Week 1 Back on Low Carb: Not Exactly, But Sort Of

Here’s a day-by-day summary of my first week back:

Monday, March 23, 2015 – 257.8

That moment in a soon-to-be-dieter occurs: shuffle to the scale, get on, look at the number – and it hits. A flabby fist shakes at the heavens in defiance: “Damn you! I’m going to lose this weight starting NOW!” The act feels good: I know, I’ve done it for a year and a half. My wife calls it ‘The Tomorrow Diet’ because I would usually cave soon after my defying the Universe and my weight in it and resolve to try again – tomorrow.

This time, however, I managed to muddle through the day. I had done some prep the night before. Not exactly knowing I was going to plunge into a diet the next day, I had made some pork belly and eggs and created cup-sized portions for lunch the following week. I hadn’t lost my instinct to do these sorts of things – I just ate like crap alongside these behaviors.

I decided to skip the pork belly and just brought Fage Greek yogurt and butter to work. I put butter in my coffee and ate the Fage with the zero-calorie EZ-Sweetz. I decided at the outset that artificial sweeteners, which I have tried to do without on other attempts, would be A-OK – I lost 80 pounds guzzling them down my initial go at this in 2003. I wasn’t going to worry about them now.

I also bought some of that MiO ‘water enhancer’ – the ‘energy’ type that contains caffeine. That does help me get more water into my system – and the caffeine did help replace some of the coffee as my stomach had not been feeling good as of late and I cut beck.

Once out of work I passed through the gauntlet of stores and the fast-food restaurants with some concern – but I didn’t stop.

At home after work I had the pork belly and egg – swimming in pork fat and kicked up a notch with Tabasco sauce. Good stuff.

I then screwed up a bit, having two dinner rolls the size of a baby’s fist with butter, then mozzarella and tomato. Rumor has it a bit of chocolate cookie was also consumed.

Not a picture-perfect start, but way better than I had been doing.

Cals: 1,832
Fat: 146 (72%)
Carbs: 62g (14%)
Protein: 68.4g (15%)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015 – 255.4

Weight down a bit. Meh. I got my work cut out for me. A little more in the groove, I added a can of tuna to the day’s routine above, and had the pork belly for dinner again. I also had an avocado and 2 ounces of American cheese.

Cals: 1,506
Fat: 120 (70%)
Carbs: 30g (8%)
Protein: 86g (22%)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015 – 251.8

Screw the weight loss – I was feeling a lot better already. My Tums usage had plunged and I didn’t hit the snooze button a dozen times before dragging myself from bed. My energy was returning. I was also beginning to feel some of that weirdness that comes from going into a ketogenic state. Headache, though mild. A slight dizzy feeling. All manageable – and familiar.

I got derailed by an afternoon hunger that just wouldn’t quit. I had my yogurt but then tucked into to way too many macadamia nuts, then a can of sardines kept for emergencies, then another yogurt. Lastly, I had 2 squares of the Lindt dark chocolate with butter between them like a sandwich. This was way better than I expected – the butter adding the creaminess the brittle but tasty hard chocolate was in short supply of. I’d have to remember that trick.

It didn’t stop there, though. Home was some fresh-made potato salad and steak. I could have left the potato salad alone, but that didn’t happen. Four large slices of pepper jack cheese an a few slices of low carb bread also helped to put me way over the top. It wasn’t worth counting – or I was too mortified to try.

Thursday, March 26, 2015 – 254.2

Despite the excess eats and the weight gain, I was feeling way better and sleeping better. A bad day here and there wasn’t the problem – it was too many of them in a row. I switched things up a bit and brought the pork belly concoction at work, though something that oily is almost like handling nuclear waste in an office – and I’m glad no one asked me what I was eating.

I was a bit hyper as well. Caffeine has a stronger effect on me when I go low carb and it showed. I apologized in a meeting and blamed the coffee for my over-exuberence.

I was hungry on the way home and had a number of fast-food fantasies as well as internal negotiation (‘If I get the double cheeseburger and throw away the bun…’) but I resisted.

At home I had almost a third of a head of lettuce with 3 ounces of cheese, then a bit later caved for some of the potato salad. I also had some of the leftover kilebasa and hard-boiled egg mixed with mayo on a slice of low carb bread.

