My Crappy Diet So Far 11-05-2014

Everyone loves a cheery blogger – one chomping at the bit to seize the day and make it theirs – with a big grin and a spring in their step to boot.

I ain’t that.

Right now the most cheery thought I can conjure up is a meteor crashing through the roof and striking me dead.

But you didn’t come here to read about ol’ gloomy Gus here bitchin’ about life – you’re here because…well, I don’t have a clue why you’re here, exactly, but it probably has something to do with low carb diets – I’m guessing that from the name of the website.

So on Monday, November 3rd, I attempted to start my low carb diet again. I had tried on November 1st, it being the beginning of the month, and that’s a fine place to start. When that didn’t pan out, I tried November 2nd, since that was a Sunday – another good demarcation point to start. When that didn’t pan out I figured I’d try Monday.

I wouldn’t say the third time’s the charm, but I did get a little nudge from a couple of things that I think helped me to get a creaky and backfiring start to my diet.

The first was that I picked up the super-cheap Relion blood glucose meter from Wal-Mart and tested my blood glucose for the first time since the summer. My fasting blood glucose was 138. While I’m not particularly afraid of death, I have a significant fear as to how I arrive there. The direct meteor strike doesn’t concern me, but a lingering future of all my tiny capillaries getting chewed up by excess blood glucose, leading to blindness, amputations, and loss of sensation in my extremities among the many things that diabetes does to you before it kills you outright does register with me.

Then there was the number on the scale: 241.2. All I can say to that is: oh, fuck. I’ve spent a year drawing a line in the sand, having my weight cross it, then drawing another line in the sand, and now I’m above 240.

I’ve got to draw a line in the sand.

Day 1 was a mostly OK day, which coffee and cream at home, then coffee with a splash of Atkins shake as creamer, then Italian sausages with sour cream for lunch. Evening is always the worst but I managed to hold it together (mostly) with a bowl of my kale soup. I did  have some bread and butter as it seems I can’t get my act together to pull off a single good day from end to end. It could have been worse, however – like day 2.

Day 2 showed progress in both numbers. The fasting blood glucose was down by 20 points to 118 – I guess that 20 was courtesy of the Halloween candy lying about. I also got under that 240 number to 238.8 – a number that gave me some hope – though if you told me last year I’d be at this number I would have pulled out tufts of my own hair.

The day was more or less the same as the previous day, but the evening was different. I ended up getting McDonald’s for the kids and questioned my sanity in doing so as I drove 45 minutes with the smell of burgers and fries wafting up next to me. I didn’t touch it though – at least not yet.

At home I found some abandoned sausages in the deli drawer that said ‘sell by 10/22’. I wondered if they would make me puke-sick almost as an aside as I heated them in the microwave and ate them on the last of the low carb bread I am not planning to replenish.

I did have a leftover bite or two of a Big Mac and maybe a half-dozen fries. My younger daughter had candy corn that appeared out of nowhere – how long had it been since I had any? Now I knew: a half-dozen at that moment. Lastly, I had some dried apricots – just to make sure I couldn’t pretend it was even a halfway OK day from a low carb perspective.

Day 3 found me at the same 118 for a blood glucose number and down almost a pound to 238.0. The diet Gods were toying with me – making me think I could eat like I did the day before and not screw things up.

I brought the same Italian sausages and sour cream to work but it was so uninspiring that I couldn’t bear it. Instead, I went to KFC and had 3 of their grilled chicken thighs. I make no claim that these are ‘healthy’ – I once read a list of the ingredients that they tart these things up with to make them taste so darn good and I’m sure that they will increase no one’s longevity – but the things are zero carb and I’m in an ‘any port in a storm’ mode with my diet at this point so I could have done a lot worse.

 

As I am also having problems writing and not posting, I’m going to stop here and just say…to be continued.

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The Un-Diet and the Full-Immersion Fat Bast

On October 8th I wrote an introduction to what I felt would be a reset of my diet. On that day I was 234 pounds.

