Low-carb Dieting

A couple of weeks ago, I watched Fat Head, a sort of rebuttal documentary to Super Size Me. The filmmaker, Tom Naughton, told an entertaining story and made a lot of good points, but I found it a little frustratingly hypocritical. The point of the whole documentary seemed to be that Morgan Spurlock had his own agenda when making Super Size Me, and his premise was flawed. Fat Head set out to prove that one could eat nothing but fast food and not gain weight or have a heart attack, and while I think that point is proven quite well, the hypocrisy is that one can easily see that Naughton has his own agenda: promoting a low-carb diet. There isn't anything wrong with having an agenda, but in this case it feels like a bit of a bait-and-switch--I was lured in with the debunking, but instead I got promotion of a specific lifestyle.

The documentary may have been a bit flawed, but it did start to convince me.  I've been researching low-carb/ketogenic diets since seeing the movie, and though I used to consider them a stupid fad, I see now that the science is pretty sound. I decided to give it a try--go cold turkey on the carbs to burn off a little weight and cure my addiction to breads and refined sugars.

My plan, inasmuch as I have a plan, is to do a full-on ketogenic diet for a while (I'm not sure how long--I guess until I notice a visible difference in my figure), then slowly increase carbs to the point where I can enjoy a bowl of ice cream or rice without having to eat nothing but beef jerky for the rest of the day.

According to a calculator I found (which I can't for the life of me find again), I have a limit of 27 grams of carbs a day, based on my weight, age, and activity level. My first comment about the diet is that this is really difficult to accomplish. Bread and potatoes are a staple of fast food, which we eat for lunch most days, and pasta is a staple of our pantry. Pasta with some manner of sauce is my go-to dinner when I'm feeling uninspired. Or if I'm feeling especially lazy, a carryout pizza special. Keeping it under 27 grams requires a radical change in lifestyle.

Apart from the difficulty of sticking to the carb limit, though, it's a relatively easy diet to stick to. Though I still have to deprive myself of stuff I want, overall I feel far less deprived than I have on other diets. My fridge is full of butter, bacon, cream, steak, and cheese--and I can eat as much as I want of this stuff! I did pick up some Atkins-branded snacks for when I'm seriously craving sweets; the chocolate cookies are surprisingly good.

But that brings me to my second comment: damn, is this expensive! We're a frugal family, and we've always done a good job of keeping our grocery bills low, but our usual groceries aren't an option now. Potatoes, rice, pasta, flour--all very cheap, and all forbidden. Acceptable foods now include meat, cheese, nuts, and specially formulated low-carb diet foods--all the pricey stuff we bought in moderation before. In the last week I've spent as much money stocking up my low-carb kitchen than I have in the last month of regular grocery shopping.

My third comment, though, is that I've only been doing this for a few days, and it's already having a noticeable effect--not in how I look, but how I feel. Yesterday I went to my parents' house and, purely out of habit, scooped some peanut M&Ms out of their candy dish and started munching away. About halfway through my second handful, I realized what I was doing--oops! I finished the handful anyway, since putting them back would have been gross and throwing them away would have been rude. So much for yesterday's 27 gram limit.

About 15 minutes later, I felt the sugar hit me. I felt drained, and I started getting a light headache. Both faded after a half hour or so, but it was pretty strange--I've always had a sweet tooth, and could eat massive quantities of candy in one sitting, and I've never noticed physical effects from sugar, except maybe nausea when I ate too much. Apparently even a few days on an ultra-low carb diet can start reprogramming your body to process foods differently. It's kind of helpful, honestly. If eating sugary stuff makes me physically uncomfortable, I should have a much easier time avoiding the sweets.

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