Monday, July 28, 2014

Update: Part 2

As I was saying in the first part of my update, after a cookie-filled Christmas and a home improvement project from hell that was fueled by sugar and caffeine, I had made myself extremely sick.  After I recovered, I decided it was time to cut out sugar and wheat completely, and really get serious about my low carb diet so I could lose the 10 pounds I'd put on (that put me at 195 pounds).  But after 60 days of no sugar or wheat, low carb eating, and even a week or two of low carb low calorie dieting (which left me feeling terrible, by the way, and Chad reminded me might not be good for my chances of getting pregnant), the weight didn't budge an inch. 

I was feeling terrible about myself.  It seemed like nothing I could do would make me lose the weight I'd put on.  I knew in my heart that low carb eating should make it come off pretty quickly, especially since it was all the carbs that made me put it on in the first place.  I wondered if it was the illness that made me hold onto the weight, that maybe I needed the extra weight to continue healing.  But all the weight I'd gained was sitting right on my stomach, and I'm certain that that's unhealthy fat that doesn't do you any good.  Maybe I wasn't low carb enough!  But I was fairly low carb, ranging between 50g and 80g a day, mostly from veggies and dairy.  I thought about doing a Fat Fast, the technique that Dr. Atkins would use to help his low carb patients get a jumpstart on weight loss; the problem with that is that it's 1000 calories a day of mostly fat, and as someone who has no gall bladder, eating large quantities of fat with nothing mixed with it makes my stomach pretty upset.  Plus, as I said before, Chad and I are still trying to conceive a baby, and I believe with all my heart that I shouldn't purposely cut calories (even though I did there for a short while; I was pretty desperate). 

I was pretty much giving up at that point the idea that I'd ever get back to 185, a weight that I was comfortable at.  I wasn't skinny in any sense, but I was healthy.  I had big round hips and thighs, giving me a pretty good pear shape, but I liked that about myself.  I looked feminine, robust, a daughter of the earth, a vessel of fertility.  But then I gained 10 pounds, and it went straight to my stomach, and now I feel truly fat.  Plus, when I got sick, I lost a lot of the muscle mass that I had gained when I started eating meat.  I felt weak, flabby, and fat, and I really hated it.  But still I ate low carb, because I was convinced that it was the only true way. 

By total chance, I decided to check out Tom Naughton's blog for the first time in a few months.  He's someone I really trust when it comes to nutrition.  He's smart but also sensible, and  his documentary Fat Head is actually what got us to go low carb in the first place.  So when Tom started writing about resistant starch, I paid attention.  Yes, I'd heard about RS before, and like everyone else I'd rejected it out of hand.  I mean, it was a starch, right?!  Everyone knows that starch is bad for you!  But Tom's post really made me think. 

I mean, at first I was very against it.  It seemed so against everything I'd been reading for, gosh, two years now on my low carb journey.  Suddenly it felt like everything I'd read was wrong.  It was almost like when I found out that sugar and wheat and carbs were what made me fat!  It was like my world turned upside down.  Which is funny, because RS isn't that big of a deal!  It's a small thing, but it's an important small thing.

As an experiment, Chad and I decided to start incorporating small amounts of real food RS into our diets.  Cooked and cooled potatoes and rice and occasionally beans, plus some green bananas here and there.  At first it was kind of awful.  My reaction was to get uncomfortably gassy, and Chad's was to get constipated.  I worried most about Chad, because that's a symptom I hadn't heard about in all the comments and talks about what to expect.  He was persistent, though; he wanted to make sure he gave it a good long trial before quitting. 

I think it was two or three weeks before we started feeling normal again.  Actually, I started feeling more than normal; I was feeling genuinely great.  When I was stuffing myself with sugar and caffeine, I felt terrible; when I started eating low carb again, I felt ok.  It wasn't until I got used to the RS that I started to actually feel great.  I was happy a lot, I had energy, I was motivated.  Some days I'd write in my journal that I couldn't believe how happy I was. The only genuine change we'd made at that point was the RS in the form of a potato or cup of rice a day plus a green banana every other day.

