Low-carbohydrate diets, such as Atkins or South Beach, work, but they're not the only way to go. I found this out when I designed a weight-reduction plan to suit my own high-carb needs.
Six years after my second child was born I decided to shed my pregnancy weight once and for all -- the weight that all my friends had told me would just “fall off” after I gave birth. All my friends were wrong. Not only did the weight not fall off, it shot up into the stratosphere.
An escalating chocolate habit accounted for a good part of it. A freelance writing career that kept me up in my Toronto home office at all hours of the night, bowl of buttered popcorn at my side, took care of the rest.
This was not the first time I confronted the fat demon. A seasoned yo-yo dieter, I had lost the same 20 to 30 pounds several times in my life, but this time my vanity seemed to be in hiding. I was married, I was a mother, why did I need to be thin? Then one day I came across the medical definition of obesity -- 30 per cent above your ideal weight -- in a scientific journal article. I forced myself to do the calculation. There was no escaping it: at 210 pounds, 31 per cent above the recommended weight for my five-foot-11 frame, I was technically (and visibly) obese. I was also tired all the time.
My brother, a cardiologist, reminded me of the connection between obesity and heart disease, obesity and stroke, obesity and diabetes. I told him to go feed his cat. But I knew it was time to take the flab by the fists and do something.
But what? My previous dieting efforts had always ended in a big boomerang, following the classic cycle of deprivation and depravity. When I was good, I was very, very good (cottage cheese), and when I was bad, I was horrid (a whole Sara Lee cheesecake). It was time to try something different.
Page 1 of 3 -- On page 2, Gabrielle shares her experience going to a popular weight-loss program.
I looked into the Weight Watchers program and, warming to the idea of weekly weigh-ins and meetings, decided to join up. I can't say I was a model student. After the first three weeks I stopped writing down what I was eating. I didn't drink as much water as the program recommended. But clearly I was doing something right, as the pounds kept coming off, week after week.
Best of all, I felt virtually no hunger. Within 10 months I had lost 55 pounds and reached my goal of 155 pounds, a weight I have now maintained with no effort for six months and counting.
Here's what I think made the difference this time: while resolving to eat healthier foods, I also resolved not to eat any foods I didn't love. That meant no more cottage cheese. No celery sticks. No roast beef. (That's right, I don't like roast beef.) Instead, I built my eating plan around the carbs that feed my body and soul: a heaping bowl of multigrain cereal for breakfast, a giant tortilla stuffed with beans and vegetables for lunch, a mountain of stir-fried veggies atop a steaming plate of rice for supper.
For a snack, I'd grab a handful of low-fat wheat-and-sesame crackers. I figure I ate at least 200 grams of carbs per day -- more than three times the recommended maximum (60 grams) in most low-carb diets.
I also started “wogging” -- my own ungainly hybrid of walking and jogging -- three times a week, three kilometres each time. (I know from repeated experience that anything more ambitious causes my inner toddler to stamp her feet and say no.) Predictably, I began to feel more energetic. I stopped napping. And I no longer had to mumble excuses when my son challenged me to a race around the schoolyard.
Now that I'm in the maintenance phase of my eating program (maintenance being a euphemism for rest of my life), I eat up to 250 grams of carbs every day. That's 1,000 calories per day in carbs, about 55 per cent of my daily total of 1,800 calories. The Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating says that's OK. Weight Watchers says that's OK. I think I may be on to something.
Page 2 of 3 -- Both sides weigh-in on the low-carb debate on page 3.
The low-carb conundrum
There's no doubt that low-carb diets do work. Two years ago, Dr. Eric Westman, research director of the diet and fitness centre at Duke University in Durham, N.C., led a study of patients who were eating a scant 25 grams of carbohydrates per day (equivalent to two cups/500 millilitres of vegetables or a large apple) with no restrictions on meat or eggs. After six months, participants who adhered to the program lost an average of 10 per cent of their original body weight. Based on these results, Westman says: “It's no longer a matter of controversy whether low-carb diets can lead to weight loss. They can and they do.”
But here's the little-known secret: a meta-analysis done at Stanford University in California suggests that low-carb diets owe most, if not all, of their effectiveness to the incidental caloric reduction that typically accompanies such diets. “If you eat fewer calories than your body uses, you'll end up losing weight no matter what the mix of nutrients in your diet -- high carb, high fat or high protein,” says Peter Jones, a professor at the School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at McGill University in Montreal. “It's the balance of energy in-energy out that counts.”
That means you don't have to give up carbs to lose the love handles. If you reduce your daily caloric intake by 500 calories, eat high-fibre carbs in abundance and get off the couch at least a few times a week, you'll lose weight. And whole-grain carbs, along with providing energy for daily living, may even reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. For the whole-grain pasta-lovers among us, the news couldn't be better.
Some researchers believe that, calorie for calorie, proteins offer greater “satiety” than carbs: in other words, you're apt to feel fuller after 500 calories of steak than after 500 calories of bread. But satiety studies have yielded mixed results at best. If you find that proteins leave you more satisfied, by all means go for the higher-protein meal. But if you depend on carbs for energy and comfort, there's no need to kiss your beloved breads, biscuits or burritos goodbye -- whether you have five or 50 pounds to lose.
Page 3 of 3 -- After carrying excess baby weight for six years, Gabrielle decides to work it off. Learn about why she made the decision on page 1.