Day 40 on my new approach to a keto diet

There is no one ‘keto diet’. It has many variants that appear more or less the same to the outsider but are very different to someone deep in the thick of it – like Protestantism.

And like Protestantism, each of these variants interpret the same documents that underlie the practice, apply them differently, then follow, or try to follow a certain high-level dogma that results.

Like any set of competing belief systems, there is a necessary infighting between the variants about details. Just one of the many differences is the use of ‘exogenous ketones’. This is a product that most often contains beta-hydroxybutyric acid, which is the ketone fuel your body creates and runs on when on a keto diet. Some people have put this into a supplement and sell it.

Some variants of the keto diet think this is fine. Others will remove your post from their Facebook group if you even mention them.

Another controversy is: how much protein? Some groups recommend a lot less than others – and both scoff at the other’s interpretations of the documents that support their position.

The same goes for fat. All the groups want you to moderate it, but some make this central to their belief system – others seem to pay lip-service.

Lastly (though by no means the last), there is what I would call the position on what I would call ‘Keto food porn’. To me, this is the intricate and tortured attempt to create keto meals that resemble their high-carb inspiration, or inventions like a bacon-weave taco shell, or a round meatloaf with cheese in the center, wrapped in bacon.

Keto is very trendy right now (which will probably pass as it did before) and people are bringing enormous creativity to foods and recipes.

Some people love this. Some people think this encourages consuming extra calories, and the first group replies: who cares about calories? Just eat to satiety.

On this 2018 version of a keto diet, as usual, I came up with my own road to follow. While this time I have immersed myself in the most current thinking, joining over a half-dozen Facebook groups and listening to at least 50 hours of keto podcasts to learn what the current state of keto is.

One thing it does NOT seem to be is ‘Atkins’. While I believe that none of these people would be talking about keto if it wasn’t for Dr. Robert Atkins, who died in 2003, few people discuss him, and the current products the company he started are not held in high regard.

While you might be forgiven for using these products, you would not be applauded.

Another worrisome thing is just how dangerous this diet can be if you do it wrong – and most of these people climbing aboard the keto bandwagon do not understand the seriousness involved in altering your body fuel source and the serious medical problems it can cause. I will leave the authoritative research to others – and to you to dig up – again, I have nothing to sell and nothing to convince you to believe. These are the things I’m concerned might happen to people who achieve nutritional ketosis but are ill-informed about the pact with the devil you sign:

  1. Alcohol. If you are deep in ketosis, too much alcohol can lower that threshold for alcohol poisoning. Having a ready supply of carbs in your body can help mitigate a bout of binge drinking that ketones cannot, apparently.
  2. Pancreatitis. If you are unknowingly predisposed to this, a massive cheat can push you into this condition
  3. Gallstones. I had read that fat is necessary for the prevention of gallstones. Fat-phobic people predisposed to gallstones who try a high protein and lower fat version of keto might set themselves up for this. There could be other reasons as well.
  4. You can get dehydrated easily and your relationship to water needs to be watched. Too little OR too much can be bad
  5. Electrolytes. One thing normies eating a standard diet don’t tend to worry about is their electrolytes. People doing a keto diet do need to be careful about this because your need for sodium, magnesium, and potassium change. This can screw up the electrical system in your body – and you know what your electrical system does? It controls the beating of your heart! OK they say, I’ll just take supplements. Not so fast. TOO MUCH can be as bad as TOO LITTLE. People are messing with system not only they don’t understand, but that their doctors don’t understand.

It is for these reasons I DO NOT RECOMMEND A KETO DIET! The science surrounding this diet has been my primary hobby for more than a dozen years. To the regular person who comes along with no interest in learning the intricate details, I would not recommend this to them unless they had medical supervision by a doctor who knew the ins and outs of a ketogenic diet – and good luck finding one!

Stop reading yet? No? Ok – the rest of you left, let’s continue.

So what am I doing differently this time?

The first thing is that I have simplified my diet considerably. I have given up almost all artificial sweeteners (except sugar-free ketchup – not ready yet), dairy, nuts, cheese – and of course all grains and carby foods like potatoes. I now drink black coffee and plain water.

A partial list of what I’ve been eating for the most part?

  • Ground beef (moving toward New Zealand raised grass-fed beef)
  • Chicken thighs (moving toward organic – and I’d love to find pastured but haven’t yet)
  • Steak
  • Pork belly
  • Fire-roasted tomatoes and green chilies (for my chili)
  • Red and green bell peppers
  • Organic chicken broth
  • Lettuce (iceberg for now until people stop getting sick off of romaine which is a ‘thing’ as I write this)
  • Beefsteak tomatoes
  • Acocados
  • Asparagus
  • Organic celery
  • Eggs (organic and pasture-raised when possible)
  • Bacon
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut Oil
  • Coconut milk
  • Coconut flour
  • Mushrooms
  • Pickles
  • Kimchi
  • Organic hot dogs from grass-fed cows
  • Sauerkraut
  • Psyllium husks

And I am planning to try experimenting with adding:

  • Ghee (aka clarified butter – considered OK in a dairy-free diet by people not eliminating dairy for religious or ethical reasons)
  • Broccoli florets
  • Nutritional yeast (a powder that sorta kinda of tastes cheesy, is full of nutrients, and might be good sprinkled on my broccoli)
  • Cabbage

I did not start here 40 day ago. It took a while to convert from my diet prior to April 2 where my primary food group was McDonald’s. What prompted the change was a sudden, worrisome trend in my blood glucose. I was seeing numbers up to 140 in the AM and they would stay elevated – even with taking metformin.

In less than 2 weeks I was able to get that number down by 20-40 points. In the mid afternoons I can see numbers in the low 80s – and this is with my stopping the metformin over 2 weeks ago.

Carb withdrawal at first was miserable. I comforted myself with an abundance of American cheese – God, I love the stuff! I also guzzled down seltzer loaded with Orange-Tangerine artificial sweetener in the evenings.

I also had Greek yogurt in work and Kerry Gold butter in my coffee. That was after the coffee and heavy cream I had in my coffee at home. I usually didn’t eat solid foods, though I would grab an Atkins shake and have some chicken broth with extra salt at lunchtime. This seemed to help with the mild headachy feeling I would get – but otherwise I felt good. Here and there was 2 squares of dark chocolate.

