As Fat As Butter

A few weeks ago, I made the decision to start losing weight again.  I’ve got a long history of dramatic weight fluctuations, starting at about the age of 9, and this decision was not so much momentous as it was a relief.  A brief(ish) history in the life of Heidi’s size (I’m not good at remembering when things happen in my life, so all dates are approximate.  Also, I’m 5’6″, for reference.):

  • ~1989-2003:  Steadily gain weight without ceasing.
    • When I was about 14, my height had caught up with my weight, and I was actually a great size, looking back.  Probably around 145-150.  At the time, of course, I thought I was huge.
      • It may surprise some folks to hear about my being very happy with a weight of 150 at a height of 5’6″.  In part, that’s because I tend to like my body and be comfier with it being quite curvy.  Also, though, I have a very heavy base structure, apparently; I know that ‘big-boned’ isn’t really a thing, but my whole family tends to look thinner at much heavier weights than the average person.  Whenever I tell someone what I weigh, they are astonished, always thinking it couldn’t possibly be that high.  I attribute it to my Nordic/Scottish heritage; we are a hearty people.
  • ~2003:  262.2 lbs.  “This body is too fat.  I’d like to be less fat.”  Go on Weight Watchers.  Lose 30+ lbs.
  • ~2005:  244 lbs.  “Why am I still so fat?  I thought I did something about this already.”  Use e-diets.  Lose 90+ lbs.
    • Before I started this one, I told myself not to get my hopes up:  “Heidi, losing weight will not solve all your problems!  You may feel better, but your life won’t somehow magically become perfect.”
      • I was wrong.  My life was WONDERFUL when I was at that lower weight.
    • Around the 165-lbs. mark, people started asking if I was okay.  They started saying I looked too thin.  I’ve since recognized this phenomenon myself, through seeing other friends lose weight.  When you’re so used to seeing someone with a bit (or a lot) of roundness and curviness, it can look quite strange when they suddenly develop angles.  And that’s how it happens:  suddenly.  Even if you’re losing weight at a very reasonable and healthy .5-2 lbs. per week, people (including you, sometimes) will just suddenly notice the change one day.  It seemed to me that if I’d always been that size, I wouldn’t have looked abnormally skinny, but comparatively, I was very small.  That said, I think I’d be happy and comfortable closer to 160 than 150.  I had to work constantly to stay around 150, whereas my body feels pretty even-keel at 160.
  • ~2008-2009:  160’s-170’s.  “Must eat all the time!  It’s because I’m so active, though, so it’s okay.”  I was in college again and thought I’d made a sufficient lifestyle change with my previous diet to stop counting calories and just trust my body.
    • My body is not to be trusted.
      • (That was a joke.  I was actually pretty comfortable in this weight range.)
  • ~2010:  221.  “Oh, poor me!  Cooking healthy foods is too much work!”  A tragedy in 2009 had meant spending several weeks at the hospital with a loved one, and my ability to take care of myself started declining.  He didn’t actually need me to do much for him for very long at all, but I chose to expend tons of energy on worrying and obsessing, even about things that are relatively easy to take care of, like paying bills.  I used this as a (subconscious) excuse to eat like crap and never exercise.
  • ~2011:  247.  “Dammit.  Ah, well, fuck it.”  I only weighed myself once in 2011.  I think I intended to do something about it again, but I didn’t.
  • ~2012:  256.6.  “How did this happen again?  I thought at least those pounds I lost on Weight Watchers would stay gone…”  My doctor starts worrying about my health.  I use MyFitnessPal to count calories.  Lose about 60 lbs.
  • ~2013:  187.2.  “Feeling pretty good!  Looking good!”  I start getting compliments like, “You look so healthy!” and “You seem like you’ve got so much energy!”  (Those are good compliments.  The people giving those compliments know that it’s not necessarily helpful to just shout “You’ve lost weight!  Congratulations!” to a person, as it may imply that their thinner self is more valuable than their fatter self.)
    • This was when I was doing one ‘cheat day’ a week, when I’d eat whatever I wanted and not log anything in my calorie diary.  That turned into two half-day cheats.  Then two basically-full-day cheats.  Then three.  Then it was over.
      • I was totally burned out on counting calories and being hungry and weighing everything I put in my mouth and trying to estimate how much of something was in that sandwich and, and, and.
  • September 7, 2014:  261.8.  “Yeah, that’s about what I expected. … Fuck.”  When I went to my doctor last year, my HDL was low and my LDL was high.  I ate a bunch of flax and walnuts, and when I went back this year, those were fine, but my triglycerides were high.  She recommended getting some exercise.  She said we’d check again in six months, and if the numbers weren’t better, we’d start discussing medications.
    • I did not want to discuss medications, much less take medications.
      • I also did not want to count calories.
  • September 20, 2014 [today]:  254.6.  Lost 7.2 lbs.  The rest of this entry is about why.