The odd thing is that this weight gain has been accompanied by a sudden and severe bout of not giving a shit. It’s hard to find the motivation when you don’t give a shit – self-loathing, fear, embarrassment, anger – even despair, though to a lesser extent – can be a motivator.

Indifference is *not* a motivator.

In fact, after I wrote my October 8th missive it appeared as if I was trying to win some competition for how many fast food meals I could tuck in. If there was an actual competition, the judges would have been impressed. Every mealtime a voice inside of me said: ‘screw this diet shit – maybe next time.’

It was the truth. Like a tiger in India that acquired a taste for human blood, I had flim-flammed myself into thinking that I could ‘moderate’ my carb intake. Instead, I had artfully bullshitted myself again. I fell for my own bullshit and had abandoned low carb like I never had before. The villagers would have to kill the carb-loving tiger before *any* semblance of order would return.

I tried being less obsessive about my diet. For the first time in a decade I gave myself the latitude to not think about dieting in an intense, personal fashion. I banished this extra housemate, this dietary burden on myself and my family – and it did nobody good. Thinner and obsessive, I was annoying and eccentric. Now I’m fatter, crankier, and still annoying and eccentric.

It wasn’t a good tradeoff.

Perhaps my lot in life is to be an obsessive, compulsive dieter. Perhaps I can never be ‘normal’. I think I’ll keep more of it to myself, however: no one wants to hear about ‘your diet’ – excepting perhaps present company, of course.

Every single freakin’ day since then I tried to start my diet only to have it crumple like a cheap suit from the smallest of excuses. What IS hunger?!? I asked myself. Intellectually, you know you’ve taken in adequate nutrition, then hunger appears, you tell it to go pound sand, feel good about yourself – and find yourself moments later midway through a McDonald’s Double-Cheeseburger wondering: what the hell happened in between the onset of hunger and a gullet being filled with McCrap? Surely some higher-level cognitive functions were operating to navigate the car to the drive thru, place the order, pay, and start eating – but what some psychologists call the ‘Executive Function’ – that force within us that causes smart people not to do dumb things – had checked out completely.

Hunger won out and I was up to 236.6.

I decided I needed to pull out a weapon against hunger I only use sparingly because it comes off as so bat-shit crazy that even I take pause before I reach for it: the full-immersion fat blast.

In a nutshell the thinking goes like this: for me, a day or two of overeating as much fat as possible is the fastest way to get into ketosis and get the appetite-supressing properties of ketones in my bloodstream. I’m overeating *anyway* but this type of overeating at least leads to appetite suppression after a while. So on October 21 I ate:

  1. Coffee with cream
  2. Coffee with a dash of Atkins shake as a creamer substitute
  3. A tiny bit of roast beef wrapped around what ended up being near a half-stick of butter
  4. a cup of fatty pork belly with 2 eggs, fried, with a huge dollop of sour cream
  5. Pork rinds with a tuna salad with a big dollop of mayonnaise as well as more sour cream
  6. A dessert of a few tablespoons of sour cream with some Mio flavoring

While I didn’t track calories, I’m sure my intake was well over 2,000 calories, with lots of fat, moderate protein, and probably under 10 grams of carbs.

The next day I was down 3.2 pounds to 233.4 – nothing shocking, actually, as you shed water as you deplete the carbs in your body and I am capable of holding onto perhaps up to 8 pounds of water weight by my estimate. While I don’t miss the extra weight, it wasn’t the point – ketosis and the appetite killer that travels shotgun with it is what I’m aiming for.

I ate nothing until mid afternoon – the coffee, cream and Atkins shake as creamer kept me going until then, when I had half a package of cream cheese on two small pieces of roast beef.

Not too long after that I felt the heaviness, the tiredness without sleepiness, that signals the onset of ketone production for me.

At home I checked for ketones – yep – I was starting ketosis.

I had 2 burgers with cheese along with a bit of regular ketchup (no low carb in the house) as well as a few ounces of vodka. There was also the leftover tuna from the day before with lettuce.

There was some longing for more food, but not the kind of hunger where I find a plate of pasta half-eaten before I know what the hell was going on.

