Thursday, September 17, 2009
I took a break on this between mid-May and mid-August, but I’m back to reading health books and thinking about what is “healthy food.”
I’m definitely not buying into the main premise of Good Calories, Bad Calories (the last book I made it through in the spring) — that carbs are the problem and a high protein, low carb diet (e.g., Atkins) is the solution — but I think the author makes some interesting points and the book definitely changed how I think about food and what to eat.
One of the things I noticed after the first week or so of my project was that I felt really great, especially in the mornings when I would wake up. I felt like my heart rate was lower and I wasn’t hungry; everything felt calmer.
[Good Calories, Bad Calories Aside #1: This is one of the several significant things I disagreed with in Good Calories, Bad Calories — he has a chapter about calorie reduction and how it doesn’t work for weight loss because people can’t stick to a reduced-calorie diet: it makes them miserable, they think about food constantly, they’re not able to concentrate, etc.
This was not my experience at all, and Taubes’s argument appears to be based primarily on a study of World War II conscientious objectors who agreed to be fed a diet similar to what Europeans suffering through wartime shortages would be eating — three small meals a day consisting of watery soup, one or two slices of bread, potatotes, and similar poor-quality foods.
Taubes described the results of the study and how awful the conscripts reported feeling, that they became obsessed with food, etc.
As I said, I did not have this experience at all, and think the fact that you are looking at draftees in an institutional setting, where I’m guessing most of them didn’t want to be in the first place, and then give them awful food and have them keep a diary of it, are really significantly confounding variables. I’m not sure how much of that study can be transferred to everyone everywhere who tries to lose weight on a reduced calorie diet.]
It’s hard to know how much of how I felt during the project was from my body having adjusted to a very low-calorie diet, how much was from the things I was eating (whole grains, high-fiber fruits and vegetables), and how much was from the things I wasn’t eating (fat, salt, sugar).
And I’m not really interested in replicating the entire project, but I have been thinking about trying to see if I could figure out which parts made the most difference and try to work some of those into my regular life.
The thing that I’ve found is that, for me, limiting salt/fat/sugar/calories is highly subject to disruption.
The reason I was able to do it on the project was because it was part of a larger goal that I was really committed to. I had arranged my entire life around the project (I even skipped a trip to my niece’s birthday, which came right in the middle of the project time frame — I felt badly about that but I think being in People magazine and on Rachael Ray made up for it, my nieces loved having a famous auntie) and if I had work meetings that involved food, I explained what I was doing and why I was drinking water instead of ordering lunch or coffee. That was totally fine in the short term.
But in my normal life, I feel like as soon as I have one high-sugar, high-carb, large-amount-of-food day (for instance when preparing food for 15 people working at the Swap-O-Rama, including making brownies and cookies) I’m completely off track and have to start over from square one. Since it takes a few days for my body to adjust to a new regime, it feels really hard to get into the groove I need to be in, especially since I seem to run into an “exception” at least once a week.
And this is one thing I do agree with about Good Calories, Bad Calories — carbs beget carbs. The more refined sugar and flour you eat, the more you want.
So I’ve realized if I want to make changes, I just have to commit to them and stop making exceptions, because the list of exceptions will be endless.
And that brings me to another concept that I learned about during my research and that, unlike Good Calories, Bad Calories, I can be 100% fully behind — Volumetrics.
This is the term that Penn State researcher Barbara Rolls has come up with based on her decades of obesity reseach — it is the idea of substituting foods with low energy density (low-calorie, high fiber foods like fruits and vegetables) for energy dense food (high-calorie foods like high-fat dairy, meat, refined flour and sugar).
Her research has shown that people are just not very sensitive to calorie intake; rather, they feel full when they’ve eaten a certain volume of food, regardless of the calorie level of the food. So if you substitute high-volume, low-calorie foods, for high-calorie, low-volume ones, you will lose weight without feeling hungry
[Good Calories, Bad Calories Aside #2: this is another one of my huge problems with Good Calories, Bad Calories. In 450 pages of text with hundreds and hundreds of references — and extensive sections about caloric intakes and reduced calorie diets — there is approximately one reference to Barbara Rolls and her research. Taubes criticzes people for selectively using evidence, but as far as I can tell, he does the same thing.]
I haven’t managed to read any of the actual research papers yet, but I was able to get The Volumetrics Eating Plan from the public library, which is sort of the meal plan/recipe version of the book.
It’s basically what I noted in A Few Lessons — you will feel better on fewer calories if you eat high-fiber, high-volume foods (i.e., foods with a lot of water in them, like soup and cabbage).
If you have stored energy to spare (in the form of fat — as I definitely did, and still do) you will most likely feel totally fine, and not excessively hungry, even though you are taking in fewer calories than you might think you need.
I’m not sure what happens if you don’t have stored energy to work from — I suspect you’ll feel hungry eventually if you’re not getting the calories you need and are at or below a weight your body can live with. (If I ever get to that point, I’ll be sure to tell you all about it.)
So that’s what I’m going to work on for now — focusing on high-fiber, low energy density foods and trying to limit sugar and refined flour, and seeing how that compares to how I felt when I was on the project.
If I learn anything interesting, I’ll let you know.