You should’ve known better than to trust me when I said that history would be brief.  There’s nothing brief in Heidiland.  Except a pictorial comparison:

Circa 2006.  Mike took this when I was looking at my computer.

Circa 2006. Mike took this when I was looking at my computer.

Close to now-ish.  Spriggan as palate cleanser.

Close to now-ish. Spriggan as palate cleanser.

 

So!  If the idea of counting calories makes me want to throw myself into a bonfire, what am I doing this time?  One word:  LCHF.  Oh, wait, that’s an acronym.  One acronym, four words:  LCHF.  Low Carb, High Fat.

It all started when I kept seeing this article going around facebook about how a low-calorie diet doesn’t work for long-term, sustainable weight loss.  I started wondering what else was available, and I remembered one of my friends saying that he did the ketogenic diet and that was how he lost a bunch of weight, keeps it off, and feels fantastic.  And it didn’t make him hungry.

HALLELUJAH!

 

When I’d first looked up the ketogenic diet, though, I thought for sure it was impossible for a vegetarian.  The idea, as I understand it, is to stop providing your body with glucose to burn and make it burn fat instead.  If you eat a bunch of carbohydrates, your body uses a little bit for energy and stores the rest as fat; if you mostly supply fat, your body will take its second-string and burn that instead.  So, on this diet, you eat VERY few carbs, a lot of fat, and an adequate amount of protein.

Now, you may, like me, be one of those people who rolled her eyes so hard they hurt when everyone was jumping on the Atkins bandwagon way back when.  I still roll my eyes at Atkins, but for different reasons.  The more I investigated, though, the more sound the science seemed.  The key is to eat REAL food, with a high percentage of your diet coming from fat, an average percentage from protein, and a very low percentage from carbs.  The site I liked best was this one:  www.dietdoctor.com.  Several things seemed great about that one:

  1. I can’t find anything that he’s selling.  I’m not saying he doesn’t have anything to offer for sale, but I couldn’t find any books or products or gimmicks that would directly benefit the pockets of the author.  I don’t even remember seeing any third-party ads on the site.  It feels like he’s just writing about what he thinks will work.  (I could be wrong, but that’s my impression.)
  2. He seeks out other experts on the subject and doesn’t act like he knows everything.
  3. The advice is written in a non-prescriptive, easily-adaptable manner.  There’s a list of foods to eat, and there are tips on what it may feel like to transition from a higher-carb diet to a lower-carb one.
    1. He recommends REAL food, meaning food without a bunch of mystery ingredients.  (One of my problems with South Beach or Atkins is that they recommend these highly-processed foods that have had naturally-occurring carbs removed or deadened or encased or whatever-the-hell-they-do-to-make-carbs-act-less-carby.)
    2. He gives some ideas about what to do if you’re not getting the results you’d like just eating whatever you want within the low-carb food list.

My favorite part of this way of eating?  NO. COUNTING.  If I were trying hard to be sure I was in a keto-adaptive state at all times, I’d probably have to count carbs, but for the moment, I’m just eating as much as I want of low-carb foods.

What about the vegetarian thing?  This resource was pretty helpful to me on that front:  A Primarily Vegetarian Guide to Keto.  Not necessarily as easy as doing it as a meat-eater, but at least I knew it was possible.

No, I said “possible”. Not “possumble”.

 

I spent the first 7 days eating all the carby foods in my kitchen.  I was also starting to eat more fats to see if it seemed sustainable.  High-fat and high-carb does not a diet make, but I figured it didn’t make sense to have a freezer full of microwave pasta entrees if I were really going to make a go of this.

The last 7 days, I’ve been doing a low-carb diet, eating only the foods on that list up there (the link to the Diet Doctor website goes directly to the list).  For an ovo-lacto-vegetarian, that means a lot of eggs and a lot of avocados.  Here’s how it’s been going so far:

