Switching from Low-Carb Eating to Vegetarianism. Why?

As you may or may not know, I have been a low-carb eater for more than 2 years now. That means I ate very few grains, a lot of meat, and some fruit and vegetables.

I’m changing that, doing almost a 180, in fact. For at least the next year, I’ll be eating a modified vegetarian diet, which means I’ll eat only plant-based foods, but also include whey protein, eggs, and fish. Some call that “pescetarian” or “pescatarian”, but, really, fish will be a very small part of my diet, as will eggs.

Why?

Low-carb was great for me for weight loss, because I could feel satisfied on the low-carb, high-fat/protein regimen. The problem is that I’ve been stuck for more than 2 years. I cannot seem to budge below the 170-175 range.

Or I should say that I could not budge below that range. I have now busted through with the help of The Ultimate Reset.

What is the Reset? I explain that more in depth here, but, basically, it’s a 21-day detoxification process that attempts to rid your body of contaminants through a vegan diet and reset it to zero so you can, essentially, start over. And that’s what I’m doing. Starting over.

Not only that, but I am starting over 11 pounds lighter. That’s right, in 21 days I lost 11 pounds and 2 inches off my waist. That’s significant, because I had struggled to lose that gut fat, and now it’s shrinking.

In light of that, then, I decided I should take a closer look at plant-based nutrition.

The first thing I noticed is that while most eating plans focus on the fact that you can lose fat on them, and, thereby receive all the health benefits of a leaner body, vegan eating also has been shown to reverse diseases like heart disease and cancer. Reverse them.

The second thing I noticed is that when I looked at vegan recipes, often the nutritional breakdown was missing, so there was no listing of macronutrients like fat, carb, protein grams. Why? Because who cares, that’s why. You can’t get too many calories on an plant-based diet. Okay, that’s not really true, but if you stay away from processed foods of all kinds, like flours, oils, sugars, you’ll be okay. Yeah, you gotta watch your protein, and my sample size is probably too small to determine that this is a trend, but I found it interesting.

The third thing I noticed is that I’ve never been talking to a fat person about nutrition and had him tell me, “I’m a vegan.” That’s not to mention that the vegetarians I do know are all thin.

By the way, I should caveat this with the fact that I do believe that heredity definitely impacts all of our body compositions. Some people are naturally thin, some are naturally fat, some in-between. That’s why some have to work harder at staying thin than others. I do not use “fat” as a pejorative term here. Fat is fat, same as thin is thin.

Finally, and most importantly, is that it seems to work for me. I lost that gut fat that had hung on for so long. And my eyes have stopped burning! They used to burn so often, and I often blamed it on allergies or staring too much at the computer screen. I’m sure my doctor would have diagnosed it as dry-eye syndrome, if I’d told her about it. But here on this vegan diet, no burning eyes, and that is a huge mood changer for me.

With all that in mind, I’m going to give a modified vegetarian lifestyle — maybe merging into a vegan lifestyle — a shot for at least a year and see how it treats me, make sure this isn’t just a short term fluke.

[UPDATE ON OCTOBER 25, 2012] After further research, I have decided to drop all animal products from my diet and eat vegan at least through October, 2013. I figured, what the hell, might as well go all in, right?

I’m pretty excited about it, because it’s something new to learn, and I love learning. Drop me a line if you want to join me or just have something to say about it, because I’m all ears!

What is a Carbohydrate?

It occurs to me from time to time as I discuss nutrition and diets with people that, while they may have a pretty decent understanding of which foods are protein rich — lean meats — and which are full of fat — butter, cheese, burgers — they often don’t have a firm grasp of which foods are primarily carbohydrate.

Withh that in mind, let me run down for you what I think I know about carbohydrate.

(Before I get started, by way of disclaimer, I’ll say — yet again — that I’m not a nutritionist or a doctor. I’m just a guy who reads a lot.)

Carbohydrates are essentially sugars, starches, and fiber. Sugary drinks, grains, fruits, vegetables are all primarily carbs.

Potatoes? Yup, those are carbs. Breakfast cereals? Carbs. Even unsweetened ones? Carbs. Plain oatmeal? Carbs.

I’d say that if you were to eat a lot of carbohydrate-rich foods (except the sugary ones, which are Poisonous Carbs, as you’ll see below) and include with them some good protein, you’d be dietarily solid.

But … but … what’s that I said parenthetically about “Poisonous Carbs”?

I categorize carbs into three primary groups:

  • Poisonous Carbs
  • Okay Carbs
  • Beneficial Carbs

Keep in mind that these are my classifications only. You can group carbs any way you like, but here at my blog, those are the categories.

Poisonous Carbs are those things that are created to satisfy a sweet tooth. I’m talking about things like ice cream, cupcakes, Cinnabons, red licorice, you get the idea? Oh, and you can put sugar-laden liquids into that mix, too: fruit juices, sodas, sweet tea. Right.

