Fat, Dumb, and Not So HappyBy
After my annual physical, a little over a year ago, I was told that I needed to lose some weight and lower my blood glucose level. I was informed that I had slightly elevated blood sugar and my doctor warned that, if I ignored it and it continued to rise, it could grow up to become diabetes. My doctor’s a real buzzkill.
My two best friends on this planet are diabetic. They both have to inject insulin daily to keep their blood glucose levels in check. They seem to manage pretty well, but it’s a dominant factor in their lives. They have to think about it almost all the time. And I have apparently come very close to joining them. My first thought was, “Well, maybe this is not so bad. We could cut down our costs by sharing syringes.” Then one of them pointed out that, if I wasn’t one already, that idea alone would make me a moron. So, I dropped it.
I came home, got online, and started searching for the diet that would allow me to lose thirty pounds and lower my blood sugar without interfering with my penchant for eating Butterfingers and washing them down with Beck’s. Alas, I didn’t find it. My considerable and careful (seriously) research did however yield a diet plan that seemed to fit most of my requirements (sans the Butterfinger/beer snacks).
So, I zoomed off to Amazon.com and ordered The South Beach Diet: Super Charged by Arthur Agatston, M.D. This was, apparently, a new and improved version of the already famous South Beach Diet, with extra added super powers. While I was there, I also ordered The South Beach Diet Quick and Easy Cookbook by the same aforementioned doctor. The South Beach Diet promises to “show you how you can burn more calories and fat in less time, as you lose your cravings for sugary and starchy carbs, lower your blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and improve your overall health.” Just the ticket. How hard could this be?
My books arrived a few days later, and I began flipping through them. The recipes looked good, and there seemed to be very little that you had to give up entirely, and even those for only a couple of weeks. I read a little bit each day, but it began to look like this was actually going to require some action on my part. I hadn’t counted on that. Both books lay on my living room coffee table for several months. After all, I was going to do this, but I had to wait for the right time to start. Then, mysteriously, they got moved to a drawer, still in the living room, but out of sight. And then, inevitably, out of mind.
Before you could blink, another year had rolled by, and I found myself sitting naked on the butcher paper covered table in my doctor’s office, explaining why my blood glucose level was almost the same as the year before. Just as a side note, I find it difficult to explain anything convincingly when I’m naked. Goes back to high school, but that’s a story for another post. On the upside, I had lost ten pounds over the previous year, and he offered lukewarm commendation for that.
I slunk back home, rummaged through the credenza drawers, and resurrected my South Beach Diet library. It was time to get serious. Really. Luckily, this diet does allow you to eat most of the things you like, with some variations in preparation. For instance, steak is fine. Chicken-fried steak with country gravy, not so much. Anyway, because of this, my wife was happy to join me on the new regimen. She had no weight to lose, and as far as we know her blood sugar is fine. She was going for the “improved overall health.” Plus, I knew it wouldn’t last if we were preparing two different menus for every meal.
Before I discuss results, I should point out that this routine has been the easiest to follow and stick with that I’ve ever seen. You’re encouraged to eat three meals a day plus at least two snacks in between. The goal is to never let yourself become very hungry. It concentrates on high-fiber, nutrient-rich carbohydrates (from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains), good unsaturated fats, lean sources of protein, and low-fat dairy. And I promise that I have yet to feel deprived.
Beef, pork, fish, chicken, cheese, fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads, cereals and pastas, nuts, peanut butter, wine, light beer, and even desserts. It’s all here. It’s all okay. Like I said earlier, the things that you’re required to give up entirely are only disallowed for the first two weeks. After that, you start to add these things back into your meals. The premise is, that by this time you have lost any cravings for the “bad” things in your diet, and can now enjoy them as part of a balanced nutritional plan. There is even guidance for dining in restaurants. It’s really not that hard.
So, how have I done so far? Not bad. In the first week, I lost eight pounds. Over the next two weeks, I lost an additional eight pounds and my blood glucose level is down by six points. And I began reintroducing “forbidden” foods back into my diet after the first two weeks. Phase One, the first two weeks, is aimed at breaking your cravings. I am officially into Phase Two of the diet now, and will be until I reach my desired weight. I intend to lose another ten pounds. In Phase Three, there are essentially no restrictions on what you can eat, but you’re expected to have come to a truce with food by that time, and have reached a new understanding of quality and quantity. Your new eating habits are presumed to be second nature by then.
I have to say that I’m sincerely impressed with this approach. I’m never hungry. I feel better. And I’m beginning to look better, since the weight I’ve lost seems to be coming off my belly. You know, where I was storing the Butterfingers and Becks. As with most diets, the weight lost in the first week or two is largely water, so it’s important to stay well-hydrated and keep your electrolytes in balance. Take full advantage of the snacking aspect of the plan. It’s important not to let yourself become famished. And if you have underlying medical conditions, always ask your doctor if this kind of plan is right for you.
If you decide to give it a try, I wish you good luck. I will post updates here to let you know if I run into any serious drawbacks, and to let you know how I’m progressing on the weight and blood sugar fronts. Here’s to your health.
