Low-Carb Dieting

When other people think about Middlebury College, I imagine they conjure up scenes of good-looking 20-somethings in matching North Face jackets making their way to 5 a.m. crew practice.

When I think about Middlebury College, I picture a wedge of Laughing Cow cheese.

That’s because the first and only time I set foot in Middlebury, Vermont, I was on a whirlwind Northeast college tour with my mother, and we were both on the South Beach diet. (How, you ask, could someone remember something so specific? Perhaps because the campus’ dining halls served Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and we weren’t allowed to eat it. Coupled with first loves and N’SYNC lyrics, those are the things one never forgets.)

Anyone who found himself looking for an easy weight-loss fix during the early millennium years undoubtedly tried his hand at a low-carb diet. From Atkins to The Zone to any number of high-protein programs in between, believers were swapping carbohydrates for pork belly faster than they could say coronary artery disease. (Which, to be fair, has nine syllables, so it takes a long time to say.)

I was one of them. Armed with a Dr. Agatston’s first edition of The South Beach Diet, I entered the 14-day kickoff phase, swore off “bad carbs” from orange juice to potatoes and prepared to watch the pounds melt away.

And they did.

As I chowed down on Canadian bacon and reduced-fat cottage cheese, I found to my surprise and delight that the diet’s claims were actually coming true: the scale dropped, my belly flattened and Lloyd Dobler serenaded me with a Peter Gabriel love ballad. It appeared to my 17-year-old self that the South Beach diet was the best thing since sliced bread string-cheese.

But anyone who’s ever found himself forgoing carbohydrates for two straight weeks also knows something else: it’s simply not sustainable. Resisting breakfast cereal for 14 days can give a dieter a sense of perverse satisfaction; resisting breakfast cereal forever can give a dieter a permanent complex. Much like every other low-carb trialist out there, I quickly reverted to my old ways, regained the weight and waited idly by for the next sure-fire diet solution to come my way.

Turns out, that’s not the way it works, and it look the discovery of running and some major caloric accountability to bring myself down to size.

But while I wouldn’t force the full-blown low-carb lifestyle on my worst enemy, even I can admit I gleaned some valuable dietary advice from those arguably misguided pages. Two guiding principles I still choose to follow stand out:

  • Good carbs. Although the South Beach Diet is inherently a low-carb lifestyle, making carbs the indisputable bad guy here, the book argues that not all carbs are as far gone on their journey to the dark side. And I agree. Carbs that include soluble fiber – like fruits and vegetables, legumes and oats – slow digestion and keep you feeling full longer, making them a far superior choice to that glazed donut you were just eyeing. I may no longer read The South Beach Diet book like the bible (or the bible like the bible, for that matter), but I do still opt for whole grain toast over refined Wonder Bread.
  • Good fats. Just as not all carbs are created equal, not all fats deserve a home in the coveted top triangle of your food pyramid (that’s what she said.) Omega 3 fats – found in nuts, flaxseed, tuna and salmon – and Omega 6 fats – found in corn, safflower and sesame oils – can work wonders for a recovering athlete in ways a scoop of chemically-rendered partially hydrogenated oils can’t. I no longer adhere to the diet’s full doctrine, but its plea to choose lean proteins is one I can get behind. (Again, with the she said.)

You may be wondering why I chose to write today about a failed diet fad I attempted in October 2003. The truth is, it was just a long-winded excuse for me to post this delicious low-carb recipe I tried over the weekend:

http://www.recipegirl.com/2012/01/16/cauliflower-crust-hawaiian-pizza/

So there you have it. The big reveal. (Seriously though, make this thing. You’ll be amazed.)

What do you know about nutrition and exercise now that you wish you’d known then? (How about fashion? Would your 2012 self let your 1992 self wear primary colored stir-up leggings? Mine would, because mine’s a jerk.)

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3 Responses to Low-Carb Dieting

  1. Amy T. says:

    Ugggh. Memories.

    I did the Atkins diet about 6 years ago, and much like you, had great success. I lost about 50 lbs. I was so restrictive I stayed in the “induction” phase throughout the entire diet. This meant I was aiming to eat fewer than 20 grams of carbs per day.

    At the time I found it to be very effective, but looking back, I think it had more to do with the fact that I was slowly weening myself off food in general. I was so disgusted by an eternal supply of meat and cheese…I unwittingly reduced my caloric intake by avoiding the foods I COULD eat all together. (Nothing like dreaming of dinner rolls when you go to sleep at night.)

    As many people have discovered, it’s simply not a sustainable lifestyle. And once I went off the diet, the weight came RIGHT back on – and even more. I have struggled to find something SUSTAINABLE that my body reacts to as effectively as it did to low-carbbing, but you are spot-on. It may not be a perfect (or even doable) system, however you can learn a lesson about carbs and fats – and try to use that information to develop a diet plan that works for your lifestyle and body.

    Cheers to you (with a slice of bread),
    AT

  2. I never got past the restrictive phase either, and maybe that’s the problem. My understanding was Phase 2, at least on South Beach, encouraged you to start adding carbs back in — things like fruit (how could we ever think a diet that outlawed fruit was a good idea?!), sweet potatoes, brown rice, etc. It also made allowances for a glass of wine, which — let’s be honest here — is the make or break of any diet actually sticking. The problem is, it was the perverse feeling of denial that make us all want to stay on Phase 1 forever, and Phase 1 just wasn’t infinitely sustainable. Such is paradox of low-carb dieting.

    I’m glad to see you’ve found something new that works for you in the form of vegetarianism (although to go from all-meat Atkins to a no-meat lifestyle is quite the turnaround. We’re talking Steve Urkel to Stephan Urquelle-scale transformation here.) Keep up the good work, and thank you for reading!

    • Amy T. says:

      1000 points for the Steve to Stephan analogy!!!

      Vegetarianism is VERY new to me. When I hopped ship from Atkins, I went back to eating whatever I want. I am a carb fiend, for sure. Which I’m sure contributed to the fact that the weight came right back on. Over time I have realized my body just doesn’t “do” carbs well. I’m like an addict. If I could find a diet that involved pasta + dinner rolls + wine + cheese, I would be the happiest girl alive.

      For some reason, I find it hard to hold myself accountable when it comes to food. Life is busy, and it’s so easy to make excuses. My venture into vegetarianism is an attempt to retrain myself. By tying my food habits to ethical values, it’s a way to hold myself accountable. So when I find myself thinking about how convenient it would be to swing by and pick up a cheeseburger and fries on the way home, I have a BELIEF system holding me accountable. So far, so good.

      But, alas, I’ve got a way to go ’til I’m Stephan.

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