I gave up on the Greek yogurt because it seemed to trigger hunger during the first week.

There were some trashy, though low carb choices, along the way. Oscar Mayer bologna as well as bologna’s more refined cousin, Mortadella. Kielbasa. Pork rinds. These didn’t impact my blood ketones, which I measured obsessively. I got as high as 3.5.

I stopped negotiating with myself in the second week. I no longer thought about ordering McDonald’s and not eating the bun. I could watch people in work and at home gobble up carbs – even pizza – and it not bother me. It wasn’t willpower – it was that I had detoxed myself from carby foods and no longer had an interest. While I would not say even now that I don’t miss pizza, I don’t have this terrible craving for it, either.

Besides – I had substituted a bunch of junky keto-friendly foods to take the place of the high-carb junky foods.

To be clear: I started this particular go at the diet primarily for my health. And that worked: I lowered my blood glucose and stopped taking metformin. I also pulled off 10-12 pounds in 2 weeks. That was nice – but not the primary goal.

After the first 2 weeks the scale did not really budge, however, and while I was still committed to the diet for health reasons, I did want the weight loss to be part of it.

Finally, on day 34 I decided I might be strong enough to pull off eliminating all dairy and artificial sweeteners.

Boy oh boy, did this suck!

The cheese got replaced with more calories from meat and tomato slices with my burgers. While I still continue to use sugar-free ketchup, the amount of artificial sweetener is trivial compared with how much of the orange-tangerine stuff I would blast into glass after glass of seltzer on ice.

I started eating avocados more regularly. They can be tricky as they go bad so quickly but I’ve been able to manage. Once almost ripe, they keep in the fridge for a few days. When you take one out, eat it that day. Mostly works well.

I don’t drink the Atkins shakes. I’m drinking my morning coffee with coconut milk – and recently nothing. I no longer put butter in my coffee at work – and find that a little coffee goes way farther than it used to. I sometimes find myself not drinking any coffee at work – and when I do, it’s black. I don’t really drink fats anymore.

While not every day, on some days I find myself only eating one large meal a day. This happened quite by accident, but then I found out it was a ‘thing’ – OMAD (One Meal A DAY) or 23/1 Fasting. It seems there’s this notion called an ‘insulin holiday’. Here’s how I understand it. It is not only sugars that trigger insulin: proteins trigger them almost as well. So while your blood glucose might be low, your insulin might still be high – and as you have insulin resistance if you’re like me, eating nothing for a while gives the body a chance to not have to produce insulin as if you were snacking all day – and this might lessen insulin resistance over the long-term – at least that’s how the thinking goes.

There is a trick to this, however: eat too little and you put your body into ‘Starvation Mode’. Do this and your body can do all sorts of things – like make your hair fall out while holding on to every last calorie like a miser – and make you feel quite crappy – and there are voices on the Internet that don’t think this can be done without putting you into starvation mode.

So what I am doing is counting my macros more closely. I used a calculator I found here, and it gave me these ranges:

Calories:     1200 – 1892

Carbs:        20

Protein:    94-124 (104 is ideal)

Fat:        77-155

So the lower end is my target – and that ends up being one very satisfying meal per day. I don’t do this on all days – sometimes I have an avocado at work, and/or chicken broth. Sometimes I just have salt in water – depends on how I feel.

But you know the weirdest part of this: my narrowed food choices are liberating!

My diet seems easier. I’m not futzing around with food or thinking about food all the time. Diets can make you obsess about food more than not being on a diet. The simplicity makes things easier to track – and I hate tracking. The overhead of the diet is a lot less. I have more time for other thoughts than what I am going to eat – and amazingly enough – I don’t feel deprived.

That was the last thing I ever expected to say.

I could go on – like about what supplements I am taking – but I’ll stop here for now.

 

 

 

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Some Progress Made – and Caffeinated Greek Yogurt

As mentioned in a previous post I was thinking of starting slow on a new approach to what I put in my mouth as opposed to go ‘all in’ as that just wasn’t working out. Instead, I’d focus on one or two things, let the others slide, and see what happens.

So on April 19th I stopped drinking. I enjoy drinking, but never found any success in weight loss while consuming alcohol. I was 258.8 lbs. the next day, and while I am habituated to eating low carb from a decade on the diet, I wasn’t watching things too closely and simply went with the flow while I let time do it’s slow and steady work to ingrain a new habit.

I didn’t notice much difference in things at first. I’m not alcohol-dependent so there were no withdrawal symptoms to deal with – and the only noticeable difference was that I probably ate at the times when I would usually drink. My weight stayed in a narrow range though after 10 days I came within a hair’s breadth of 260 – and then something changed.

My appetite seemed to dial itself back by itself and while not following a strict ketogenic diet I was eating less in general and probably sticking to under 100 grams of carbs per day. Between 4/27 and 5/01/2015 I suddenly dropped in weight: 259.8, then 255.4, then 253.6, then 252.6, then 252.2 – a 7.6 lb. drop in 4 days.

Right now I’ve seemed to settle in a groove of:

  • Coffee and cream in the AM
  • 1 or 2 Greek yogurt during the day with a squeeze of the MiO Energy ‘water enhancer’ – perhaps making me the inventor of the first caffeinated yogurt.
  • More coffee throughout the day
  • A somewhat carb-controlled evening meal that seems – oddly for me – to remain somewhat in control and does not devolve into a constant grazing until bed.

So it’s nice to start May with what I’d like to think is a clearing out of most of my water weight, a modest weight loss to encourage me to up my game in the coming month, and leaving behind – at least until I reach 200 lbs. – an alcohol habit that ensured weight loss would never happen.

Who Is This Guy?

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After a newfound commitment to begin again, and off to a great start in week one, things slowly drifted back to the habits that helped get me fat again and the passionate indifference returned.

I’m now back to pretty much where I started.

Iv’e spent some time reading some of my old posts – which I typically forget moments after writing and have to ask: who IS this guy? He seems more eloquent than I. He seems more curious, more committed, and more energetic.

He *is* younger than me – and thinner. I don’t think that time spent on the right-hand side of the big five-zero has been kind to him. He can’t claim any bad luck – actually the Universe has been quite generous to him in comparison to many of his age. Yes – there have been the sort of things one starts to expect as the car passes the 50,000 mile mark. Parts start to wear.