Those Poisonous Carbs are not part of my diet in any way, shape, or form. I consider them quite literally to be poison, and support for this way of thinking is growing, as sugar  is proving to be the architect of the current obesity epidemic in the U.S. (and world-wide). And we’re not just talking about high-fructose corn syrup that, while it may indeed be a Poisonous Carb, has been unfairly singled out. “Made with real sugar” does not mean healthy!

How can you tell if something is a Poisonous Carb? Look at the label. In the “Carbohydrate” section, you’ll see “Dietary fiber” and “Sugars”. Are most of the grams of carbohydrate sugars? Are there more than 5 grams of sugar per serving? (And I’m talking about a real serving, not the label’s 3/4 cup of cereal, which I need to at least double to make a single real serving). If so, you may have a Poisonous Carb there.

I have but one piece of advice about Poisonous Carbs: Just say no!

Okay Carbs are foods like potatoes, quinoa, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, rye bread, brown rice, legumes, nuts, berries, and fruit. I’ll leave anything that contains wheat off this list, because there are a lot of undiagnosed wheat allergies out there, including, I think, mine.

I’ll eat something from the Okay Carbs group 2 to 4 times daily, and not in huge quantities. I am not one of those Mark Sisson-inspired grains-are-evil fanatics, but I do agree that grains — particularly, as I said, wheat — probably have a bad influence on my body, so I try not to eat them too often.

(This is coming from a guy who used to eat pasta, bread, rice, or cereal — or some combination of them — at just about every meal.)

It may seem odd to limit fruits and berries — those are good for you, right? — but they do have a lot of sugar in them, so I limit my intake, even though I generally buy organic, which has less sugar (the way nature intended). I don’t even eat bananas, in fact, because they have so much sugar.

I also limit nuts. It’s too easy to let one handful of nuts turn into two handfuls, then three. Although in addition to the carbs, nuts have lots of good fats and protein in them, they pack a high caloric punch, so I keep them on the “Okay” list.

Beneficial Carbs really boil down to vegetables (which, btw, should not be boiled — ever — well, maybe if you are making a soup or stew). It would be difficult to overindulge in carbs if we only ate  vegetables — especially the green kind, like broccoli, lettuce, cucumbers — because of all the bulk and water they have. Some veggies like carrots and corn (which is botanically a grain, but culinarily a vegetable) are higher in sugar, so I tend to avoid them.

Speaking of grains, you have probably seen a lot of opinions about the benefits of whole grains and the fiber they contain, and that may cause you to wonder, “Aren’t whole grains Beneficial Carbs?” As I stated above, I shy away from grains in general, because I believe the health benefits — if there really are any — don’t outweigh the side effects. Read this article from Mark’s Daily Apple for a reasonable, well-read man’s opinion on grains.

I’ve also not touched on dairy products, so let me address those now.

I don’t consume animal milk primarily because I think it’s nasty and gross — I enjoy almond milk instead. Yogurt upsets my stomach — that’s the opposite effect it’s supposed to have, right? Cheese? I do love me some cheese, but the cheeses I like — havarti, brie — have very few carbs, so they’re not included here in a carbocentric discussion. For what it’s worth, I think lower-fat, and, therefore, higher-carb versions of cheeses seem to be okay inside my body, but I just don’t prefer them, so I stick with full-fat cheeses, when I eat cheeses.

Got it? Carbs are sugars, but not all carbs are sweet, so choose your carbs wisely. If your body reacts the same way mine does, you’ll be healthier, thinner, and you’ll just feel better overall.

Going on a cleanse

I saw something on Facebook yesterday that a friend of mine posted entitled “Six people who need to shut the f*ck up!” The piece is from FunnyOrDie.com, and among the people who need to shut up are “People on a Cleanse”.

Challenge accepted.

I hadn’t told anyone but one close friend (different friend than posted the funnyordie piece) that I am on a cleanse, but I am. My goal is basically to give my liver a break.

I am doing this at the suggestion of my favorite low-carb gurus, the Drs. Eades. Yet another friend — yes, I have several — suggested The Six-Week Cure for the Middle-Aged Middle to me, and once I saw the Drs. Eades had written it, I knew I should pick up a copy. (You may recall that they also wrote the book on the health benefits of low carb eating, Protein Power. Or you may not recall it. Either way, they did.)

So, yeah, there are 6 weeks to this plan, and I will probably run through the whole 6 weeks at some point this summer — that bit of extra fat around my middle is just so stubborn — but I felt it was just a good idea right now to give my liver a rest, because I hadn’t done that for so long.

Why give the liver a break?

The liver is all about removing toxins from the blood. We tend to consume toxins in the form of caffeine, alcohol, ibuprofen, food additives, and more. The liver interacts with all that, keeping the blood in our system relatively clean so the rest of the body doesn’t get contaminated, and at some point it seems like a good idea to give it some time off, allow the liver to clean itself out, regenerate.

So that’s what I’m doing.

The basic cleanse rules are

  1. no alcohol,
  2. no caffeine,
  3. no unnecessary medications,
  4. 3 low-carb shakes, and
  5. 1 low-carb meal each day (meal plans are in the book)

Let me say here that the Drs. Eades are not generally averse to coffee and wine. In fact, Dr. Michael Eades has his own YouTube video about how to make an Americano (my favorite way to enjoy coffee).

