Should You Allow Yourself a Big Cheat on Low Carb Occasionally?

[Quick update 09/22/12: still in induction after 10 days. Still writing. Still hoping to turn the experience into a nifty book on what it really feels like to do Atkins Induction, with oodles of tricks and ideas and some sciency stuff thrown in. Still giving it away for a limited time on Kindle (which you can read on your computer – if you can read this, you can read a Kindle book). Still hoping I can get all this done before the end of the year. Still hoping I don’t abandon it – or reread it after I’m finished only to find I have written 80+ pages of stuff that ain’t just good enough.]

Lee Kirsten is another blogger who writes about low carb. I read her blog, she reads mine, and we trade comments when the mood strikes us. One of her posts really struck a chord with me: the notion of her having a big high-carb cheat for her birthday.

You can read the post here, but her question at the end asked if it was a good idea. I commented: go for it. She replied:

I see the logic in your position, but I also see that by eating those foods again, for a day, and especially if I don’t see a weight gain 2 days later, it will say to my mind, ‘See, you can eat carbs- nothing bad happened’, and thus the slow process of rationalization, bit by bit, could ensue. I could gain five pounds, and say, “five pounds is not a big deal. I still look and feel good’. Then eight pounds. “Well, I just need to go back to counting my carbs more strictly- it will come right off after Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s/Valentine’s Day. You see the slippery slope theory is one I have lived many times. How do you think I ever got off Atkins in the first place? The complacent stage sets in. A lot of people say that while low-carb really works, it is the hardest plan to live by long term .I would like to prove that theory wrong. What scares me is that I still consider being able to eat those types of foods at all as some kind of ‘reward’, and I think that is part of the problem. Why couldn’t my reward for a birthday be based on something completely NOT to do with food? I need to think about this. Why not get myself a massage, for example?

She has a really, really, REALLY important point.

This is the ‘moment of truth’ in nearly every dieter’s existence. You’ve come this far. Do you play it safe or pull the tiger by the tail? Do you pick curtain number 1 or curtain number 2? Do you feel lucky, punk?

After 9 years on low carb, here was my reply:

But the current you is not the you you once were. (Read that twice.)

Before I went on low carb for the first time I was a beer fiend. Typical guy. I gave it up completely. Fast forward two years later: I was at a Japanese hibachi place for a birthday 65 pounds lighter. I decided to splurge because it was *my* birthday. I always had a particular fondness for Asahi beer, an obscure Japanese brand that they served there. I said: “what the hell”, and ordered one.

The experience was like meeting an old friend, and after a bit, wondering why you were ever friends in the first place. There was no connection, no spark, no pleasure – nothing. Before that moment, ‘beer’ was a thing I held at bay. I separated myself from it because I could not drink beer on a low carb diet. But it always lurked at the periphery, something forbidden.

After that, beer held no sway over me. I could fill my house with it – shape full cases of the stuff into furniture, cover with blankets and throw pillows and lounge on it. I can watch other people drink it. There is ZERO reaction. It’s power over me disappeared. The fear that it might cause me to get fat again vanished – not because I was avoiding it – I was indifferent to it.

It’s a great experience. It’s also tricky – I won’t deny that. Pizza is my kryptonite. I still can find myself hoovering up half a pie moments after saying: “I’ll just have a taste.”

But you will need to face your food demons one day – they’ll never disappear completely until you confront each, one-by-one. You KNOW the slippery slope is there now. You KNOW how your mind might rationalize this. You are not the you you once were. You are stronger now and can defend against this – but you haven’t tested your strength yet, and you hesitate.

It’s true you might not be ready yet. My confrontation with beer came 2 years after I started my low carb diet. I have also pulled this trick with other items (like pizza) and ended up being out-of-control and then having to regain lost ground. But that’s always the risk when you attempt to conquer your inner demons rather than just keeping them at bay.

What do *you* think? (shy folks – send me an email on this one).

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8 thoughts on “Should You Allow Yourself a Big Cheat on Low Carb Occasionally?

  1. It’s dinner parties that get me. As in tonight’s invite to eat dinner at the home of a fantastic Italian cook. Now, she’s a vegetarian, and when I cook for HER, I always accommodate, but it never even occurs to her to cook low carb options for ME, and I don’t like to act the princess about it. So kind of backed into a corner about tonight. Plus she’s a Terrific Cook.

  2. It was my birthday a few days ago. I researched low carb “cake” and made myself one of those microwave one serving things. Nothing special. I ate it with frozen Cool Whip. It was okay. It was chocolate. It was cake. And the next day wasn’t my birthday and I didn’t feel bad.

