One of my friend/clients asked me to write a post about my experiences loosing over 40 pounds and getting my blood sugar under control. What prompted me to get my butt moving, to put it colloquially, was taking a session on natural treatments for type 2 diabetes at the International Herb Symposium in June, 2009. As I sat there, I realized the presenter was describing me when he described someone with pre-diabetes - overweight, rising blood pressure to name a few things. That wasn’t the lesson I wanted, to be sure, but it was the lesson I needed. Unfortunately, the remedy this particular presenter endorsed was pretty conventional: more complex carbohydrates (corn, beans, whole grains), less fat, some fasting, lots of exercise. So I tried that for 6 weeks, gained 10 more pounds and felt absolutely miserable. I was hungry all the time and had the energy level of a slug on a cold day. The presenter, by the way, was very thin and did not currently or ever have weight problems.
Luckily, there were two presentaions during the conference on metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes)/type 2 diabetes. The second presentation I had on CD to listen to later and I did. That presentation really changed things for me. The presenter, Paul Bergner, endorsed a “paleo” diet to combat these kinds of problems - metabolic syndrome, T2 diabetes, obesity. Everything he made sense - the evolutionary history of people, the insulin responses driven by eating carbohydrates and his case studies. To add to this, Paul has metabolic syndrome himself and was carb addicted. He knows how hard dealing with this problem can be. Later in the fall I signed up for his distance learning course on treating metabolic sydrome, which I am working on now. Following the protocol he gives helped me immensely. I lost 30 pounds in two months and after that went down a clothing size as my body recovered more. Now I am working on replacing fat with insulin-sensitive muscle and continue to loose weight and get smaller. And I feel fantastic. I mean really fantastic. I wish I would have felt like this in my twenties!
Here are the four main things I changed in my diet. I’ll discuss why in more detail below when I talk about what I’ve learned.
- No sugar - none, none, none! No maple syrup, no honey, no sucanat, no Rapadura, no table sugar - they ALL do the same stuff in your body. No, the mineral content in, say, sucanat, honey or maple syrup eaten as a food, does not counterbalance the damage done by the fructose and glucose present in it. The sugar in maple syrup is sucrose, that means it has fructose and glucose in it in a 50/50 ration, just like table sugar. Totally out for me.
- No grains. Same as above - they all raise blood glucose, some just faster than others. Wheat is also highly addictive and modern “hard” wheat has much, much higher levels of gluten in it than in the past (100 or 150 years ago). Modern wheat is bred for modern industrial food processing factilities, not for our health and benefit. Soaking helps negate some of the unhealthy compounds in grains, like phytates and some lectins, but nothing changes the fact that these things raise blood glucose and set the body up for a sugar crash. This does seem to effect some people more than others, though. More on wheat below.
- No beans. Too starchy and wreak havoc in the digestive tract. Plus have phytates and lectins, only some of which break down with soaking.
- No starchy veg. No potatoes, minimal sweet potato. Again, raises the blood glucose.
What I mainly eat is a ketogenic diet - that means a fat-burning diet. I burn body-fat for fuel and it’s nice. Fat takes a long time to burn so I don’t need to eat as frequently or as much.
My general diet consists of two meals a day. I rarely snack and when I do, it’s a small snack - handful of nuts and an ounce of cheese. The bulk of my diet is fat. Yup, that’s right, fat and mostly saturated fat, too. I sometimes track my daily food intake on Fitday, a free internet program that helps users keep track of macronutrients (fat, protein and carbs) as well as exercise. According to Fitday, fat makes up about 75 % of my daily diet. I eat enough animal protein to maintain my body tissues as well as increase my muscle mass. Because muscle is insulin-sensitive, creating and maintaining muscle mass is a priority for me. During most diets one looses muscle mass which is one of the reasons why people gain weight back and add some on after they drop off a diet. Protein comes in second at about 20% and carbs make up the balance. The carbs are ALL from non-starchy veggies - cauliflower, broccoli, kale, peppers, onions, spinach, brussels sprouts, turnips, rutabagas, etc.