Today is Day 5 for me. I had only planned to stay on it for a week, but I am feeling good, so I may go through next Friday.

The book suggests, btw, that at the end of the cleanse I donate blood and let it take the toxins with it (don’t worry, it’s still good blood). I may do that. Haven’t given blood in a while, but that’s primarily because it’s not convenient. They used to come to my workplace to get it, but now that I work at home…. Still, I think there is a place down the street.

Anyway, check out The Six-Week Cure for the Middle-Aged Middle for the details. Maybe it’s time you gave your liver a break, too.

Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”

I guess that phrase has been around for a while, but I heard it the other day for the first time — read it in my friend Amanda’s status update — and I really like it, because that about sums it up.

Maybe you’re not there yet. Maybe you think you need that cinnamon roll or that slice of birthday cake or that bowl of ice cream. Maybe those do taste better to you than skinny feels.

Maybe that is because you’ve forgotten how skinny feels.

I was skinny when I was in my 20s. I mean really skinny, like 110 pounds lighter than I was when my fatness peaked in my 40s.

But I’d forgotten how skinny feels.

As I gradually built up my fat stores over the years, I simply accepted my weight gain as an inevitable part of getting older. Thinness is a thing of youth, I thought. As we get older, we automatically gain fat. Look around? All old guys are fat, right?

That is true to some extent — I am having a helluva time trying to lose these last pounds around the middle — but the first 60 lbs sure as hell came off, and stayed off . While I am much more active now than fat Steve was, the vast majority of my success in fat loss is directly attributable to my change in dietary habits.

75% to 80% of our body composition is based upon what we put into it, so, we are, indeed, what we eat. Not literally, though. That is the mistake in logic that’s been destroying Americans for 40 years. “Accumulated body fat causes all kinds of health problems,” we are told, “so we need to stop eating fat.”

The problem with that seemingly logical statement is that it’s simply not true. The science never supported it. Officials jumped to the “dietary fat is bad” conclusion, and then, when the studies didn’t support it, they were too embarrassed to ‘fess up. So they stuck to their guns, and now the American people are overweight and diseased.

Fat consumption does not lead to higher levels of stored fat. It does not raise blood cholesterol or triglycerides.

The science has shown over and over that it’s the sugars we consume that are much more likely to be stored as fat, which, in turn, raises our blood cholesterol and triglycerides.

(Don’t take my word for it. It’s all right here in science reporter Gary Taubes’s book Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It.)

So what was the primary change I made to my diet to lose and keep 60 pounds off? I got off the sugar. If something was created to be sweet, I don’t eat it. Period. No ice cream, no cupcakes, no Cinnabons.

And now, while I am not technically “skinny”, I do know how it feels to be thin again. I no longer need those blood pressure meds I was prescribed. I no longer need that cholesterol med I was prescribed. I no longer feel aches and pains that I was pretty sure shouldn’t be there. And I never want to go back to what I was.

Did I love that ice cream, those cupcakes, those Cinnabons? Yes. Do I miss them? No.

You know why? Because nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.

We Have to Get Off the Sugar!

Here’s the thing about sugar. We are raised on it. We are trained as kids to love it. We use it to celebrate and to finish off a good meal.

And it’s killing us.

Up until the 1950s, low-carb diets were the accepted way to stay lean. Yes, it’s true. Low-carb is not some fad that started in the 1970s. Low-carb was the way to lose weight, until scientists discovered that excess fat in our bodies is the cause of so much distress. Heart disease, diabetes, you name it, excess body fat is quite destructive.

So, they reasoned, if excess fat is bad, then we must remove fat from our diets!

This seemed to be sensible, but the science has never upheld the conclusion that fat in our diets leads to fat on our bodies, and the great experiment that has been going on with the American population over the last 5 decades also seems to deny the validity of high-carbohydrate eating.

We have lowered our fat consumption and increased our carbs, and you know what? We are fatter and sicker than ever.

Renowned science writer Gary Taubes illustrates this well in his fully researched and documented book Good Calories, Bad Calories. That book got me almost completely off sugar a few years ago. Then I saw the YouTube video with Dr. Robert Lustig last year, and that sealed the deal for me.

Fnally, mainstream thinking is coming around. That very same Dr. Lustig was the primary expert in a story on 60 Minutes this past Sunday. The story explored the toxicity of the overconsumption of sugar.

Also, on April 1, 2012, the same day they ran the above story, CBS posted this short video interview with Dr. Sanjay Gupta entitled “Sugar and Kids: The Toxic Truth“.

I have read some of the comments on the page with the Dr. Gupta video. Of course, people are defensive. Who likes to be told they have been poisoning their kids?

Sugar is found in nature, and there is a safe consumption level. In fact, our sweet taste buds are there to allow us to know if something is safe to eat. Sweet means not poison.

However, in modern society, there is so much sugar pumped into all our foods, so much sugar in soft drinks and juices, that it goes way beyond what nature intended.

And that is the point.

The truth about sugar is finally coming into the mainstream. Will you listen?