Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Okay, I know I'm over-thinking this whole diet thing and maybe I have it entirely wrong, but there's something that drives me nuts and I'm trying to think my way through it. Maybe I just need to stop reading Atkins forums.

Yeah, I'm doing Atkins Induction here. I know it works. Why it works I'm not entirely 100% clear on. Maybe I'm still caught up psychologically in how I was raised, that energy in/energy out is the equation we're supposed to use in weight loss: If energy (calories) consumed is less than energy (calories) used we lose weight. Turn that upside down and we gain weight. Yeah?

I think there's some merit in Very Low Carb and forcing your body to use fat stores as fuel. I know there have been enough properly scientific studies to lend some credence to that theory. I also think that Atkins is, by nature, a Low Calorie diet. It's tough to inhale enough calories on it in a day if all you're eating is meat and salad vegetables, and the physical state of ketosis is an appetite suppressant too, so calorie-wise it's self-limiting. Toss some exercise in there (additional energy burned) and weight loss seems pretty well assured, yesno?

To me that seems really simple: Eat fewer calories, burn more calories, create some muscle that will use even more energy even at rest, lose weight. Eat more calories, burn fewer calories, let muscles atrophy by sitting like a lump at the computer, gain weight.

Now here's where I start getting annoyed -- enough time reading Low Carb support forums and a pattern starts to emerge: Everyone seems to be looking for a magic bullet that will either guarantee that they lose weight or explain why they're not losing weight. This becomes especially apparent on the hard-core Atkins boards, where according to most members apparently there's a One True Way to follow the plan. Witness the attack on the poor soul who asks about Atkins shakes and the cold-shouldering of anyone who dares to say "eh, I use them and haven't seen any problems." "But .. but ... " they sputter in unison, "... but you might have lost weight faster if you hadn't used them at all!"

Well, hang on here. If you're tracking your intake every day and making sure that your net carbs are staying under 20, if the shakes aren't sparking an insulin response and/or cravings, if you're still losing weight, if you're in ketosis ... yeesh.

Thread after thread, "What's making me stall?" Well, we don't lose weight in a steady line on the graph. Our bodies do some strange and interesting things when we're losing weight. Any water retention will show up on the scale, and if we're actually exercising our muscles become inflamed and retain water. If we're gaining muscle, well, muscle weighs more than fat so we might be actually losing fat but briefly appear to be gaining weight. When we lose fat from our cells they'll temporarily pull water in to make up the difference.

One thread after another, what percentage of fat/protein is exactly right, will artificial sweeteners make me gain weight, does coffee make you stall, can I get away with only eating two meals a day, what's the magic food/supplement/mantra that will actually make me lose weight, what about coffee and diet cola, should I only have decaf, will caffeine stall me?

I've experienced the Atkins Vigilantes myself, last year when I first attempted this, when I made the mistake of posting my Fitday link and asking for a critical look. I'd lost around 15 pounds at that point, just looking for reassurance that I wasn't missing anything. At the time I was using 2-3 tablespoons of heavy cream (for my morning coffee) a day. Atkins Induction allows for up to 4. My calories were (looking back) around 1800 and my net carbs hanging around 14 (Induction allows for up to 20). Instead of "hey, why don't you add a few more veggies here" or something I got a whine of "ohhh, don't you think you're using too much cream? Why would you use so much? That'll keep you from losing weight, you know! Some people staaaaall on dairy products!"

Sigh. The more I think about it, the more I stare at it and study it, the less I think there's any magic involved at all and the more I roll my eyes when I read these threads. I really don't think there's a magic bullet for weight loss. The only magic is that if we actually do what it takes, what we know it takes, the hard work and dedication to pick a plan and stick to it, we will lose the weight. Never as fast as we like, but we will.

Okies, I'm done ranting for today. I promise.

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