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Now it’s time for another installment of Carb Wars! My responses in red…

Hi Matt,

This many not be what you’re looking for. I’m sure you are getting more interesting stories than this one. Or I could be on the completely wrong track about this. It’s just been recently that I’ve wondered if my problems stemmed from my brief venture into low-carb dieting. Please just ignore this email if it isn’t appropriate. Thanks for everything you do!

Oh it’s what I’m looking for – and no I don’t have other replies that I have cherry-picked. I’ve received exactly three responses to my low-carb battle story request and have now published each of those three.

I am a healthy 40 year old female, rarely sick, 125 pounds, 5’7”, good muscularity, low body fat, and have been on a mission to figure out why my husband Jim can’t lose his abdominal fat. About two years ago after reading Good Calories, Bad Calories, I studied Atkins and Dana Carpenter and decided the solution to his fat was a crazily low-carb, Atkins-type diet. Before putting him on the diet, I gave it a try. (This is actually my War Story – not Jim’s.)

Low-carb stallions have some excellent research, much of it that helps put the pieces of the great puzzle together. Taubes Good Calories, Bad Calories in particular is one of the most impeccable books on the diet/disease connection ever published – his war on carbohydrates was just taken, like with Atkins, a step too far. Oops.

All I ate for about a month was eggs, beef, chicken and cheese – very similar to the FUMP diet but not as healthy because this was before I got into raw milk & grass-fed beef. I had to eat every few hours, was grumpy if I didn’t and was always, always thirsty. My digestion was perfect – no gas or bloating. I bought the ketostix and checked constantly. I was also incredibly focused, had boundless energy and my ideas were fast and plentiful. I just felt smarter.

Many of these mental reactions come from the boost in adrenaline. I had the same. Many people get the same smart and focused feeling from stimulants like caffeine and cocaine as well as only sleeping a few hours a night (a decent night sleep turns down the juice and leaves them with tremendous ‘brain fog’ that they call “getting too much sleep”). Zero carb is a good short-term reliever for those with unmanageable diarrhea, gas, bloating, etc. – but so are most ‘mono’ diets, and the long-term consequences are seldom positive if continued for longer than a few weeks.

I was so certain that my alertness was due to my diet that for the next 6 or 7 months I still severely restricted carbs but started adding in some veggies which brought me occasionally out of ketosis.

Your alertness was due to your diet – specifically because your diet increased your adrenal output. This is something that feels good in the short-term, but Diana Schwarzbein is flawlessly accurate when she labels this a route to “breaking down,” or burning out. This is but one route to overtaxing the adrenals, each of which feels invigorating in the short-term (intense exercise, calorie restriction, stimulant use, being busy/stress).

I was putting on a workshop and planning an expansion at work. I have no doubt this extremely low-carb diet was directly responsible for my coming up with some amazing ideas and unique solutions. I was resourceful, inspired and imaginative – more on top of my game than ever.

Physically, I felt great, still worked out regularly, dropped a few pounds, and my skin hadn’t been clearer since before puberty. I also slept great. I never really got hungry. That comparison about eating while low-carbing being like cutting your toenails was right on, Matt. I could take it or leave it. As I learned more about nutrition, I gradually worked my way out of low-carb over the course of a year.

Most people think low-carb is wonderful because they lose their appetite. This is glorified in today’s day and age because we think that food abundance is the source of our miseries. The less you eat the better. This is a huge mistake on behalf of the masses.

What exactly did you “learn about nutrition” that made you decide to abandon low-carb?

I’m not 100% certain if this next part was a result of the low-carb diet, but it was very weird. For several months after I added more carbohydrate, I was obsessed with eating. I mean completely infatuated with it. I would try to get home before Jim to consume massive amounts of cheese, toast, peanut butter, milk, whatever. Thank goodness we didn’t have processed food around because I would have eaten that, too. Then I would eat dinner. Then I would have another big snack before bed. When he would go out of town, I would plan my bingeing.

Typical. This is how people get trapped into the low-carb black hole. Hunger is feared as the enemy. When carbs are reintroduced, hunger rages. Thus, carbs are reinforced as the root of all evil as low-carb gurus suggest. Much of this stems from glucose metabolism, which is worsened as the metabolism lowers during carbohydrate restriction (or restriction of any kind really).

What people fail to understand is that much damage can be done even when you are feeling good, losing weight, and having lots of adrenal-related energy. On the contrary, you can be healing when you feel tired, sluggish, and are gaining weight – which is how people feel post-dieting as the body forces you to eat more, sleep more, and exert less to fix the damage you did while dieting.

I’ve never been so preoccupied with eating. It was bizarre. If I was at work or had a project going on at home I was okay. But if I was bored, I would pig out. This went on for about six months. My metabolism must not have been too bad because I just put back on what I lost low-carbing. The worst part was how out of control I felt. Sometimes I was hungry, but usually not. The compulsion to eat was strongest when I was not hungry.

This is just like the starvation studies Taubes refers to – afterwards the men would eat as much food as they physically could, and they still desired more. It was the epitome of compulsive eating. I believe you had this reaction, in a nutshell, because really low-carb eating, especially when it is inducing a strong level of appetite reduction, is just another form of starvation in disguise.

Based on what I learned from this blog and the e-books, I started increasing my fat intake earlier this year. It wasn’t until I started cooking with and eating substantial amounts of ghee, coconut oil and tallow that my food fixation has subsided.

Yes, eating fat helps tremendously, particularly the types of fat you mention. Fat provides better satiation, slower digestion/stomach emptying, better blood sugar stability, and so on.

Could my low-carbing be responsible for this psychological strangeness? Maybe it’s a red herring, but I can’t figure out what else would cause it. Everything else in my life was the same.

Um, hell yes?!

It is almost unbearable that what I thought was helping my body was instead damaging it. While those months of high productivity were of great benefit, I would gladly exchange them for that awful time of secret eating and guilt.

Don’t sweat it lil’ tiger. You’ll be able to fix yourself right up, and I’m sure that cutting out refined carbs for the better part of a year had to have done some good. It’s a fantastic lesson in Body vs. Mind. I’ve got all my money riding on “Body.” Only a micro-minority of people can overcome the overwhelming pleas of the body (and the ones that do shoulda listened). I sure as shit ain’t one of ‘em.

Now go eat plenty of fat, overcome your fear of carbs, and continue to be the fit and healthy woman you sound like you were to begin with. There’s no need for anyone in good health to go to such extremes in diet. As for Jim, he sounds like he’s got some of that good new-fashioned insulin resistance. Check that body temp, and experiment with a very low-sugar diet to start with devoid of caffeine and alcohol.

If YOU have a low-carb story to share, with great or tragic results or both, send an e-mail to [email protected] and we’ll get it up on the blog!