My eyesight isn’t what it once was and while wearing readers for almost a decade, it seems I need them now more than ever. I also have Uveitis in one eye – a condition that makes the vision quite blurry in that eye – and is treated with an injection – INTO THE EYEBALL.

Did that make you cringe? It really isn’t as awful procedure as you’d imagine, but it does make your eye blood red for a while.

And the 12-year-old in me get a kick by seeing the faces of the people who ask why my eye looks like that and I tell them it’s because I got an injection in it.

An appendix got removed. It’s wasn’t a big deal except that it was a milestone of sorts: my first surgery. Yet more proof that the Universe has been kind: how many people get cut open for a myriad of reasons well before the half-century mark?

Still – despite my good fortune in many aspects of my life, something seems changed. I’m different than the guy who wrote all these posts.

First, I’ve become somewhat tired of the science aspect of a lot of nutrition. Perhaps it’s that I know enough – or at least I think I do.

I think that it was the Buddha that tried to teach his students that his teachings didn’t need to be worshipped, made sacred, or endlessly studied but were only a tool meant to be used to accomplish a goal and discarded. He described it as a boat to cross a deep river. Even though it was valuable to make the crossing, once the river was crossed there was no need to carry the damn boat all over creation – it could be left on the shore while the journey continued unburdened by it.

In Zen Buddhism there is a state where an adherent is said to ‘stink of Zen’. It means they are going overboard. The tool has become more important than its purpose. The study has become more important than its application.

Zen has little tolerance for righteousness or for excessive knowledge. It’s about the practice.

Perhaps I know enough and it’s time to get my nose out of the books and practice more.

Second, which might be the bigger problem, is that I’ve become bored with low carb eating – and this extends from the fact that I’ve become tired of low carb cooking. As my enjoyment of cooking has waned, low carb eating by necessity becomes less varied, and perhaps this is what is derailing me.

Third, perhaps the gain in weight, combined with age, and combined with the fact I no longer drink 3 pots of coffee a day, contribute to a lack of energy. I used to happily get up at 4am, drink a pot of coffee, write blog posts, maintain a little notebook of goals and to-dos, then leave for work, put in my time while putting away another 2 pots of coffee, and come home and cook and do other chores. Now I get up between 5 and 6, have a cup of coffee while staring into space, then go to work where I have maybe 3 or 4 cups.

The decline in coffee drinking was not intentional – not something I wanted to necessarily do – it just happened. Perhaps being a caffeinated speed-freak was good for me, but it’s not me anymore.

Fourth, perhaps my long-documented love of sloth – and the ability to lose weight without it – has to come to an end. I don’t know where I read it, but the case was made that, while this nonsense of burning calories talked about as if it is a financial transaction: “If I run for 30 minutes I will burn 200 calories” is a simplistic explanation, wrong, and yet enshrined as a myth so strong that every treadmill purports to tell the user down to the calorie just how much they’ve ‘burned’, it was said that there is *something* more subtle going on with exercise and weight. It isn’t well understood – but there’s a connection.

I can buy that.

After years of reading all sorts of research on these topics, I’m more comfortable with the people who know that ‘I dunno’ is not an admission of stupidity but one of honesty.

A good friend is moving and giving away their treadmill. I’m going to try to get it. Maybe it will jumpstart some better habits.

Maybe my repeated failures shows I’m not ready for a full-blown low carb diet just yet. I’ve done a hard-core program before with great result – and I can do it now, too – for about a week. Then I crumple like a cheap suit.

Maybe I’m not ready for a diet just yet, but instead in need of a ‘pre-diet rehabilitation’. Maybe I should start small, make small wins where I can, and proceed slowly in the direction of the headwinds of the right direction than to think I’m going to do it in a dash.

After thinking this, I bought a salad – just vegetables – and bought that home. My wife asked if this was the start of a new beginning. I told her: “I’m not being that ambitious. I’m just thinking that ‘maybe a salad now and than wouldn’t kill me'”.

Her birthday is soon and I’m thinking of giving her a gift: I abstain from alcohol until I’m under 200 pounds.

The dynamics are different here: promising yourself is one thing – but promising the spouse you love? That’s another.

The occasional salad and the abstention from alcohol are not going to result in an almost 60 pound weight loss – but they might not hurt.

I have a quote on the recent change in dietary guidelines that has announced that all the dietary cholesterol we were supposed to be worried about? Nah – they were wrong. “It isn’t a nutrient of concern.” Apologies to all those egg lovers frightened into avoiding a food they loved by science that has now been dismissed.

One section really struck me of the article on the topic in the Washington Post (emphasis mine):

“These reversals in the field do make us wonder and scratch our heads,” said David Allison, a public health professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “But in science, change is normal and expected.”

When our view of the cosmos shifted from Ptolemy to Copernicus to Newton and Einstein, Allison said, “the reaction was not to say, ‘Oh my gosh, something is wrong with physics!’ We say, ‘Oh my gosh, isn’t this cool?’ ”

Allison said the problem in nutrition stems from the arrogance that sometimes accompanies dietary advice. A little humility could go a long way.

“Where nutrition has some trouble,” he said, “is all the confidence and vitriol and moralism that goes along with our recommendations.”

Perhaps professor Allison’s admonition to his colleagues might apply to those of us trying to lose weight as well. More humility, less moralism, less hubris about progress  – those resolutions the emptily echo because you know you and know it ain’t gonna play out like that. Patience and tolerance for ourselves while gradually moving toward a better way of eating – without worrying about the scale as much as how we feel might do a world of good before taking the plunge into a more serious diet.

For me that means trying to score me a treadmill and maybe replacing a few meals a week with a salad.

 

 

 

 

My Next Approach to Low Carb

Perhaps taking a vacation from blogging – and low carb – after a decade of thinking about the diet *every damn day* was a good thing.

As mentioned previously, I gained weight toward the end of last year and no matter how much effort I put into low carb – even going so far as to go on an extreme low carb diet  used by some cancer patients along with calorie-restriction, my weight didn’t want to move much outside of a 220-225 range.

I then just gave permission to myself to forget about low carb and blogging for a while. I ate what I wanted, when I wanted. Now doing a low carb diet for a decade certainly changes your habits quite a bit so the ‘eating what I wanted’ still had a lot of aspects of a low carb diet. While I stopped monitoring and measuring things, I did form a routine of sorts that, while it did not lead to weight loss, did not lead to weight gain, either.

