Diet & Dieting

I weighed 150lbs when this photo was taken. I barely even recognize myself here.

When I look at photos that my husband took of me at the Ren Fest this year, I am ashamed. I’d put on so much weight, I could hardly recognize myself anymore. I don’t really see it in the mirror, but in those photos, it’s all too obvious. We were both wearing too much weight, which can cause huge health issues down the road.

I am keenly aware that different diets work better or worse for different people. And by “diet” I don’t mean “a temporary phase where one restricts food intake in some way” – I mean the first definition of the word: the usual food and drink of a person or animal. If a person is overweight, and restricts their diet in some way only temporarily, then any weight loss and health benefits will also be only temporary. Therefore my husband and I wanted to find a permanent diet that would work for us to reach and maintain a healthy weight.

Two years ago, I tried eating “low carb”. I didn’t actually count carbs or keep a food diary, but I eliminated high carb foods from my diet. No rice, potatoes, pasta, candy or other sources of sugar, etc. I didn’t drink alcohol at all, I got on the treadmill for at least an hour a day EVERY SINGLE DAY. I did this for 12 weeks… and gained a pound. And no, it’s not like I lost a bunch of fat and gained muscle. The diet just didn’t work for me. My only guess is because regular exercise tends to make me ravenous, so I was probably just consuming too many calories, even if they were all “good” calories. So after 12 weeks of hard work and disappointing results, I gave up.

Last year, my husband and I tried Atkins for the first time. We weighed all our food and kept a diary. We didn’t really exercise. Most people quickly lose a lot of weight up front on Atkins, mostly water weight, and then the weight loss slows down to a healthy rate. But for us, the diet wasn’t working the way we’d hoped. We stayed under 20 carbs a day, though carbs were the only thing we tracked. After two months, I had lost 8lbs and my husband had lost about 18lbs, although I kept bouncing back up by a few pounds here and there and had a hard time even staying at what I’d lost, let alone losing any more. Again, we gave up.

It’s hard for me to deny myself things I want if I’m not seeing results. I can put up with just about anything if I’m making progress, but if everything seems pointless, I usually can’t find the motivation to keep on going.

But this year, I had an epiphany. Whereas before, I had internalized the idea of “no more than 20 carbs per day” – my husband and I were consuming most of those carbs every day in one sitting. We made enormous salads, delicious and healthy, but a huge spike in carbs. When I went back and looked again, I realized it was more important to keep our blood sugar as steady as possible throughout the day.

So on April 10th this year we started again. This time we started keeping a spread sheet, tracking fiber, carbs, protein, and calories. Again, we weigh all our food and track everything that goes into our bodies. And again, we’re not really exercising. But this time, we try to keep our meals to around 6-7 carbs each, so we spike our blood sugar every day.

And of course, eating a low-carb diet also trends towards low-calorie as well. High-carb foods like rice and potatoes have a lot of calories packed in them, so keeping them out of our diet has allowed us to reduce our caloric intake by a lot, I’m sure. Though we didn’t track our calories specifically before, I know we were consuming a lot. Our favorite meal at Denny’s is something like 1500-2000 calories for each of us. Granted, we’d often split that into two meals, but that’s still not all we’d eat in that one day. And sometimes we’d get milkshakes as well, another 800 calories each. So I know we were consuming a lot of calories and a lot of carbs before.

It’s been about 8.5 weeks so far, and our results are excellent. I’ve lost 18lbs and my husband has lost 37lbs. Each of us does sometimes go over 20 carbs in a given day, purely by accident. We also allowed ourselves to get high-carb foods for our anniversary, so there were a couple days in there where the carb count was very high. But our averages are very good: in this 8 week period, I have averaged 18 carbs per day, and my husband is under 16. And my calorie count has averaged about 1110, and my husband’s has been 910. So, between low carb and low calorie, and keeping our blood glucose levels as even as possible, we’ve been losing weight at a satisfying pace.

From my early 20s through my early 30s, my weight stayed right around 115lbs. I looked and felt good, and I didn’t mind showing off my tummy.

My goal weight is technically 120, though I’m not sure if I’m going to stop there. In my mid-20s, 120lbs was my “warning weight” – that is, I knew I was putting on too much weight when I hit that. My normal weight was 115-117. So once I get down to 120, I will reevaluate to see if I want to try to get back down to 115. Imagine fitting into all my jeans again!

The Atkins advice is to slowly increase your daily carb intake as you approach your goal weight. You slow down the weight loss until you find that happy medium, where you can eat a given number of carbs per day, and maintain that healthy weight. But I’m not sure I want to handle it exactly this way. There are a lot of foods my husband and I LOVE, that are just too high in carbs to ever be part of a “daily” diet. So here’s what we think we may do: We’ll find a happy medium to maintain weight, but eat slightly under that happy medium. Then once per month, or maybe more often, depending on how it affects our weight, we’ll be allowed to eat foods that are normally off limits. This mostly means rice or potatoes. So we want to be able to go get Chicken Tikka Masala on rice at our favorite Indian restaurant. And we want to be able to have sushi, or Chinese food, or our favorite dishes from P.F. Changs. (Notice this is all a bunch of rice, which was probably our biggest offender.) We’d also like to be able to make breakfast casserole with potatoes from time to time. Or have a breakfast sandwich, or Eggs Benedict (mine would be gluten free, of course).

Given that we allowed ourselves to eat at P.F. Chang’s for our anniversary, I think this might work. I did gain 3lbs after that day, but it only took me a couple days to lose that weight again, so it wasn’t a catastrophe.

The reason Atkins works so well for me, is because I can eat whenever I’m hungry. If the plan is to restrict calories, then once you reach that calorie count for the day, you’re done. If you get hungry later, too bad! But with Atkins, I’m not restricting calories. (We’re tracking them, but not limiting ourselves to a specific number.) If I’m close to the carb limit for a day, I can always go get some hard cheese, or make an omelette (eggs are only 0.6 carbs each). As I said above, I have gone over 20 carbs here and there, but not frequently, and not by much. And I never have to think to myself “I’m hungry, but I can’t eat because of my restrictions.” I can eat whenever I want!

I know this diet doesn’t work for everyone. For some people, restricting calories, or using a “points” system, or some other method works better. But I’m pleased that I’ve found a method that really works well for me, and thankfully, my husband as well. I know it would be better if we could integrate exercise into our routines, but so far we haven’t found that motivation. But diet is the single biggest contributing factor to health and weight, so keeping that under control is a big step forward.