A Year of Losing Weight – or Maybe Eight Years

Last Thanksgiving, after a year where I had ballooned up to about 238 pounds rather quickly, I recommitted to low carb yet again.

Today, one year later, I am down to 205.

That works out to 33 pounds in 1 year, or 0.63 pounds a week, an absolutely horrible number – if you’re in a rush about things. But for me, its different. I’ve been doing this low carb thing for eight friggin years. It’s not a diet I go on thinking I lose weight, then go back to old habits and somehow thinking the weight won’t come back.

You take a different perspective when you’re in it for the long haul like I am. Eight years ago I was 265. Today I am 60 pound lighter. Plenty of people can lose a lot of weight, and almost all of them gain it all back within five years. I didn’t, which makes me something of a freak.

I’m sure you’d all like to know my secret, and I’d love to tell you – but the more I reflect on it, it’s not all that simple.

I’ve concluded that low carb, at least for me, is not what you think. And losing weight is not just low carb.

Losing weight and keeping it off for the long-term is more of an elaborate con job that a person must consciously perform on their own mind, their body, and on other people. And a big part of the con is that what works now might not work later, so to keep the con going, you have to be prepared to adapt.

For me, 8 years ago, the place to start was Atkins. I got the book, followed it, and got myself into ketosis – lots of ketosis. I got used to living on very low carbs – maybe under 40g per day – and did so for months at a time. The weight came off: 70 the first year, and another 10 the second that got me to my target weight.

I felt great and had more energy and mental clarity than ever. I was also completely insufferable – blabbing on and on about low carb to anyone who would listen. The problem is: no one cares. And if they might care, like other fat folks, they think you are a little nuts to go on low carb.

Being an insufferable food fanatic aside, I had given up alcohol as part of this 2-year go at the diet. This was hard as I had always loved drinking. A die-hard beer drinker, I gave it up forever. At the 2 year mark, however, I thought I could add alcohol (though not beer) back in, so I would have red wine, martinis, and vodka & tonics.

Bad idea.

I’ve done a lot of (ahem) personal research in this area and have concluded that if I want to maintain my weight loss – as well as be able to manage the inevitable weight gain that tries to creep back – I need to completely abstain from the stuff.

So here’s the bargain: drink and gain weight or don’t drink and lose weight and/or keep it off.

I have been trying to prove this bargain wrong for the better part of the past 6 years and have not been able get it to work.

So I’ve stopped drinking, completely, about 6-7 months ago, and I believe it has contributed to my weight loss.

I’m lucky in that my life is not one where the conviviality of alcohol is an important component of my happiness. I don’t go bar-hopping, don’t ‘watch the game with the guys’, nor do I do much of the other things that usually involve alcohol.

I like reading and writing, and spending time with my family. Call me boring.

For those of you that do enjoy partying, I am well aware of the problem. People who drink to have a good time want you to drink as well, and it is awkward to say no. There is also the tendency to think that people who don’t drink and once did must be alcoholics – and if you are not drinking, you not only must be one, but you bring to mind in others that they might be one as well.

It is also hard to stop drinking without sounding sanctimonious.

I think PJ O’Rourke once said something to the effect that: you have to drink to prove you are not an alcoholic.

The subject of drinking came up yesterday with a bunch of young adults I work with. Asking my drinking habits, I said: “If I drink, I get fat – so I don’t drink.” Said to a bunch of skinny kids just getting their start in a world of alcohol-laced good times, I’m sure that I sounded weird. One girl said to me helpfully (as everyone is a diet consultant): “Just don’t drink beer.”

If only…

Our drinking discussion continued as I had much drinking-related experience to share with them, and I doubt I came off as sanctimonious, but you never can tell. No lectures necessary, no detailed personal stories required, except the personal excess stories that people relate in good humor about the joys of alcohol. I remember. I enjoyed them. I have only good memories as alcohol was never a problem for me – I just don’t drink anymore.

So maybe I’m not totally cool, but I’m OK, I guess. Or maybe not. I’ve long ago given up caring what other people think about me, which is handy if you are going to go on a low carb diet anyway.