The nature of my hunger had already changed. It’s what I was looking for: when hunger comes now it is merely present – not omnipresent – that’s the biggest benefit of a ketogenic low carb diet to me.

Again, the point here is to just get into ketosis – not losing weight – but when I woke up on Saturday, October 25th, I was 229.8 – down almost 7 pounds.

Of course, its times like these where I post an impressive 2-day weight loss, and then completely screw things up moments after I hit the ‘post button’.

Frankly, the odds are against me. With Halloween around the corner with piles of leftover candy strewn in so many places as to be seen in every glance, then Thanksgiving, the official US binge-eating holiday, through a food-filled Christmas season, and coming to a Bacchanalian climax with the world-wide celebration of alcohol abuse called ‘New Years’, this is a perilous time for any dieter.

Stay tuned to see if I can beat the odds.

 

 

 

Cancer, Warburg, Seyfried, and EXTREME Low Carb Diets

I’ve made mention of a peculiar use for low carb diets other than for weight loss. You might have heard that low carb is successfully used in children for epilepsy (check out The Charlie Foundation for more info on that), but you might not have known that nascent research is being done independently and somewhat outside the normal protocols to determine if a very – and I mean VERY – low carb diet *might* work as a treatment for cancer.

Now let’s stop here for an important warning: if you have cancer, this most likely *isn’t* something for you. First off, for many cancers, traditional treatments do, in fact, work if treated early. It also isn’t a treatment that you can try on your own along with a standard course of treatment. Many of them are incompatible with a low carb diet. It also has only been tested in mouse models – and for only certain types of cancers. You’d need professional guidance if you wanted to see if this was right for you.

There’s also this: the theory as to why it might work contradicts decades of research.

Hear a quacking sound? Cancer has been called the ‘Emperor of all maladies‘ and had attracted charlatans willing to turn a profit on other people’s tragedy, peddling false hope and leaving their families penniless. This one is somewhat different, however, and we’ll get to that in a moment, but first you must meet Otto Warburg, but to meet Mr. Warburg we need to go back 90 years and also revisit out high school biology class for a little refresher. I promise I won’t get too ‘sciencey’ and I apologize beforehand to those readers who know this stuff way better than I ever will. Forgive me my simplistic explanations – but please call me out if I state something patently incorrect. I don’t want to misinform.

Most of the cells that make up this container we call you and I contain mitochondria. There’s a hundred fascinating things about these parts of the cell – you can only get them from your mother, for instance, and they have their very own DNA that is completely different from yours – but lets focus on the what they do for you. Mitochondria are considered the ‘powerplants’ of your cells and create the energy the cell needs to survive. They do a bunch of other things, but one of the important parts for our discussion is the energy production.

Otto Warburg was a researcher who, in 1924, noticed that the mitochondria in cancer cells didn’t properly respire – as in ‘breathe’. Yes – cells breathe, which is why *we* breathe – to get the oxygen the cells need to properly respire.

But cancer cells didn’t respire properly – instead, it appeared that they took a different approach that only allowed them to feed only on glucose.

Now, just because a cancer cell’s eating habits are different doesn’t quite explain why they’re cancer cells (at least that I know), but it does point out a cancer cell’s Achille’s heel: they’re sugar addicts.

As sometimes happens in science, some guys in lab coats scratched their beards, mumbled something about this being ‘interesting’ – and then it was mostly forgotten except perhaps as trivia while science marched forward with cancer treatments using surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Cancer treatments did get better, but now we’ve reached a point where new treatments might only add months to a patient’s life.

Then along comes Thomas Seyfried who writes a textbook named Cancer as a Metabolic Disease which challenges many of the standard notions about the treatment of cancer and recommends an extremely low carb diet instead of chemo – and gets himself into a mess of trouble – at least from a career standpoint.

Dr. Seyfried is a legitimate researcher who comes out with a book that overturns 50 years of thinking on cancer. This is going to attract two things: crackpots and the label of ‘quack’ from his peers.