    It’s been 18 months on this WOE and I have few regrets. I have not had one single bite of pasta or bread or pizza crust in the entire 18 months. By now, I don’t care if I ever do again. I KNOW how I feel when I eat carbs. I KNOW I don’t ever want to feel that out of control again. And there is so much I CAN eat.

    My “kryptonite” is cereal. I occasionally eat some. I suffer the consequences because my intestines cannot digest the stuff.

    If I was eating at the home of someone so THOUGHTLESS about what I can and cannot eat–I would bring my own food, eat anything I could eat and skip the rest. And say nothing about it.

  3. It’s hard for me. Not only am I low-carbing to lose weight, but I’m also a Type 2 Diabetic, so there are loads of foods I simply can’t have and I don’t want to compromise my glucose levels by having them.

    My birthday was a few weeks ago. I did not have a cake, but I did have some ice cream. A few days later, it was my husband’s. He isn’t diabetic or low-carbing, so I made him his favourite cake – butterscotch. I resisted a piece at his party, but after all our friends left….I ate one. And the next day I had another. I felt so guilty over it!!

    And, I gained 2lbs during the birthday weekend!

  4. Years ago, eating a significant amount of sugar, I experienced severe bouts of reactive hypoglycemia that paralyzed me. Every afternoon I would to lie down and not move. I wasn’t sleepy but I could not stand up or move around. An OGTT left me with a blood glucose of 40 after an hour.

    I transitioned to a lower carb diet several years ago. At the time, I ate a lot of “low carb” processed foods, I would again experience low blood sugar if I ate too much processed low carb processed foods.

    Two years ago, I decided to experiment by eliminating artificial sweeteners. One month later, my wife gave me a slice of a clementine she said was too sour. I had to spit it out because it was too sweet, a sensation I had never experienced before. I was not thrilled by this new experience. After a while, I realized that having this reaction to anything sweeter than a berry was actually an advantage. I no longer required virtue to stay away from sweets.

    Nowadays, if I taste anything sweet, whether it is real or artificially sweetened, I am repulsed because the taste sensation is very unpleasant.

    • Thanks for writing, Ed. I’ve experienced something similar, though not as dramatic. If I do have sweets, I find Dark chocolate to be sweet enough for me – I used to think it awful. I also enjoy Asian sweets. The Japanese, for example, put far less sugar in a cookie than an American might be used to, which I find much more pleasant now.

  5. I hope you don’t take this as sexist but I wonder if some of what you experienced with the beer – as in it held no great delight for you any more – was because you are a guy and don’t have an emotional connection with the beer? Does that sound stupid? Emotional connection with a food product? I am with Lee when she says “but I also see that by eating those foods again, for a day, and especially if I don’t see a weight gain 2 days later, it will say to my mind, ‘See, you can eat carbs- nothing bad happened’, and thus the slow process of rationalization, bit by bit, could ensue. I could gain five pounds, and say, “five pounds is not a big deal. I still look and feel good’. Then eight pounds. “Well, I just need to go back to counting my carbs more strictly- it will come right off after Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s/Valentine’s Day. You see the slippery slope theory is one I have lived many times” That’s exactly what happened to me and a slump I’m trying to get out of. Felt SO frikkin’ good, in control, looking great, and thought – why not, I’ll try a bit of this (can’t even remember what it was), good, no issues, so we’ll try something else. Short version is here I am up 25 lb and struggling like hell to get back in control. I shouldn’t generalize but I find women are emotionally connected to food, foo dis our comfort, our go-to for support, etc. Life sucks a lot of the time and food is always there. I also know that that’s an excuse and one that is getting me fatter and fatter but I just wanted to say that I agree with Lee. But as always love reading your thoughts.

    • I wrote the following to a correspondent (I have a lot of lurkers who don’t like to post comments but send me emails):

      “I have been thinking a lot about ‘failing’ on a diet, and my current thinking is this: it shouldn’t be the goal to succeed more perfectly as to FAIL more perfectly. The perfect failure is where you take a break, eat what you want in total pleasure and without guilt, then go back to the diet with perhaps only a small effort. I am not into pretending that there are ‘good’ foods and ‘bad’ foods – carbs are awesome! The junkier the better!

      I don’t think it is wise to say you will *never* eat something again. I think it is wiser to say ‘no matter how many times I go off the diet, I will always begin again tomorrow’ – and do so knowing that your ‘failure’ was really no such thing.

      It becomes a failure only when you stop trying.”

      As to what Lee mentioned in her comments, read her post from after her birthday and Thanksgiving: http://leekirs1.com/2012/11/24/do-you-feel-lucky-punk-well-do-ya/

      As to being ‘sexist’ – feel free to do so – I’m not ‘politically correct’ by a long shot. I will say this, though: are you trying to say than men don’t have a profound and emotional relationship with BEER?

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