low-carb

The Low-Carb Diet

I’ve talked about using the low-carb (ketogenic) diet for years as part of my weight-loss journey. The reason why I like it is that it lets me eat my fill of good, whole foods, while letting me lose weight. I’ve been off and on the low-carb and Paleo wagons for years, and it can be a very good program depending on your goals and preferences.

Any diet will work as long as it creates a caloric deficit, they just go about doing this in a different way. Low-carb does it by switching you off the typical Western diet rich in non-filling, highly processed, low nutrient density but high caloric density foods. Then switching you over to high nutrient density, filling foods that naturally makes you body down-regulate how hungry you get.

When burning fat, you also never get low-blood sugar, and rarely feel hungry at all. I was a person who was constantly hungry, even when consuming hundreds if not thousands of calories in excess every day, who used food as entertainment, but on the low-carb diet I had to remind myself to eat something.

The Benefits of Low-Carb Diets

The major benefit of the low-carb diet is that it can be very low-maintenence.  I can get away with eating just one large meal every day and I can fast for up to 48 hours, when I’m in ketosis without it affecting my moods or energy levels. For a person who has never tracked calories or macro-nutrients, just having to keep track of dietary carbohydrate is also much easier than tracking calories, weighing out portions, meal-prepping, eating 6 times every day and being constantly hungry.

The simplest form of low-carb diet is the “Carnivore Diet” and variations of it are as easy as just eating steak and eggs cooked in butter whenever you’re hungry. There is no tracking involved what so ever, just eat meat, eggs and butter. Going a bit more towards the normal spectrum, sticking with meat, eggs, butter and vegetables like broccoli, lettuce and cauliflower, you don’t have to track anything and you will still lose weight most of the time.

You’ll also lose a lot of weight initially when your glycogen (sugar stores) empty, and your body releases the water it holds along with these sugars, this is very motivating.

The Problems with Low-Carb Diets

The major benefit of the low-carb diet, the fact that it’s low maintenance is also the major problem with it. You can see this if you read low-carb forums or low-carb blogs, people hit plateaus, they stall out, and their weight loss is very unpredictable. I experienced many stalls on the low carb diet, and my weight loss varied between 6 kg (13 lbs.) and 0 kg, month to month. I had no way of knowing why I was stalling or why I’d suddenly lost a bunch of weight one month, despite doing the exact same things and eating the same foods.

In the table (in kg) you can see my results during my last period of the low-carb diet before switching over to another style diet. The results are very erratic, despite me thinking that I ate pretty much the same meals in the same amounts in every month. l

When you plateau on a low-carb diet the advocates will recommend eliminating more foods, usually dairy (cheeses, cream) and nuts. Allegedly this is because some people have problems processing dairy, and nuts. This is half-way true, there are people who have problems digesting dairy or nuts properly. If the nuts are salted, it can also lead to bloating that can mask weight-loss. However, the major reason is that nuts and dairy are what I call “EOE” foods, foods that are easy to eat, but are also very calorie dense and are not really filling.

This means that people can rack up the calories very quickly when they are adding cream to every coffee and snack on slices of cheese containing up to 110 calories per slice.

The biggest problem is that most of the advocates use “You don’t have to count calories or track anything and you’ll still lose weight” as a selling point for the diet, and this is the exact reason why every other post on keto forums is “How do I break my stall?” I stalled out in weight gain at 335 lbs, because at that point I would need to eat between 3500 and 4000 calories every day just to maintain my weight. On the same side of things, the reason people stall on low-carb diets is that they are consuming a very small deficit or have no deficit at all.

Why Should You Pick Low-Carb?

The major benefit of low-carb diets from my perspective is that it helps with breaking addictions to carbohydrate. In my case, I was a major carb addict, and by maintaining a low carb diet for months or even years in some cases, I was able to break this addiction so my relationship with carbs normalized. It’s also a good “gateway diet”, as it gets people who have never dieted before into the idea of thinking about what they are eating, making conscious food choices and tracking.

Much of the eating we do is habitual, grabbing a cookie, a sandwich or a burger because we’re bored or a little bit hungry. These calories do all add up, and just eating 100 extra calories every day (about 1 slice of cheese) will result in a 4.7 kg (10 lbs.) of weight gain in a year. The low-carb diet gets people used to reading labels, tracking macros and being aware of what they are eating.

If you are a carboholic, eat for comfort and emotional regulation, or are just getting started with your weight loss I recommend trying the low carb on for size. If you are the type of person who prefers predictability and control, I’ll review other weight loss programs I used during my journey in the coming weeks that are much better than low-carb for control.

 

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The Right Diet for You

There is only one “What” to weight loss, creating a caloric deficit. Without the deficit, you will not lose weight, simple as that. Your body is an energy system, energy comes in from food, and goes out in terms of activity. There are 3 basic ways that you can create the required deficit that 99% of all diets fall within, time, food and portion focused.

