Counterintuitive

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Each year my employer provides us with a free health screening and each year my cholesterol numbers have been troublesome.

My total cholesterol was usually around 220 to 230.  “They” say it should be less than 200.

My HDL — the good cholesterol — has consistently been less than 40.  “They” say it should be greater than 40.

Each year I read all the documents they would provide about cholesterol.   The recommendation always seemed to limit my cholesterol intake.

However, in Gary Taubes book, Why We Get Fat, he referenced studies that suggested limiting cholesterol intake could have the opposite effect.  These studies showed that low cholesterol diets could make your cholesterol numbers worse, especially the good type, HDL.

What stuck was that the studies kept describing some of my low-cholesterol foods as the troublemakers.  To paraphrase, it said folks who ate cereal with skim milk, and fruit think they are doing themselves favors, but could be hurting their cholesterol figures.  That was me.

Taubes provided cholesterol analysis of some “high” cholesterol foods, like eggs (with the yolks) ,and found these foods to have much more beneficial cholesterol than people think and not as much harmful cholesterol.

So, I thought I would give it a try.  Instead of eating my normal skim milk, cereal and fruit, I switched to a turkey bacon, 2 egg and cheese sandwich on an English muffin.  I eat that 3-4 days a week.  The other days I eat the cereal and fruit or yogurt or pancakes, eggs and turkey bacon.

I’ve been doing that for several months.  It takes about as long to make the sandwich as my cereal since I learned how to microwave eggs and I use pre-cooked turkey bacon.

At the health screening this week, by total cholesterol was lower at 206, and my HDL was 55 (remember the recommendation is greater than 40).  That’s the first time I recall my HDL ever being on the right side of the recommendation.

I was really surprised.  I expected my cholesterol levels to be off the charts.  I thought the health screening would prove my dietary experiment to be a sham and that I was foolish for even trying.

It seems to have helped.

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The carbs

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It’s been two weeks since I read Gary Taubes’ book.  It reminded me to be more judicious about my carb intake.  I’ve had 5 or 6 stubborn pounds hanging on for the last couple years that I’ve been having a tough time getting rid of.

I’ve lost those now.

Not only that, but I mentioned the idea to my in-laws a little over a week ago that it’s all about the carbs.  They admitted they had been overindulging on the carbs in their diet.  I told them it’s worth a try to cut back for a few days to see if it would help them.

It did.  Like me, they both had been holding onto some stubborn pounds.  They cut their carb intake and they both lost 4 – 6 pounds in the first week and report that they feel better.  My father-in-law had a blood test a few days ago and it showed some of the best cholesterol and triglyceride numbers he has shown for awhile, which gets to something else Taubes says in his book.  He contends that eating carbs in place of fat and protein increases bad cholesterol, lowers good cholesterol and messes up triglyceride counts.

If you are like us and have been stuck with a few extra pounds, I would encourage you to give Taubes’ book a read and also consider cutting your carb intake to about 70 grams a day for a few days to see what happens.

“Why we get fat” by Gary Taubes

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In this post I said I would read Gary Taubes new book Why We Get Fat.  Here’s my book report.

Taubes presents a lot of (and some of it is convincing) evidence to support that we get fat because we consume too many carbohydrates and those carbohydrates raise our insulin hormone, which happens to control how much fat our bodies store.  The higher our insulin levels, the more we will eat and the more calories we will store.

His recommendation for weight control:

Eat fewer carbs and eat more protein and fats.

He doesn’t recommend an Atkins-style elimination of carbs.  But,  a moderation of around 70 – 80 grams of carbs each day.

To his credit, he doesn’t purport that this is new knowledge.  In fact, he goes to great lengths to say that this was well known by scientists before World War II, but somehow the scientific community in the west shifted to a paradigm of a more carbohydrate-based diet recommendation over past six or seven decades.

Taubes did make me rethink my own weight loss.

Based on my results, I recommend using the calories in/calories equation to balance your intake along with diet-based insulin control by consuming a balance of protein, fat and carbs.  I thought that’s what worked for me.

But Taube contends that my success resulted mainly from reduced carbohydrate consumption.  He may be right.

Thinking back to my diet trials and errors, I remember trying a calorie restricted Weight Watchers.  I reduced my calories, without changing my high carbohydrate consumption and I couldn’t maintain it.  The hunger pains were too great.  My body wanted more calories — which Taube would suggest came from my elevated insulin levels as a result of eating a carb-rich diet.  And, it would have stored those calories as fat.

When I reduced by calorie consumption and balanced my intake with more protein and fat, I also did reduce my carb intake, and the hunger pains weren’t there.

So, while I thought it was the calorie balance AND fat/protein/carb balance that enabled my success, I cannot argue with Taube’s contention that it was really just my carb reduction that led to my weight loss.

If that’s the case, all the better.  That’s fewer things to monitor.  Don’t worry so much about the calorie intake.  Just moderate the carb intake and limit breads, rice, potatoes, milks and sugars.

