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Naturally Low-Carbing
Recently I've come across a new blog about low-carbing called Livin' La Vida Low-Carb.  It's Author, Jimmy Moore, recently lost 180 lbs on Atkins and is writing a book about it.  He writes like a fiend and it's hard to keep up with all of his articles, but I do try to as they can be quite enjoyable.  Jimmy does a lot of commentary about articles that come out on a daily basis that bash low-carb usually for illogical reasons or due to incorrect assumptions and just plain wrong information.  Jimmy is very passionate about how Atkins and low-carb has led him to success over his eating problems and so sometimes this is translated into some sweeping statements, but mostly Jimmy is completely fair and will cede some of the few points that his opposition has right.  Low-carb critics on the other hand, as a whole anyway, seem to want to attack low-carbers as misguided idiots and low-carbing as 100% wrong, no ifs ands or buts.

Recently Jimmy posted a piece about another blogger, Duncan Margetts, who blogs about dieting and wrote specifically about all the low-carb processed foods that for a while were really flooding the shelves only to be taken off a little later.

This is one of the subjects that I think distinguishes Atkins from the plan that I'm on, Protein Power.  I do think that Atkins and Atkins followers like Jimmy rightfully warn against eating too many of these highly processed carb-imitation foods.  Protein Power really emphasizes eating a diet that is close to what is hypothesized as what our ancestors ate tens and hundreds of thousands of years ago.  It does not say you can't eat such things as protein bars or that you can only eat organic produce, wild game, etc., but it does suggest that there are different "approaches" to eating within a low-carb plan and that you should pick the one that will work best for you, while also suggesting that the optimal diet (a diet even the authors admit they don't adhere to themselves for the most part) is one that has no processed foods, only organic produce, wild fish, wild game and/or grass-fed/free-range meat and poultry.  Obviously not everyone can manage a diet that is 100% natural.  Often the less processed a food is, the more expensive it can be, so this becomes a factor.  Convenience is another factor, and taste certainly is yet another.

I wouldn't condemn anyone for choosing to use these processed food products, but I think it's a sensitive topic because many of these products, like the low-fat ones before them, were simply market-driven concoctions based on the big upswell in perceived demand of low-carb taking off a year or two ago.  For those who were unwilling to learn about low-carb, why it works, and how to do it right, these products became staples of a kind.  Especially sweets with all their sugar alcahols which were initially being claimed as zero net carbs.  Many people were eating these on a regular basis and having difficulty losing weight without realizing that at least some of the carbs in these sugar alcahols are absorbed by most people.  They then decided that low carb "doesn't work" - for them anyway.  In other words, I think the availability of these products, while they definitely help add a little veriety occasionally to those who are serious and knowledgeable about low-carbing, have done a lot of harm to low-carbing.  This isn't intentional, of course.  It's not necessarily all the fault of the companies that make them, as they were just trying to fulfill the perceived demand.  It was rather the people who saw the headlines that low-carbing was now "ok" and a "new" phenomenon who jumped on the bandwagon without reading the books, or at least not much of them and just assuming that they could eat unlimited amounts of anything that said "low-carb" on it.

The fact is that Duncan, while being a bit hyperbolic, does have a good point when he compares low-carb dieters eating a lot of these products like a heroine addict getting methadone treatments.  I think we can all agree that for many people sugar can be an addictive substance.  When you try to fool the body into believing its eating sugar, whether that's with a sugar substitute like Splenda, sugar alcohols, or even the completely natural Stevia, you are still keeping that taste for the real thing alive and well.  When I started low-carbing and Splenda was not available or hard to find, I decided to just stop using any sugar OR sugar substitute in my morning coffee.  While initially it was difficult to do, the lack of anything sweet woke up my taste buds to the natural sweetness in foods.  Almonds started tasting sweet to me and the mixed berries that I once couldn't eat without some kind of sweetener added became sweet enough on their own.  So I think for some people who are highly addicted to sweets and starches, it's probably most wise to avoid these products altoghether.  Keeping a pseudo-addiction going by trying to replicate the thing you're addicted to with something that may not be as harmful isn't really dealing with the addiction, right?  Then again, if you're addicted, does it matter?  If you're addicted, won't you really always be addicted?  I guess this is kind of the same debate over alcoholism.  AA and similar approaches here in the U.S. make the point that not having any drink is the safest thing to avoid the "slippery slope" that will end in binging and backsliding.  But other countries take a much less moralistic view and view alcoholism (and other addictions) as a clinical syndrome.  Instead of forbidding anything they let those with this condition ration themselves a moderate amount of alcohol per week (so they can drink a half a glass or so at a meal each day, or they can save it up if they will be having a party that week).  This is viewed as a condition where the person simply can't determine on their own when enough is enough, so putting strict official guidelines in terms of how much they can drink during a given period of time helps them to control this.  Of course the effectiveness of either strategy will be debated for a long time and its likely that no one strategy will work for everyone.  In any case, the point is that I do think that while sugar may not cause the same problems to society as do and alcohol, there is a parallel here.