EEEK! I can hear people screaming. My cholesterol is high and my arteries clogged from all that saturated fat! I’m gonna die of a heart attack! About 5 months after I started this I had a check up with my MD. My blood sugar is within high-normal range (it was borderline diabetic); my blood pressure is low-normal (it was high-normal); my trigylcerides are low and my HDL is almost up into the very good range. My LDL is a little high, but the test didn’t break out VLDL, the actual “bad” cholesterol and eating saturated fat will make the okay LDL, the big puffy stuff, be high. The problem being the VLDL is very damaging and causes arterial plaque build-up while the big LDL doesn’t do anything bad. It just shows that hey, you eat animal fat!
Here’s a typical daily diet for me: I don’t eat breakfast during the week but I do have some coffee - half-caff with cream. I’m not very hungry when I get up so I don’t eat until I’m hungry, usually around 11:00 a.m. or noon. I’ll eat leftovers from supper. For example today I’m eating Italian sausage “stew” leftover from last night’s dinner. It consists of 1 sausage, peppers, onions, spinach, olives and diced tomatoes with a pat of butter. Or if I’m wanting a more traditional breakfast I’ll eat 2 scrambled eggs with salsa, an avocado, and maybe some bacon. During the afternoon I have some herbal tea or infusion and afternoon coffee is at 2 p.m. everyday. But I normally don’t eat again until dinner, around 7 p.m. Tonight’s dinner is brisket cooked in the slow cooker with a bit (2 - 3 TBS) of wine and a sliced onion, sweet potatoes and broccoli - lots of butter will go on the broccoli. The sweet potatoes are small and I might have one. I might have 1 or 2 small squares of very dark chocolate for dessert. When I say dark chocolate, I mean DARK, too. Nothing below 75% cocoa. My favorite now is Guittard’s 91% chocolate. I no longer make cookies, bread, cakes, pies - no sugary desserts of any kind. For a treat on Sunday we had plain, sliced strawberries with plain heavy cream.
Here are some things I learned along the way.
- It’s all about minimizing insulin. Insulin is THE fat-storage hormone. As blood glucose (blood sugar) rises in the body, the pancreas releases insulin to tell the body to store fat: Food’s come in, gotta store some of that as fat in case we need it later! The higher your blood glucose load (you’ve eaten a huge wad of rice for supper, or a lot of pasta, or a big ole baked potato) the more insulin your body secretes to sock that glucose away as fat.
- ALL starches convert to sugar in the body, driving blood glucose up and subsequently causing a release of insulin. Insulin tells the body to store fat. The more frequently you eat, the more insulin is released, the more fat you’ll store. Eating three meals a day plus two or three snacks is a recipe for obesity. This is a diet I’d prescribe for someone who wanted to gain weight.
- It doesn’t matter if the grains are soaked, whole, fresh-ground, etc. They all drive up blood glucose.
- Wheat-based carbohydrates are highly addicting - they release opiate-like substances in the blood. These things effect the pleasure center in the brain just like real opiates. That feeling of sleepiness and lethargy after a huge plate of pasta? Opiates in your blood stream. Can’t eat just one cookie? Opiates + sugar. What a deadly combination. Some people are much more sensitive to this than others & I’m one of them.
- Wheat has a much, much high gluten content than even 100 years ago when my grandparents were kids. Gluten is highly damaging to the GI tract. It can create tiny holes that let opiate-like compounds escape into the blood stream, and lectins and the gluten proteins themselves. The result is autoimmune disease, like arthritis, obesity, edema, neurological problems, GI distress, thyroid problems. Need I say more? It’s nasty stuff and you don’t want it running loose in the body. By the way, if you’re gluten sensitive or have celiac disease you’re more likely to be overweight, rather than thin and emaciated. As it ends up, I’m probably gluten intolerant, too.
- Our bodies aren’t meant to run on sugar. Nora Gedgaudas likened running our bodies on sugar to keeping a fire going with kindling only. It burns really hot and you have to keep feeding it. It’s very oxidative and creates free-radicals.
- Our bodies are meant to run on fat and ketone bodies generated during ketosis. Fat is a slow-burning fuel. It’ll keep you going for hours. It’s very, very satisfying to eat a diet high in fat & that’s saturated fat, too. It’s extremely stable.
- Yes, your brain needs a little glucose and if you have adequate protein in the diet your liver can make glucose from the amino acids in the protein. The brain runs best on 75% ketone bodies and 25% glucose. It keeps the brain calm and focuses. I used to race mountain bikes & one of the things I’d notice was that sometimes I’d really be in ”the zone” and my biking would be great. My brain is really in ”the zone” most of the time now. I am so much calmer and laid back than when I primarily ran on glucose. That’s a huge boon when dealing with children all day or any stressful situation for that matter. No more “senior” moments, either.