This routine left me way more relaxed about eating and removed a lot of the obsessiveness about food. After all these years, removing this yoke was a revelation.

I realized that for a decade, there was an extra family member besides myself, my wife, and my two daughters: my diet.

Like every other family member, this apparition had wants and needs and was part of many conversations. Every family member needed to make room in their lives for this apparition and put up with its peculiarities.

And now I saw clearly what a burden this family member had become.

It’s presence in a household of foodies that all enjoy good food and enjoy the ritual of enjoying good food together led to a distancing between us. Everybody seemed to eat on their own schedules and there was no such thing as a ‘family meal’ at home except on the rarest of occasions or when entertaining.

This summer I consciously began to form a new ritual of a family meal. Sometimes it was my wife who would cook. Sometimes it was me. Sometimes it was my older daughter. Sometimes everybody pitched in. Whatever the result, and no matter the carb count, we all sat down, held hands, said a prayer of gratitude to whatever-the-hell allowed us to have the great fortune to be together at the moment, with a roof over our heads, sitting around a table sharing a meal of good food together. The incessant TV in the background, mumbling and laughing and crying and screaming at random times, got turned off. The iPhones, and iPods got put away, and we all leisurely spent some quiet time eating and talking and enjoying the moment, the food, and the company of each other.

It was unexpected to see that such a simple thing as a common meal held so much power. I suppose it is a ritual etched in our DNA: the communal meal, another day without starvation, another victory against the misfortunes of life that permitted at least one more celebration of life and of food together as a family. So many of us lack one or the other – or both. The kids are getting bigger and this brief window of time where we will all be able to sit and talk and eat will quickly pass.

Low carb, the extra family member, helped prevent this from occurring. It wasn’t the sole reason, but it was a part of it.

This summer we also put a major dent in the family finances and went to France. While my bank account will need to endure a long convalescence to recover, it was a transforming experience for me.

It was a life-long dream of my wife to travel there. I am a reluctant traveler: I like having traveled but do not like traveling. for years I made excuses and we would go places less expensive and easier to get to – and my wife accepted these consolation prizes in place of the Grand Prize she had always held on to.

When she announced that she had found insanely-cheap plane tickets due to a combination of luck, mileage points from some business travel, a credit from the airline that was expiring in October, and other savvy-traveller tricks she pulled out of her bag, I decided that now was the time for her to have her dream – and I would do my best to suppress my bundle of anxieties about traveling and let her have her experience – and allow myself to fully enjoy it as well, because if I brought my anxieties along (another family member), they would reduce my wife’s enjoyment of the trip.

I couldn’t entirely dismiss my traveler’s anxiety, of course – we can’t simply turn off our anxiety. Instead, I prepared and did a bunch of things to reduce it. I am sometimes considered negative because whenever I am involved in a project I think of all the things that can go wrong at the outset. People take this as negativity but I see it as a necessary preparation to prevent things from going wrong. 

I like my optimism to be reality-based, so I worried to myself about things like keeping the house safe during our trip, reading about problems American tourists have in France so I could avoid these, while my wife read the travel books and thought about where we would go and what we would see.

I learned that pickpockets are a big problem in France, for example, and got myself a travel wallet that hangs around the neck. I also jury-rigged a little device with my iPhone and a gizmo to find your keys and had my younger daughter wear this around her neck. The crowds of tourists in Paris can be a crush in August as I read, and this gizmo would go off if she strayed too far from me.

I was also anxious about the tales of French rudeness to American travelers and wanted to know why. I started from the proposition that it wasn’t them – it was something about us that galled the Gauls, so I talked to a person that taught courses in intercultural relations for business people and was recommended two books on how the French think. After all, we were going to be guests there – the least we could do is be well-mannered guests and not do the international equivalent of sticking our napkins in our shirt collars and picking our teeth at the table with the steak knife.

I could not be more amazed at what I learned. The French are a people with a very different worldview than Americans. They are proud of their country, their government (though they are almost always protesting something or other), and their culture. When in public they tend to be more formal in their interactions with other people because for them it is a sign of respect. They also believe in projecting an image of being ‘well put together’. It’s not that you need to dress formally, but walking around in shorts wearing a T-shirt that says ‘I’m with stupid’ or some other typical American casual dress projects to them that you don’t have respect for yourself.

I left my shorts home and dressed ‘business casual’ for the most part, which meant that you might not have been able to tell we were tourists from a block away.

They also always greet people with a formal ‘Bonjour, Madam’ or ‘Bonjour Monsieur’, and expect a ‘Merci, au revoir’ when leaving their presence after an interaction. Again, to them it shows a respect for the individual. I see nothing wrong in that. We Americans once also had this same sense of formality but seemed to abandon it a number of decades ago when we embraced an casual ‘Hey-buddy!-anything-goes-wear-sweatpants-to-church’ informality that didn’t expect such niceties to be the standard.

You could argue that their way is a bit stuffy – but that wasn’t the point.

I didn’t want to change France – I wanted to see if France might change me. Perhaps there would be lessons learned here that might make an understanding of the culture I was about to immerse myself in make the trip more than just seeing sights and taking pictures in front of monuments as a sort of trophy to show off on FaceBook.

I think it did change me. It went way beyond a ‘vacation’.

Paris was a breathtaking experience The grandeur of the place, the almost seamless mix of ancient and modern, great works of art and architecture a part of any glance in any direction, with charming little bistros, brasseries and cafes on every street seemed surreal, perplexing – and unnecessarily expensive to a practical mind. So many things useless except to look at in awe in every direction. No sane US citizen would put up with the taxation necessary to erect and maintain such uselessness which is why we’re a nation that has left behind marble and gilt for Tyvek and vinyl siding.

This left me obsessing over the question: “What kind of people would create a city like this?”

Thankfully I had my two books on France and the French that answered a lot of questions. I read these in my free time back at the hotel. I certainly did not turn into a French cultural expert overnight, but some of the insights at least began to explain some of what I saw.

At one point in the trip I stopped taking pictures. I realized that you can’t fit Paris into a rectangle. Go to the Louvre and stand in the center courtyard and try to take a picture. Compare it to what you see standing there. Nope – doesn’t cut it.