The story from here gets a little fuzzy because I started devouring information as much as I could.  I was very intrigued about RS, but suddenly I knew there must be more out there too.  I'd always had a nagging feeling that strictly cutting carbs long term might not be good for your health, especially for women.  So when the RS experiment went so well, it reawakened that thought and I began researching.  Tom Naughton interviewed Paul Jaminet on his blog about both his book Perfect Health Diet and also the whole RS topic; some of Paul's answers really surprised me.  For the most part in the past, I'd ignored Paul's ideas because it seemed to fly in the face of most of my low carb ideas, and try as I might to be open minded, I just didn't want to think about it.  Admittedly, it's really hard to digest so many food and nutrition ideas when no one is really sure about any of it and everyone has their own version of the truth.

The part of the interview that was most amazing to me was how Paul says on a low carb diet, you can become carb starved and that's when the cravings kick in hardcore.  That the reason your body can make glucose (through gluconeogenesis) is because you need it so much, and that maybe we should eat more starches to help our bodies out (in the same way that our bodies need cholesterol so much that it makes it, but we should still eat it so we don't overtax our bodies by having to make it all).  It made me wonder if that's why I was falling off the wagon so often in my years as a low carber.  I mean, I could certainly eat low carb and feel pretty happy, but eventually, once or twice a month, I'd eat something I knew I shouldn't and felt pretty powerless to stop myself.  Was I carb starved?  Did my body just crave glucose?  It certainly rang true with the nagging doubts I'd had about being low carb long term.

Then, kind of by the grace of God, I came across a book called Cure Tooth Decay just as I found a hole in my tooth, so I bought it that day.  And this book was largely inspired by Dr. Weston A. Price's book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration (you can read the first edition for free at Project Gutenberg; however, his second edition, which has many additional chapters, isn't available free and must be purchased), which I then just had to read.  Both are very good reads, but I would suggest Nutrition and Physical Degeneration first because it's highly scientific and informative whereas Cure Tooth Decay, though a very good book, seems more emotionally based (at least to me). 

I ended up reading through Dr. Price's book in a few days because it just fascinated me enormously.  He traveled the world for ten years in the 1930s and 40s, searching for groups of people with naturally healthy teeth.  Specifically, he searched for societies where he could compare those people who were eating their traditional diets and those who were eating modern foods of civilization to act as a control.  What he found was amazing; not only did their traditional diets protect them from tooth decay, but also from disease and deformities, and it made them happier, less prone to crime, and they had easy fertility and women had very easy births.  Something in my heart knew this was the way for me.  I found the Weston A. Price Foundation's website, and started reading everything I could about their dietary recommendations. 

Now it's not like the principles of the WAPF diet are too different from how I was eating on a low carb diet.  It's still heavy on animal products, it believes that saturated fat is healthy, there's lots of veggies and some fruit, it doesn't like you using refined sugar, vegetable oil or white flour, and the way I'm eating it is still technically low carb (100g-150g carbs a day).  The biggest difference is their focus on nutrient density, which, honestly, was something I never thought about on a low carb diet.  If it was low in carbs, well, I ate it.  But now, I try very hard to make sure we eat the most nutrient dense foods first and fill the rest out with whatever low carb foods we like. 

The first thing we added was Fermented Cod Liver Oil and High Vitamin Butter Oil (yes, in all caps, because it's that important), which provides lots of natural vitamin A, D, and K2, which are fat soluble vitamins that are surprisingly hard to get enough of in our society.  The next thing we added was liver and marrow at least once every two weeks; marrow is pretty easy to eat in soups, but liver is an ongoing struggle for me being a super taster and general picky eater.  I'm working on it, though.  I wish I could add more organ meats, but unfortunately we don't have much access to anything else.  We also started eating as much organic as we could afford to. 

I started fermenting vegetables.  I just finished my second batch of sauerkraut yesterday.  It also takes some getting used to, but it's delicious and, along with the RS, I know it's helping to feed my gut.  I make lacto-fermented mayonnaise as well, and have even started a ginger bug to make lacto-fermented drinks soon.  After a lot of searching, I managed to find a source of raw milk relatively locally and we're drinking a large glass each every day, plus raw cheese whenever we can afford it.