Next up is that I have come to the conclusion that low carb doesn’t work in the long run. Now, before you freak at this heresy, let me explain.

Low carb is a con job that you can pull on your body and lose a bunch of weight that will stop working after a couple of years.

The good news here is: Low carb works for a couple of years.

In low carb circles, there is talk of ‘The Golden Time’. It’s that magical first-time shot at Atkins where the weight melts off. The story usually continues that the individual relating the story then gains the weight back, and their second go at Atkins does not work as well.

This is a complicated thing to understand (for me, at least), but as I see it, you are fat forever. Once you have gained weight, you have acclimated your body to that weight. No matter how thin you might get, your body remembers that higher weight, and wants to go there again. I read of a study that measured chemical markers (or some such thing) in fat folks who lost a lot of weight and they were similar to the markers of people who were starving.

I can only conclude that the best way to avoid being fat is to never allow yourself to get fat in the first place.

Yeah, I know: a little late for that wisdom.

So all this sucks, and if you’d like to set some time aside to feel sorry for yourself, please do so. I always recommend feeling sorry for yourself as part of a normal and necessary grieving process – but put a solid end date on it. Commit to a solid period of teeth-gnashing, wailing, and hand-wringing, but put a circle around the day on the calendar when you’ll stop. Get it out of your system. Then c’mon back and let’s get back to business.

OK – done feeling sorry for yourself? Then let’s continue.

Here’s why low carb doesn’t work in the long run: your thyroid.

Anthony Colpo, once a darling to the low carb community, has spent enormous time and energy bashing low carb because he experienced symptoms of hypothyroidism after being on low carb for a couple of years. I think he’s right. I myself have experienced some of the same issues he mentioned, as well as others:

  • Feeling cold when other people don’t
  • thinning hair
  • depression
  • crappy memory

As your thyroid controls your metabolism, and a slower metabolism means that weight loss becomes harder, this also means that extreme low carb will ultimately fail – and might lead you to go to a doctor because of the depression and crappy memory and instead of accurately diagnosing the lower thyroid, they misdiagnose you as depressed and put you on a anti-depressant, which might deal with the depression, but provide you with a whole host of new issues to deal with  - and still not address the fundamental issue of low-carb-induced hypothyroidism.

Here’s a link to Anthony Colpo’s article on low carb and hypothyroidism. Please be advised – he’s a bit of a jerk – and he knows it – but I still like him and think that his points here have some science to back them, as well as my own experience.

Anthony’s failure in all this is to think that low carb is bad because people in the low carb community think that low carb is forever. I think they’re both wrong.

I think – and am betting on – that ketogenic low carb is a great way to lose weight, but it’s use is limited to a few short years at most. After that, a more complicated meal plan – one that not only allows for, but needs carbs, becomes necessary to keep the metabolism up and running.

So if you’re new to this – ignore Anthony Colpo for a year or two. Then carefully read what he has to say. Use your one-shot at ketogenic low carb for all it’s worth, and be aware that just when you’ve acclimated yourself to avoid nasty, evil carbs, those same carbs will come back to save your ass from hypothyroidism.

Now, there’s one important assumption that I am making here that I freely admit I might be wrong about – because what the hell do I know?

My assumption is that hypothyroidism induced from ketogenic low carb is reversible. I might also be wrong, not being a doctor, that my self-diagnosis of hypothyroidism is even correct, though the fact remains that hypothyroidism is known to be under-diagnosed, at least this hyperbolic website – Stop The Thyroid Madness – thinks so.

Others do too, but I’m too lazy to link them – find ‘em yourself.

Now you might make a reasonable argument here: why would I go on any diet that could cause hypothyroidism? Great question.

I answered that for myself as: because every other diet I tried doesn’t work.

I lost a lot of weight in my twenties by strict calorie counting and exercise. I gained all of it back in a year – and then some.

I lost a lot of weight in my thirties by strict calorie-counting and exercise. I gained all of it back in a year – and then some.

I tried going on an extreme low-fat diet (Dr. Ornish). I never lost any weight.