Not a perfect day – but not a bad one, either. I was off to shaky start, but trending in the right direction at least.

I decided not to count just because whatever measurement I came up with would be wrong – and counting all the time, well, sucks.

Friday, March 27, 2015 – 252.4

Another uneventful day at work. Had a Greek yogurt and that’s it. I do drink maybe 4 cups of coffee, and a 16 oz glass of water with the MiO energy stuff squirted in – one with 2 tablespoons of psyllium husk, the other without.

Psyllium husks, typically used for constipation, were a staple of my first time on low carb. This is what Metamucil is made out of. Here’s the thing, however: it might have other benefits. I’ve read that it can act as a prebiotic, and while no one is really sure, it might – just might – have had a hand in my initial weight loss.

As this is a possibility, I’ve added it back in.

For dinner I bought hot Italian sausages and cooked them with 4 onions and olive oil until the onions were nicely carmelized and the sausages cooked. The entire family pounced on them and I ate their leftovers – the sausage and onions along with boiled potatoes.

I also had a few glasses of red wine and one large sugar cookie.

Saturday, March 28, 2015 – 250.4

A quick review of the past weeks shows what I’d call a pretty poor performance at doing low carb. Despite that, however, I’ve shaved off over 7 pounds. I’d argue that it’s water weight mostly, and nothing to crow about, but two things jump right out:

  1. I have certainly stopped the upward trend of weight gain – at least in the past 5 days
  2. I have lost what most people would consider a considerable amount of weight in a short amount of time

I also feel better in general.

But what have I done right, exactly? Right now I think it’s little more than:

  • Keeping clear of takeout food – burger, pizza, and sandwiches at lunch
  • A level of accountability about what I eat
  • A lower carb level

Even though I’m not keeping my overall calorie intake to what’s considered an ideal level for me – and my carb levels are too high for generating ketones, it’s apparently been enough to start a course change.

In a way I’ve failed, however: I expected to be in a full-out ketogenic state. Perhaps this is a better way to start, though: easing into it.

As far as the day went, weekends can always be a problem because being home makes me much more able to grab a snack when I like. It’s far too easy to eat as a cure for boredom and I don’t consider any attempt to navigate a diet to be successful until I’ve run the gauntlet of a weekend.

By my reckoning, I ate too much. After coffee and cream in the AM, as well as an extra-large Dunkin Donuts coffee with cream, I came home and had another serving of the pork belly and egg I had made earlier in the week. Not content – though I should have been – I followed that up with some kilebasa in mayo on a piece of low carb bread.

Late in the afternoon I had a few ounce of American cheese, as well as some egg salad on another slice of the LC bread. A bit later, cleaning up, I found a jar of Tapenade misplaced in the wrong cupboard. What is one to do with a misplaced item?

Eat some, of course.

I had it with some pork rinds.

It was some time after this that the family decided to go out for dinner. I hadn’t planned for this, but I was also easing in to the diet and we really needed some time together as a family because, as of late we’ve all been too busy in our own stuff to spend much time together.

I’d survive.

We decided to go to a new restaurant, Seasons52. I wrote a review for the place that you can find here if you’re interested. I had a bit of flatbread with lobster, mozzarella, and diced peppers, and for the main course had a cut of roast salmon on a cedar plank with a creamy mustard sauce and the root vegetables potatoes and carrots. I skipped dessert but did have a taste of my wife and daughter’s. It wasn’t part of my diet plan, but it wasn’t an outrageous cheat, either.

Sunday, March 29, 2015 – 252.0

A minor uptick in the weight is nothing to worry about – I drank a LOT of water the night before and whatever triggered this usually like to retain some of it for a while. What I continue to notice are the things that have nothing to do with the scale that are changing. I woke up rested at 6am. This sort of thing had stopped happening a while ago. It’s coming back. My upset stomach, the unquenchable fire in the belly each time I eat, has disappeared. The feeling in my throat where it felt like I couldn’t eat when I haven’t eaten for a while has also gone.

I haven’t gone hungry, shed a few pounds, and have more energy – changing bad habits can be difficult and are fraught with booby-traps that catch you unawares – see ‘ironic rebound‘ – but so far it’s been a gentle and positive easing into a better routine.