All three have advantages and disadvantages that I will cover in later posts, but the purpose of this post is to give an introduction to the three major categories. Our body functions in that it can gain energy from both dietary energy intake (eating) and stored energy utilization (body fat). If a person burns 2500 calories per day, and eats 2500 calories per day, their bodily needs are covered and thus they remain at the same weight.

If the person eats 2000 calories per day, their body will make up the difference with stored energy, deducting 500 from its energy reserves. If the person eats 2700 calories per day, the body will add 200 calories to the store energy reserves per day. This is simplified and it is a lot more complex, but this is how the body functions from an abstract perspective.

All the 3 diet paradigms, function based on the idea of consuming less calories than are required every day and thus over time reducing the amount of stored energy in the form of body fat.

Time-Based Deficits

A time based deficit is centered around food timing. Common examples of this would be intermittent fasting in all the forms, from Leangains 18-6, to The Warrior Diet, 5-2, and various others. The idea here is that by limiting consumption for periods of time, such as only eating for a total of 6 hours every day, you combine staying in fat burning mode longer, while you will have trouble consuming a full day’s calories in only 8 – 6 hours.

Most of the time, the proponents of these diets recommend skipping breakfast and in some cases lunch, then having 1 – 2 larger meals. The effect being that you are fasting for a longer period of time, where your body needs to get energy from your fat stores rather than food.

Food-Based Deficits

This approach focuses on eliminating certain foods from the diet, usually either fat or carbohydrates. The most well-known variant of this diet is the recommended food pyramid from most governments in the U.S.A and Europe, that limits saturated fat. The most well-known example of a low-carbohydrate diet is Atkins that limits dietary carbohydrate to varying degrees.

The idea behind these type of diets varies. The principle behind the food pyramid is based on the research of Ansel Keyes, into the dangers of saturated fats and cholesterol. Also, since dietary carbohydrate has 4 calories per gram, while fats have 9 calories per gram, you could eat about twice the volume of food if your diet is based in carbohydrate.

Some variants on low-carbohydrate diets include those that focus on carbohydrates with a low-glycemic index (GI) that cause less of a spike in insulin than other carbohydrates due to taking longer for the body to digest.

The principles behind various low-carbohydrate diets is that as fats do not raise insulin, in addition to being more satiating than dietary carbohydrate, a natural calorie restriction occurs when a person eliminates carbohydrates from their diet.

Another example of food based deficits are substitution diets, where one food is substituted for another. For instance, eliminating calorie-rich foods for foods with less nutritional value.

Portion-Based Deficits

Portion-based deficits are exemplified by Weight Watchers, where the points system is used to determine your portion sizes. The promise made by these diets is that you can continue eating as you always have, just in smaller servings. From my experience these diets are the most dangerous ones, as the people on them are prone to experience portion-creep, I.E their portions slightly increase over time.

Proponents of these diets cite convenience, simplicity and making compliance easy as the major reasons why to select such a diet. It is especially attractive to parents, who frequently do not have time to make two separate meals for the family, or who do not want their children to be affected with their parent’s obsession with losing weight. It is also very attractive to people who do not want to give up their problem foods.

What is the Right Diet for Me?

In my experience, people tend to lean towards one approach. I know people who have successfully lost weight through limiting their portion sizes, through limiting their eating window and through restricting certain types of food. When you sit down to select your diet, you need to take a holistic perspective on your lifestyle to see what would fit the best.

There is no one-size fits all, despite what many would tell you about losing weight. There is also no “having your cake and eating it too“. To lose the weight you want, you will have to sacrifice some of the foods you love, or some of the meals you enjoy, or just eat less and be more hungry.

 

As of today

As of today, I’m closer to my goal of being a former fat fuck, than I have been before. This journey that has been a series of attempts, failures and improvements is nearing the presumptive end, as I look down on the scale. 218 lbs, 99kg, the first time under 220 lbs, 100kg, in 2 years.

When I started this journey, my goal was to be 220 lbs, as I’ve slowly crept closer to my goal, a new frontier emerged, 185 lbs, at 10% body fat. There was a time years ago where I had no idea how much I weighed, I had no idea about my health in general. I just enjoyed life, as I saw it, a lot of tv, a lot of food and a lot of soda. My weight started creeping up at the start of my teenage years, and as I grew older, my weight grew larger and larger until I found myself wearing 3XL shirts, and size 44 pants, at 26 years old.

My size seemed to stagnate at this level, a little north of 330 lbs, at 6 ft 2 inches. I spent most of my time sitting around, eating and watching various movies and tv-shows leading to an nearly encyclopedic knowledge of English speaking pop culture. I didn’t really want to lose weight, or rather I did not want to give up delicious food. Then as I was about a year away from finishing my bachelor degree, I was running out of money, and as a result I ended up eating a lot less. Thus, I lost the first 30 lbs that started this journey.

I didn’t do this knowing what I was doing, I just ate whatever I could afford, and let my body mass make up the difference. (more…)