me. For example, beef liver.

    @FrankG: As recommended by Chris Kresser, I follow the Jaminets' Perfect Health Diet (www.perfecthealthdiet.com) and they are the ones who convinced me that I could add back safe starches. As for an example of someone who lost weight by going Paleo before low carb, Jay Wright (no relation) comes to mind. See: http://perfecthealthdiet.com/?p=5181.

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  8. Congrats - I as well have Dawn Phenomenon. My A1C's are usually around 5.0 - 5.2 however my fasting glucose in the AM is usually around 110 - 120. I have tried eating/non-eating all sorts of combinations at night. I lost 35 pounds and have reached my goal weight and my A1C dropped from 5.7 to its current 5.0-5.2 but yet my AM numbers have gotten actually worse. Thanks for the suggestion of the sweet potato, I am going to give it a try and eat it with my evening meal. I have been VLC probably eating around 35 50 grams a day.

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  9. @mj: I found the safe starches had virtually no effect on my blood sugar levels, but they had a tremendous impact on my enjoyment of food. It allowed me to broaden my menu, which my wife greatly appreciated. I still wonder what all the Internet hoolpa about safe starches was about.

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  10. I must have misunderstood, I thought in your article near the top that you stated that your fasting blood glucose levels were a bit high (the "dawn phenomenon"), but they fell to below 100 most mornings after you introduced the safe starches.

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  11. @mj: My bad. I meant, everyone was telling me that "safe" starches (note the scare quotes) would shoot my blood glucose levels through the roof; that did not happen. Instead, it helped LOWER them. I am thinking of the Ron Rosedale's and Jimmy Moore's of the world who are anti-safe starch because of the effect it supposedly has on blood sugars.

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  12. Thanks and I am going to give it a try -

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  13. "...everyone was telling me that "safe" starches (note the scare quotes) would shoot my blood glucose levels through the roof; that did not happen. Instead, it helped LOWER them. I am thinking of the Ron Rosedale's and Jimmy Moore's of the world who are anti-safe starch because of the effect it supposedly has on blood sugars."

    Please don't be so quick to dismiss the personal experience of others, simply because it does not match your own. I am also a Type 2 Diabetic and after losing over 100lbs of excess fat mass (maintained for over 3 years now) I have tried increasing carbs (even "safe"* starches) with the expected (for me) increased BGs.

    As I intimated above: each of us has our own level of tolerance (of "what is safe") and it makes sense to me that: as you improve your metabolic health, reduce excess fat mass and reduce IR, your tolerance for carbohydrate may also improve. BUT as in my case, it has not improved such that I can eat more starches without injecting more insulin, something I am not willing to do yet.

    I have come across others on Diabetes forums who also seem to benefit from higher levels of carbohydrate... even one who uses some sugar each morning effectively to "kick-start" his insulin production for the day... it seems to work for him so why would I knock it?

    Aren't we all in this together or does it have to be a fight to the death with only one victor and everyone else must be wrong?

    In terms of what your are eating -- the Perfect Health Diet as it is explained on their website -- I fail to see how a diet recommending between 100-150g of carbs a day is not viewed as "low carb"? It may not be at ketogenic levels but it is by any reasonable definition a low carb diet. If safe starches can be used effectively to manage weight, BGs etc.. I'd be more convinced if that was demonstrated in an high carb diet.

    Why is there such a hate-filled and vicious backlash against what has already led to a significant improvement in your health? Perhaps it is not "all things to all men" and perhaps you did not get everything out of it that you expected... as you have pointed out elsewhere in your blog even Gary Taubes warns about stalling, yet somehow he is the bad guy for not making enough fuss about it to grab your attention? Did his book come with a written guarantee that each and every one of us would become lean and healthy again? I read no such thing but then I also seem to have a read a different (less absolute) version of the hypothesis he promotes, than that put about by some others.

    I'd point out that your recent diet change has been more than simply adding back some safe starches: you also, among other changes, gave up snacks and artificial sweeteners. I am sure in your line of work you understand about controlling for multiple variables and how difficult that can make it to draw conclusions about which one led to the outcome. I think you are in danger of letting your biases close your mind to alternative interpretations of the observations.

    I am hoping that you are a reasonable man and that you can let the science and your own experience speak for itself; without falling into the Carbsane school of blogging where you feel you strengthen your position by slamming others. Personal attacks for me, imply a weak position.


    *in this instance I have used quotes not to scare you but rather to show that these are so-called "safe" starches... clearly they are not safe for everyone. Perhaps just another instance of bias skewing the interpretation?

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  14. FrankG, I think the point that should be made clear with folks who attempt to introduce starches after low-carbing is that you are very, very likely to see your BG shooting up initially because of the glucose-sparing phenomenon that is peripheral insulin resistance (Paul Jaminet covered this on his blog).

    In this case, when you initially ingest a lot of starch after avoiding it, it's harder for your body to remove it quickly. But if you continue to add starch, it is possible for this to reverse. This is why people like Peter@Hyperlipid advise eating 150g of carbs for 3 days before taking an oral glucose tolerance test.

    However, for some people, adding starches back in doesn't work. These are likely folks whose beta cells are not up to the task of producing the insulin needed to remove the glucose.

    People in the former group should not fear starches and may well want to consider ramping them up to see if that works better. People in the latter probably don't. But they won't know which group they are in without giving themselves time to adapt ... the response to one meal is really insufficient information.

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  15. @Beth -- "...the point that should be made clear with folks who attempt to introduce starches after low-carbing is that you are very, very likely to see your BG shooting up initially... ... This is why people like Peter@Hyperlipid advise eating 150g of carbs for 3 days before taking an oral glucose tolerance test."

    Thank-you Beth, I agree. I was already aware of this phenomenon going back to Vilhjalmur Stefansson's experience in the 1920's when he and Karsen Anderson undertook a year-long trial of eating exclusively lean and fat meat -- "This was essentially a high fat, low carbohydrate diet."

    http://www.jbc.org/content/83/3/747.full.pdf

    Immediately following the trial, both men failed an Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT) but at 2 or more weeks, after resuming a "general" diet, they both passed a second OGTT.


    My concern is: how do we address this to people (including other bloggers) who may be unaware of this concept? Do we use an adult approach where we point them to Paul Jaminet's blog, or this PDF (as examples) or do we slam them as being stupid and ignorant (along with everyone of their kind), or perhaps make some sarcastic remarks about their choice of clothes, the fact that they no longer have the figures they had in their 20's, or make snide remarks perhaps about some physical disfigurement? How does any of this help? I think it is just nasty, vicious and unkind.

    If someone has a point of view, then present your evidenced-based proof and let it stand on its own. Trying to destroy another's character does not help your cause... especially when it is based on an extreme, polarised and misleading version of what that other person is saying. Gary Taubes is NOT saying that ALL carbs are bad, Dr Lustig is NOT saying that ALL fructose is evil, non-one is saying that insulin is the devils work!

    If I am teaching my young son about fire and point out the dangers as well as the benefits... am I saying that fire is bad or good???

    I think we all need to take a good long look at what we are doing out here, grow up and start acting like adults. Snide remarks, sarcasm, ridicule or just outright nastiness is childlike and does not go along with a quest for the truth. It does not help anyone.

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  16. @FrankG Beth essentially said what I would have said.

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