I didn’t eat much – not particularly hungry – but did have a bit much wine in the evening as a sort of ‘goodbye’ as wine drinking has never been compatible with weight loss with me.

The combo of which knocked me flat.

Monday, March 30, 2015 – 252.6

So even off to a crappy start I lost 5.2 pounds for the week.

Let’s see if week 2 gets any better as I’ve ‘acclimated’ myself (somewhat) to a new routine.

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Kitchen Experiment: Low Carb Pork Belly Chili

It didn’t start out as ‘pork belly chili’. In fact, I had no idea what I was making. There was a nearly 2 pound chunk of pork belly aging in the freezer and I needed to make something low carb for the coming week. The pork belly would be the star – but who would be the supporting characters?

I put the still frozen pork belly in the oven at 300 degrees and shook some of Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute – a mix of spices that seems to work for anything – on top. I tented the thing with foil and went to Trader Joe’s to figure out what was going to be the supporting characters for our porky star – and hoping the house wouldn’t explode while I was away.

The place was crowded and my first choice – cauliflower – was nowhere to be found. Trader Joe’s is a great store, but produce is not one of their strong suits. Instead I rounded up the following:

  • 2 green peppers
  • 2 eggplants
  • 1 container of organic white button mushrooms

These are all good low carb ingredients, though one might quibble over minor flaws in each of them if you really tried. Eggplant is part of the ‘deadly nightshade’ family, for example.  I didn’t want to play that game of going so extreme to analyze each one to that level of detail. They might have their flaws, but they were ‘good enough’.

At home I added some things from the cupboard and some castaways:

  • 3 onions
  • 3 jalapeno peppers
  • 1 box of cherry tomatoes that had not aged well after being abandoned in the vegetable drawer. I cut away the bad parts and tossed them in.
  • 1 large can of fire-roasted tomatoes

I had let the pork belly cook for 2 hours, then had taken it out to cool. Once I could cut it without getting burns I chopped it into bite-sized pieces and tossed it in to the veggies I cut while it was cooling. The beauty of pork belly is it comes with its own oil, so the vegetables cooked in delicious pork fat.

I peeled the eggplant and diced it into small chunks – going for roughly the size of the pork belly chunks – about the size of a pinky tip.

I had no idea what i was creating until it was done. When I tasted it, it had too much of an eggplant taste. Blech. I then decided to turn it into a chili by adding:

  • chili powder
  • cinnamon
  • cumin

No measuring, just eyeballing. I *do* tend to be heavy-handed on the spices, if that’s any help. Lots of chili powder, half as much cumin, and half of that in cinnamon is the best guidance I can give.

When my carnivore daughter came home her nose caught a whiff of meat, chili powder and cumin. Her eyes widened: “What smells so good?”

“Chili.” I said.

What I haven’t told you is that she is not too fond of pork belly. Bacon she’s good with – in fact, any part of any animal – if prepared well – had better watch out. THIS 16-year-old girl will not be turning Vegan any time soon.

“Is it ready?” She asked.

“Yep”.

She took a bowl and tried some. She gave me the thumbs up sign as she ate. While she has a sophisticated palate for a teenager, she has been exposed to Dad’s low carb cooking for over a decade. While she would rather starve than eat anything sub par – I wish I were the same – she liked this.

I personally find that the eggplant, if diced into small pieces, can bulk up the chili – and eggplant has the wonderful ability to soak up oils which works well with pork belly. The strong flavors of the spices minimized the eggplant flavor notes – which just did not go with pork belly in my estimation – and made the texture more complex.

I’ve done similar recipes – I’ve played with the definition of ‘chili’ enough to create what some people would label ‘abominations’ – but this one got readily eaten by the members of the family who could care less about diets and low carb, so for me – it’s a keeper.

Recipe: 5-Minute Pork Belly with Egg

While I am still trying to navigate what my new approach to low carb will look like (see previous post), my diet still centers around the notion of very high fat and few carbs as possible. This recipe fits the bill in spades.

Trader Joe’s, the eccentric grocery chain in the US, sells pre-cooked pork belly. It’s slow-cooked before packaging which makes preparing it quick and convenient. I warmed it up earlier in the week for the family but there were other things at the meal and it went mostly uneaten, so now I had a half-pound of pork belly to use up.

