For the past few months I've been slowly mulling over a topic which is... kind of unusual, given that it's me mulling over it, because, you see, the topic is a...
And I use this word reluctantly here. "Diet", to me, is an ugly word. Most often I see it used as a way to describe restricting someone's food intake, and not just in a way of modifying what someone eats, but by simply finding ways of restricting it (and often enough - it is temporarily) in order to lose weight, battle a disease or other - sometimes just plain cultural - reasons.
(By the way: I even struggle to make proper sentences when I describe what a word "diet" means to me. Just try reading that paragraph above!)
But nevertheless, for the past few months I've been mulling over a certain diet, and as if by coincidence I keep stumbling over more and more information that pertains to it, and I'm kind of getting the feeling as if my eyes are opening to something that would've made sense to me a long time ago already, except I never knew about it until now.
And I'm sorry I keep rambling on without telling you what the heck it is that I've been thinking about, but it's just... so weird to me to think in terms of something that is, essentially, a diet. A way of eating.
And so the thing I am talking about is this: a high fat, low carb diet. LCHF they call it. (Low Carb High Fat.)
Have a look around and google it if you wish. There's quite a bit of information going around about it at the moment, and it's kind of easy to find stuff, but... I don't actually think that it's just another fad doing its rounds. I have a feeling that it's an actual, sensible information out there, providing that it's used well.
And so the things I've been mulling over are this:
A few months ago I came across an LCHF story in a blog I follow, kroku.wordpress.com, and because the author comes across as an exceptionally sensible person, I went and googled what the heck LCHF is.
At first I thought it's some sort of a fad making its rounds, a sort of an Atkinson diet doing its rebound. (And what I mostly know about an Atkinson diet is that whilst its practitioners were generally of healthy weights though they kept chugging down bacon, they kept dropping down of heart diseases, and that was about the extent of my knowledge.)
But then I got more and more intrigued.
The thing that got my attention the most was the fact that an LCHF way of eating was meant to stabilise blood sugar levels, and having been through the ordeal of having gestational diabetes when I was pregnant with The Girlie (and having learned a lot! about diabetes whilst I was finding ways of managing it), it seemed counter-intuitive to me that eating something fatty would help keep blood sugars down.
But then it started dawning on me: there's a difference between foods that are high in fat and foods that are high in fat whilst they're also low on carbs. It's like... eating a donut versus eating full-fat cream. One is high in fat and sugar (donut), the other just high in fat without giving the sugar hit.
And it also dawned on me that because carbs are so much easier to get energy from than fat - fat takes time to break down whereas sugar is ready almost straight away - then in order for someone to lose weight and use their own 'stored up' body fat, they have to first burn through sugars in their stomachs and intestines, before they can then get 'onto' their own fats.
That, basically, if someone eats a donut then the body will first 'eat up' all that donut and only then it will turn to 'eating' it own stored-up reserves. (Though first it will dunk the blood sugars and make the person really crave a snack so it can keep getting cheap, easy energy in forms of donuts, rather than making an effort to use up body fat.)
And the thing that blew my mind the most - though looking back I'm not even sure why it hadn't occurred to me earlier - was that my body doesn't really... need carbs if it can use my own body fat and the fat I eat. (By the way, it's a very interesting article I've linked here. Really. It's at blog.cholesterol-and-health.com/2012/01/we-really-can-make-glucose-from-fatty.html if you'd rather see the address than just click without knowing.)
Earlier I had thought that carbs are essential for energy, that basically every time my blood sugars go down I need to 'eat' some energy so my blood sugars can go up again and my body can metabolise it.
But then I was reading more and more into LCHF and I kind of went... "Whoa."
And I did pace myself in reading about it. In fact, I knew that I was becoming very excited with the idea and so whenever I noticed that I was reading more in order to find stuff that supports this theory, I usually stopped and just left it a day or two before I googled anything else, so I could maintain a healthy, balanced curiosity rather than a religion.
(That and the fact that my googling time is somewhat limited given the fact that I've got two kids and a personal life.)
And so gradually, I started implementing it.
I didn't do anything drastic, and never let myself get strict with it. I am so averse to the traditional idea of 'dieting' - I am a very firm believer in eating pretty much everything, but in moderation and with balance - that sometimes I would grab a chocolate cookie just for the heck of it, so I wouldn't teach myself to say "no" just for the sake of saying "no".
