Mike and I have been looking through the pages of ASweetLife recently and commenting on how much we’ve grown and changed since the early days of the site. One of the things that’s noticeably different is our stand on carbs. We went from eating healthful, whole grain carbs to almost totally cutting out carbs. “When did that happen?” I asked Mike.
“I went on the Paleo Diet,” he said.
That was two years ago.
I remember feeling terrified when Mike decided to go Paleo. I wanted to support him, but I didn’t know how I would manage with him on a no carb diet. On occasion I eat chicken and on rare occasions, I eat fish. Other than that, I do not consume meat. And meat is a big part of the Paleo Diet. Mike is the one who cooks in our home. I count on him for that. If not for Mike I would be eating only cheese and almond butter all day, every day. If all he cooked was meat, what would I do?
Mike’s change of diet was an adjustment, not just for him, but for me, too. Although I ate only small amounts of carbs to begin with, not having them at all during our meals wasn’t easy at first. The thought of cutting out carbs, going on a no carb diet, all at once seemed impossible. As luck would have it, I was able to transition pretty quickly (within a short time my OCD kicked in and I was eating lower carb than Mike). And I did’t cut out all carbs at once. I went one step at a time and didn’t pressure myself. Nothing was planned in advance, it all happened naturally. I made decisions not to eat things and I stuck with them. Reading about the health benefits of a low carb diet also helped and encouraged me. I felt like I was doing something really good for my body, something I should do even if I didn’t have diabetes.
This all came to mind this morning when I read Scott Johnson’s post on Diabetes Monitor. Scott says:
“I am grossed out by meat. I’m bothered by the texture of it and the thoughts of what happened between farm and plate. Grosses me right out. You might ask if I consider myself a vegetarian? Well, I don’t really know how to answer that. I don’t eat a lot of veggies either. Or fruits. So what’s left? Carbohydrates.”
Scott goes on to talk about his struggle to change his eating habits. He’s gotten some tips from friends, and I’d like to add mine to the pile. I have no professional expertise. I just feel like I have a lot in common with Scott since I am a former carboholic who hates meat.
The steps below were more or less my path. I now eat around 30 grams of carb a day, and it rarely bothers me. The most important thing here is to do this at your own pace. The second most important thing is not to hate yourself if you mess up. Just write the day off and start over fresh the next day.
1. Cut sugar out of your diet. White sugar and brown sugar. Don’t worry about any other carbs.
This step will make you read labels carefully, ask about what’s in the food you’re being served, and make you aware of how much sugar is out there. (HFCS counts as sugar.) Don’t eat bread with sugar in it. Don’t eat salad dressing with sugar in it. Don’t eat tomato sauce with sugar in it. You can stay at this step for a week, a month, even two months. Set your own pace and don’t move forward until you’re mentally ready. If you try to do more than you’re ready for, you’ll screw up, and feel frustrated.
The first step alone – cutting out sugar – leads to weight loss and better blood sugar levels, and still allows you to eat carbs whenever you want. Try not to swap sugar for other sweeteners. The idea is to get your body used to eating food that isn’t sweet. When you have sweet cravings, try to satisfy them with fruit. Swap your morning bowl of cereal for plain yogurt with nuts and fruit. If you don’t mind eating eggs, they are an excellent breakfast choice.
2. See if anyone in your family will do this with you. The more support you have, the better. And the less food with sugar in it that you have in your home, the better.
3. Eat at home as often as possible. Try not to go to places where you’ll face temptation. The first few weeks without sugar are hard. Don’t buy your coffee at Dunkin Donuts if seeing and smelling donuts makes you crave them. Don’t walk down the cookie aisle in the supermarket.
This step will require a certain amount of anti-social behavoir. It means saying “no” when your friends invite you over. It means not going to the movies if going makes you want to snack. It’s temporary. As soon as your body adjusts and temptation isn’t an issue, you can go back to your normal routine. I can’t tell you how long this will take since we’re all different, but I am sure it will happen much quicker than you think.