I simply do not have the skill-set to judge his work as I am not an oncologist, but he had laid out a legitimate attempt to create a new way of thinking about and treating cancer and no one can deny that a low carb diet might be a heckuva lot better treatment for cancer – if it works – than chemo and radiation. Simply put: normal brain cells can live on ketones – cancer cells can’t, so a super-duper low carb ketogenic diet starves the cancer cells while normal cells survive.

Here’s Thomas Seyfried discussing his theory. Pretty sciency, though it allows you to gauge the man:

He doesn’t come off as a quack – more frustrated than anything.

His last answer in the Q&A is his most damning: if the standard of care raises blood glucose, then it leads to the ‘demise of the patient’.

“Oh.” Says the oncology community. “We’ve been doing this all wrong for 50 years? My bad – let’s fix that right away.”

You can see how his theory is a ‘turd in a punchbowl’ for anyone in the medical community invested in the current standard of care.

Here’s an example from one of his naysayers. It’s a well-reasoned criticism and well worth slogging through to help to begin to understand the point of view of the medical community.

How *I* got exposed to this was because a friend’s relative was diagnosed with a glioblastoma – a type of brain cancer that is pretty much a death sentence. I was reminded of the article I had read about a woman who was treating her brain tumor with a ketogenic diet and was even keeping a blog about it. I provided the link and my friend and their family, after a lot of research, decided on a doctor-supervised ketogenic diet.

It’s too soon to tell at this point if this was the right approach, but given what I’ve read about glioblastomas, there’s not much to lose.

Doing my own research I came across a website that offered a complete diet book for cancer patients trying a ketogenic diet, bought a copy and read it from cover to cover.

book-cover-med

I’ve read plenty of other books on ketogenic diets, but this one comes not from the weight loss community but out of the childhood epilepsy community where the stakes are higher. We’re not talking about fitting in that cute little dress but preventing debilitating seizures in small children – or not dying from cancer.

This is the most extreme low carb diet I’ve ever seen – because most diets try to make it comfortable for the patient. While this book bends over backwards to do the same, its primary goal is to manage a threatening disease.

I thought it would be interesting to try this approach – what the heck – and did it for a few weeks over the summer.

Even though I am an old hand at ketosis, this was hard. I felt like passing out one hot summer day walking a nearby downtown, which I summed up to dehydration: you don’t store *any* water weight on this diet so it probably made dehydration a huge possibility. I felt much better after a bottle of water and a salad.

I didn’t keep up with it but I consider the book an excellent reference for anyone interested in what an ‘extreme’ low carb diet looks like. I have to admit that my own diet is in tatters as I write this but if/when I get up the gumption to start again I am going to use this book as a guide – perhaps not going as ‘full-on’ as a cancer patient might, but rather as a target I can afford to miss, given that even coming near to this protocol will still be a very adequate ketogenic diet.

An Introduction – Day 1

Joseph Merrick 'aka' The elephant Man
Joseph Merrick ‘aka’ The Elephant Man

Let’s start slow here, OK?

Once upon a time a guy went on a low carb diet and lost 80 pounds, bringing his decidedly pudgy exterior down to a perfectly fine 185. Of course, weight never stays off unless you are a total maniac about your diet – and this guy wasn’t – he was pretty awful at low carb, though some points should be given for some amusing hare-brained experiments along the way.

The weight loss stayed for about three years but the onset of middle age – and perhaps a well-honed laziness crafted into a fine art- caused the weight to creep back on. It was manageable for many years and a diligent return to a hard-core low carb diet each time things got out of hand always got it back down, though later years the weight tended to stay in the low 200s.

Then a decade passed. a WHOLE FREAKIN’ DECADE on a low carb diet. That’s a lot of time on a diet that makes one a bit of an oddball. Despite a lot of evidence that a low carb diet is helpful and safe for a lot of folks – and personal experience showed that it worked for this particular schmuck, he kinda drifted away from it.

There were some valid reasons for this drifting away. Some less so. Regardless, this guy went from someone who struggled with following a low carb diet pretty much every day – even if he failed miserably – to someone who wasn’t even trying anymore – and that gradual drift happened oh-so unconsciously, until the man awoke to find that perhaps he didn’t know how exactly to do a low carb diet anymore. Perhaps they didn’t work for him anymore and what once worked no longer would. perhaps the person he was 10 years ago when he lost the weight was gone and the person he was now couldn’t do what he had done then.