Update: January 31, 2010
I know I promised, in the article above, to keep you posted on my progress with the South Beach approach to health and weight loss, but I decided to wait until after my next visit to the doctor, so that I would have some concrete and verified numbers to report. I figured that would be better than a week-to-week “here’s how much weight I’ve lost” kind of post.
Well, I just got those numbers a few days ago; new lab results and a visit to my killjoy of a doctor. I have to say that he was much more pleasant this time, since my results surprised even him.
First, since I began to change my eating lifestyle in October, I’ve lost 25 pounds. Now, that’s not a record-shattering number by any stretch, but since my goal from the outset was to lose 30 pounds in total, it means I’m almost there. I’m down from a peak, about 16 months ago, of 241 pounds to a svelte 205. I lost ten of that before starting on the South Beach program.
Secondly, and probably more important than the weight loss, is the decline in my blood glucose levels. High blood sugar was the real impetus for my starting this whole experiment in the first place. In October, the number was 112. That number is still “normal” but it’s at the high end of the normal range. Enough so that my doctor was concerned about a “pre-diabetic” condition. I’m happy to report that my blood glucose reading earlier this week was a surprisingly low 88. I’m told that anything under 100 is good. You know, unless it’s 16 or something like that. Then, you pass out and lapse into a coma. But, 88 is very good.
An unanticipated, at least by me, side effect of all of this is that my overall cholesterol level has dropped by about 40 points to a healthy 155. And my LDL level (the BAAAAD cholesterol) is 103. My doctor informs me that 100 is the perfect LDL level. My blood pressure is 110 over 70, but it’s always been in that area, so that’s not new.
I feel better and, if I do say so myself, I look better. I rarely have that uncomfortable stuffed feeling no matter how much I eat, and during the course of this entire four months, I have never felt deprived of food. It’s actually kind of amazing, but true. And, I have started to wear some of my abandoned clothing. Things that had either become uncomfortable, or that made me look like I was shoplifting a watermelon.
I should also point out that, at the very beginning, I made the decision that the “diet” would not effect what I had to eat during Thanksgiving and Christmas. On those occasions, I ate pretty much as I always have, in terms of what I ate. I probably ate less, however, just because it didn’t take as much to make me feel full.
I had pumpkin pie and apple pie, ice cream, whipped cream, and eggnog, as well as cornbread stuffing all the usual Thanksgiving and Christmas fare. But, in each case, I indulged myself for only one day and then went back to my new routine.
My wife weighed herself on the day after Thanksgiving and was depressed to see that she had gained two pounds. I waited for a week after Thanksgiving to weigh myself, and had lost two pounds since the previous weight check. The lesson here – you wouldn’t weigh yourself with a tray of food in your hands, so why do it with the same food in your stomach? Weigh yourself when you will be encouraged, not discouraged. And don’t weigh yourself too often. Try to go two, or three, or even four weeks between weight checks. You will almost never be disappointed.
And a last side note; I sent a copy of the South Beach book to a family member who is overweight and diabetic. He was having some difficulty taking off the weight and bringing down his blood glucose levels. After less than one month on the South Beach program, he has lost 20 pounds and reports that his blood sugar level has “plummeted.” I’m sure he meant that in a healthy way.
So, that’s my update. I don’t have any negative things to say about the South Beach program. It’s a couple of books. No fees. No special meals to purchase. No meetings. And no bizarre or exotic foods to eat. There are support websites, official and unofficial, where recipes and advice are available, but whether or not you use them is up to you. I took a look around on the web, but the program book and the cookbook proved to be all that was necessary for me. For you? Maybe not.
If I’ve left questions unanswered, feel free to drop me a note and I’ll tell you what I know and what I think. I will close by saying that, if you’ve had a hard time staying with a weight loss program, or if your issue is also blood sugar, I encourage you to give the South Beach book a try. It’s a small investment – or even free if you visit a library. The payback just might be a healthier and better life for you. Good luck.
The South Beach Diet: Super Charged is well laid out and easy to understand. You don’t have to guess whether something is okay or not. There are specific lists of foods for you to “enjoy” and to “avoid” for each phase of the diet, as well as lists of foods to reintroduce into the next phase. There are sample menus for you to follow if you wish, there are recipes and shopping lists, and thousands of resources online that offer even more ideas for new dishes and menus.
The South Beach Diet Quick and Easy Cookbook offers 200 additional recipes, that can be prepared in thirty minutes or less, for breakfast, soups and snacks, salads, fish and shellfish, poultry, beef, pork, and lamb, vegetarian entrees, side dishes, and desserts. Each recipe includes prep time, cooking time, and a complete breakdown of calories, fat, protein, carbohydrate, fiber, and sodium per serving.
The South Beach Diet: Dining Guide is a roadmap to dining out. It gives advice on what the best bets are in most restaurants. You can reference by type of cuisine, by restaurant name, by city, or by “chain.” Hundreds of restaurants across the country are listed, including Chili’s, Macaroni Grill, Cheesecake Factory, Cracker Barrel, Lone Star Steakhouse, Luby’s Cafeteria, and even McDonald’s, KFC, and Jack in the Box. You can look up Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Italian and dozens of other cuisines. It’s a great tool to have when dining out, particularly early on in the program.