Throughout our trip, almost every French person we dealt with was friendly and gracious. We met many who spoke perfectly acceptable English and patiently put up with our horrible French. I suppose it came down to: treat people as you would like to be treated. It also might have been because it is said that everyone goes on vacation in Paris in August and the city is left to those who remain behind – and to tourists.

Perhaps we might have encountered more grumpiness in September when the Parisians return to take their city back from the tourists – I don’t know.

We also ate their food. Funny: I was asked that question twice. “Are you going to eat their food?” That would be like asking me if I was planning on breathing their air.

The first memorable meal was some duck cooked rare in a raspberry reduction with mashed potatoes. No vegetable side. Each flavor and texture complemented the other. We didn’t eat at any fancy places – just some of the many bistros that don’t get listed in travel books – yet all the food was prepared with such concern for the ingredients that each meal, no matter how humble, was like the random art found around every corner in Paris: unexpected and pleasurable.

To keep costs down we found a French grocery store across the street from our hotel in Paris and ate some meals of fresh baguette, foie gras, sausage, and cheese in the hotel room.

Over the weekend we spent there we left Paris and went to Amboise, a town of about 10,000 people less than 2 hours by train outside of Paris. The centerpiece of the town was a castle-fortress and not too far from there, a short walk down a cobblestone street, was Leonardo Da Vinci’s home for the last few years of his life.

This was wine country and we just happened to arrive during a wine-tasting festival with a downtown marketplace with the most amazing foods and local crafts. Very little in the way of tourist trinkets of the Eiffel Tower made in China – this market was for the locals. The wife and I tasted wines while the kids took a nap back at the hotel (a 5-minute walk from the center of town where the festival was held). We bought some brioche and other foods from the market and a little sweetshop across from the open air market and the next day a much larger weekend market filled a parking lot a 10-minute walk from the hotel. Farmers from miles around brought their fresh-from-the-farm goods and there were many booths cooking fresh food. We bought a huge container of paella from one vendor and bread and foie gras from another and had a picnic on the banks of the Loire river just steps from the hotel.

The way the French eat has always intrigued me. I don’t recall seeing a single fat French person. They ranged from rail-thin to plump, but no one was obese in my estimation. How could they eat like this? Yeah – they eat a lot of fat – but they love their bread and their sweets as well.

The answer was in one of the books I was reading and had to do with part of the main reasons why Americans think the French rude and they think we are rude: a difference in what is considered ‘public’ and what is considered ‘private’. This was a fascinating read. The French consider money to be vulgar and tend not to discuss it in public, don’t want to be asked ‘what do you do?’ in conversation, consider a stranger asking their name to be rude, and if they were to invite you to their home would most likely NOT ‘show you around the house’ or want you to peruse their bookshelf unless invited to do so.

And unlike Americans, they consider eating to be part of the public sphere. Eating is a social activity in France. Meals are meant to be lingered over, preferably with friends and family, and no self-respecting French restaurant would ask you to leave even if you only bought a single espresso and were still hanging out 4 hours later.

Americans, on the other hand, consider most eating to be a private activity: hence we snack, and they – for the most part – don’t.

This brought me back to the ‘family meal’ that I had begun to enforce a month before we left. My seemingly retro notion of a family meal in our house was enshrined in their culture. They lingered over their food and this gave them time to digest and feel fuller on less. They simply ate less of high quality food because it was all they needed and they never ate mindlessly like so many Americans do – hypnotized by the TV with a bag of chips on their laps vanishing bit by bit without being noticed.

Not realizing it, I had hit on something that I thought would derail my diet but now I was thinking might become the center point for it.

The funny thing about the family meal was that I found myself not picking much afterward. There was little ‘raiding the fridge’ after eating whatever meal I had when I came home. We ate later than usual, ate slowly, and ate with a mindfulness – discussing the food itself, it’s preparation, how the different ingredients went together. We discussed future meals – and what we tried that wasn’t liked (while peas were a comfort food for me, neither my wife nor kids like them).

There were also complaints from the family when we couldn’t follow the ritual. It seems it wasn’t something the rest of the family just ‘went along with’ – it was valued by them – despite the prohibition on electronics and the TV.

Perhaps ‘meals’ are more important than ‘eating’. Perhaps ‘dining’ is more valuable that ‘3 squares a day’. So where my head is at present is as follows:

My Low Carb Diet must become invisible

I’ve concluded that talking about diets – especially at a meal with others – is vulgar – akin to talking on the cel phone at a movie theater. It detracts from the enjoyment of others in your company. Discussions about food at meals should only be ones that discuss it as a means to pleasure. Discussing how well the peas and onions complement each other is perfectly acceptable – the carb count, or the discussion about any chemical in any ingredient being shown in studies to do X – is not. Certainly, there is a time and a place for such discussions – like here – but at the table, with dinner companions, conversations about calories, nutrients, and the long-term ill-effects of a particular food is not one of them. I’m going treat any food placed in front of me as I would a guest and not be rude nor denigrating to its presence. Like someone at a party I don’t particularly like, I can avoid them yet still be gracious.

Now, this does present a tricky problem: eating with companions or with family and friends means dealing with what dieters call ‘food pushers’ who might ‘derail your diet’. I’m beginning to think that this sort of thinking might be a misstep. Looking at food from a cultural and communal standpoint, offering food to people is one of the grand gestures of friendliness and kindness that one human being can give to another. In a world that has arisen from one where starving was a very real possibility every day, this gesture is the utmost hospitality – and we dieters reject it. Instead of embracing our humanity we bring science to the table and tear up the social contract that has been built up over thousands of years across almost every culture on Earth.

The diet problem is still there, of course: anyone reading this has probably concluded that they need to control their diet and that certain food should be avoided. I’m beginning to think though that perhaps, once at the table in a social situation, we might be better off focusing on the metered enjoyment of the food we are presented with rather than reciting our list of prohibitions to a table that is more interested in enjoying a meal rather than hearing about your ‘diet’. Again, taking the mindset that the food itself is a guest of sorts, and imagining it as a person you would rather avoid that you bump into at a party, you would probably NOT bring up your list of grievances with them in a public setting, though you might limit your time with them. Do the same with food.

