My mother used to follow a low-carb diet, right up until, as she put it, “that woman killed her diet doctor.” She was referring to Jean Harris’s murder of Herman Tarnower in the early ’80s. Tarnower advocated for a relatively low-carbohydrate diet for rapid weight loss (called the Scarsdale Diet, should you want to do more research on this). I couldn’t tell, in all honesty, that the diet did my mother much good. Of course, my mother also hid chocolate bars around the house so that she could find them when she wanted them in the middle of the night (I inherited her insomniac proclivities, but I don’t eat chocolate at night).
As anyone who’s been paying attention to this blog for a while knows, I’ve been working on slowly, steadily, painfully losing weight for the last almost-five years. I’ve been maintaining a sixty-pound weight loss for about a year and half now (after losing for three and a half years), but I dream of losing another ten or so pounds. Maybe fifteen. But… I’ve been steady for a year and a half, which is not nothing.
I eat very carefully these days. I rarely eat sugar. I don’t drink much alcohol, maybe once or twice a month. My preferred beverages are seltzer, tea (hot or iced, no sugar), water. I eat very little bread. Some potatoes, some brown rice. I even eat quinoa. I eat lots of fruit. I eat nuts. Green vegetables. Avocado. I eat meat. I use olive oil and butter to cook with. I ask myself if I’m hungry or thirsty before I eat. Mostly I avoid fried foods and mostly we cook at home, whole foods that aren’t processed at all. I try not to eat unless I’m actually hungry. This seems to work to maintain my weight. There’s that word: “maintain.”
Can you tell I’m a little frustrated to be stuck at this weight? Just a little.
I’ve been reading up on metabolic biochemistry. A friend recommended Nina Teicholz’s The Big Fat Surpriseas a study of the food industry’s influence on so-called scientific research on nutrition and health over the period since World War II. Some of it I knew because I was a biochemistry major (undergraduate) and Professor Gene Brown (of MIT) was a stickler for facts. I was advised, back in the early 1970s, that eating trans fats in the form of margarine and other hydrogenated oils were going to be a serious health problem. Prof. Brown was an advocate of liquid oils like olive oil and also for butter. His drawings of the membrane transport disruptions caused by trans fats have stuck in my brain ever since. (Of course, I went off to find illustrations, but could not.)
Teicholz covers trans fats. She covers the low fat high carbohydrate diet recommendations for the US government in detail. And she covers the reasons why low fat diets don’t work and are bad for you too. Very persuasively.
I went on from Teicholz to Gary Taubes’ Why We Get Fat, which also covers real science, very persuasively.
Both Teicholz and Taubes make convincing cases against sugar and refined carbs and in favor of a meat-and-fat-based diet with some greens thrown in for micro-nutrients. Taubes suggests that everyone’s tolerance for carbohydrates is different and that some people can eat lots and maintain a healthy weight, and others cannot. While I realize that this is a small-scale experiment, that’s exactly what I’ve noticed with Dancer and Rush. Yes, they’re dogs, not people, but dogs co-evolved with humans and pretty much eat what we do. Rush and Dancer get the same meat, the same oils, the same vegetables… and Dancer gets way less carbs than Rush. If I give her more carbs, she puts on weight.
I joke to people that, metabolically, I’m a Prius. I really don’t require a lot of fuel. I honestly would prefer to be a Suburban or a big truck, that burns a lot of fuel, but I’m just not. It appears, from these two books, that I may be better off further reducing my carbs (which means, mostly, less fruit) and increasing the amount of proteins and fats that I eat. It seems like something I can try.