January 21, 2008

Taking my Own Advice: The Power of Logging Food Intake

I've posted a lot in the past about how when I have been trying to lose weight how helpful I have found it to weigh food portions and log my daily food intake using software.

So when my recent attempt to drop the five pounds I packed on over the holidays seemed to be going nowhere, I decided it was time to take my advice and haul out the food scale and LifeForm food tracking software.

I've been logging my food intake for almost a week now, and, as usual, learning exactly what I've been eating is an eye-opener. Because I needed to clear the insulin out of my system (why is a long story I won't go into here) and because I can't handle more than a tiny amount of carbs without insulin, I've been eating the classic 1990s Atkins diet: meat, eggs, cheese, low carb vegetables and a daily large romaine salad filled with avocado, artichoke hearts, olives, green peppers and a small amount of tomato. I've been taking one 3 oz glass of wine at night which has helped greatly to lower my fasting blood sugar.

As expected I have found that my daily carb intake has hovered below 23 grams, which is reflected in the very good blood sugars I've been getting. However, I've been surprised by how many more calories it turns out I've been eating. Far more than what I thought I'd been eating.

Though by now I should know my portion sizes, I've been eating a lot more calories than I thought. Since I'm only 5' 3" and sedentary thanks to a really bad back, my body needs only about 1,600 calories a day to maintain. To lose weight, I have to eat less than that, and logging showed me that while I was eating less, it was only around 100 to 200 calories less--which means it would take from 18 days to more than a month to lose one pound. No wonder I wasn't seeing any dramatic weight loss.

So for me, the difference between weight loss and no weight loss often boils down to a few bites of cheese scattered through the day. Those few bites probably explain why so many stalled Atkins dieters find that cutting out cheese jump starts their diet.

It has nothing to do with any inherent properties of dairy, as many people erroneously believe. It's just that having what feels like "a few bites" of cheese lets you add an extra 300 calories to your daily input without feeling like you've eaten anything. And if you are within 20 pounds of your diet goal--the range where calories really start to count--those three hundred calories may be all it takes to stall you.

Logging my food showed me another problem area, too. Just as I caution others on my diet page about protein intake, which you can find HERE eating too much protein can also cause problems, and it turns out I have been eating a lot more protein than I need to eat.

I'd forgotten the important point that neither Atkins or Bernstein mention: that after a few weeks on a ketogenic diet your body makes certain adaptations which allow your brain to run partially on ketones. Once this takes place, you need a lot less protein than you do during the first two or three weeks on a low carb diet. This adaptation may also explain why so many low carb dieters stall out after week three. They are still eating those high protein intakes that the books recommend which aren't needed once the body is fully adapted to the diet.

This excess protein does a couple things. One is that it really irritates my urinary tract thanks to the production of ammonia as a breakdown product of protein digestion. But even more importantly, the liver turns that excess protein into glucose which raises my blood sugar. So as soon as I eat too much protein, I get hungry.

People often claim that ketogenic dieting ends hunger, but this is only true if the diet keeps blood sugars flat. For a person like me whose pancreas doesn't work properly, too much protein leads to significant rises in blood glucose as my liver transforms 58% of that protein into glucose. And that rise makes me hungry.

The answer for me may be to eat more fat and less protein. I have calculated how much protein I need to eat and it is about 30 g or five ounces less than I've been eating each day. If I can get the protein down to where it is supposed to be, hopefully I'll end the hunger that has me nibbling all that cheese and get my calories down to where I can lose the 1 to 2 pounds a month. That is a healthy rate for me. Even better, past experience has shown that I can maintain a weight loss achieved by dieting at that rate--though I may have to get back on the metformin to do so.

Meanwhile after 3 weeks on this diet I am down roughly 1 lbs not counting the 3 lbs of water weight that dropped off me as soon as I cut out all the carbs. Naturally weight fluctuates up and down on a daily basis, but averaging my daily weight gives me a pretty good idea of what is going on, and I probably will make it to 2 lbs lost for the month if I go easier on the protein.

How are you folks who started the January diet doing? Will you make it to the Super Bowl, still on your diet, unlike 99.5% of those who started on January 1? I hope so!

If you are having trouble, I'd urge you to find an online support group where you can find people who may have helpful tips for solving the problems you are running into. All the low carb diet books grossly oversimplify what is required to lose weight on this diet and they also make you feel like everyone else who does the diet finds it easy, which isn't true. Experienced dieters can really help you as you encounter the known speed bumps along the road.

You'll find a list of online low carb support forums HERE.


Anonymous said...

I am almost one month into Intermittent Fasting (Brad Pilon's Eat Stop Eat). The scale at the gym I like has been broken, but my Indicator 501 Jeans (pun, haha)have become loose rather than a little snug. I fast from dinner to dinner two times a week. Insulin down from 20 to 18 units, and FBGs generally 80-100, down about 15. Note, my 2 month plus old Lantus was quitting working, even though it is always refrigerated. But back to normal with new vial. RobLL

Anonymous said...