Your diet isn’t ‘blown’ if you participate with smaller portions. At a restaurant you can ask for a double portion of vegetables instead of the side of mashed potatoes. You can still avoid sugary drinks and skip the bread brought to the table. These will be almost invisible to your companions. At a family meal or a when entertaining friends, certain items can be safely avoided – like chips placed on a table before a meal. At the actual meal, where there is some social expectation of participation in the various dishes, taking a small portion and allowing yourself to enjoy it might be more sane and more in the spirit of things than to express your prohibitions.

Either become a monk to your diet or accept the fact that there will be times when the best course of action is the practice of a concealed metering of eating what is being graciously offered.

One meal does not ruin a diet: it’s a series of meals that does that to you. Allow yourself the pleasure of food with family and friends, participate in the bounty we’ve been given, and work to develop the ability to participate fully while watching your diet as much as possible without others noticing you doing so.

Make eating a communal event as much as possible.

A diet is in some ways chasing after wind: “When I get to be my goal weight I will be happy.”

It doesn’t work that way.

Goals are great, but I assure you – you won’t be continually ‘blissed out’ when you attain that magic number on the scale. I’m not saying you won’t be filled with a sense of accomplishment, better physical health if done right, and a host of positive emotions – it’s just that these will fade into the background of your life after a time. Studies have shown that people who win the lottery, within a few years, return to more or less the same level of happiness they had when they weren’t rich. We adapt to our situations – good and bad – and while being thin might bring you all sorts of things you don’t have now, we humans have a tendency to take things for granted after a while.

Make sure you don’t postpone your happiness entirely until a certain number on the scale appears. We don’t know how much time we have left. Our expiration dates can’t be found on any label attached to us. Enjoying a meal with others when possible, when done the right way – focusing on the food with other people who know how to truly experience the pleasures of food – will bring greater happiness to every day of your life.

Should death tap you on the shoulder and tell you you’ve got only a few more moments, I guarantee you: your diet will be the last thing on your mind. Don’t give up the pleasure of good food with good company because of a ‘diet’.

Again, your brow might be furrowing as to how you follow this advice and still lose weight. It seems easier from one perspective to set a goal, sacrifice for it for a certain time, and achieve it. That’s how Americans do it.

That might work for things like passing a test or building a business, but we don’t ‘own’ or bodies in the same way as we might own a car that we’re restoring or own a business or have responsibilities to a job that we can work to excel at. Our bodies allow us to inhabit them, but they breathe on their own, the blood flows without our consent, our hearts beat to the rhythm they choose.

One thing we pretty much know about our bodies is that they are resistant to weight loss once the weight is gained. Respect this and embrace the notion of slow and gradual weight loss. I know this goes against every notion in a time-bound, deadline-obsessed culture, but your body doesn’t exist in that artificial world that lies outside of it.

So accepting this and making eating a communal event as much as can be managed involves cultivating a pleasure in good food shared with others. The secret to the power of this in an attempt to lose weight is eliminating the notion that eating alone on the couch in front of the TV is acceptable. You are replacing one with the other. Public eating is conscious eating, and conscious eating never ends up with an entire pint of Haagen-Daz disappearing while watching ‘The Biggest Loser’ along with a bag of chips now empty without you not quite remembering how it happened. Communal eating is also conscious eating with little effort. Instead of meditating on each bite of your meal alone, doing it with others occurs in an atmosphere that makes it more effortless.

Of course, if you are coming off of years of binge-eating, there’s work to be done here in terms of portion control and selectivity. Work on that rather than pursuing the goal of ‘hermit dieter’.

When eating alone, make it monotonous

You won’t be able to make every meal a communal one if you are anything like most of the people I know. In a culture obsessed with busyness, schedules conflict, things pop up, and families are separated by work, school, and separate activities. What to do then?

Well, what I am attempting to do is pursue the notion that these meals are unimportant in the grand scheme of things. I don’t want to have to think about my lunch at work, which is usually alone because ‘lunchtime’ is not a certain hour in my business and tends to be the time one can squeeze in between meetings and phone calls and can land anywhere between 11am and 3pm.

What I’ve been doing is enforcing a very small and rigid set of food choices that allow me to not think about preparing a lunch. As I work in an office, I have this luxury, so this is not in any way a recommendation, just an example of what I’m doing.

I’ve narrowed down my daily eating to the following items:

  1. Coffee
  2. coconut oil
  3. Lindt 80% dark chocolate
  4. Macadamia nuts
  5. eggs
  6. Chicken broth

Now, my particular constitution allows me to go long periods without eating with no ill-effect. Perhaps I’ve been in ketosis so many times that my body finds it easy to pull from my fat stores and run on ketones to keep me humming when I haven’t eaten in more than a dozen hours. Maybe my body is like a hybrid car than can run happily on gasoline or propane. So again, this is not a recommendation – it’s just what I do.

My breakfast is always coffee and cream, providing me with a little ‘get-up-and-go’ with between 100 and 200 calories of pure fat.

Around 6 hours later, a half cup of coffee with either 2 squares of dark chocolate or coconut oil melted in it is my next feeding – another 100 to 200 calories of mostly fat.

A few times a week, anywhere from the noontime coffee break all the way to almost before I leave work, I might have a cup of chicken broth with two raw eggs broken in it and nuked for 3 minutes. Or maybe a 20 or so macadamia nuts, totaling somewhere between 200 and maybe 350 calories.

So for 12 hours of my waking day, my input is almost zero carbs, mostly fat, maybe some protein from the eggs, and a calorie intake of anywhere between 200 calories and 750 calories.

Given I’ve eaten almost no carbs, this leaves room for the family meal in the evening. While at present I’m eating anything, my intention moving forward is to continue the ritual – except to artfully cut back on the carbs. Pasta and meatballs with Italian bread? I can have a taste of the Pasta and the bread with butter, and have mostly meatballs. Pork belly with gravy, vegetable and mashed potatoes? Same thing: a taste of the potatoes and vegetable if it’s high-carb, and focus on the pork belly and gravy.

The room that I’ve left in my daily food intake for a family meal allows some decidedly un-low carb foods in small portions to enjoy while also allowing me to keep both calories and carbs within limits that still mean I’m on a ‘low carb diet’ without the appearance of being on one.