By all means, if you are interested in his rationale and evidence, read the book.   He also offers some good explanations for how hormones control the fat process in the body that’s worth reading.

If Taubes is right, that’s fewer things to know, but it does put a crimp on a lot of the good stuff.

Weight loss in one simple equation

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Here’s and weight-loss and weight control estimator in one simple equation.

Your eventual weight in pounds = (Average daily calorie intake — Average Calories Burned in Exercise) / 10

Here are some examples.

1. You take in 2,000 calories a day and do not exercise:

(2,000 — 0) / 10  = 200 pounds; You will eventually end up weighing around 200 pounds

2. You take in 2,200 calories a day and burn on average 300 calories in exercise:

(2,200 — 300) / 10 = 190 pounds; You will eventually end up weighing around 190 pounds

3. Let’s say you want to get to 175 pounds and you burn about 400 calories a day in exercise.  How many calories should you be taking in?

175 pounds x 10 + 400 calories a day = 2,150 calories; You should be eating around 2,150 calories a day

Here’s my equation:

  • I take in 1,900 calories a day and average about 400 calories in exercise:
  • (1,900 – 400) / 10 = 140; I do weigh about 140 pounds

What’s your’s?

A couple pointers.

  • Don’t overestimate the number of calories you burn in exercise.  I think people have a tendency to overestimate by double or triple what they actually burn in exercise.
  • Don’t underestimate the number of calories you take in.  Remember to count calories in drinks, those handfuls of snacks that your grab throughout the day and the little bit extra you grab after finishing the first plate.

“You are responsible for what you put in your mouth”

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A common theme that comes up when discussing weight and eating habits are excuses we use to displace blame for our inability to properly control our portion sizes and eating.

A common excuse is a cook who judges the quality of their own cooking by how much of their food you eat.  They will insist that you eat more and more food.

I’ve encountered my share of such cooks.  And for a long time my defenses were useless.  I would eat rather than risk offending.

Many years ago on the Dr. Laura radio talk show I heard the Dr. Laura say something that changed my mind.  A caller struggling with her weight was using that old excuse — everybody feeds me to much.

Dr. Laura’s response, which is the title of this post, made me realize that I had to take ownership for the food I put in my mouth.  I can’t say no is not a good excuse.

It took some time, but I learned a great way to handle the monitoring cooks.  Be polite and tell the truth.

  1. Thank you for making this food. It was excellent.   Do you have some I can take home?
  2. I wish I could eat more, but I am watching my weight.

Sometimes the concern is with wasting food.  The cook might say something like, I made all of this food, I don’t want it to go to waste.

When I was losing weight and I faced this demand I came up with a little saying that absolved me of my guilt for wasting food:

I’d rather waste it than waist it (i.e. put extra weight on my waist).

It’s a stupid pun, but it worked.  It reminded me of my main goal to lose weight and kept me from being distracted with other concerns like wasting food.

Give it a try the next time someone doesn’t want you to waste food.

Cut the emotional ties

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My dog, may she rest in peace, loved dried pig ears dog treats.  Pig ears put her into another state of mind.  Get close and she’d growl and bear her teeth.  Touch her and she’d nip at you.

I think we have similar emotional ties to food.

Here’s a way to test it.  While eating with others and everyone seems to be enjoying their food, ask them if they should be eating so much.  Then observe the sour looks.

When we’re eating, we are often in another state of mind.

Emotional ties to food come in many forms.  Some people can’t break the habit of overeating.  Sometimes they have ties to specific foods or treats or eating establishments.

When I was more emotionally tied to my food, my life revolved around it.  I looked forward to trying new restaurants and new recipes and focused more on the eating portion of sharing meals with friends and family than the being with friends and family part.

Severing some of these ties can help you control your weight.   Here are some of the ways I severed my ties:

  1. I began to view food, first and foremost, as a source of nourishment rather than a source of emotional satisfaction.
  2. I reminded myself that each meal was not my last meal.
  3. I found other things to rely on to keep me busy like exercising, reading and interacting with friends.
  4. Don’t eat less now to enjoy more food later.  Sometimes I hear people justify eating less at lunch so they can have a ‘bigger dinner’.   That’s like a metabolic wrecking ball that can make it tougher to lose weight.
  5. Enjoy smaller portions of the stuff you love.  Again, this time isn’t likely to be your last.  Slow down and savor and remind yourself that you will get to enjoy more soon.

I’m not perfect.  I still have some emotional ties to food.  If someone were to ask me while I’m stuffing my face if I should be eating so much, I’d give them a sour look too.

But, I am much better than I use to be.  Much better than when I weighed about 30 pounds more.

New Book

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There’s a new book out that looks right up my alley. It’s called Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It by Gary Taubes.

Based on the blurb I read in People magazine, it appears to have advice similar to my book and blog here – overdoing it on carbs is bad.

Will post more once I get the book and read it.

 

 

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