Sunday, September 29, 2013

Dietary experiments and painful results

My mom used to say of my dad that you could just put a sugar bowl in front of him and he'd be happy, and in that respect I definitely took after my father. I've always loved--and generally over-indulged in--all kinds of cookies, cakes, pies, ice creams, frozen yogurts, and bowls of sugar.I think, growing up, we had desserts at every meal, even including breakfast (where pretty much any cereal I chose for myself was basically a dessert. And it continued into adulthood, when between the ones I got from my mother and the ones I collected on my own, I've put together a pretty great collection of dessert recipes.

In other words, a low carb diet may seem a bit unlikely as a nutritional direction for me.

That said, since early August, I've been doing a dietary experiment with a very low carbohydrate diet, with one subject (it's a pretty limited study, which matches my research budget). Since August 6 I've consumed a daily average of 25-50 grams of total carbs, which is roughly 10-15 grams of sugars per day (all of those sugars come from things like nuts, vegetables, avocado, and high-fat low-carb dairy products (cream cheese, heavy cream, homemade plain Greek yogurt, etc). I'm also working to keep my protein levels from being too high, though I'm balancing that macronutrient aspect with the fact that I'm lifting weights three times each week and often mixing in other workouts in between--I'd say generally 120-135 g, though sometimes 150 g or higher on workout days and sometimes down around 90-100 g on non-workout days. With numbers like this, I would assume that I'm in nutritional ketosis, but I haven't invested in any of the testing measures I would need to know for sure.

Despite that, I've actually found compliance to be pretty easy on this diet--I've rarely even been tempted to "cheat," and it's been even more rare that I actually have. This isn't because I have such great will-power and self-control, but just because a diet with 75-80% of its calories coming from fat is pretty darned satisfying. That said, this hasn't really been a weight-loss diet for me: I've hovered between 173 and 176, which I think is a pretty healthy weight for me, even if it's not a weight that shows off a six-pack. At times, I'm pretty sure I've over-eaten my caloric needs, but those days haven't really been "binges," as my level of carbs has still remained low.

The one kind of dicey day I've had was a Saturday (it always seems to be Saturdays), when I was grocery shopping and there were a bunch of "low carb" bars on sale. My dietary experiment has been pretty well all about real, whole foods (with one notable exception--below--that didn't seem to be a problem). On this particular days, though, I found myself trying every one of the four flavors of "Atkins" bars--each of which tasted pretty disgusting to me (though that didn't stop me from eating the whole darned things--I guess hope springs eternal, that it might get better!). The bars were all sweetened with sugar alcohols, which is the notable exception to the real foods rule that I mentioned earlier--I got some Xylitol, which I pretty much only use to make a low-carb peanut butter pie. If you've eaten anything with sugar alcohols and paid attention to the label, you will have seen the warning that too much of this stuff can cause digestive issues. And after eating a sickening amount of sickening low-carb bars, I went ahead and made some impromptu peanut putter pie, to kind of prove to myself that it was possible to have fake sweets that didn't taste awful. So that's a lot of sugar alcohols plus quite a few more. I already "knew" to expect intestinal issues, but I didn't really know to expect pretty intense intestinal discomfort until I endured it. Lesson learned. Or learned-ish.

And then there was yesterday, which was the hat trick of bad dietary decisions. First, I was overeating my caloric needs for the day--and that was even before we went to a potluck bbq at a friend's house, where I continued to eat low-carb, but also continued to eat more than I needed. And that over-eating included some of my Xylitol-sweetened peanut butter pie--which I don't think was my ultimate problem for the day, but still, there it was, making its way through my digestive tract. Yesterday evening, I had chaperone duty for Fall Ball, our school's big formal dance. It's always a nice event, in no small part because 1) it happens on Parents Weekend, so there are a ton of parents in attendance and 2) it centers around a formal dance called "Officer's Figure," which takes up most of the dance's time, which tends to keep the kids from getting too rowdy or... otherwise inappropriate. The dance included free refreshments--on the low-carb-friendly end of things, there were mixed nuts and water, which is where I started. But then I also talked myself into eating some of the sweets. Overall, it was probably a half dozen good mouthfuls of chocolatey or cheese-cakey goodness, so I didn't think it was too terribly much. I've actually had these same treats at other events in the past, and quite liked them, but after almost 2 months away from sugar, I didn't even like these all that much.

The amount of sugar that I ate would have been what I would have referred to as "barely getting started" in one of my past lives, but it was enough to make me feel a little ill in the middle of the night. It's really amazing how a couple months of what I would consider to be clean eating can totally reset what my body can tolerate. I will also say that on a daily basis, I'm feeling really good on this diet. I'll be interested to see in just under two weeks what my blood work looks like when we have our annual health screening.

Monday, September 16, 2013

"Belief is the enemy of faith"

I was struck, when I heard it recently, by remarks made by Unitarian Universalist Association President Peter Morales, that "Belief is the enemy of faith," or as he expounded, "I am now convinced that 'belief,' in the way we usually use the word, is actually the enemy of faith, religion, and spirituality."

I think this seems counter-intuitive to most of us--"faith" and especially "religion" seem to be all about belief, don't they? And yet, what he goes on to say strikes a resonant chord with me:

When the conversation shifts away from our beliefs to what we hold most dear, to what moves us at the depths of our being and what calls us, wondrous new possibilities emerge. We share and explore our deepest experiences. We discover what we have in common. Our attention turns naturally to how we want to live our lives and to the commitments we are willing to make. [...] Faith is about being faithful to what we hold sacred.
And so, I would ask you, friends: what do you hold sacred or--to use less loaded language--what do you hold most dear?