 The one prohibition

If there’s one thing I have learned in my decade of low carb, it’s that without exception, no weight loss occurs if I drink alcohol. So in an effort to make the notion of social eating work as part of a weight loss strategy, I am going to sacrifice the conviviality of social drinking. I was never much of a barfly anyway, and most of my drinking was drinks after work at home – nothing that added much to the joy of life as much as calmed the nerves after a hectic day. For many months now I’ve been adapting to not exciting my nerves unduly in the first place – the 3 pots of coffee I once drank is down to a cup and a half, so a less jangled nervous system should be able to forego the drinks I now realize I once needed to unjangle it.

Now comes the hard part

Pretty words you got there, you might say. will it work?

I dunno.

If I can navigate the shark-infested waters of carbs setting me off for an evening of overeating, if I can watch my portions, if I can make it second nature to balance on this knife edge, perhaps it can work. It sounds sane and life-affirming as a lifestyle – but can it lead to weight loss?

I suppose we’ll see.

Fat, Dumb & Happy Day 12 & 13

March 21, 2014 – 219.6

What was different than yesterday? Little. Same hectic day. Maybe more tension. Didn’t eat all day. Went out mid afternoon for coffee and to clear my head a bit. Dunkin Donuts had a power outage and I had to make due with Starbucks – not a huge fan of their coffee but I compensate by adding cinnamon & nutmeg, which I like a lot. No nutmeg though – they were out of it.

At home, had my roast beef and cheese with mayonnaise and had some wine before bed. I also had a few small pieces of watermelon and a big mug of almond milk.

March 22, 2014 – 219.2

I have to work this weekend.

My weight is *slowly* creeping downward. Today is the lowest weight during this go at ketosis and the lowest weight in a month. It seems to be inching down somewhat slower than is usual but bodies do not like to change their weight downward.

At this point, however, I feel OK, have few cravings, mood seems to be less volatile, mind is clear and productive and I don’t feel particularly deprived. It’s really not a bad place to be.

I’ve been keeping tabs on the news in between everything else and there’s been a few articles worth noting – I might sprinkle future posts with brief mentions.

News: Woman treats brain tumor with low carb diet

It has been said that ‘sugar feeds cancer’. Cancer cells apparently don’t thrive in people on a ketogenic environment because cancer cells are carb addicts.

As this particular woman is the director of operations at a biochemistry research firm, I can only assume that she has the smarts to make an informed decision when she decided to forego normal cancer treatments for this approach.

Ditching traditional cancer treatments is a game of ‘You Bet Your Life’. Steve Jobs tried this and lost. I’m sure this was a tough personal decision and I wish her the best.

Here’s the link: http://www.examiner.com/article/woman-battles-deadly-brain-cancer-without-chemo-using-low-carb-ketogenic-diet

(If anyone can explain to me why Examiner.com is almost always the source of pro low-carb news in my news feed, let me know.)

11am

I had made my kids eggs and toast for breakfast and thought: why not have a breakfast yourself? If I was at work I probably could had done a day 3 of not eating all day but I’m still not sure it’s necessarily good for you.

I made myself 3 eggs in lots of butter and grated cheese over the top. They were lightly cooked. I play the odds, betting that the extra $ I pay for top-notch eggs makes the odds greater that I will get salmonella.

Way before former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg instituted nanny-state laws like regulating the size of sodas, my great state of New Jersey was in the vanguard of this trend and in 1992 banned ‘runny eggs’ being sold in restaurants. New Jersey is a nice state that gets a bad rap because parts of the state have some curious pecadillos. It’s a complex place – the same state has one of the richest counties in the country – and one of the worst cities. Organic farmers dot the bucolic central region. The Jersey Shore suffers from multiple personality disorder: we have a hippy-dippy nude beach (I think the only one on the east coast), uptight law & order beaches that are quiet because no radios or food is allowed like Spring Lake (also known as the ‘Irish Riviera’ because of the enclave of Irish that inhabit the area), and then we have what the word thinks of as the ‘Jersey Shore’ – Seaside Heights – tawdry, tacky, and tasteless.

But for our legislators to broadcast to the country their laser focus on fixing problems that don’t need fixing instead of focusing on the problems that actually matter and making ‘runny eggs’ illegal made New Jersey a laughing-stock at the time. The law was quickly repealed and whoever came up with that waste of taxpayer dollars probably wore a fake beard and sunglasses so as not to be recognized.

Here’s the story: (http://photos.nj.com/star-ledger/2013/04/eehdiner.html)

4 pm

Worked, did some errands and was hungry. I’ve drank surprisingly little coffee in comparison to most days and I’m tired. Looking for something to eat I found a polish kielbasa in the meat drawer. I cooked it up and ate maybe 8 or 9 ounces with mustard.

Then I looked at the label: ‘Use by December 29, 2013’.

Will I be in trouble?

It tasted fine. I’ll guess we’ll find out.

9pm

A somewhat troubling day from the diet standpoint – and it isn’t done yet. The kielbasa has produced no ill effects so far, but I’ve had a powerful thirst – no doubt from the salt. The kielbasa had no nitrates and proudly proclaims only 5 ingredients – all ones you don’t need a chemistry degree to understand.

I drank a LOT of water and almond milk. I don’t like to overdo it on the almond milk but I would say I did. My younger daughter came back from a friend’s house around 6 and was hungry. My wife and older daughter had taken a day trip and nothing was prepared for dinner. I asked the kid what she wanted:

“Pizza.”

I thought to myself: “You’re up to this.”

I bought her three slices: plain, pepperoni, mushroom.

The kid did the usual: pulled off a lot of the cheese and toppings.

At the risk of drawing the wrong conclusion, the kielbasa was a bad idea. I’ve had this unquenchable thirst after other meals – and this usually signals for some reason my eating everything in sight and gaining 5 pounds at least. Kielbasa goes on my ‘Bad Foods’ list. Not a great loss if I’m wrong and some other thing caused this. I eat this maybe three times a year, tops.

There were more than a few times I wanted to snatch one of the kid’s slices. She ate slow and kept the box open. I’d close it so I didn’t have to look at it.

Then my wife and daughter came home with leftovers from Legal Seafood.

As this is the best seafood restaurant ever, all this was a bit much for me. I did have a taste of their fried cod – excellent – and some of their fried calamari – also excellent. I did NOT have the french fries, any pizza, nor the bread rolls.

I did have their tartar sauce that might have contained some sugar as well as a bit of their coleslaw.

