Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Exhibit A

Regard, the belly.

Belly fat is now considered a harbinger of heart disease, along with high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Since I have all three, and since I am of an age when these things become a real concern, and since my father recently experienced quadruple bypass surgery, I have decided to restrict carbohydrates from my diet and lose 35 pounds. Or even a little more.

This picture was taken yesterday, eight days after I started my new food regimen. I've lost eight pounds (about one pound per day) while attempting to get "ketotic," that state when the body, deprived of carbohydrates, thinks it is starving and begins digesting its own fat. I now weigh 210 pounds. My goal is 180.

I wish I had had blood work performed immediately before I took the low-carb plunge. My previous results, from December 2007, showed a total cholesterol level of 201, with HDL (good cholesterol) at 43 and LDL (bad cholesterol) at 122. My total triglycerides were 178. My most recent blood exam was a week ago, or more than a year after I started taking Liptor to reduce my cholesterol and four days after I started the low-carb diet. It showed that my total cholesterol had actually risen to 211. My HDL had slumped slightly to 41, while LDL had gone up to 149. But I was very glad to see that my triglyceride level, a very real measure of cardiac risk, had plummeted to 103, a drop of 42 percent.

Naturally, my doctor was less interested in my triglycerides than increasing my dosage of Lipitor and getting me to eat less fat. You can hardly blame him. The current dogma of the medical establishment is that fat raises cholesterol and needs to be treated with a statin drug such as Lipitor. But in fact this is merely a hypothesis. Doctors still doesn't know exactly what causes heart disease or what role cholesterol--especially dietary cholesterol--might play. I am convinced that carbohydrates, because of their singular relationship with insulin and the way the body stores fat, is the greater culprit.

In fact, 80 percent of cholesterol is produced by our own bodies, in the liver. The extent to which we produce our own cholesterol and what our bodies do with it is largely a matter of genetics. We can't change genetics. But that leaves only 20 percent of cholesterol related to what we eat. I am more inclined to believe that the huge effect that carbohydrates have on insulin production, and the direct relationship between insulin and body fat, outweighs the 20 percent of cholesterol that we control with our diet.

The American diet has become a runaway buffet of carbohydrates based on a government-subsidized glut of corn and other grains. Walk into any supermarket and you can see it: aisle after aisle--floor to ceiling--of carbohydrates in a thousand different manifestations. Kids go to school on a breakfast of potato chips and high-fructose corn syrup. Our most popular vegetable by far is the potato, usually in the form of French fries. We are a nation of irrepressible snackers. Call it the Great Carb Addiction.

The problem is that all those carbs force the pancreas to work overtime making insulin. Insulin turns the carbs into glucose for energy, but if we already have enough glucose, the sugar gets stored as fat. Accumulated fat presses on the organs, causing high blood pressure. Pretty soon you're looking at cholesterol out of balance followed by insulin resistance and diabetes.

Sharply reducing carbohydrates brings insulin back to a sane level. Although it sounds counterintuitive, a body deprived of carbohydrates and in a state of ketosis will actually process fats out faster than they come in. A metabolic transformation occurs. You can consume more calories and continue to lose weight. But it is common for people who eat a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet to consume fewer calories than before, even when they are told they can eat all the steak and pork chops they want. The reason is, you don't feel as hungry when you stop eating carbohydrates. I know that in my own case I am rarely hungry any more since cutting back sharply on my carb consumption.

"You ought to add up the calories in all the food you eat all day. I think you'd be astounded," my wife was fond of scolding me. That's because I was always snacking on something, usually some form of carbohydrate. And since I work at home, food is never far away. Well, I never did add it all up. But I know I am eating much less now and the cravings have disappeared. Carbohydrates are a bad habit.

Nine years ago I stopped smoking. It wasn't easy, and the final cigarette was lit only after years of trying to quit. I'm hoping that as a result of this new approach to food, and a better appreciation for the sinister effects of a carb-rich diet, I will soon break the carbohydrate addiction as well.

Note: A healthy level of total cholesterol is considered to anywhere from 100 to 199; HDL 40 to 59; LDL anything under 100. Triglycerides, according to current thinking, should be less than 150. All measurements are milligrams per deciliter. Also, the suggested healthy ratio of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol is anything less that 5:1.


Erica said...

Ed, you may be surprised if you start logging your calories. It may be much less than you expect.