I went on low carb in my forties and lost 80 lbs., stopped suffering from the symptoms of GERD, stopped eating tums like candy, stopped getting low blood sugar plunges in the afternoon that I could barely keep awake through, have kept a family propensity for diabetes from occurring, had greater mental clarity, and more energy – and have more or less kept a good portion of this weight loss off for most of the last six years, and done so without exercise, which I don’t really enjoy.

I’ll deal with the possibility of hypothyroidism 60 lbs. lighter over all that other stuff. I ‘can’t have it all’.

The introduction of carbs is tough – it’s like threading a needle. I love carbs, and given the opportunity, I would sit and eat a bag of chips like any good fat person could. While I try to avoid bad carbs like the chips, candy, cake, cookies and the like – I don’t.

I do have much less than I used to, before low carb, in the days when my junk food consumption took on awesome proportions, but I am still able to pack away a good amount of carbs before I know it.

This probably has something to do with my 0.63 lb per week weight loss, but there’s another aspect to this.

Sustainability.

Is a diet that goes on for 8 years a ‘diet’? Is the whole concept of ‘dieting’ so screwed up that we are all doomed to fail at them? How can we possibly think that we can undergo some temporary period of deprivation to get thin and we’ll stay that way? It’s rubbish.

I might be spinning a fantasy out of whole cloth, but I might be able to look back at the past couple of years and say this:

After the first few inital years of ketogenic low carb success, the onslaught of age, along with the reduction in thyroid function, combined with alcohol, began the inexorable climb in weight – which I beat myself up over even though it wasn’t really willpower, but rather a combination of things. As I increased the effort, I not only saw no results, but decreased my thyroid function further, making me a cranky and depressed bastard to be around. I then recognized that I was beating myself up over it, with my family as collateral damage to all this, and stopped. When offered carbs, I didn’t act like I was attacked, I ate them. I enjoyed myself, the food I ate, and my family.

And my weight ballooned. Obviously, low carb works for me because when I stray from it even for a few short months, the weight comes back. Like I said before, my body is permanently fat, regardless of my weight, and unless I eat a certain way, I will gain it all back.

I don’t look back at this as a bad thing. It was learning. Effort is not without cost. Willpower can get you through some things short-term, but long-term goals need something else.

When I recommitted last November, it was with the new angle that I would not allow myself to engage in self-abuse as part of the diet. I do my best. If the family wants to do something like go to a restaurant that’s high carb, I do my best there, too. And that might mean carbs, and it might mean a day in the proverbial toilet as far as the diet is concerned, but it’s family, it’s joy, life is a series of moments that never come again, and I am not going to miss them, or participate under a cloud of resentment and acrimony because of a diet.

There are plenty of other times that I can enforce an austerity in eating – a food monotony, if you will – that keeps this all together. Eating at work I reduced to a routine that is simple to maintain and that I enjoy. I have my Fage yogurt when I get hungry first thing in the day – whenever that is. I don’t manage my weight as much as my hunger. Folks – I find this to be the single most important thing you can take from this rambling post. If you manage your hunger, you won’t suffer as much. So I eat when hungry – screw the science about eating breakfast. If it works for you – great. I’m listening closely to find my own rhythms.

Next meal might be a can of tuna or sardines. If I cooked over the weekend, it might be some low carb meal I cooked.

Evenings are hit or miss. Sometimes its low carb. Sometimes not. I always aim for low carb, but if that falls by the wayside, I try to limit the portion size. Considering that my total carb count until evening is possibly as low as 5 grams, coming home and having some bread at dinner, which seems lavish for a low carb dieter, can still keep my total net carbs under 50. One slice of bread is maybe 11 grams net carbs.

You might argue that I am wasting my carb intake on bread, which is far less good for you than the carbs from vegetables. I agree. But unlike alcohol, I would like to maintain a truce of sorts with bread and eat it in limited amounts as the past year has proven I can.

For the past month, I have plateaued between 205 and 210. A lot of dieters get frustrated at plateaus – I’m not. On a long climb, a plateau is where you can rest, reflect, and gain energy for the next part of the hike. Switching metaphors, I went to the casino, and won – and I’ve walked away from the table, and kept my winnings. I still low carb, but I don’t do it guns a-blazing right now. The holidays are coming and I’ll focus on keeping my gains only.