There is one big change we made that will probably make low carbers and paleo folks both gasp in shock and horror; I started baking bread again.  Not just any bread, though.  Once a week or so, I mix up a batch of traditionally soured bread dough, either spelt, rye, or a low gluten whole wheat.  Then I make it into whatever we're feeling like that week, either bread, English muffins, or, Chad's favorite, pizza dough (you haven't lived until you've tried sourdough pizza!).  I didn't do this lightly; I've read Wheat Belly and I understand the problems with wheat and other gluten containing grains.  But I've also done my homework and understand that when you traditionally sour dough, you not only deactivate the phytates, you break down the gluten as well as some of the other nasty bits found in wheat.  There's even at least one study, although possibly more by now, that showed that celiacs can eat a sourdough bread without any damage to their intestines the way a conventional bread would.

I can attest to the difference between the two.  Conventional bread makes my heart pound, makes me feel all hot and uncomfortable, and riles up my IBS symptoms, whereas my sourdough bread doesn't do any of those things.  Plus, unlike most Americans, we're very careful not to eat too much of it; we generally eat only a small serving a day. 

This whole change in eating has been really interesting, exciting, and a lot of hard work.  Whereas I thought I worked pretty hard in the kitchen when I just ate low carb, now I literally make almost everything from scratch.  Bread, condiments, pickles, wraps, yogurt, jam, soup, bone broth -- you name it, I make it.  It's a labor of love, though.

So what's the result of all this hard work?  Well, the first thing that I noticed was a slow but steady reduction in weight.  Now, Chad's brother just came home for his yearly visit, which includes eating out as much as possible and as much junk food as you can get in your greasy pie hole.  Chad and I tried really hard to stay on track, with healthy low carb breakfasts and lunches most days, but it's hard to behave the whole time when you're in that environment for a week (especially because we spent four days in Pittsburgh during his visit and had to rely on restaurant food).  But before his brother came back, I was down to 190, a 5 pound weight loss in maybe a month and a half of WAPF style eating!  I gained a couple of pounds during the bro-in-law's visit, but it's already dropping steadily again, and I suspect by the end of this week I'll be back to 190.  The weight loss amazes me, because I'm higher carbs than I was before when I couldn't get the scale to budge an inch.  Add sourdough, potatoes and rice, and suddenly the weight is coming off. 

But other than weight loss, I have a deep feeling of being nourished for the first time in a long time.  I can't say I'm exactly happier or more energetic, at least not yet.  I feel like it's going to take a while to heal, not from the low carb diet but from years and years of being on a SAD vegetarian diet.  My nails, which were the first things to improve when I started eating meat, are suddenly even more awesome.  I actually look like I have a French manicure despite never wearing nail polish, because the nails are so smooth, and the tips are so thick and opaque. 

When I mentioned my nails before on my blog, people asked if I noticed my hair being different.  Back then, there wasn't any change at all, but now there's a true difference.  It's growing like weeds, for one thing; I managed to grow back three inches in just a couple of months, whereas wikipedia says hair usually grows at about half an inch a month.  I also lost about three white hairs.  Don't laugh!  I had five white hairs on the top right part of my head, and my hair being so dark, they were pretty visible.  Now, however, I seem to only have one or two up there, and I can't seem to find the others at all.  And although it could be the way I've been managing it, my hair seems curlier lately, too. 

Chad says he doesn't feel any different, but I can tell you for sure that he's happier, has more energy, he's more patient, and he's even managed to completely kick his caffeine habit.  And, yes, for those perverted people out there who must know, his libido seems to have increased.

I think the most important part about this whole change has been how connected it makes me feel to my food.  It's not just something I cook and eat; food is sacred, and you should be grateful for it every time you sit down to eat it.  Now I'm so much more involved in creating it, and truly understand that I'm feeding my body and not just my tongue.  I feel connected to the past, knowing that my grandma and her mother and all the mothers before her knew these exact principles and did everything they could to nourish their children with wholesome traditional foods.  I want to be a part of that tradition, and should Chad and I ever be blessed with children, I hope I can pass it along to them, too. 

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