- When I stopped eating carbs, fat began to taste sweet. Olive oil is like candy and so is bacon fat.
- Sugar is horribly sweet now and turns my stomach. Yuck. Other carbs taste awful, too. Potatoes? They taste like paste. Rice tastes like cardboard. Popcorn tastes and has a texture like styrofoam. What’s funny is that in the 1990’s I ate a low-fat, high carb diet. Fat still tasted great when I had some and I really missed it. I was a vegetarian for a four years, too. When I did have some meat, it tasted good. What’s with the carbs, then? My guess is we’re not supposed to eat grains as the basis of our diets. And some of us aren’t adapted to eat them at all.
For my second year presentation in the apprenticeship program I’m in, I worked with four people using this protocol. One of them was myself, one my mom and two others. What seems to have determined the degree of success for each person was the extent that they overcame their carb or sugar addiction. Carb addiction is just like any other addiction that effect brain chemistry, like alcoholism or opiate addiction. It’s extremely hard to overcome. Some of the people who didn’t do well on this protocol still drank diet soda, made sweets for their families, had a lot of “treats”. I’ve often been told that old saw about “Everything in moderation”. People would never say that to an alcoholic nor should they say it to a carb addict.
Recommended Reading/Viewing -
- Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. This is an extremely scientific look at all the diet studies done over the past 100 years. And I mean ALL of them. It’s a fiasco, which is not what Taubes was out to uncover. Read the intro, read the epilogue and then read the main text of the book. It’s very long - 400+ pages. He is supposed to come out with a shortened version of about 150 pages. Maybe 2011? Anyway, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Everyone should read it and doctors should read it twice!
- The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson My lifestyle - including exercise, which I didn’t go into here - in an easily readable book. I could easily and very truly say this guy and Paul Bergner saved my life. Seriously!
- Nourishing Traditions - Sally Fallon & Mary Enig This is a great book. I just don’t use the carby recipes. Their emphasis on healthy fats and lots of them is spot on.
- Fat Head - a movie by Tom Naughton This is a fun, humorous movie that was filmed to refute Super Size me. He ends up on a low carb, high fat diet, too. With great blood work.
Books I am currently reading
Websites & Online Viewing
- If you don’t have the time to read Gary Taubes check out his lecture at the Stevens Institute of Technology: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4362041487661765149# . It’s about an hour long and you’ll get the basic jist of his book.
- Mark Sisson’s Website, Mark’s Daily Apple: www.marksdailyapple.com - Use the search function to check out the Archives. The Primal Blueprint is so easy to do and it’s what I base my diet/lifestyle around now.
- Nora Gedgaudas’ 10 Worst Nutritional & Dietary Mistakes People Make: http://www.primalbody-primalmind.com/top10-nutritional-mistakes.html
- Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb show: http://www.thelivinlowcarbshow.com/shownotes/ - This is Jimmy Moore’s website with his podcast interviews with the authors listed above. If you don’t have time to read the books, check out his interviews. Very enlightening.
- Sugar, the Bitter Truth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM A video presentation by Dr. Robert Lustig on EXACTLY what sugar does inside your body. Fructose works in the same way as alcohol in the liver.
There are now tons of blogs devoted to “paleo” eating. Here are some of the ones I check regularly. Remember, blogs are highly opinionated and I certainly don’t always agree with what everyone says but they’re always interesting to read!
- Dr. Kurt Harris’ PaleoNu Blog http://www.paleonu.com/ He tends to be pretty scientific, being an MD and all. Check out his links to other blogs as well as his “get started” tips.
- Free the Animal http://freetheanimal.com/ Many recipes here. His cauliflower pizza crust is great. Opinion and topics as well.
- Pay Now, Live Later http://paynowlivelater.blogspot.com/ More on the humorous side. Likes to experiment with himself, which gets interesting. He’s from the UK.
I could go on for pages, including talking about vitamin usage and high glucose (hint, high carb diet = you need more vitamins), diseases that relate to a high carb diet (pretty much all chronic disease, including diabetes and high blood pressure) but this is enough for now! Contact me ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) for more information or a full protocol (including herbs, supplements and exercise). I’d be happy to work with you.