This morning I was hungry so I whipped up the following:

  • 2 ounces cooked pork belly, diced
  • 1 egg
  • 4 shots Tabasco sauce

Prep was simple: as the pork belly is so fatty there is no need for butter or other oils. Placed in a hot frying pan, the belly releases enough oil to cook the egg. After throwing the egg in, I scrambled them together. Total time cooking was less than 5 minutes and the time from coming up with the thought to sitting down to eat was less than 10 minutes.

(I still have to clean up, but I don’t want to think about that right now.)

The verdict? This was WAY better than I imagined. I thought I was going to get an OK meal and use up some leftovers before they went bad; instead, I got this really tasty dish that I really enjoyed – enough so that I took the time to add it as a recipe to my Lose It! diet web app and post it here.

I also have some nutrition information, if you track that sort of stuff:

Calories: 367
Fat: 35 grams (87% of calories)
Carbs: 0 grams (0% of calories, of course)
Protein: 11 grams (13% of calories)

It was so good that after eating I wanted to make another serving, but I restrained myself for that 15-minute window we supposedly have for satiety signals to reach the brain and by then I felt full enough that I didn’t need a second helping.

This is a perfect meal for people trying to get into induction or ketosis or whatever you like to call it, and at 87% of the calories coming from fat, a great meal if you are attempting a ‘fat fast’.

Low Carb FAQ

[UPDATE: I am busy with a number of things and thought I might leave this post in place for a while, updating occasionally with new questions. Let’s see how this goes]

A lot of people get to this site through search engines, and I can see what these folks entered into the search bar to find me. A lot of these form questions, and I thought I could save you the miserable experience of reading through my site and instead provide a short FAQ of my answers to popular questions.

Please note I said my answers – not the answer. I am no expert. Consider me just some schlub answering your question and not any authority on the subject. Do your own research: I might be a loony.

At present they are in no particular order – and will probably stay that way. I’ll put the most recent at the top so the readers who keep tabs on me don’t have to dig.

Continue reading “Low Carb FAQ”

Recipe – Baked Pork Belly

Busy as all get-out lately, but I thought I’d do a drive-by blog post on this roasted pork belly recipe I tried. I found it on Jamie Oliver’s website, but lost the link, didn’t have the same ingredients, and didn’t throw it on the BBQ at the end because I ran out of propane for the grill, so It’s not Jamie’s recipe, really, nor can I really call it ‘roasted’, but rather ‘baked’. Still a crowd-pleaser, though.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds pork belly
  • 3 tsp rock salt
  • 1 tsp ground pepper
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 3 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

I always pick the fattiest pork belly I can find. (I get weird looks when I ask for that.)

Grind spices together w/ mortar and pestil. Rub dry pork belly on all sides with as much rub as you can make stick, then discard remainder of rub. Put pork belly in small baking dish, drizzle the top with some olive oil and bake for 2 hours at 350 degrees covered in foil. Take out, slice 1/3 inch-thick slices and put back in juice in baking dish.

This turned out really good and was the first pork belly that my older daughter said she actually liked.

Now I have to try this with the last step of throwing the cooked pork belly on the grill to crisp the outside like Jamie recommended.

I didn’t calculate the nutrients but I can guarantee you: eat this stuff as part of a low carb induction and you will get in to ketosis pretty darn quick – and boy, is that pork belly fat creamy and delicious.

Can Restricting Calories Cause Us To Gain Weight?

This comment that I made on my own post for stewed pork bellies keeps going through my mind:

What if your body during overfeeding in certain circumstances might actually reduce the surface area of your intestines, decreasing absorption of calories. Conversely, what if cutting back on calories increases your ability to extract every last calorie out of food?

This would mean that every calorie-counting diet will end in disaster as you teach your body to grab every calorie it can. It’s a race to the bottom, with calorie restriction to lose weight resulting in having to cut back MORE until you can’t take it, quit your diet and go back to how you used to eat, but being you’ve got yourself a high-efficiency gut now, your weight balloons.

There is only a little research that fuels this speculation of mine, but it would explain a lot about why traditional diets don’t work – wouldn’t it?

