Saturday, August 21, 2010

Low carbing

Earlier I said I would talk a bit about my low carbohydrate diet.  Enough people are noticing the changes in my appearance so that I am getting a lot of questions.

"How did you do it?"
"Aren't you worried about eating all that fat?"
"I couldn't do it! I don't have the will power."

I will give you an overview of how I ended up losing 28 pounds.  But first I will tell you WHY I lost it. 

Most people would have said, upon observing me last January, that I didn't have to lose any weight.  I had gained 10 pounds over the holidays, and I went onto Atkins induction to get rid of it fast.  But I didn't want to just see-saw and gain it back, so I joined several yahoogroups boards for a little moral support.

Finally, I found a board that worked for me.  Plenty of moral support, but also good and thoughtful answers.  These people cared about what they were putting in their bodies, and there were many links provided so you could see for yourself why they were eating the way they were.  Very few mentions of faux sweets.  No diet soda (my one sin, and I'm working on it), with emphasis on good, unprocessed foods.

When one eats an extremely low carb diet, at least some of the carbs that you cut out have to be replaced with either fat or protein.  Okay, you might just want to cut out calories, but in my case, with only ten pounds to lose, and becoming convinced that low carbing might just be the best way for me to eat for the rest of my life, I had to look at how I consumed at least some of the calories I was giving up when the bread and lemon meringue pie left my diet.  All of our dietary choices are composed of fat, protein, and/or carbohydrates.  Those are our only three choices.  One's first instinct might be to replace the carbs with protein, but it turns out that protein is not the best choice.  Fat is - and (gasp!) saturated fat is the best of the fats out there.  Fats are very satisfying.  You will stop eating sooner, and you will not be going back to the kitchen later. 

Later, I'll discuss the merits of saturated fat and the unfortunate Seven Countries Study that pointed a finger at saturated fat without any proof. But not yet.

Here is how this way of eating works.  When one eats very few carbs, the body begins to burn fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates.  This state of affairs can be detected by a simple urine test, which I do every morning.  If I am throwing ketones, then that means that my carbohydrate intake is low enough that my body is going to fat for fuel.  When we are throwing ketones, it means that we are in ketosis.  Many people confuse ketosis with a serious state called ketoacidosis, which is not good.  However, when one is in ketosis, especially if you are at "trace" for your measurement, then there is little danger of reaching ketoacidosis.

For now, I want to talk about why I am still on a very low carb (VLC) diet, even though my weight is normal.  On the support board, mention was made of kids with epilepsy who have been cured - yes, CURED! - of epilepsy by staying in ketosis for two years.  Then they can eat anything they want, and a cure seems to have been effected in about a third of the cases.  Another third have greatly reduced episodes, in both number and severity, and the last third don't seem to get any help at all.  This has been known and used since the 1920s.

I have been on a medicine that is used for epilepsy.  I have been diagnosed with mild bi-polar disorder, and the medicine I took did help a great deal with episodes of depression.  But it didn't seem to help much with agitation or with my hair-trigger temper.  I also developed a skin rash, which is a serious and sometimes fatal side effect of Lamictal, the drug I was taking.  So I had good reason for wanting to lower my dose or get off of it altogether.  Why do we take the same meds that work for epilepsy?  There is some speculation that bi-polar disorder is actually a form of epilepsy.  Our episodes are not in the same form, but episodes they are, and they are pretty much uncontrollable.

Anyway, I asked the question of my support group, "If a ketogenic diet helps kids with epilepsy, what about adults with bi-polar disorder?"  Well, what do you know, it is being used for that, and I was put in touch with a psychiatrist at the University of Louisville who was looking for people to participate in a study.

I got on board in February and since then have provided the doctor with a weekly report, which consists of my keto reading and a sentence or two to describe my moods each day.

I have been out of ketosis exactly once in that period of time, and I suffered the effects.  For nearly a week, even though I immediately went back into ketosis, I was agitated, angry and depressed.  It was a real wake-up call!  I have not been out of ketosis since. I want to stress that point.  If this was just for weight loss, I would be cheating.  This is my peace of mind that is being affected!  Peace of mind OR a cupcake is not a hard decision to make, at least for me.

On July 1, I tried to give up my prescription altogether.  I lasted 36 hours.  Then I tried again, lasted a week, had an emotionally upsetting episode and went back on the meds.  On July 25, I took my last pill.  As the doctor said, there will be withdrawal symptoms, no matter what, so just be prepared.  The third try was the charm.  I feel good.   My temper is in check - actually for the first time in my life.  My agitation is gone.  And my weight continues to drop.  I now weigh one pound less than I weighed when I graduated high school.  And as for me thinking that I was thin enough last January after losing the ten from the holidays, well, I am hitting the racks at Goodwill!  It is fun to shop.  Just about everything I put on looks fine, when I'm not worrying about covering up lumps and bumps.  I can even wear white.

People remark almost daily on the changes, how healthy I look.  I want to stress that they usually don't mention the weight loss, but rather my health.  I am sure my emotional stability has contributed to my look of well-being.  While I didn't set out to lose this much weight, I'm glad I did.  And there have been other unexpected benefits as well.
  • No more headaches - not even one - since I went into ketosis.  I used to get two or three dillies a month.
  • I have ditched my blood pressure medicine.  Blood pressure is normal without it.
  • My triglycerides are 58, while most people are struggling to keep their reading under 100!
  • My creaking joints (which I chalked up to old age) are gone, and I bounce around like a 20-year-old.
Okay, there is a little excess skin here and there that I'm working on, but I have found this diet to be amazing!  I asked the doctor whether I could stay in ketosis for two years and then resume a "normal" diet, but alas, he said it doesn't work that way with adults.  And why would I want to, come to think of it?  So I can resume my headaches, see my blood pressure rise, and feel old and creaky again?  The ketogenic state of my body is now my medicine, and if I go out of ketosis, I can expect to have to resume my meds.  So I guess I will focus on what I CAN eat, rather than on what I CAN'T eat.  Now I am going out to the kitchen to get some pork rinds and a little sour cream to dip them in while I watch Antiques Roadshow.  :)


  1. So can you do the ketogenic diet without a medical reason other than being overweight?? Sounds good especially getting rid of the creaking joints.

  2. Well, yes. I would check things out with your doctor first, though. More and more doctors are getting on board with low carb diets, at last! If you get Atkins's book New Diet Revolution, it is a good guideline. His induction plan should put most people into ketosis. How long you need to stay there depends on a lot of things. Each person's needs are different. Good luck!