If I could, I would eat a 100% natural diet, but I think it's almost impossible unless you live on a farm and can personally vouch for everything.  You never know what is and isn't natural, even it's labeled as such.  There was an article in the New York Times recently which showed that most of the salmon being sold at various food stores in New York and labeled as "wild" were in fact farm-raised.  So really you never know.  I think the most important thing is to help your local farmers and ranchers be more profitable against the large factory farms.  You can do this by purchasing from these smaller more natural-oriented providers whenever possible.  Farmers markets are available almost everywhere and Community Sponsored Agriculture is growing.

If you are just starting a low-carb diet, of course, this is an aspect that may be a bit beyond where you are at.  You may say that you want to lose your weight before doing anything else.  That's fair, but I would urge people on any diet or on no diet to consider looking at this important aspect of what kind of food they are eating.  You may not be able to get rid of all highly processed foods, but it's a good goal to limit them as much as possible.  You have to be realistic do what will work for you, of course, but that doesn't mean that you can't make an effort to slowly reduce some of the highly-processed foods you eat and replace them with some more natural equivalents.

posted Tuesday, 7 June 2005

sharon johnson made this comment,
It is a pleasure to read a blog that is informative yet unopinionated on the low carb life style.
comment added :: 7th June 2005, 19:39 GMT-05
Duncan Margetts made this comment,
Hi there Levi,

I love the much more detailed and eloquent spin you put on my own thoughts. Unfortunately, as Jimmy pointed out, I do have a "potty mouth" at times :)

For the record, I follow a Paleo Diet, whilst I cant eat 100% organic food I DO eat 100% unprocessed food, nothing but fruit, vegetables, lean meat, fish, eggs, and nuts. Where I can I buy grass fed meat and unfarmed fish but living in the middle of suburban Adelaide, South Australia its not easy finding unadulterated sources of food.

Its disgusting whats happened to our food supply, what little natural food you can buy at large supermarkets is shockingly devoid of flavour and one can only assume that this loss of flavour almost certainly speaks volumes about the loss of other things like vitamins, phyto-chemicals and anti-oxidants.. Our modern Fruit and Vegetables are much like Paris Hilton.. they LOOK fantastic, have beautiful and unblemished skin but internally they are vapid, meaningless and lacking any sophistication or value.

I despair for the human race and the path our food production has led us down, unfortunately the way MOST people do Atkins with so many highly processed foods leads them down a path not unlike the one they came from, they may no longer be obese, but they still arent eating a diet that will lead to long-term wellness and longevity.

The Paleo Diet (links at my site) I follow IS "low carb" I guess, but I choose to describe it more in terms of it being a genetically appropriate diet.. it makes it easier to describe, it doesn't put people off as being "quackish" and you dont get labelled as "doing Atkins". I've lost 77 pounds on Paleo and have achieved an eating plan that I can maintain quite happily for the rest of my life.. without needing "methadone foods" (aside from a little Stevia in my tea of a morning)

I strongly encourage everyone to research the Paleo Diet and consider it as a way of life, especially if you're "doing atkins" and eating Atkins Bars, shakes and breads etc..


Duncan Margetts Adelaide, South Australia.