Perhaps he just didn’t want to be on a diet forever anymore.

This was all well and good, but a very real problem existed: he was getting fat again. He was outgrowing the fat clothes he bought.

Breathing in his clothes might become a problem. Buttons might begin to pop.

It was fun to eat Italian deli sandwiches. Bread is an awesome thing. So was pasta. But it seemed there was no way to dance on the knife-edge of having some without having too much. His appetite went out of control and a taste always became more than a taste.

Joseph Merrick, known as ‘The Elephant Man’ was a normal human stuck inside a deformed body. The story that I had heard was, because of his deformity, he had always slept upright.

But one time he wanted to sleep like a regular human being – lying down. His simple desire to be like other humans is supposedly what did him in: due to his deformities, lying down choked him to death in his sleep.

Perhaps there’s a lesson there the man needed to accept.

So with only that thought as a start, the man, with little of that wide-eyed optimism most dieters have when starting a sparkly new diet, just said: “Here we go again.”

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.

The 2014 Diet: The Mental State of Ketosis on Day 8

At the time of writing this I am starting day 8 of my own version of ‘Atkins Induction’ or ‘Ketogenic Dieting’. To briefly recap, I’ve stopped counting calories and just focus on what I feel, for me, are the ‘right’ foods: unsweetened yogurts and cheeses, eggs, meat, and non-starchy veggies have been the basis.

I’ve been doing low carb for a long time so I have a pretty good feel for carb counts. I’d say I’ve been below 50 grams per day pretty solidly. Even the bad days where there have been some cheats, I can’t imagine that the carb count went much above 50.

I went into Ketosis on day 5. I was at work and knew something was up. A first-time low carber might be a little freaked by the symptoms – mild headache, a kind of listlessness and a feeling of not thinking clear. It sounds awful – but I know what lies on the other side of this – at least in my case.

It happened the evening of day 6. Usually I come home from work exhausted, mentally and physically. This evening the energy came. My mind had cleared, my mood had brightened, and since then I have been feeling better both emotionally and physically.

Please note that I have essentially lost no more weight than since my last post so it isn’t a ‘scale high’ a dieter gets when they see a drop on the scale number. I haven’t gotten that scale rush in days – but I still feel better.

I’m paying more attention to this mental effect this time around because of the book ‘Grain Brain‘. I don’t want to go into too much detail on it at the moment (no time) but its premise is that ketones are a superior fuel for the brain and a very low carb diet is good for you mentally.

It kind of spins the whole ‘diet thing’ on it’s head if this is true: go on a low carb diet as a possible mind-enhancer and mood enhancer – oh, and you might lose weight while you’re at it.

It was rough going to get here – even for an old pro like me. Living with people who drink wine and can eat carbs does not allow me to ‘clear my pantry’ of the foods I try not to eat. The first 24-48 hours of a cutover from my body cutting over from burning glucose to burning ketones makes me feel ill.

But I find the me on the other side of this has energy, clarity, and calm. I tend to take the bumps and bruises of life with more grace and humor. I am probably a more pleasant person to be around.

This might or might not be an actual effect – but if I am deluding myself, what harm is there in it if it helps me adhere to my diet because I attribute positive mental effects to it?

I do want to state again that there is some research that supports a mental effect, and I have noticed it myself in the past and when I read about this effect in ‘Grain Brain’ I put two and two together. I am being very careful in writing this to be sure I don’t come off as if I am certain there is a direct cause and effect between ketosis or ketogenic diets and a positive mental state, but is something I personally have noticed time and again and find it a wonderful side effect.

Low Carb Dining at the Emergency Room

I’m popping in to relate a little adventure that has a few of those items that go into the bucket list labeled: “prefer not to”.

These items were:

  • first time driving myself to the emergency room
  • first time getting a CAT scan
  • first time getting surgery of any kind
  • having an emergency appendectomy

This was how *I* spent my weekend.

