From moderate-carb to low-carb

Being who I am, I have continually been mucking over the past few months with my nutrition. In this context, “being who I am” means that I can go geek with just about anything that interests me. So, when I was pursuing my master’s degree (Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, earned Dec. 1997), focusing on poetry, I became a prosody geek. (Prosody is the technical stuff in poetry having to do with rhythm, rhyme, etc.) When I became interested in family history, I became a genealogy geek. Now, as I try to improve my health, I am a nutrition geek.

I demonstrated that recently in some conversations I participated in with Tom Venuto at his Burn the Fat Inner Circle membership site about Gary Taubes’ book Good Calories, Bad Calories… & since my participation in that conversation ended (or went into abeyance, or whatever) I’ve been continuing to read & learn. I find that I agree with Tom about some stuff, but not about other stuff. For example, I agree with him that fat loss requires a caloric deficit. But I seem to disagree with him about how exactly the energy balance business works — i.e., is a calorie just a calorie, regardless of what kind of nutrient it is? Well, yes; but also no. That is, it’s a lot more complex than simply “calories in = calories out,” due to the complexities of how metabolism works inside the body. Being a geek, I am trying to learn more about how it all actually works.

Okay, well Tom has tended to focus in those conversations on the weight, specifically fat loss, aspects of energy balance (calories in/calories out). But for me, an insulin resistant prediabetic, I’m concerned about the health aspects of what I’m eating even more, so whether the calories are carb calories, protein calories, or fat calories is absolutely critical to me. And because of the emphasis of Burn the Fat Inner Circle is much more on fat loss than on metabolic health, it has appeared personally to me that there is a reluctance there to attend in much more than a (relatively) cursory fashion to the problems of insulin resistance. At least, relative to what I feel I need. Really, I think the deal is that while BFIC absolutely recognizes that insulin resistant (or, as they call it there, carb sensitive) people need a different diet than the moderately high carb diet recommended there for people who are insulin sensitive… there’s a wariness there of providing any possible platform there for low-carb cheerleaders who make bigger claims for low-carb eating than what’s actually warranted. That’s a reasonable fear, given that “one size fits all” approaches only ever really work for just some people. Evidence seems to show that while low-carb works very well for some people, it doesn’t work so well for many others.

Problem is that the overall skew in our culture about nutrition comes from the high-carb cheerleaders, led by organizations such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture with its food pyramid & the American Diabetes Association with its “let’s make diabetics even sicker than they already are” high-carb diets. These diets, again, only work for some people. They definitely do not work for diabetics or prediabetics. Unless, of course, you’re a pharmaceutical company for whom the sickness of diabetes is a perennial cash cow.

Given that many people who are trying to burn off the fat are insulin resistant, & the overwhelming evidence that high-carb diets are absolutely disastrous for us — well, I’ll just say that while BFIC continues to be a crucial part of my “fat loss” support system, that I’m also on the lookout for other resources as well, which are more natural supports for the kind of nutrition that I as an insulin resistant person need.

Am I a low-carb cheerleader? Well, no. In fact, two years ago, when I first began to overhaul my way of eating, I was quite wary, one might say suspicious, of low-carb approaches. After I read The Schwarzbein Principle, which provided what seemed the perfect model for me of how I should be eating, I was always at pains to refer to what I did as “moderate carb.”

But I’ve been undergoing a slow change of consciousness, especially over the past three months after diving back into nutrition geek mode. Especially after reading some of Richard K. Bernstein’s important work Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution. It comes down to this: if it makes my blood sugar go above normal levels, then I shouldn’t eat it.

And by normal levels, I mean normal levels. Not “what’s normal for a diabetic” or “what’s normal for a prediabetic.” I mean normal. And at this point in the game, that means eating fewer carbohydrates than what I was eating “moderate carb” level. And so, much to my surprise, I’m turning into a low-carber. Not because I think “low carb is for everyone.” But because it will work better for me. And yes, probably for most diabetics & prediabetics.

A new resource I found last week sums it up quite nicely for me:

My general experience has been that individuals who respond very well to high-carbohydrate/lower fat diets tend to do very poorly on low-carb/higher-fat diets. They feel terrible (low energy and a mental fog that never goes away), don’t seem to lean out very effectively and it just doesn’t work.

his cuts both ways: folks who don’t respond well to higher carbs do better by lowering carbs and increasing dietary fat. Sometimes that means a moderate carb/moderate fat diet, sometimes it means a full blown ketogenic diet. I should also note that some people seem to do just as well on one diet as another.

— from “Insulin Sensitivity and Fat Loss” by Lyle McDonald

I think Tom Venuto would actually agree with most of that, though perhaps not the part about ketogenic diets, which he seems quite wary of. But me…well, in fact, I ran into Lyle McDonald because rather to my surprise over the past few months, I’ve become convinced that eating a ketogenic diet (in which body energy is mostly supplied by free fatty acids & ketones from body fat, rather than glucose from carbs), at least for a time, might be exactly the route I need to go.

But more on that in another post.

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