comment added :: 7th June 2005, 21:29 GMT-05 ::
adam wilk made this comment,
Hi Levi, I heard about your blog through Jimmy Moore's Livin' La Vida Low-Carb blog. Figured I'd pay you a visit. I like what I read here. As a food/diet writer who's put his experiences on paper and into a book titled 'Diet King',I know what food addiction is all about. It's horrendous, to say the least. I think an addiction to sugar is the worst kind of addiction to have. Period. Sure, heroin and cocaine may kill you faster, but it's all about time--if you abuse your body with sugar to satisfy those monster cravings, you'll wind up killing yourself eventually--it'll just take longer for either the diabetes (and its complications), the heart disease, or the obesity to destroy you. And the sad part is, (in my humble opinion, now--I'm not a doctor or a scientist) we face sugar in many different forms every single day, so there's really no way out of this mess. Low carb diets? Yes, sure, they'll temporarily ameliorate the problem and perhaps if you can get past whatever plan you've chosen's 'initial phase' or 'phase one', you'll have escaped the sugar monster for awhile. But that's during the diet. No one ever prepares us for maintenance. It's like looking into an abyss when we've arrived at our 'goal weight'. And I haven't even addressed the issue of fruit here. What are we supposed to do, avoid fruit, the anti-oxidant darling of the media, for the rest of our lives? Some of these delicious fruits pack a mighty sugar sweet punch that could send some of us spiraling back to square one--especially my favorite--grapes! Am I ranting here? Sorry if I sound that way. This problem needs to be treated just like cigarettes and alcohol are--you had a good poing about the alcohol and , Levi--perhaps sugar needs to be treated like the dangerously powerful substance it really is--the difference is, however, unlike alcohol and cigarettes and hard drugs, sugar is everywhere--its cloak is its benigness (this that a real word? I don't know, either...). You see, you can walk into a Whole Foods Market where you'll pay double to buy clean, fresh vegetables and meats, and wind up buying an all-natural "whole, unprocessed sugar-cane sweetened" soda, thinking it's so much better than the colas you get in the regular supermarkets. Hmm...what the hell have they done to us? I fear they've wreaked havoc on the greater population of us--it's not normal to be a slave to such sweetness and the ridiculous cravings that abound. It's not fair to have to live life worrying about carbohydrate intake and sugar-grams. But this is what we're faced with--we're on our own because they've really managed to screw up the food supply with all this sugar or its evil cousin, 'high-fructose corn syrup'. And now the media is licking its lips in delight, declaring 'low carb is dead'? Don't they realize this was our last hope? Or do they not want us to get better? Do I sound like a conspiracy nut? Maybe. But it begs the question--how did so many of us fall victim to sugar/white flour/carbohydrate addiction, to the point where we can't even trust ourselves with fruit, the very thing nature wants us to have? Nice to meet you. Adam Wilk, author, 'Diet King'
comment added :: 7th June 2005, 23:15 GMT-05
tdollman made this comment,
Levi, Thank you for your summary of the unadvertised problems with sugar-addiction solutions so many are looking for. An OCCASIONAL fall off the Protein Power wagon may be healthier in the long run than a continual barrage of sweeteners and sugar alcohols. Protein Power (PP) is not rocket science, but, unfortunately, so many are looking for a SIMPLE silver bullet and will not (or cannot) try adhering to the more complex/tougher-to-implement PP LIFESTYLE.
comment added :: 8th June 2005, 09:45 GMT-05
Levi Wallach made this comment,
Well, guys, I don't know what to say! I wasn't expecting quite so many comments so quickly on this entry, but thanks!

Sharon, thanks for the compliment! Believe it or not, though, I DO have opinions! :) I just try to keep things real though and give credit when credit is due and criticize things that I find lacking in value even if that is with the "side" that I stand with most of the time.

Duncan I am familiar with the Paleo Diet. It's on my bookshelf but I haven't had a chance to read it yet. In Protein Power, the Eades talk a lot about evolution and what our ancestors probably ate, etc., so I feel like I have a good handle on much of the theory behind the paleo diet. Like you I don't eat only organic foods, but I try to opt for them if I see them and they aren't priced in the stratosphere - a problem that I find discouraging. And if I'M getting discouraged, I'm sure tons of people are just giving the much higher price and rolling their eyes and walking away without even considering it!