Considering my day of living really low carb, the small amount of carbs shouldn’t put me out of ketosis.

I ate my chocolate before bed and also had wine. I do not have my glucose meter to determine if this works long-term as a blood glucose control or was just a fluke that after this combo the other day when my blood sugar was normal in the AM without meds, but I should have it in a few days.

Fat, Dumb, & Happy: Day 8 – Solanine

Monday, March 17, 2014 – 225.8

6am

Nice jump in the scale. I attribute it to a lot of bulk and water from yesterday’s meal, as well as less fat overall. I’m not concerned. I think I’ve shown my actual weight, minus the water I am retaining, is maybe 219. If the scale does not follow a smooth path downward I won’t be worried – you need to give your body time to adapt to the new regime. The scale is a handy tool when it doesn’t become an emotional rollercoaster that dictates your mood for the day.

What jazzes me is the ketones. Both yesterday and today they are running dark – great. Every day in ketosis means another day of my body adapting to it – and another day where I did not given in to carbs. You can’t fake this test, and while imprecise, it does tell you you’re in the zone.

While I might have been better off to switch to roast beef and butter, I want to finish off that great soup I made yesterday. It’s not bad to add some variety of quality vegetables into the mix also – even if the number on the scale doesn’t show what you’d like it to show.

This isn’t entirely about the scale. If it was, I could go on the ‘Walter White Blue Meth’ diet and be slim and trim in no time – but *how you get thin* is important.

8pm – 223.0

Today was the worst I’ve felt so far. Extremely tired, sore knees, achy legs, couldn’t wake up no matter how much coffee I drank, head not clear. It was a struggle to get through the day. And I was way more hungry than last week. I had more of the soup for lunch and *again* it did not satisfy but left me hungry. For the first time since I started this I was fantasizing about going out and getting a sandwich.

Instead I hit the bag of macadamia nuts hard. I even found my last Atkins bar left over from a business trip in November hidden in my bag and ate that.

Let’s pull back a moment and try to analyze the situation.

First, I’m going to assume for analysis that psychology is irrelevant. I’m not saying it isn’t – I’m assuming it isn’t and see where it takes me.

The crock pot of beef and veggies was very tasty – but more so than any meal I’ve had so far, I was hungry after it – 3 bowls worth in fact.

What’s with that?

A few things come to mind.

– it was the least fatty meal I’ve e had in a week. While low carb for the vast majority of humanity, it probably had, per bowl, maybe 10 grams net carbs. It was also the most fiber I had in a week. Sounds great – right? Low carb, high fiber – where’s the problem? The hunger afterward was the problem.

So what was it about the soup? I had 2 ingredients in large quantity: artichoke hearts and tomatoes. Of lesser quantity were the sweet peppers and 1/2 onion at most for the entire pot.

Was it the high fiber, the overall higher carb count or one of the ingredients that got me?

I’m going to give the stuff I ate and drank afterward a free pass at present. I’m also going to remove the onion because of the small quantity.

I’m going to focus on the artichokes, peppers and tomatoes.

I did a little research as I lay in bed, ready to hit the sack right after I came home. Before that, still ravenously hungry and talking myself out of stopping at one of the half-dozen fast-food joints on my way home by reminding myself I’d ruin the ketosis, I made 4 eggs with a lot of butter and cheese and ate that for dinner. This was after eating lunch, the Atkins bar and a half bag of macadamias so it wasn’t like I needed to eat more.

This meal – nothing but fat and protein – satisfied.

The research came up with this: solanine. It’s a toxic compound found in some plants that supposedly exist to prevent insects and animals from eating them. They are found in nightshade plants as well as a few other plant types.

Here’s some examples of plants containing solanine: tomatoes, peppers and artichokes.

What are some of the symptoms?

From one website:

An enzyme present in the body called Cholinesterase originates in the brain where its responsible for flexibility of muscle movement. Solanine, present in nightshades, is a powerful inhibitor of cholinesterase. In other words, its presence can interfere with muscle function – the cause of stiffness experienced after consuming nightshades. All people are not sensitive to nightshades in the same degree. Research has proved that when an inflammatory condition exists, consuming nightshades is like adding “fuel to the fire”. That said, there is no scientific evidence that for those not afflicted with inflammation that nightshades will cause it.

http://haydeninstitute.com/additional-resources/additional-resources-diet-and-nutrition/inflammatory-foods-nightshades

I also found some evidence, though much less, that solanine might cause hunger in sensitive individuals, but so little it seems tenuous at best. I’ll be the first to say that it’s a bit of a reach to say there’s a cause and effect here without lots of testing – but it’s a worthy hypothesis to pursue. What if I avoid plants with solanine and notice this doesn’t happen again? Outside of a slightly more restrictive approach – what do I have to lose?

From the same link above, here’s a list of the offending foods:

Nightshades – Avoid in order to decrease inflammation:

  • Potatoes, all varieties (sweet potatoes and yams are NOT nightshades. Beware of potato starch used in many seasonings and as a thickening agent)

  • Peppers (red, green, yellow, orange, jalapeno, chili, cayenne, pimento)

  • Tomatoes, all varieties (including Tomatillos)

  • Paprika

  • Eggplant

  Foods that contain solanine although not directly in the nightshade family:

  • Blueberries & Huckleberries

  • Okra

  • Artichokes

  Other Substances to Avoid:

  • Homeopathic remedies containing Belladonna (known as deadly nightshade)

  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications containing potato starch as a filler (especially prevalent in sleeping and muscle relaxing medications)

  • Edible flowers: petunia, chalice vine, day jasmine, angel and devil’s trumpets.

  • Atropine and Scopolamine, used in sleeping pills

  • Topical medications for pain and inflammation containing capsicum (in cayenne pepper)

What’s relevant to me from that list is three of the items from my crockpot meal, as well as eggplant, blueberries and paprika. I’ve had okra and liked it, but I don’t eat it. I don’t take homeopathic remedies, nor do I eat flowers. I *have* used capsicum, but maybe once every few years, so I can avoid that.

So I’ll proceed from here under the assumption that I am sensitive to these compounds and see what happens – at least for a while. This sucks, of course, because I like these foods – and they are low carb.

But if I *do* find a stronger cause and effect link by experimenting along these lines, avoiding these foods might be worth it