I lost over 20lbs about a year ago when I first started eating traditional foods and when I cut out grains. I still have about 10lbs of baby weight left to lose, so I decided to join you :)

Anyways, I'm been using this site
to track what I eat. Just started 2 days ago, but each day I've hit around 1700 calories or slightly less.

That first day, man oh man did I have some bad bad cravings. Yesterday was okay and today I woke up still full and not starving haha!

I'm impressed with your weight loss and you can keep it up :) The pounds can really shred at first!

Jean said...

Ed, congratulations on your weight loss!!! It is so exciting to share. Blogging with statistics makes your story very compelling.

I started my own food transformation 4-5 years ago when I had a higher cholesterol result than I wanted. I was starting at a completely different point than you as I was eating a high percentage of processed food. My cholesterol was 196, with extremely high HDL, which is fine, but I'd always been athletic and didn't eat meat, so I expected lower total cholesterol. I cut way down on processed foods and started switching all my carbs to whole grains. A year later my choleseterol was in the 170s, and I'd come closer to my running weight. Cutting the processed foods made a huge difference in cholesterol and the way I felt. Now my diet is much cleaner, and you have inspired me to go to the doctor to get a new workup!

Janet said...

Well, Ed, I wish you luck in your endeavor, but I trust you read the recent news items about a study finding that over three years people following three popular diets, including one like yours, all lost similar amounts of weight, apparently because of (surprise!) a reduction in calories. You must do what you feel you need to do, obviously, and if cutting carbs is your solution, then great. But it's possible (myself as exhibit B, but I'll spare you a photo) to eat lots of carbs and maintain a healthy weight, blood sugar and lipids. It's probably partly in the genes, but it's mostly, I think, in having a variety of foods, exercise and moderation in calorie intake. If I gave up bread and pasta, I'd lose weight all right, but I'd be damned grumpy too!

Ed Bruske said...

Erica, I think if I started logging calories I really would feel like I'm dieting, and I really don't want to feel like I'm dieting. But I do have a rough idea in my head, and I think it's safe to say I am consuming fewer calories eating a higher protein diet. So it's hard to say, exactly, where the ketosis begins and the reduced calories ends. I count it all as a good thing.

Jean, no doubt eliminating factory foods is a good thing. (Most foods in the store are processed to some extent. I'm talking about the ones that were dreamed up in a chemistry lab in New Jersey.) We rarely have any processed food in our house, save the occasional bag of Cheetos that my wife is fond of picking up at the convenience store. (We all have our vices.) In fact, we make all our food from scratch and I would have to rate the quality very high. But there was always just a little too much of it within easy arm's reach.

Janet, I hope you aren't telling me that you believe every study that comes along. I'm sure people will be quoting this one endlessly until the next one appears. Of course calories matter. But the origin of the calories also matter. Calories from protein and fat have an altogether different relationship with the pancreas than calories from carbohydrates. And I'm not even saying all carbohydrates are bad. But the American diet is saturated with overly refined carbs that are at the root of our "modern disease" epidemic. I'm sure individual metabolism is a factor. Age, too, is a factor. So I would never accept a statement that the only thing that matters to weight and health is the number of calories consumed. That's rubbish. And if that's the message people take away from this latest study, we are all worse off for it.

Erica said...

Ed, I understand that. I think I will track for the first few weeks. It helps me, personally, be more accountable for what I eat haha. Plus, then I can look back and see if certain foods trigger a certain reaction in me.

FoodRenegade said...

Well congratulations! I'm looking forward to hearing even more about your journey. I am convinced you're on the right path, and I'm rooting for you 100%.

I hope you'll consider posting something about your journey on Friday for the first Fight Back Fridays carnival. I think a lot of people could learn quite a few things from your experiences!

(AKA FoodRenegade)

Cyndy said...

Great start Ed!
Erica has a point you might consider. It's actually quite easy to lower your calorie intake this way, often too much so. You really do want to keep the calories above 1500. (Men even higher, probably 1800 minimum) I found 1400 was common for me at first and then I wondered why I was getting cold in the evening. Thyroid issues aside, I think it was a sign of my metabolism slowing so I made an effort to increase the calories and it hasn't slowed the weightloss at all. I do understand your reluctance not to track calories. I never weigh for the same reason.