Hi Jenny - that's interesting that the wine is improving your fasting numbers. I've noticed that wine or a beer with dinner greatly lowers my post-prandials, but never linked it with my fasting the next morning. Are you drinking the wine with dinner or afterwards, or does it matter? Red or white?

Jenny said...

Lancet Queen,

I have been drinking the wine around 8 or 9 PM.

Unfortunately, over the past few days my poor old munged up back has gotten really painful so I haven't been able to drink anything because I have to be able to take Tylenol. My fasting bg has gone right back into the low 100s again too.

Anonymous said...

I'm so happy to have found this blog, and all your other info. I was diagnosed as diabetic about 9 months ago, and managed to lose 20 pounds but stalled out. I hadn't realized I should be keeping an eye on my protein intake, and have been eating mostly low carb but a bit too high on protein. Will be reducing that slightly, and hope to lose more of this blub. Also, I've torn a muscle in my back and have been having a heck of a time with it -- didn't know that the Tylenol might be one reason why my BG numbers have been a touch higher than I'd like recently. (I try and try to have non-diabetic numbers. Sometimes I make it, often I'm just slightly higher than "normal," but thankfully I find that cutting the carbs has kept me well below the "ok for a diabetic" numbers my doc told me I could hope for.)

Thanks much for all the great information. I appreciate having solid info and advice on your sites to turn to.

Red Sphynx said...

FBG's are tough. My overall control is pretty good (A1c of 5.3%, postprandials almost always below 140) but FBGs still run high (119 mg/dl this morning.)

Is there one page that collects a lot of strategies, tips and warnings for controlling FBG?

Jenny said...

Fasting blood sugar is the toughest to lower. But you are doing something right. My fbg has been a lot better than yours--high 80s and 90s for many months, and I stay under 140 most of the time, too but my A1c hovers around 5.7%.

Anonymous said...

"I'd forgotten the important point that neither Atkins or Bernstein mention: that after a few weeks on a ketogenic diet your body makes certain adaptations which allow your brain to run partially on ketones. Once this takes place, you need a lot less protein than you do during the first two or three weeks on a low carb diet. This adaptation may also explain why so many low carb dieters stall out after week three."

I am not diabetic yet, but I have found that I need less protein than I used to in order to stave off hunger. I thought it was because I was somewhat depleted of protein initially and needed more to rebuild muscle mass. Now that the muscle mass has been rebuilt, voila, two eggs satisfies me when I used to eat three.

But your explanation makes sense, too.

The newer edition of Atkins doesn't advocate any particular level of protein - he skirts the issue by saying, "Eat enough to feel satisfied." That's a tricky piece of advice to follow.

Jenny said...

Atkins says a lot of vague things that his disciples study with Talmudic intensity. And now that he's dead the people running his company say a lot more things, all of which are meant to get folks buying their questionable products.

The science in DANDR is crap too. He cites studies that were completely discredited and doesn't cite any of the good research that was available at the time the wrote that book. The fact that he put no real effort into presenting any of the peer reviewed research that supported his diet and the way he slapped his name on the diet kept professionals from taking the diet seriously for many years--which hurt a lot of people.

That is why Atkins' is not my favorite LC diet book, but since so many people read it first, we have to live with it.

Atkins' diabetes book is AWFUL. He didn't know much about the subject at all.

Low Carb Band-It said...

Jenny - I'm the lady that wrote to you on the LC Friends board and was telling you how when I upped my calories near my BMR that I FINALLY starting losing weight after a year at a stall. I also increased my carbs a bit as well.

Anyways, just wanted to say I was going to forward this blog post to my diabetic mother. She too struggles to lose with her diabetes. Trying to find the fine line to make it happen for her has been very frustrating. It may be I inherited her difficulty in losing weight as well. She's only diabetic due to the drugs she took to prevent her breast cancer from coming back.

Regina Wilshire has a whole group of articles on BMR and weight loss you may want to take a peek at as well: http://weightoftheevidence.blogspot.com/search?q=bmr

Thanks for yet another great blog post!

Jenny said...


Regina always has blog posts worth reading!

Your mom is not only contenting with diabetes but normal aging which slows BMR dramatically.

And since she's probably estrogen-suppressed it is even harder. With low estrogen levels the body will do everything it can to put on fat because fat stores estrogen and may even help synthesize estrogen.

So with all she's dealing with your mom is fighting forces you can't begin to imagine. Before menopause weight loss was so easy for me I look back in complete wonderment.

And I feel great shame now for the thoughts I about overweight older women because back then I assumed they could have lost weight easily too if they'd just tried. Little did I know.

And most of the "experts" who pontificate about weight loss are equally clueless. When some 30 year old male gym rat talks about how we could prevent obesity with "simple lifestyle changes" I can't help but hope that reincarnation is real and that he'll come back as a middle aged lady some day and try to take his own advice!

v/vmary said...

Jenny, are you still on the 5:2 diet? If not, why not? Thanks.

Jenny said...

v/vmary, I ate 5:2 for one whole year. Towards the end I found I was feeling too hungry on the non-fast days so I took a break for a few weeks, though I am still fasting some of the time. I regained a bit of the weight I had lost but am still under my goal, so I'm happy. It is a nice break from having to diet stringently every day.