It's, like... a person can only so long survive on the continual restriction of food intake, eventually the brain is going to find a way of getting around it, so it might work to say "No, I won't eat!" for three months in a row, but eventually a person is going to get tired of always saying no, and they're going to eat, and eat lots.
So it's a case of managing an appetite rather than just restricting intake.
But sorry, I digress. Again.
I started to gradually cut out simple, sugary carbs. In the evenings when I would - out of habit - crave sugary snacks I would go to the fridge instead and get out carrots. Rather than trying to 'hold out' on the craving for a snack I found other foods that I could keep myself occupied with, and so a carrot would give my jaw something to chew on, and my brain something to register as food, and gradually I noticed that I was craving less and less sugary carbs.
I was also drinking over 3 litres of water a day, something I had started doing several months earlier as I had found that it was a very effective way of managing my epilepsy. Somehow on the body chemistry level dehydration is what triggers my seizures, and I don't know how it works, but it works. The more water I drink, the fewer seizures I have.
The side effect of drinking 3 litres water a day is that it's hard to eat a lot of food at a time. It doesn't fit! Because I drink water out of big, glass, beer-like mugs - 300 ml each - then after I down another glass of water there is only so much food I can eat at a time without feeling like I'd have to really cram it in to make it fit.
And so it happened that as I started cutting back on simple sugary foods - pasta, bread - and gradually increasing fatty foods (and eggs) alongside veggies, whilst downing those massive quantities of water, I was feeling less and less hungry. The food... lasted me longer.
And so I started noticing that I was eating less - and not because I was telling myself 'no', but because I felt like it. Even carrots started lasting in the fridge - somehow my brain had got used to eating less sugary food, and so I was craving less sugary food.
And I started needing a new pair of jeans.
And to be fair, losing weight had always been on my agenda. I had purposefully and knowingly 'eaten' myself up about 10 kg after each of my children were born just so that I would know for sure I had enough energy to produce breastmilk (I didn't have much when The Kid was born - not until they put me on special drugs - and it had been a traumatic experience), and so I had always known that I would gradually 'exercise' those 10 kg off again when I was finished with breastfeeding. Slowly.
But I noticed that it was somehow... easier than I had expected. At the doctor's office I stepped on the scales out of interest and turned out that I was at 67.5 kg rather than 71 kg, and I had expected it to take longer to get there - my idea had been more like doing maybe 0.5 kg a month.
And then I stumbled on another thing.
On my Fitbit watch which has an inbuilt heart rate monitor they had something they were calling a 'fat burn' zone and I was intrigued at how a mildly elevated heart rate is a fat burn zone, and so I googled it.
And I learned that... because fat is a reasonably difficult thing to break down, then if someone does really heavy exercise then a body can't actually keep up with those energy needs from fat alone and it will need carbs. But! If someone does reasonably mild exercise for which energy can be collected from fat, a body can use fat. Ie going on a walk, in terms of losing fat, is better than going for a run. It won't build muscle, but it will very effectively and steadily burn fat.
And then today I happened to hear Kim Hill interview Christopher McDougall which is an entirely fascinating discussion to listen to. They also talked about high fat diets, amongst other things.
And I am finding that gradually - very gradually! - I am changing the way I eat. Not just in terms of restricting, but in terms of modifying - I replace things for other things because it makes sense in my head, and then over time I am noticing that my body is getting used to it, too, and things are starting to taste different.
I still eat cake, and pasta - I still subscribe to the idea of eating everything, moderately and in balance - but the quantities are changing.
Right in the beginning as I was trying to get my head around the idea, I made a few comments on an Estonian blog of LCHF foods, and learned from its author. Now I am finding that my ears are getting fine-tuned to this information so that rather than going out and reading about it on purpose, I just... pick up details here and there, amongst other life. Kind of the same way I am fine-tuned to information in regards to neuroplasticity now, that rather than purposefully going and reading information in regards to children's brain development, I've let the topic sit in the back of my head instead and whenever I notice something that pertains to it, I add to it. Bit by bit.
And I find it... fascinating to think about food in terms of carbs and fats now, and how exactly body metabolises them, and what happens then with hormones and inflammation markers and energy levels and such.
And, yeah, I find it fascinating. Especially now that I've started working part-time - on the weekends - at the local bakery and seeing the sort of stuff bakery foods are made out of. It's, like... jesus christ there's a lot of sugar. And butter.
But sorry for such a long blog post :)