Lose Weight and Keep It Off
My recent post Good News for the New Year highlighted two successful weight loss stories published in The DeQueen Bee, DeQueen, Arkansas. Two women (I called them Cathy and Augusta) decided they had dealt with overweight trials and tribulations quite long enough and did something about it.
Happily they took not one but two important steps. First they changed their diet, adopting a low carbohydrate, higher fat diet including meat protein, non-starchy vegetables, and no sugar, their version of a Ketogenic (Keto) diet. And both have lost a LOT of weight in about a year.
Their second step was joining and actually going regularly to the same local DeQueen gym. Some of you might believe that their weight loss could be attributed to the exercise, thinking the diet was not that important. That would be wrong. But there IS a lot of value in physical activity.
Physical activity increases your energy and joint flexibility, builds strength, tones muscles, improves mood, reduces stress, improves sleep, and helps diet to improve diabetes and other chronic diseases. Those are all critically important but you can’t overcome a bad diet with exercise. You won’t get there without the right diet.
Just focusing on diet let’s examine the common options which are actually fairly simple.
1) Eat as much and whatever the heck you want. 2) Eat less (cut calories any way you like). 3) Eat selectively, a combination of good things (like in a Paleo, Keto, or Mediterranean diet). 4) Avoid meat (like a vegan diet),
If you are overweight and eating-as-much- and- whatever-you-want, this is probably what got you into trouble in the first place. Apparently not a good choice.
As you consider your good options for losing (and keeping off) weight, start with understanding three things.
Criteria for diet success
First eating fewer calories does have to happen. That is just how it is. Next the ultimate diet for you has to provide nourishment to your body. And finally the diet has be one that you can continue for life.
Nourishment is an important and frequently misunderstood word. It means “the food or other substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition.” The fact that something can be chewed and swallowed doesn’t make it nourishing.
Nourishment means the food has to contain the essential vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fats found in both whole animal and plant food and NOT found in manufactured food.
Sustainable for life
As to this continuing for life thing, your food has to be filling and not leave you hungry. In other words eating fewer calories doesn’t make you feel deprived.
Believe it or not, hunger connects to inadequate protein and nutrient deficiency. So the more your diet is protein and/or nutrient deficient the hungrier you will be.
My first article reported that Cathy first started her diet by cutting calories in half and eating too often in a particular fast food restaurant. And she did lose weight. However, she somehow knew it was not healthy. Plus cutting calories alone may not be a diet Cathy or you will willingly continue for life.
Eventually Cathy joined Augusta, arriving at a Keto diet.
Understanding Keto requires a grasp of energy sources. Glucose (found in carbohydrates) and fat are the body’s primary energy sources. Too much of both will be connected to overweight. The simplest way to reduce and maintain your weight is to focus on reducing one of them, leaving the other to be your primary energy source.
What the heck is Keto?
No ordinary person I know understands a Keto diet. They just think they are “on it.” So let’s define Keto.
The term Keto comes from ketosis. Ketosis is a condition where the liver converts fat to ketones and the body uses the ketones for energy. This is what happens in fasting (not eating) and starvation (very long term not eating which might kill you.) This isn’t rocket science. Not eating forever certainly is nutrient deficient in every way.
When you sleep you are hopefully not eating. This is called fasting. When true non-diabetics (who are only about half of the population) fast the body uses stored glucose in the liver (glycogen) to maintain basal glucose levels for the brain, red blood cells, and a few other selective points in the body that don’t use fat for energy. Only a basal level of insulin is required to use that glucose. Otherwise ketones are used to keep you going.
When fasting (as in sleeping) metabolism slows down and cleanup occurs. When feeding, metabolism increases and building occurs. It’s a balance. Or at least it’s supposed to be.
Again in those normal people who aren’t eating outside of meals during the day, some ketones are generated to compensate for the temporary absence of food. Regular snacking interferes with this process.
In diabetics and those headed that way, the normal metabolic processes are deranged in more ways than you can imagine. The degree of derangement can easily be seen in fasting blood sugar measurements. High fasting blood sugar reflects the degree to which the insulin required to use glucose for energy isn’t available or is being resisted. Resistance signals that more insulin is needed to dispose of this glucose and your pancreas will accommodate. Insulin blocks fats ability to leave the fat cells and be converted to ketones in the liver. So there you have it.
The message here is diabetes and overweight are a failure of fat metabolism, sometimes because of insulin deficiency (as in type 1 and some type II diabetics) and sometimes because of resistance. That doesn’t mean you should eat less fat. That means you need to use the fat you are carrying around.
This is amazingly complicated and something I suggest you just trust. But if you really want to study this yourself, just comment and I will provide a plethora of references.
Therefore a Keto diet intends to transition to a lower use of glucose for energy and a higher use of fat for energy. Again, it’s a balance.
As I suggested earlier, most people’s troubles start with higher carb AND higher fat. The excess fat and excess carb goes into body fat storage. Voila’, overweight. The fix begins with a change in diet that minimizes the accumulation and maximizes use of fat storage.
This article from Virta Health, https://blog.virtahealth.com/weight-loss-ketogenic-diet/, goes into much more in depth.
