An alternative and simple weight loss approach

[Lowell: another personal blog post from May, 2009]

Okay, so my last post (Wellness and Weight Loss Approach One-Pager) was an attempt to boil things down into 4 simple rules.  Okay, well… mostly simple rules.  #3 can be a bit hard to pin down, as it requires some research into what traditional/real foods actually are, and which are effectively myths (Modern wheat bread?  Grocery store tofu?  Not so much).  It’s an approach that requires some learning and changing of your philosophy and approach to food, and that can be difficult.

If you want the simplest, easiest, bare-bones approach, with only 1 rule… here it is:

  1. Don’t eat carbs.  None.  Zero carbs.

Okay, so that sounds pretty drastic.  You can probably get away with 20 grams a day, or 30… but if you’re looking for an approach with an incredibly high chance of success, zero is best.

But wait!  Isn’t 0 grams of carb incredibly unsafe?  Unnatural?  Dangerous?

No.  Not at all.  First off, in terms of safety, your body needs very little carb on a daily basis to get by.  Carb is purely fuel.  So is fat.  Fat is also used for cell membranes and lots of other building blocks and molecules.  Protein is mainly building blocks, muscles, etc.  Carbs exist for one reason: to be burned as energy.  But fat serves that purpose equally well (in most ways better).  Only nervous tissue and a few other small cell types really need carbs for fuel, but all of those cells can do at least as well running on ketones, which your body will produce from fats if you don’t eat carbs.  Your body can also convert some protein to glucose via glucogenesis.  So when you don’t eat carbs, your body happily switches over to burning fat only, supplemented with ketones and a tiny amount of converted glucose from protein.  They’re totally unnecessary.

But isn’t ketosis dangerous?  Nope.  There are a ton of mistruths out there regarding ketosis.  All the high quality evidence I can find is that it’s completely safe for the long-term, and actually has some benefits for heart tissue (which runs more efficiently on ketones than carbs).  I haven’t pulled all the references together here, but this is a good one to follow up on yourself if you’re skeptical or want to know more.

But aren’t carbs pretty much the largest portion of a healthy or traditional diet?  Hardly.  They’ve only been the largest macronutrient group in recent history (which is, of course, the problem).  And if you go back before agriculture took hold (a blink in evolutionary time), carbs were an inconsistent food source.  Fruits and vegetables were available only in season, and all the refined grains and other plant products we have today weren’t available.  Prior to human involvement, most plants were largely inedible to all but herbivores, with specialized digestive tracts to handle grasses and plants.  So what was readily available?  Meat.  And dairy.  And eggs.  But especially meat.  Animals were plentiful, humans were less common, and both were around year-round.  So humans grew up (evolutionarily speaking) on a very high fat and high protein diet.

So then let’s look at how and why this approach is effective (referencing my 4 rules from the last post):

  • With 0 carbs, there is no insulin response… so no insulin spike, and a total reversal of insulin resistance, as quickly as can be accomplished.  With regards to insulin and insulin resistance, this approach is even better than my general approach—though you can certainly combine them.
  • Chronicly high insulin levels and insulin spikes are by far the largest factor in weight gain for most people, and removing that from the picture is very often enough to result in the vast majority of weight loss.  No insulin means that your adipose fat tissue is no longer predisposed to store energy… and your endocrine system can kick in and regulate things properly.  Which it will do by quickly releasing that stored up energy and burning off the fat.
  • Other factors (micronutrients, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, etc) are certainly important to long-term wellness, and can be related to weight loss, but for most they aren’t the major culprit for obesity, and aren’t the main cure.  They’re highly important for long-term wellness, however, so I recommend paying attention to them… but if you want a quick and healthy way to lose weight, 0 carbs is phenomenal.

How effective is this?  Well, me, my brother, and several (at least 3 I can remember at the moment) of our male friends tried this and all lost 3-4 pounds a week, for many weeks.  20, 30, 40 pounds… as much as there was weight to lose, and most of it at the 3-4 pound rate (towards the end it slows down, as you have less fat left to burn).  It was lost consistently.  And safely.  Without hunger or forced exercise (two guys didn’t exercise at all, some did a little, I did a lot).  I do know a couple people for whom this didn’t work—I believe in those cases that insulin resistance wasn’t the major issue (or wasn’t the only major issue), and that other less generally common bottlenecks were causing problems and preventing the endocrine system from self-regulating fat levels appropriately.  I’ll talk about some of those possible bottlenecks in my next post, if all goes as planned.

For one friend of mine, all they did was cut refined carbs, sugars, and starches completely out of their diet.  No counting carbs at all, no special exercise program.  Non-starchy veggies were fine.  Even some berries here and there.  And he lost 3 pounds a week.  Some people may be more resistant, and need to cut carbs farther… which is why most of us went the distance and cut all carbs from all sources.  And lost 4 pounds a week.

Other recommendations for this (not rules, just suggestions):

  1. Eat when you are hungry.
  2. Stop when you are full.
  3. Saturated fat and dietary cholesterol are good, and shouldn’t be avoided… so meat, eggs, cheese… all good!
  4. Whatever other parts of the 4 rules from my previous post you can include—the more traditional the food, the better.

What could be simpler?  0 carbs.  Pretty easy to follow.  If it has carbs, don’t eat it.  If it doesn’t, go to town.

And does this need to be maintained long-term?  Well, you can if you want to.  But no.  However—and this is a huge however—you cannot go back to your old diet.  That was the problem in the first place.  This is what so many Atkins dieters get wrong.  A short term approach to weight loss is only good for the short term.  You have to couple it with long term change in order to see long term results.

So what does losing weight by cutting all (or most) carbs teach us?  Carbs are the primary problem for most people.  So while you don’t have to stay at 0 carbs after you’ve lost all your weight, you certainly shouldn’t go back to the 200+ grams of carbs you used to eat.  This is where I’ll refer you to my previous post, and my 4 rules.  At a minimum, you need to minimize insulin spikes and keep overall carbs levels within reason.  You can’t eat as much as you used to, but you can eat more than you did while you were losing weight.  How much?  It varies… but it’s easy to experiment to find out, and if you put a couple pounds on… well, you know how to lose that quickly now, don’t you?

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