The last part of this regards science. I’m sick of science, really, and at this point I’m giving that a rest. I’ve concluded that if I wanted to, I could pick any position regarding weight loss and nutrition, back it up with science I find on the Internet, and have rousing debates with other folks on the Internet who might believe essentially the same thing as I do, but differ in the details.

It can be quite interesting, the character assassination notwithstanding, but does all this science achieve what we all want it to achieve: health and weight loss?

Looking around, it doesn’t appear so.

Right now I’m spending my reading time on the history of diets and the history of medicines, as well as the sociology of diets and dieting. Without an understanding of history, we can fool ourselves into thinking ‘we’ve got it figured out this time!’ while with history, we can see that sometimes it’s the same damn thing all over again, it’s just this time our technology is better and more precise.

It doesn’t necessarily mean our thinking has evolved, but that we’re more sophisticated fools.

I’m going to conclude this ramble with an apology. I’m sorry I took you through this meandering mess of thoughts. The post I wanted to write is in here somewhere, but my time to write is limited. We’ll have to go with this – and I’m sorry if I wasted your time.

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15 thoughts on “A Year of Losing Weight – or Maybe Eight Years

  1. At the risk of stating the obvious (I just stumbled onto your blog and am not familiar with your other posts), have you been tested for food sensitivities/hidden allergies? From what I’ve seen, there’s a lot more science linking gluten to thyroid disease than ketogenic diets (didn’t the eskimos have ketogenic diets before Western influence came in, and weren’t they completely unaffected by the diseases of civilization?), and, of course, it’s also possible to have allergies to dairy, soy, corn, eggs, etc.

    It can also be difficult to lose weight if you have hidden food allergies (people tend to either lose a ton, because they’re wrecking their guts and not absorbing anything, or they struggle with weight loss), not to mention the constant state of inflammation you’re living with. Gluten, if that’s your problem (it’s a *lot* of people’s problems), is in almost everything that comes in a can or a box or a bottle. Even condiments like soy sauce. It’s almost impossible to get a gluten-free meal when you go out to eat, unless the restaurant specifically caters to that subset with a special menu.

    Anyway, just thought I’d throw it out there, in case you haven’t looked into food allergies yet.

    • You might be right, Lindsay. I haven’t explored it – partly because I don’t like to visit doctors – and I tend to suspect their conclusions (as a patient, I am a pain in the ass). I have also limited my core food choices a lot, and every time I find something I like, I can find something wrong with it.

      I once found a forum on the Internet that was for people who followed a diet that included only grass-fed organic beef and filtered water. Since I can’t find the site anymore, I assume they are all dead, having died of boredom, apparently.

      Having said that, I *have* been doing experiments where I swap things in and out of my diet, and see what happens. I haven’t explored this from the standpoint of ‘food allergy’, but it’s an interesting idea. It does seem that eliminating dairy from my diet does increase weight loss, but at the present moment, the thought of life without cheese seems like a life not worth living ;-)

      Thanks for writing.

  2. For me, reading this post was not time wasted. There are some valuable observations here. For example:
    “…it’s not all that simple.”
    “…what works now might not work later…you have to be prepared to adapt.”
    “There is also the tendency to think that people who don’t drink and once did must be alcoholics – and if you are not drinking, you not only must be one, but you bring to mind in others that they might be one as well.”
    This observation merits further comment. There’s appears to be a difference between alcoholism and chronic alcohol abuse. According to George Watson and Roger J. Williams, the ability to drink heavily is a function of nutritional status. http://www.sciscoop.com/alcohol-addiction-and-nutrition.html

    Moving on:
    “…life is a series of moments that never come again, and I am not going to miss them, or participate under a cloud of resentment and acrimony because of a diet.”
    “…if I wanted to, I could pick any position regarding weight loss and nutrition, back it up with science I find on the Internet, and have rousing debates with other folks on the Internet who might believe essentially the same thing as I do, but differ in the details.”
    “Without an understanding of history, we can fool ourselves into thinking ‘we’ve got it figured out this time!”
    “It doesn’t necessarily mean our thinking has evolved, but that we’re more sophisticated fools.”

