First attempt at low carb
I tried low carb a few years ago. I ate around 50 grams a day for the first three months. But due to miserable results, I progressively raised the carbs for the next four months until I was eating around 100 grams and had to accept that my trial was not successful.
The results were not all bad, though. I had two good results, namely, I achieved two consecutive A1cs below 5% and my GP considered taking me off meds. But the good results were overshadowed by the not-so-good ones:
- Running. I had zero energy for running.
- Social life. Socializing, networking and eating out became troublesome.
- Health. I suffered from terrible headaches, bad cramps and a general sense of malaise. I became sickly and was constantly ill with colds.
- BGs. Despite having excellent A1cs, I had difficulty controlling my BGs and faced a lot of hypos (maybe why I had such low A1cs).
- Food. I felt deprived. Counting carbs drove me nuts, and I became a slave to carb numbers. Eating ceased to be a pleasurable pursuit. I became cantankerous and started to transform into a food police.
The failed experiment, however, taught me a few important things.
- I need to eat well and drink well. This is non-negotiable.
- Mere existence and survival are not enough. I want to live and thrive.
- What may work for others may not work for me and vice versa. Hence, there is no reason for extremism and intolerance.
- What makes good food and good wine better? Good company.
- My body has a lot of useful and insightful things to tell me, if only I’m willing to listen.
Between then and now
After that low carb stint, I maintained what I generally call a moderate carb lifestyle. My A1cs were pretty good, and life was by and large good. So, why change now? No, I’m neither masochistic nor credulous. Let me try to explain my thoughts.
One, I came across The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance (by Jeff S. Volek and Stephen D. Phinney) which seems to have addressed a number of the problems I encountered a few years back, so it makes a second attempt at low carbing worth considering.
Two, my life has undergone or encountered a number of changes these past few years, changes which I believe may make it easier for me to transition to a low carb diet this time.
- Medications. My diabetes meds have been reduced to only metformin, thereby tremendously reducing, if not eliminating, risks of going low.
- Clean eating. I have been gradually ridding my diet of high carb processed food and junk food (e.g., cereals, chocolate soy milk, potato chips and sports bars), and eating more vegetables and fruits. So, what’s a few more processed carbs to get rid of?
- Shirataki and tofu noodles. They are manna sent from heaven. Because I grew up eating rice and noodles, and developed a liking for pasta, giving them up to go low carb was extremely painful. I craved ramen, fried rice and all sorts of noodle and pasta dishes all the time. Shirataki (made from konjac yam or elephant yam) and tofu noodles satisfied those cravings. I should note that I have not yet found a completely satisfactory replacement for pasta and have to currently settle for varieties of shirataki or tofu noodles which resemble overcooked fettuccine and angel hair pasta. If you have suggestions, please write me. How about rice? I’ve heard of shirataki rice but I haven’t tried it yet. However, there’s cauli-rice.
- Low carb chefs. My biggest problem when I tried low carb before was the bland, boring and mediocre low carb dishes suggested by writers of low carb books. Then I bought a Mediterranean cookbook, in which pasta and desserts filled up only a small portion of the book. Later, I found low carb people who can actually cook well (Chef Barrae and Carolyn, to name but two) and who began sharing their wonderful recipes online.
- Rediscovering Tokyo’s restaurants. I became savvier in choosing restaurants and selecting dishes sans sugar, flour and starch. I discovered that Tokyo, and Japan for that matter, can actually be a low carb friendly place.
- Friendly desserts. I found dark chocolate, and Pino ice cream which comes in a box of six tiny 2.5-gram dollops. Need I say more?
- Low carbing athletes. More athletes have been trying low carbing. Some were not successful, but some were. The stories of success were encouraging.
Three, given what I’ve described above, I have the urge to know if I can do things differently this time. While a moderate carb diet is certainly enjoyable, it requires a lot of work, calculation and medication to keep my BG within a personally acceptable range. The promise of a lifestyle that may give me energy to run, enable me to enjoy life and make BG control easier, is irresistible.
The guinea pig’s game plan
Unlike my failed attempt a few years ago, I am not going forward blindly. I have a game plan which I hope works.
- Adaptation. I gave myself at least four weeks to adapt. I even pushed back a scheduled half-marathon training to do this. I continued to run, except during the first week when I felt no energy at all. The first couple of weeks were a struggle, and it’s not just because of the summer heat. It seems I have survived those four weeks. My energy still seems a little low but at least my massive headaches are gone.
- Carbs to ditch. The list includes bread (which I’m not that fond of anyway), rice (my BG does not like me to eat more than 3 tablespoons anyway, so I might as well ditch it), and typical high carb noodles, pasta, and desserts (except dark chocolate and Pino ice cream).
- Fruits and vegetables. I will not, repeat not, be cutting out fruits and vegetables. Instead I’ll focus on those I can have plenty of, and reduce the ones that have too much carbs. My BG will be my guide, as it has been for the past few years.
- Carb counting. This remains my weakness. I hate counting calories and carbs, especially when I’m perusing a menu and while dining. So, even before I started low carbing, I started counting the carbs in my usual dishes. Using mySugr (I’m an alpha tester), I took photos of my meals and counted the carbs afterwards. Hence, I already had a few dishes with known carb contents by the time I started low carbing, and I can focus on planning what new dishes to eat and counting the carbs before hand so I don’t have to do it at the table.
- Fats. It seemed that I did not eat enough fats for energy during my first low carb attempt, a mistake that I will be correcting. I initially thought that I had to add a whole lot of fats but it turns out that I may not have to add much. Well, I will let my energy needs decide how much fat to add. Let me assure everyone, though, that I do not intend to stuff myself with pork rind or put tubs of butter in my coffee. My general strategy includes drizzling a little more olive oil on green salads, replacing soy milk with a dash of cream for my coffee, adding one or two more globs of butter, or roast pork, beef, chicken and duck drippings, or coconut oil when cooking, and eating a little more cheese, avocados, eggs, oily fish, olives and nuts.
- Protein. It appears I’m eating just right so no change is necessary.
- Salt. I’ll be adding a little more salt to my diet to address increased excretion of salt which is associated with low carbing.
- Networking and social life. I will be more selective. For example, regarding networking, if the organizers prefer to serve cheap high carb foods, then perhaps that’s not the right network for me. As for eating out, there are now so many incredibly good restaurants that I’m sure we can all steer clear of pizza, pasta and ramen places.
- Eating in. I will cook more and steer my husband (who is a wonderful cook) towards low carb dishes.
- Keep an open mind. If it works for me, then it works for me. If it doesn’t work for me, then it doesn’t work for me, and I should continue searching.
Of course I intend to test, test, test.
Did I forget anything?