The study cited btw, didn't study a plan even remotely close to Atkins. Too bad it didn't. They might have learned something. I think it was published in the Lancet and last I knew could be read online and was open for comments. Boy did they get comments about their version of low carb!

Hee..I had to throw out my bag of Cheetoes before I started too. I don't even miss them.

Ed Bruske said...

Cindy, my approach is a little different. I'm eating three meals and some snackage so there's hardly any room for snackage. I'm only eating as much as my body tells me and I'm monitoring by weighing myself daily. I figure if I'm not hungry, I feel fine and I'm losing weight, the program is working. The truth comes out in the blood tests. I'm scheduled to go back for another measurement in three months.

Sylvie, Rappahannock Cook & Kitchen Gardener said...

Best wishes Ed.

I personally think that health through eating varies person by person, according to your genetic make-up or ancestry - and life style. Different people can be healthy on very different diets (but not one with highly processed food, lots of sugar, synthetic fats and refined carbohydrates!)

It says something that your cholesterol went up while you were taking Lipitor, doesn't it?

It's great that your taking your health into your own hands, and not just relying on a pill!

Ed Bruske said...

I second all of those emotions, Sylvie. People should follow the course that suits them best. Thanks for the encouragment.

Melissa said...

Hi Ed,

Congrats! How inspiring. When I first read your Atkins posting last week, I was inspired. I decided that I could not live without my veggies, so I'm starting in on a South Beach plan on Monday. My weight is a problem, but my triglycerides measure at 39, so I'm definitly doing well there. Did you look at South Beach? If so, why did you decide on Atkins instead?

Can I suggest to you a great read on Statins? It is called Overdosed America, written by doctor now teacher at Harvard Medical School. He basically argues that Statins have NO impact on cholesterol and that possibly cholesterol levels don't even matter, but it is triglycerides that are the number to focus on. He also points to compelling statistics that Statins do nothing to prevent cardiovascular death. The only prevention is diet and exercise. I got the book reccomendation from a doctor friend that works at kaiser in California, she said all of her peers were reading it and mostly in agreement and were happy someone was speaking up. Can you believe that they are now prescribing statins to children?!

You are on a great path, I hope you succeed, we are all watching!

Ed Bruske said...

Melissa, the South Beach diet, or at least the precepts of that diet, were the focus of my personal chef work for a particular client for a period of years. I am not following anyone's particular diet, except to reduce carbohydrate intake to the point of losing a considerable amount of weight. There is not much difference between Atkins and South Beach after that--it's all about fewer starchy carbohydrates, healthy fats, lots of vegetables. Like most people faced with a doctor's prescription, I followed it. But I am aware of the contradictory evidence surrounding cholesterol and statins and my hope eventually is to get off medication altogether.

Leniza said...

(First time posting--I've been a fan of your blog for over a year.)

The thing about LDL cholesterol is that it's typically calculated, not measured, using this formula:

LDL = Total Cholesterol - HDL - Triglycerides/5

So, the higher your triglycerides, the lower your calculated LDL.

To get a real LDL measurement, you need to get the NMR LDL particle number test, which will tell you your real LDL levels as well as what kind (large and fluffy-good; small and dense-bad).

Ed Bruske said...

Leniza, thanks for making the excellent point about LDLs. You are giving me info I did not have before. I was not aware of the calculation you've given, nor of the other test you mentioned. I am currently studying LDL and am aware of the "fluffy" versus "dense" varieties, as well as how these are affected by fat versus carb consumption. Great stuff.

Pam J. said...

Here's what works for me and has kept me the same (healthy, but not skinny) size for 8 years now. I eat anything I want. I just eat it between late afternoon and bedtime. Fortunately, I like fish and vegetables and fruit. I keep a LOT of yogurt and fruit cups in the house. But I love cookies and chocolate too. So I have some everyday. Lots of people say my diet either doesn't make sense or is unhealthy. But I view it as a little baby fast every day. I fast from about midnight until about 4 or 5 PM. Obviously, this diet has me eating the right number of calories or I would have gained weight.

health said...

Hi Ed,

thank you for sharing an insight in to a part of your story and some great info aswell I will add... I'm glad you did because you have opened my eyes up to things I should be doing...

Weight Loss News said...

Hello Ed,

wow thanks for the great and might i say useful info there, that's like 4hrs worth of study all in one article... you certainly sound as if you have a winning attitude Ed, I hope you are in good health..