To expand on this a bit more, my source is my friend and frequent commenter, Dave Brown. He left the following comment, with sources cited, on the website of the British Medical Journal:

Almost to a man, the world’s top nutrition and obesity authorities believe that weight control necessitates a balance between caloric intake and energy expenditure. We’re told that because fat contains more than twice as many calories per gram as protein or carbohydrate, eating too much fat is a major factor in the obesity epidemic. Another half truth.

Sifting through weight control literature, one encounters occasional evidence that the body does not absorb every calorie that finds its way into the stomach. The digestive system is basically a chambered tube with an entrance and an exit. Just as a wood stove does not transfer all energy released through combustion to the environment being heated, the transfer of digested energy molecules is considerably less than 100 percent efficient. Researchers report overall calorie excretion rates ranging from 20 to 60 percent and fat excretion rates ranging from 2 to 42 percent. The soluble fiber fraction in the food is largely responsible for the percentage of calories that exit with the fecal material.

Another important consideration is the fact that, physiologically, the body constantly remodels itself internally to accommodate the quality, quantity  and timing of food intake. For example, the size of the stomach and the surface area of the small intestine tend to increase with food restriction and decrease with increased fat consumption, thus changing the absorption efficiency of the digestive system.

Clearly, there is much to be learned about how the digestive system responds to different mixes of fiber, macronutrients, and micronutrients. Calorie excretion deserves some attention.

The particular point here I find intriguing is:

 the size of the stomach and the surface area of the small intestine tend to increase with food restriction and decrease with increased fat consumption, thus changing the absorption efficiency of the digestive system

Wow. If that is true, then my speculation above – that cutting calories can make you fatter – might be correct, and would mean that restricting calories for weight loss might be self-defeating and everything we think we know about losing weight is wrong.

I’m reflecting on this after an AWFUL week of dieting. I have typically eaten high fat during the day, the routine being heavy cream in my coffee, 3 ounces of extremely fatty pork belly in a soup of pure fat which I consume instead of discard, and if I’m still hungry, I might have a bit of mayonnaise, or some cream cheese wrapped in a slice of ham just to make it easier to eat.

At home, however, the diet goes out the window. I’ve had large bowls of pasta, my daughter’s made-from-scratch cake, brioche, a Fillet-O-Fish sandwich, and a number of decidedly NOT low carb fare – and my calorie count is 3,300 calories over what my Loseit! app, a calorie-counting app that buys in to the standard ‘calories in, calories out’ , says would be required for me to lose 0.5 pounds per week – and there is 2 more days in the week to go.

But I’m down to 205.2 from the beginning of the week where I was 212.

I’m not recommending anyone do this – this was not intentional on my part, nor do I necessarily think this is a healthy thing to do. I wanted to avoid the pasta and the cake and all the other stuff that one is not supposed to eat on a low carb diet. I don’t think they are good for my health and would like to avoid them.

Some days were close to 4,000 calories. I’ve also had days where my carb count was over 300 grams.

But I ate it and still lost weight.

So what is going on here?!? Now, to be totally honest, 205 is a set point weight for me. I am probably stuck here if I don’t get a handle on my carb intake – but it seems that I can pretty much eat what I want in the evening and stay here – 60 pounds lower than I was a decade ago – if I am good during the day – and that day consists of 800 to 1,000 calories with 80% of them coming from animal fat and dairy fat.

As my ability to set goals and keep them seems to be pretty piss-poor as of late, this experiment wasn’t intentional – and I have no idea what the next week will hold. If the recent past portends the future, I’ll set goals and screw them up, so whether or not this accidental experiment continues is anybody’s guess.

Interesting, though – isn’t it?

Fat Fast Asian Stewed Pork Belly Recipe

Not my picture, and I didn't use eggs - but now I'd like to try.
Not my picture, not my recipe, but mine looks a lot like this – but without the eggs. Click the pic to see this person’s recipe at Happy Home Baker.

I have been playing around with the notion of a ‘fat fast’ where you attempt to get your percentage of fat really high. Of course, I never follow directions, so I have been aiming for 80% fat and have so far eaten 10,000 extra calories this week according to my LoseIt! app – but I’ve lost almost 5 pounds.

Freaky – huh? Continue reading “Fat Fast Asian Stewed Pork Belly Recipe”