    Thanks for these thoughts. Well said.
    Dave

    • Thanks for your comment, Dave. I’m glad you found something of worth here.

      I also thought your link about alcohol was quite interesting.

      I recently had a dinner date with my wife and another couple. Champagne was served at the beginning, and wine was served with dinner. I had a taste of both during the evening, as I enjoy the flavor of both, as well as not wanting to appear sanctimonious as described in the post.

      While my total amount must have been less than 3 ounces total, I found myself completely uncomfortable with the effect. Odd. The experience certainly didn’t make me run out and buy some for myself. I can also recall having a beer after the first 2 years on low carb. I was at my birthday party, and I ordered a favorite beer from my pre-low-carb days, an Asahi (a Japanese beer). Bleech!

      I wonder, at least for me, alcohol is something I need to acclimate myself to. My misspent youth gave me ample opportunity for this, but now, after putting some distance between the habit and then trying it again, it seems I don’t genuinely like the stuff.

      It would give me great spiritual pride to think that it’s my superior nutrition that causes me to dislike it. I find that hard to believe, but it’s an interesting possibility.

  3. Seven months of low carb and I never had the “golden” moment of huge weight loss. Just fractions of pounds and inches being lost. I am cold all the time. But I feel good. I actually could eat this way for the rest of my life; without wheat products. I have decided my slow loss of weight is due to 1. not following the rules 100% 2. a slow metabolism which I have always had 3. my body wanting to weigh a certain weight and being stubborn about going any lower.

    I lost 80 pounds in 2007 (the entire year) eating anything I wanted each day (pizza, pasta), but only to a total of 1200 calories a day. It worked much faster and better than Atkins ever has. But I was fatter. And I think that is important. If you are really fat, any diet works like magic. The closer to your “actual” weight (which might not be what you want) the less likely your body will co operate with any diet. 1200 calories won’t work for me anymore–so now I try Atkins.

    There is alcoholism in my family DNA. I have cautioned my children that we are all one drink away from alcoholism and must be careful not to have too much. I think the same could be said of carbs. One loaf of bread away from carboholism.

  4. Awesome. Truly awesome. I always enjoy your posts….You offer insight that resonates with my own thoughts on this topic. I agree whole-heatedly with your stance on science’s offerings. It is too overwhelming to have so much information at our fingertips and it all sounds so convincing………..surely it will work…….maybe this time. Then failure.
    I need to lose a good 100 pounds and that fact alone brings me to my knees. Oftentimes, we have faith in what seems right for most because it has been “proven”. I think that one of the reasons we can’t listen to our own wisdom, propensities, or what-have-you, is because we can’t drown out the the drone of the “proven” ways of doing things. I know a low carb lifestyle helps me to feel good. I have some success on it and then ‘hit the wall’. I feel hopeless and give up. I don’t want to listen to anyone anymore about something as personal as your own body.
    Eating when hungry? Brilliant. It works. Paying attention to signals that you are satisfied, more difficult but doable. I agree with all that.

    Waste my time? Indeed. Keeping doing what you’re doing because you are helping yourself and you are helping me.

    • Are you really and ass John, or just trying too hard to sound like one? To answer your “question”, yes I do exercise. I am also a teacher who stands for 3/4 of my work day. I come home and do not sit down until the dinner (that I make) is on the table. I am also a mother of 3 children and attend to what they need. For a long time I have wanted to respond to you, but have felt that you do not deserve a response. YOU mean nothing to me. However, YOU represent the mass of pig-headed individuals who assume that any overweight person is such because they do not care and are lazy, lard-asses who sit around eating loads of crap. I am responding now because, as a teacher, I know how important it is to stand up to bullies. And you, with your “wordy” thought on my exercise habits, have only proved what I have thought about sharing sincere thoughts on a sincere post, that is not even yours, by the way. How can we trust ANYONE with our deepest feelings? You have taken a safe place to share, for me, and flushed it down the toilet. I don’t know if you will read this or if it will be deleted because of the word ass. But I do know that I feel better setting the record straight. I won’t accept anyone’s bullshit, especially from a small-minded individual such as yourself.