Your Keto – lower carb/higher fat/adequate protein
The primary characteristics of a good Keto diet are lower carbohydrate, higher fat, and adequate protein. This is a percentage of total calories thing. Lower carbohydrate requires higher fat for energy balance. Just the way high carb/high fat made you fat (too much energy), low carb/low fat (not enough energy) is too close to starvation and will just make you sick.
Lower carb – The low carb foods are simple vegetables grown in a garden. High carbohydrate foods are starches (grain,legumes, potatoes) and sugar. The manufactured foods are essentially starch, most often grain, and sugar.
Higher fat –. Fat usually arrives naturally with animal and fish foods. Vegetable carbohydrates are naturally low fat. However certain fruit like avocados, olives, and coconut are very high in fat. So if you need fat for cooking or flavoring, the animal and fruit fats are the ones to use. Nuts are also high in fat.
Adequate protein – Beyond the essential nutritional value, protein in your diet (and the fat to a lesser degree) creates fullness and longer term elimination of hunger. No, it does not have to be meat or fish. But it happens that the highest plant protein is in beans. Those starchy beans carry a very high carbohydrate load. So in the interest of losing weight, adequate protein may mean more emphasis on meat and/or fish protein.
Vegans avoid animal food. There is such a thing as a good Keto vegan diet meeting the 3 criteria listed above. I have studied it, seen it, and heard reports from people following it. Their challenge is getting adequate protein and certain vitamins not easily available in plants. It is possible but requires a lot of planning and supplements.
But vegans thinking that anything that isn’t meat is okay are in trouble. In their view bread, sweets, pasta, cereal, sugar etc. (possibly drowning in olive oil ) are just fine as long as they don’t contain anything that comes from animals. High calorie from carbs AND fat plus nutritionally deficient.
Cathy and Augusta’s diet as reported in the article includes meat, vegetables and avoids sugar. Lower carb, higher fat (primarily from the meat), and adequate protein. Sustainable long term, filling, and nourishing.
How low is lower, how high is higher, what is adequate?
I won’t give you firm numbers although some professional designers of Keto diets probably would. My experience is that you have to adapt this to you, not to some average person. And I strongly recommend that you find a friend to partner with in this effort. Change sometimes needs positive reinforcement.
You can do this the easy way or the hard way. My observation after years of research and following the comments of thousands of people on Facebook sites is this. Most people can accomplish miracles without counting anything by eliminating manufactured food and substituting vegetables. I suggest you start there.
If you just love vegetables (low carbohydrate) then you have more freedom to add fat in the form of cheese and sour cream (as examples). If by chance you are really fond of meat and eggs, you are meeting your protein and probably fat needs with ease. Combine that with simple vegetables and you are good to go.
Any starchy carb (potatoes, beans, pasta) should be prepared without fat for calorie and energy balance. The more of these in your diet the less likely you will be using fat for energy. Fair warning, this isn’t impossible but requires creativity on your part.
Do you have digestive issues with dairy or certain vegetables? Substitute another natural fat for the dairy and different vegetables for those that bother you.
And please know there are actually people who have enormous digestive, depression, mood issues with any vegetables. Many of these have become carnivores, people who just eat meat. And there are (fewer) people who are allergic to beef and even sometimes pork. And there are people allergic to eggs – which is really sad because eggs may well be the perfect food. This condition also requires dietary adjustment.
None of these digestive issues are a reason to avoid a “keto” diet as described here. Don’t eat stuff that makes you sick. Substitute stuff that doesn’t make you sick.
This is a training thing. Your body has been using glucose for energy and storing all the rest for a very long time. Your brain, red blood cells, and other places primarily or completely dependent on glucose may have been happy as larks. But your muscles have been working “backward” and will tell you about it when your diet reduces the glucose supply. This is a bit like quitting smoking.
Your body may not be happy but it isn’t stupid. It will adjust and start using fat for energy. The degree to which you are bothered with fat adaptation may depend on how extreme you are in carbohydrate reduction. It is for this reason that I recommend initially just eliminating all manufactured foods (which are useless from a nourishment perspective) and being generous with vegetable carbs.
How often you eat will matter. No more than three meals a day without snacks. You can easily snack your way to higher calories when the goal is fewer. Snacking so often is a habit or something somebody said you needed to do. Probably not a response to hunger. When you frequently find yourself hungry that either means too many carbs or not enough protein and fat. When necessary, throw in a hard boiled eggs or slice of meat. Make an adjustment. Are you by chance sugar addicted? If so, what you are feeling may not be hunger.
It is not necessary or even helpful to eat by the clock. Lots of people including me settle for two or even one meal per day without hunger. Lose the scale and drag out your tape measure. Inches are sometimes a better reflection of success than pounds. Look forward to feeling/looking so much better and the confidence that brings.
In my next pose we will examine exactly how commercially manufactured food, nutrient deficient as you will recall, contributes particularly to weight gain and all those chronic diseases we want to avoid. In the end the important implications of obesity are health related.
Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All About the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Pat is a resident of Montgomery County, AR, president of Ouachita Village, Inc. board of directors (Montgomery County Food Pantry), and president of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org; phone number is 870-490-1836; visit her website at allaboutthefood.org