4. Cut out white flour. By now you should be used to turning down food you like. This should be easier than the first step.
This step will move you into the world of whole grains. You can still eat carbs freely, unless they contain sugar or white flour. White bread and white pasta are out. Pretzels, unless they’re whole wheat, are out. Start trying grains with a lower GI like quinoa and buckwheat. Increase your veggie intake. Roasted cauliflower, green beans, broccoli, spinach, green salad… Try to have at least two vegetables on your dinner table every night. Eat tahini.
5. If you haven’t cut out white rice yet, now is the time to do it. Only brown rice.
6. No more potatoes. Not in any form. Sweet potatoes are okay (try to have small portions). If you normally have potatoes at meal times, replace them with a vegetable you like. Eat tahini.
7. By now you should have significantly reduced your intake of carbohydrates. It’s a good time start thinking about how much whole wheat flour you’re eating. If you’re snacking on whole wheat pretzels or brown rice cakes, switch at least one of your snacks to nuts. Eat open-faced sandwiches to reduce bread intake. Take smaller portions of whole wheat pasta and brown rice. At this point you will need to start adding fat to your diet to avoid feeling hungry. Eat fatty cheese. Cook spinach in cream and butter and add it to your pasta. Nut butters. Lots of them. When you cut out carbs, you have to replace them with something to avoid hunger and misery. The fat will not make you fat if you are cutting out carbs.
8. Cut out corn. Yeah… no more popcorn :(.
9. Don’t view this as punishment. You are taking care of your body. You will probably have lost a lot of weight by now. This happens not just because of a change in diet, but because of the dietary change you are reducing your insulin intake. (Remember, insulin causes us to store fat. The less insulin you use, the easier the weight will come off.)
10. Start reducing whole wheat intake to only once a day. If you’ve been eating it at dinner, replace it with cauliflower, or another filling vegetable that you like. Continue to eat fat if you still feel hungry. Sometimes, feeling hungry isn’t so bad. I have felt hunger many times when I’ve found myself in situations where no low carb food is available. And many times I’ve found the temporary hunger much more bearable than the agony of a carb-induced blood sugar roller coaster.
11. Always have a pack of almonds with you, especially if you can’t stand hunger. Think of them as part of your diabetes treatment. You always have them with you, just like you have your insulin and your low treatment. Almonds will make you full.
12. Always have glucose tablets with you to treat lows. Just as you take Advil for an ache, you take glucose tablets for hypoglycemia. A low doesn’t mean you have to eat everything in site.
13. Avoid eating after dinner. Eat enough at dinner so that you won’t want to eat again at 10:00 p.m. This rule keeps me from going to bed with high blood sugar. By the time I go to sleep, I don’t have to worry about taking insulin to cover a nighttime snack and the potential low that could come later in the night.
14. People are going to tell you that you shouldn’t eat egg yolks and fat. Be ready to ignore them.
15. Really start to think about how much fruit you’re eating. Eat berries instead of grapes. Eat an apple instead of a banana. Start thinking about a cucumber as a quick snack rather than watermelon.
16. Remember that it’s only about you and making yourself better. The information I’ve shared here is what has worked for me. I love to eat salads and vegetables. I can go a long way on a few spoonfuls of almond butter mixed into yogurt. If you can eat eggs and chicken, this will be a breeze. If you can’t, you need to find good sources of protein. I don’t eat tofu/soy, so I can’t recommend it. I also don’t eat beans/legumes so I can’t recommend those either. They are certainly reasonable alternatives, though.
17. If I’m having an intense craving, I don’t feel bad if I give into it. If I’ve made cookies for the kids and I need to have one, then I do. I just try to not to have more than one.
18. You should feel amazing now. If you get off track for a few days, don’t stress. Fix it and be proud of yourself.
*Note: Giving up one kind of carb does not mean you should indulge in another. In other words, cutting out white flour doesn’t mean you should live off potato chips. The ideas is to eliminate things one at a time and get used to living without a carb-rich diet.