      Happy New Year

  5. I lost 50 pounds in 1.5 years, also very slowly. Whatever, it’s sustainable and comfortable. Never went low-carb, but did abandon low-fat, never counted calories, just mostly cut out the crap, reduced portion sizes somewhat, minimized alcohol. My job (shh, I’m a scientist) involves a bit of social drinking, not mandatory, but you will be a bit of an outsider if you don’t. So I do have some wine with work dinners, but no longer go to bars, or sit around drinking beer. It would also be awkward for me not to eat the pizza or sandwiches or Thai food or whatever they provide at occasional work meetings, so radical diet changes not really an option. However, I can eat one or two slices, not 3 or 4, that makes a difference, too.

    Probably what helps me the most is the attitude that you also share, eating for hunger. If I’m not hungry, I don’t eat, even if I skip a meal. Sometimes I eat anyway, as I love me some exercise, though it’s inconvenient and I’m busy, so I don’t like to bonk, miss my opportunity. Other than that, if dinner rolls around, and I’m still full from lunch, dinner won’t happen, or maybe it’ll be a nice green salad or some fruit, just to psychologically feel that I’ve eaten.

    This last 10 pounds is tricky to get off and keep off. I’m trying to decide how to get there. I’m okay where I’m at, but would just like a bit more, not willing to starve, not interested in going low-carb. I dislike meat, would not be happy.

    • Hi Julie,

      Sounds to me like you got an angle that works for you. Low carb or no, that’s great to hear. I think we, as a species, get a case of stupid when we fail to realize that there are many different ‘right’ ways of doing many things – losing weight is one of them.

      If you can figure a way to be happy, not hungry and lose weight, you have the keys to the kingdom. I’m going to have to check out your blog.

      Regards,

      LCC

  6. I found your comments refreshing.Having had thyroid cancer and having had my thyroid removed in 2004, I have found it hard to lose any weight on Synthroid. My doctor will not give me Cytomel to round out my T4 with some T3 as she is concerned about palpitations. I have never been able to stick to low carb, though I need to do something. I lost a bunch of weight on Weight Watcher’s 30 years ago, but it wasn’t long after that that my thyroid probably started going south on me. I had some pretty classic symptoms of impaired thyroid function during my pregnancies and after I was done having children,that’s when the cancer was discovered.

    I have come to the conclusion that the science of nutrition isn’t a science…most doctors and scientists are still blundering around in the dark. Every bit of nutritional advice out there has to be taken with a grain of salt…or fat, or carbs, or something! I have read Wheat Belly, but going wheat-free is even harder than low-carb. But a lot of what the author has written has made sense to me. On the other hand, I do not notice any link to my symptoms of IBS as to whether I have eaten wheat or not. It’s confusing.

    Thanks for injecting some common sense into the debate.

  7. Are you familiar with the Weston A. Price Foundation? …or Sally Fallon? Do you drink raw milk, eat fermented products, or drink homemade stocks? How about sprouted grains? I think there are some key things you are not doing right. The WAPF promotes similar teachings as Adtkins but also includes the important things I mentioned above.

    Also, its important that you consume some raw animal fats.

    • Oh, yeah – I’m familiar with them. I like ‘em – I don’t necessarily agree with or follow everything they say, though. I’m mot going to eat raw liver, for example, and getting raw milk in my state is impossible. I also tend to stay away from grains entirely, except when I’m allowing higher levels of carbs in my diet – and then I’ll eat a nice baguette.

      In general, I do a lot of things ‘wrong’. At any point in time, I’m irritating some nutritionist ‘expert’ somewhere. Certainly, mainstream nutrition must think I am a danger to life and limb.

      All that said, It’s been a while since I visited their website, and they’ve updated it – I’ll have to have another look around. Thanks for reminding me.

  8. “Effects of a ketogenic diet on the quality of life in 16 patients with advanced cancer: A pilot trial” by Schmidt et al. Studies of dietary therapy for conditions other than epilepsy continue to grow, especially for cancer. In this study of 16 patients from Germany, a modified ketogenic diet (70 grams/day carbohydrates, high fat shake added) was helpful in slowing disease progression and improving quality of life scores in 6. This was impressive considering how advanced the disease was in these patients.

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