  • Day 1:  Eggs, cheese, heavy cream with tea, avocado.
    • “WOOOOOO!  This is great!  So delicious!  No counting!!”
  • Day 2:  Eggs, cheese, heavy cream with tea, avocado.
    • “… woooooo… more… eggs.  yay…”
  • Day 3:  Eggs, cheese, heavy cream with tea, Brussels sprouts!, stuffed mushrooms!, salad!
    • “Oh, mmm, yes, vegetables, I love you so much.”
  • Day 4:  Eggs, cheese, heavy cream with tea, Brussels sprouts, stuffed mushrooms, salad.
    • “Fuckin’ eggs.  Maybe I just won’t eat.”
  • Day 5:  Eggs, cheese, heavy cream with tea, Brussels sprouts, stuffed mushrooms, salad, kale!, tofu!
    • “Oh, kale, you’re so delicious.  Where have you been all my life?!  I love you more than eggs.  Don’t tell eggs.”
  • Day 6:  Eggs, cheese, heavy cream with tea, salad, kale, tofu, celery!, peanut butter!
    • “Oh wait, eggs with kale in them are DELICIOUS!  Hurray!  I love you again, eggs.  Don’t be mad.”
      • “P.S. Celery, I know we sometimes have a hard time because you smell so gross, but I’m really diggin’ your fresh crisp.”
  • Day 7:  [so far] Bengal spice tea (decaf chai) with coconut milk [the kind from a carton analogous to almond milk, not the canned stuff] and flax seed oil.
    • “Ewwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!!!  Ew ew ew ew ew!!!  Do NOT put flax oil in this ever again!!!  What hast thou WROUGHT?!?!”

The above is not an accurate portrayal, really.  It’s dramatized to make it worth reading.  I also ate olives, green beans, cauliflower, sprouts, seeds and nuts of various kinds, and other good things I’ve likely forgotten.  This is more an emotional list than a realistic list.

Anyway, the point is that I’ve had a few moments when I’ve thought, “I cannot eat one more creamy, buttery, fatty thing.  I just want an apple, goddammit.”  But I get past those pretty quickly.  I think sometimes it’s because I’m still withdrawing from carbs and I just want to eat even though I’m not hungry.  Also, I hadn’t yet realized just how many wonderful vegetables were on the list; once I got some cucumbers up in here, I felt much better.

“Ooh, hey there baby. How YOU doin’?

 

Another funny thing I noticed [caution:  not actually funny] was how ingrained fatphobia can be.  I thought of myself as a pretty enlightened soul in this regard; I have often been heard to say things like, “Fat is not inherently bad!” and “I’m cooking in butter because it TASTES better that way!” and “Why the hell doesn’t anyone make whole-milk yogurt anymore?!?!?”  However, I, too, felt a twinge of a cringe when I was pouring heavy whipping cream into my Madagascar Vanilla Red tea.  I don’t get that way about sugar, which indicates to me that I am definitely a child of the fatphobic ’80’s.  As they point out on so many of these LCHF websites, you can’t cut carbs AND fat; you gotta get over your fear of fat to do it.

See how cute fat is?

 

How much of this ‘research’ and ‘advice’ that I’m taking is just my confirmation bias at work?  Who knows?  I haven’t been lazy about it, but I also haven’t gone around reading a bunch of studies (the actual studies, not the articles about articles about studies), so it’s possible that this will have been a terrible mistake and I’ll have a heart attack in a month or two.  However, I think even with the increased fat content, I’m eating much more healthily now than I was before, and continuing to gain weight wasn’t doing me any favors.

That reminds me, one of the great things about this way of eating is that I’m so rarely hungry anymore.  One reason the proponents give for the healthful nature of a high-fat diet is that it’s really hard for people to overdose on fat or protein.  (Whereas it’s very easy to O.D. on carbs because of the nature of the glucose spike-withdrawal-craving cycle.)  That feeling of fullness keeps me from overdoing it (and/or makes it super-easy to recognize when I have), and I’m satiated for so much longer.  Examples:

  • I eat two eggs with cheese and some dark leafy stuff at about 7:30 am, and by about 12:30, I’m finally thinking, “Hmm, maybe I should eat something?  I guess?”
    • When I was eating an egg-and-cheese biscuit and hash browns for breakfast at 8:00 am, by 10:30, I’d be thinking about food a lot, and by 11:30, I’d be internally screaming “MUST EAT OR DIE!!!!!!!!!”  That’s a pretty big difference.
  • I eat a large salad filled with veggies and cheese and nuts and stuff at about 9:00 pm, and when I go to bed at 1:00 am, I’m still comfortable and happy.
    • I used to eat to overfullness at least 3 times before bed.  I’d eat a meal’s-worth of food every 2 hours or so and still snack in between.  I’d sometimes go to bed hungry and sometimes miserably full, but the feeling of quiet satiety was totally foreign.

So!  I’m pretty happy about the way things are going so far.  It’s really only a week in, so I may change my tune, but I’m glad to be on the wagon again.

 

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