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My experience with the Atkins diet

by on Saturday, March 7th, 2009, under Atkins Diet

Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution

Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution

Hey everyone!  Today, I want to introduce you to the Atkins diet and explain how it has changed my life.  But first, I should let you know that I do not follow the diet 100% to the “T”, though I do generally stick to the guidelines set forth.  There is a book called “Dr Atkins’ New Diet Revolution” that you can get second hand on eBay for super cheap or you can usually pick it up at your local library.  If you are considering this diet, I highly recommend reading the book and discussing it with your doctor first.

So, how did I get started with Atkins?  Well, let’s go back a few years first.   Throughout high school, I weighed in at a lean 180 lbs and I stood 6’2″ tall.  After high school, I started putting on the pounds.  I don’t really know what changed, other than the fact that I was getting older, but during the next 4 years, I would add on 30 lbs a year.  Yep, at age 22, I weighed in at 301 lbs!  I ‘decided’ to go to the doctor to get a checkup at my mother’s request… You know how moms are 🙂 …  Turns out that this was a very eye opening experience.  I found out that I was generally in good health, but I had VERY high total cholesterol (to the tune of 298 mg/dL).  They wanted to start me on cholesterol medications right away, so I took the prescription and decided to try losing some weight to see how that affected things.

The average diet

I joined a gym (the RiverPlex in Peoria, IL), and I picked up swimming, 4 times a week for half an hour.  I started cutting back on my fat and calorie intake, and I took my daily dose of cholesterol medications up until my first check up.  Upon returning to my family doctor a couple of months later for blood work, we had noticed a great improvement in my cholesterol levels (190mg/dL) and I had lost 20 pounds.  All seemed to be well, but I was still overweight and my weight loss was not moving any further.  I decided to stop taking my medications (against my doctors recommendation) to see how my cholesterol levels looked with diet and exercise alone.  When I had my blood work done again, my total cholesterol jumped back up to 272mg/dL.  My doctor told me that it is likely genetic based on my family’s history, and that I will need to stay on the medications.  I have since come to peace with that, and I take my daily doses.  But, I was now motivated more than ever to lose the weight and see what happens.  Unfortunately, cutting out fat and calories meant I would leave the dinner table feeling hungry and deprived.  I was never able to maintain this for a long period of time and I could not get below 280 lbs.

Weight Watchers

My next step was to give Weight Watchers a shot.  I have to say, if you do Weight Watchers, the meetings do really help to motivate you.  Knowing that others are monitoring your progress gives you a little more will power when faced with a slice of pizza.  I managed to drop another 13 lbs by switching to this nutritional plan (sitting me at 267lbs).  I could not lose any more though because I could not satisfy my appetite on the points system.  I wanted this to work, but I was miserable the whole way.  I could not stand the thought of staying on this diet for another year, yet alone a lifetime.

The surgical contemplation

After a couple years of trying to lose weight, I felt like there was nothing that would make my food cravings go away in the long term, and I would rather live fat than miserable.  So as a last resort, I asked my family doctor about the Lap-Band procedure.  Knowing about the things I had tried, my doctor decided to recommend me for the procedure to the Peoria Surgical Group.   As an eligibility requirement, I had my Body Mass Index (BMI) checked using the BOD POD system at the RiverPlex.  The test calculated my BMI at 37.5, which meant that I needed to have 2 weight related health conditions to qualify for the surgery.  My doctor and I discussed this and determined that I would not qualify.  My only hope was to gain some more weight so that I would register a BMI of 40+ and qualify without the weight related medical conditions.  This was hardly an option for the health conscious.

A second opinion

My doctor retired a few months later, so I looked for a new family doctor a little closer to my home.  I needed to have blood work one, so I went to the local Proctor First Care and told them I needed a new family doctor.  While explaining my dieting history, my new doctor asked me about the kinds of diets I was trying.  He asked me to create a food log (from memory) so he could see exactly what I was eating on each of the diets and how much.  He noticed something that all of my food selections had in common; they were all high in carbohydrates.  Knowing that my reason for failure was that I never felt satisfied, he approached my dieting needs with a new perspective.  He requested that try the Atkins diet and limit my calorie intake to 1500 calories a day.  Having tried low calorie diets in the past, I quickly discounted the second part and decided to just try Atkins.

I bought the book and read through it.  This was very important for me because the book described why the diet works, and armed with this knowledge, I could make better decisions when I would select the foods to consume.  It sounded tough, since I LOVE Chinese, breads, and pastas; I didn’t know how long I would survive on the diet.  But I had faith (and no other options), so I bit the bullet and got started.