Adam, thanks so much for writing! I read about you earlier on Jimmy's blog. I would buy your book but I'm a slow reader and this has made me much prefer audio books over printed books. Have you talked with your publisher about coming out with an audio book? Addiction is a fascinating subject! Mean Genes by Terry Burnham and Jay Phelan talks about it in a genetic/evolutionary sense. I think you're point about sugar being everywhere is very similar to the point that Protein Power and the Paleo diet make. Until the last 10,000 years give or take, we probably had no access to refined sugars. Even the sugars in fruits were not nearly as potent. All the fruit you buy at the store these days have been bread and rebread to produce the sweetest fruits. Before agriculture, most fruit wasn't nearly as sweet. The Eades (authors of Protein Power) talk about the only instance when our ancestors may have gotten a big sugar load being when they occasionally happened across a bee hive. But such occasions were not very often, and so we didn't evolve the mechanisms to deal with such concentrations of sugar, although our body can still produce cravings for it because it does give us quick energy, so evolutionarily, it would make sense that we would like the stuff a lot so that when we come across it we would eat it and then be able to escape from the next predator that charged... Whereas cigarettes are now more and more frowned on at least here in the U.S., sugar still doesn't have that stigma. It is still looked upon as a "treat." Yes, one that most people think of as being bad for you, but not, say, as bad as cigarettes. People will push birthday cake on you at a party in a way that they would never push a cigarette, and perhaps not even alcahol (unless you're at a frat party!). It's really unavoidable. Luckily, after low-carbing for a while, those cravings often go away, or at least get a lot less. Of course if you continue to eat lots of sweet things, even things which are technically "legal" or low-carb, that can hinder that process and the addiction and cravings are a lot closer at hand...

tdollman, I agree of course, that an occasional "endulgence" is not as bad as not paying attention at all to such things. It is kind of amazing to me that some people, especially those with health and weight problems, aren't willing to take the time and energy to try to educate themselves about food. The desire for only simple quick solutions I consider to be lazy. I can certainly understand how hard it can be for some, but it seems your health is worth it, no? As far as following off the wagon, that's something that's going to happen to almost everyone to one degree or another. But I think the plans (not PP) that encourage cheat days are ill-though-out. Sometimes it's simply people who decide to encorporate these based on the fact that at least one plan has them. They like the thought because it sounds like they can have their cake and eat it to, no pun intended! In fact I even tried this out a couple of times and I believe the experiment was a failure. I was counting the days to the next one, and in general it just made the whole idea of eating unhealthy foods more acceptable. These things shouldn't be looked at as viable options, but occasionally you may have to have a TASTE of someone's home-made cake, or a desert at a nice restaurant on a special occasion. But it can be a very slipperly slope, so you have to use extreme caution and not plan for these things but also not kick yourself too much when you do make the decision to eat them occasionally.

comment added :: 8th June 2005, 11:38 GMT-05 ::
Regina Wilshire made this comment,
Hi Levi,

I found your blog through Jimmy Moore's blog and wanted to leave a quick note for you - I think what you're saying is valuable for those starting and/or continuing with a low-carb diet.

I personally used Atkins to lose the weight I needed to and slowly learned more about good nutrition and modified my long-term eating to be a controlled-carb approach that is based on real, whole foods and at this point is almost 100% organic also.

Keep up the writing here - it's valuable!

comment added :: 19th July 2005, 15:54 GMT-05 ::
don made this comment,
I have begun to give up my diet Dr. Peppers for unsweetened tea. Reading your comments convinces me I ought to just get rid of the diet pop altogehter. I do love honey, so perhaps this winter I will begin having hot tea with a drop or two of honey. Sounds natural to me.

At my supermarket I can get ground beef, ground buffaloe, chicken, and of course eggs that are hormone free and all that. I buy farmed Salmon, and beef steaks at COSTCO. I guess I need to look for a better source for the COSTCO stuff. I have no idea how "natural" the nuts I buy are. I don't think I am going to take up hunting just yet though.

comment added :: 28th September 2005, 22:45 GMT-05
Levi Wallach made this comment,
Hey Don, I don't know if they have Trader Joe's in your neck of the woods, but they are at least cheaper than Wholefoods for a lot of things. You could also look for organic farms in your area, as they often have deals where you can buy lamb or beef in bulk and get it for a fairly reasonable price.

But part of it is just mentality. Food is one of those things that can be a significant part of your budget, so it is one of those things that we all try to economize on when we can. The problem is that most people think of economizing by simply getting cheaper food, wherever that happens to come from. It is a big mentality shift to view food as something integral to health. Not just overeating vs. dieting, but the quality of the food you are getting. We should all seek to find the most affordable way of eating healthy, but I think for those at least who can afford it, it's much more worth investing in one's health by spending a bit more on quality food then trying to save that money and then simply paying it all back in doctors and hospital visits later on. My attitude is that it's better to have less of really good quality food rather than large quantities of crap. This also helps with the whole dieting thing. When you get "snobbish" about the types of food you choose to consume, you limit yourself, and that limiting also can translate into eating less. For someone like myself who loves food and whose eyes are bigger than his stomach, this can be a good thing!

comment added :: 29th September 2005, 08:53 GMT-05 ::
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