The Schwarzbein Principle: The Truth About Losing Weight, Being Healthy, and Feeling Younger by Diana Schwarzbein, M.D. and Nancy Deville. This book is very much packed full of information — the actual physiology of nutrition, as well as numerous examples from Schwarzbein’s clinical practice. Overnight this book has changed my mind about a lot of things that I previously believed about food, particularly about how many carbohydrates I should eat, & how many fats & what kind. I no longer believe in “low fat.” Or even, for that matter, in “low saturated fats.” My definition of what bad fats are has changed: hydrogenated, human-manufactured, trans-fats, damaged fats. I will be no doubt writing more about fats & other stuff I’ve learned from this book in other posts. Take what you like & leave the rest.
The result of this book is not that my previous program has been overturned, but rather it’s been modified. Primarily: much lower carbohydrate intake, in line with my current body composition & activity level. I am no longer going to worry at all about eating “too much” fat or “too much” protein — just whether they’re good or bad.
Schwarzbein believes — & has the knowledge of physiology & endocrinology to back it up, plus clinical experience with actually helping patients — that hormonal imbalances, & in particular imbalances of insulin, are behind most of the degenerative diseases that are afflicting us. Not just Type 2 diabetes, but also heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, etc. etc. etc. And that the imbalances of insulin are due chiefly to the ideology (my word, not hers) of “low fat/high carbs” that has dominated the diet industry & popular media at least in the U.S. since around 1980. (At least until it started becoming dominated by “low carb/high protein” diets.) Much like the low carb/high protein people (as I understand it), Schwarzbein says that fats have been wrongly maligned & that the emphasis on high carbs over the past 20-25 years is one of the chief causes of the current epidemic of obesity & degenerative diseases, because it’s low fat/high carb more than anything that has led to imbalances in insulin in the body.
Basically, Schwarzbein says: eat however much healthy fats & proteins as you want; as for carbs, don’t go down too or ultra-low, but only eat as many carbs as is consonant with your metabolic activity, because if you eat more carbs than you actually need for your energy requirements it will translate into fat.
For my current body composition, which I deem to be “overweight with excessive ‘insulin-meter'” (i.e., fat around mid-section), & my current level of activity, which I deem to be “somewhat active” (moderately active with a total of approx. 2 to 4 hours of exercise a week… though it is beginning to increase), that translates as having no more than about 15 grams of carbs per meal or snack, counting 3 meals & 2 snacks. Or in my case on most days, five 300-or-so calorie meals.
Okay, now to what happened to me this morning. I was about halfway through the Schwarzbein book when I ate breakfast. Because it’s a Sunday, I didn’t get up as early, which affects how many meals a day I can reasonably eat with space in between them for digestion, etc. So I simply made a bigger breakfast, being sure to balance it per the principles I already knew of not taking carbs by themselves, but balancing with fats, proteins, & non-starchy veggies. My breakfast was about a cup of oatmeal with a tbsp. of butter, a handful of blueberries, a handful of walnuts, a tsp. of cinnamon, & maybe a half-cup of whole milk, plus three whole eggs scrambled with about 1/4 of an onion & four cheese curds. And my fiber supplement of psyllium husk in water. This amounted to about 47 grams of carbs, of which 12.5 were fiber so “only” 34.5 grams of carbs that would actually raise blood glucose; about 37 grams of protein; about 35 grams of fat.
I thought that the protein & fat & fiber would moderate the glycemic effect of the carbs. But now I think the glycemic load was still too high. I discovered this when, maybe a half-hour after completing my meal, I began to feel this sort of thrumming sensation in my body — a kind of buzz in the blood that I have begun to associate with blood glucose being higher than I like it. (Or maybe insulin levels. Or maybe both.) So I tested. 155 mg/dL.
Now, conventional wisdom says that the target I’m shooting at is to have my BG at <140 mg/dL two hours after eating, & this was only one half-hour after finishing eating (maybe an hour after beginning). Maybe my BG would have gone down below 140 in two hours. But it didn’t feel good, it didn’t feel right. I abandoned my plan to ride with my partner up to Kaladi Brothers/Title Wave for my writing day, & instead walked up there to work off the higher blood sugar. Twenty minutes brisk walk, part of it uphill. By the time I got there my B.G. stood at 88, & I felt a lot better. But in case it might there might be excess insulin still floating around & still working away at the glucose, I ate a small handful of dehydrated apple as insurance against reactive hypoglycemia.
A little later, I read in Schwarzbein’s book: “It is true that you can burn off excess sugar as energy. However, you cannot burn off the excess insulin that has been secreted to match the high sugar.” (p. 137) And too much insulin, as she explains, creates a whole host of metabolic problems — not just to fat around the waist, but also disrupting the activities of other hormones.
For right now, I’m modifying my plan to Schwarzbein’s recommendations: no more than 15 or so grams of carb per meal (at five small meals per day, in line with the suggestions of Tom Venuto’s Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle program). This amounts to about 75 grams of carb/day. When my composition changes and/or my level of activity changes, then I can afford an increase in carbs, but probably not before.
This is not a matter of ratios between carbs & proteins & fats, because the carbohydrates will be dependent on my body composition & activity levels, regardless of how much protein or fat I’m eating. As for protein & fat, I will eat however much I need to eat to feel satiated at each meal.
(There’s some interesting stuff in Schwarzbein’s book, BTW, on the different feedback mechanisms between protein & fat & carbohydrates that even let you know that you’ve had enough. The short version is: your brain gets the message that you’ve had enough a lot earlier w/ proteins/fats than with carbs: proteins/fats when they’re still in the stomach, carbs not until they’re fully digested & it’s already too late to stop.)
Thanks to Charles who first lent me this book on Winter Solstice after the labyrinth, when the sense of purpose to follow a healing path first entered me. I think my mom would thank you too.
[Note, 9 Aug 2006: based on a reading of Schwarzbein’s second book, The Schwarzbein Principle II: The Transition, as well as my own experience, I later modified my carb intake upward to abou
20-25 grams per meal, for a total of about 100-125 grams per day (five small meals per day). I found that if I ate less carbs than that, I would experience increased problems with irritability & depression. My current eating plan is described in the post “State of my art 3” (18 Jul 2006).]