Breaking the carbohydrate addiction

This is something I want everyone to understand, and understand well.  I did not think I would last a month without all of the highly refined foods that I was use to.  I mean, bread is a staple of American cuisine.  But, there is an addiction…  An addiction that’s as real as the addiction many people suffer with Nicotine.  That’s why people think they would be miserable without these foods.  It’s quite synonymous to asking a smoker to give up their cigarettes.  The good news is, having battled both addictions, I can tell you that the carbohydrate addiction is much easier and quicker to break than a nicotine addiction.

If you follow the Atkins plan, you will experience carbohydrate withdrawals for a few days and find that your energy levels have plummeted.  Your body is use to converting carbohydrates into glucose for energy, and taking most of the fat you consume to ‘storage’ (to be used as energy if you ever find yourself “starving”).  When you cut out the carbohydrates, your body switches to burning fat for energy as if you are starving.  By burning fat for energy, your cravings for carbohydrates will greatly decrease, and you will find that the pasta you love so much isn’t screaming your name as loud as it use to.  Your body will no longer be able to maintain the fat stores it had built up when your consumed fat was primarily going to storage.  This is how a low-carb diet promotes fat loss.  Now, a low fat, high-carb diet can also achieve this because you will always burn a little fat, just not as your primary fuel on a high-carb diet.  If you burn a little fat, and consume even less, you will lose fat.  So why did the high-carb diets not work well for me?

Riding the glucose roller coaster

Glucose is the body’s fuel, and your body has a system in place that tells you to eat based on your glucose levels.  With high-carb diets, the refined carbohydrates are quickly converted into glucose creating a spike (simple carbohydrates like sugar convert almost instantly).  Initially, you will be very energetic but as the glucose depletes, it drops quickly from its high horse.  This drop triggers your hunger into action, and will make you feel drained.  Have you ever gone to a Chinese buffet and pigged out only to find yourself tired and wanting to take a nap an hour later?  Did you find yourself in front of the fridge, with your stomach in pain from overeating, looking for something to munch on?  This is a perfect example of how glucose spikes affect the body.  Stuffed to the gills, all you want to do is snack and sleep.  In my experience, the Chinese buffet will provide one of the most prominent demonstrations of a glucose spike, but most high-carb foods will create this effect in a subtle manner.  This is why I would never feel satisfied on a high-carb diet.  Every time my glucose quickly dropped an hour or so after a meal, I’d start grazing.

A low-carbohydrate diet forces fat to be your body’s primary source of glucose.  Fat is not an efficient energy source and it takes much more time to convert it to glucose.  This greatly reduces glucose spikes and stabilizes your blood sugar levels.  The hungry engine has been put on cruise control.  You will feel much more energetic because you are getting a constant supply of fuel, and you will not feel hungry nearly as often since glucose levels are not dropping as fast as the Dow Jones index is.  This cuts back greatly on how much you consume, thus promoting weight loss, naturally and healthily.

Is Atkins safe?

Don’t get me wrong, if you do any diet improperly, it could be very dangerous.  Many people did low-carb diets wrong, and everyone assumed that low-carb diets were unhealthy.  In the same breath, I want you to know that the same applies to a low fat diet.  If all you eat is angel food cake and maple syrup, you’re going to have health problems.  The proper Atkins diet promotes high intake of vegetables and healthy meats, but also allows moderate intake of fruits, cheeses, and nuts.  You may include grains and breads, but these will be the least consumed by volume.  Hmm, this sounds a lot like the things mankind was eating for thousands of years before the obesity pandemic, doesn’t it? 😉  If you want to know if it is safe, talk to your doctor about it.  After all, if you should trust anyone on what’s safe for you to eat, it should be your doctor.

I am being monitored by my doctor closely, and my overall health is looking better since starting the diet in March 2008.  Now, 1 year later, I am 56 lbs lighter than when I started (my current weight as of the time of this writing is 228 lbs), I am filling up at every meal, and I enjoy what I am eating.  I am excited about the idea of staying on this plan for a lifetime and I am very excited about reaching my goal of 190 lbs.  If I had followed Atkins to the “T” (I still consume more breads than I should), I would probably be at my goal.  But for me, since this is a lifelong plan, I don’t mind if it takes another year or two.  You would never hear me say that on a low-fat diet.  EVER!

Stay healthy!

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Saturday, March 7th, 2009 Atkins Diet No Comments