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.