Now, this went about as well as could be expected and is not the point of this post- really. I showed up early before the appendicitis was advanced. That made an already routine surgery even easier. I was completely calm throughout the entire process, with an: ‘oh, well – these things happen’ attitude and an utter lack of drama (which I am sure the hospital staff appreciated). I had laparoscopic – or ‘keyhole’ surgery – and have only 3 tiny holes in my abdomen, took a shower myself the next day and left the next morning.

It was so I uneventful that a ‘get well soon’ card would seem out of place. This was less traumatic than most bouts of the flu.

What this post is about was maintaining my low carb diet. After 2 weeks I had finally gotten in the groove of low carb and I wasn’t about to let a potentially life- threatening condition spoil my diet.

Appendicitis has the benefit for dieters of killing appetite – before it kills you, of course, so eating wasn’t on my mind prior to surgery – getting that damn appendix out of me was my primary focus as I felt like hell.

Later, now appendix-free and out of recovery and into my room, I was brought a meal of ‘clear liquids’.

What garlic is to a vampire and Kryptonite to Superman, this ‘meal’ was to a guy who just got into ketosis that day:

  • iced tea with high fructose corn syrup
  • raspberry ices with corn syrup
  • jello with high fructose corn syrup (noted on the printout I was given with the meal as ‘flavor: red’)
  • cranberry juice with high fructose corn syrup
  • a packet of sugar
  • 1 bowl of low sodium chicken broth

Think about it for a moment: my first meal after surgery and more than 12 hours after eating did  not contain any actual ‘food’ as I saw it. The printout that came with it gave the following tally:

Carbs: 76, fluids: 780, calories: 310, protein: 2, fat:0, sodium: 128, potassium: 61.

So a little math shows that my meal was 99% carbs – and the crappiest carbs possible. I would have been better off getting fed via a glucose IV.

I wasn’t going to touch that crap and only had the soup, which I have a strong feeling caused the death of no chickens as it sat at the bottom of the soup water like a fluorescent yellow chemical spill and I had to stir it to make it mix. It was likely a ‘chicken flavored’ bullion cube rather than the real deal.

When the server came for the tray she seemed disappointed in me. “Why didn’t you eat?” She frowned. It almost seemed a personal rejection to her – like she had spent all day preparing it for me.

“It’s all sugar – I don’t eat sugar.”

“Are you diabetic?”

“Not really, but I’m on a low carb diet and I’m not going to eat this.”

“I can get you sugar-free versions of everything except for the berry ice. ”

“Oh – I’d eat that.” I said.

I soon got another tray and another bowl of broth with sugar-free versions of the jello, cranberry juice, a lemon wedge (how I was supposed to use this baffled me) and a packet of Splenda.

While this ‘meal’ covered an entire tray, it had a total of 31 calories – which is kind of amazing. If I wouldn’t mainline simple sugars they were going to starve me to death.

Lunch was another hearty 31 calories.

Mid-afternoon a resident checked on me and asked me if I would like solid food and put in the order. The nurse told me: “now you can order real food. You can get cookies, a sandwich, pasta – anything.”

Thanks for the recommendations, nursie.

Instead, I ordered grilled chicken breast, broccoli, zucchini, tomato soup with a salad and blue cheese dressing.

Finally – real food! 476 calories, 23 from carbs, 32 from fat and 26 from protein. I wasn’t going to starve to death after all.

The next morning I was able to order whatever I wanted and called for an omelette (made with real eggs – you have to ask), ham and cheese and a sausage on the side. I was also able to have some coffee.

This meal totaled 553 calories, 40 grams of fat, 36 grams of protein and 2 grams of carbs as per the printout.

I also noticed that comment had appeared on my printouts: ‘Patient wants sugar free’.

What I found was that it seemed that the individuals that I talked to about my dietary preferences were OK with it – either they didn’t care or agreed with me. The nutritionists that ran the place, however, still held old-guard notions about a ‘one-size-fits-all’ diet.

I’m home now and I’m fine – just sore.

And I can eat as per my plan again – no dietary restrictions.