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Beating the holiday bulge: Are low carb, high protein diets the answer?

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Beating the holiday bulge: Are low carb, high protein diets the answer?

I hear a lot of people, especially around holiday time, say that they are gaining weight, so they need to cut out carbs, and they will be back to their old shape in no time. This isn't necessarily true, and I don't actually believe in the low/no carb diets mostly because I get so horribly bitchy without carbs that the entire human race benefits from me eating a normal diet!  (Friends have actually learned to carry some skittles on them in case I miss a meal because I can go from me to exorcist in a hot second without food.....a handful of skittles and I am back in no time!!)  But, for those of you who tolerate forgoing the carbs, I want to let you know what is actually going on in your body and the pros and cons of this diet....it may not be best for you in the long term.  As well, I want to give some tips on beating the holiday bulge!!

What happens when I ditch the carbs?
Your body normally primarily uses carbohydrates to feed the brain, and all of your vital organs because carbs are quickly processed by the liver and turned into ATP (if you remember from my hangover blog how the liver breaks down simple carbs) which is easily used by the body as an energy source.  When you suddenly take away those carbs and that ATP as an energy source, the body needs to find the energy to go on from somewhere, so it starts using stored fat as a source of energy.  It sounds great right?  This is also known as starvation mode for your body, it is a state of Ketosis.  Ketones are formed when the glycogen (sugar) stores in the liver are low, which is important because the ketones are used in the brain as energy as they can cross the blood brain barrier (the bodies natural defense against keeping toxins out of the brain), because the brain cannot use fatty acids as energy, but it takes about 48 hours of no carbs for the brain to be able to use ketones as an energy source.  So, the rest of the body uses fat stores for energy, and when fat stores get low, the body starts breaking down protein...and by that I mean the protein IN your body, such as your muscles!  The body will store whatever small amounts of glucose that it gets as an emergency storage, in case it runs out of fat to burn because your body does not want to muscle waste.  So, when you lose whatever weight you want to, you go back to your normal diet, all those carbs that you take in go right into the emergency storage and it takes about 48 hours on the reverse side for your body to go back to using glucose from carbs as its main source of energy.  That being said, after 2-4 weeks after starting this diet, your body normalizes to it and the feeling of crabiness and missing carbs is said to disappear.

How is it useful?
Well, it is used medically sometimes for people with epilepsy, it was first used in the 1920's, and it is not truly understood why, but numerous studies have shown that a high protein/fat, low carb diet decreases seizures and seizure-like activity diminishes on EEGs (brain wave studies).
It also does help people drop weight very quickly, using fat stores instead of glucose and those who do it, are big proponents of it.

What are the cons?
-All of these extra ketones in your body can cause gout, kidney stones, and can cause kidney strain and failure (your kidneys rid the body of ketones so they tend to be overworked in this diet).
-Cholesterol levels can be extremely elevated to unhealthy levels due to the amounts of fat most people take in their diet, and you cannot have fiber in the form of oatmeal, etc to help decrease cholesterol levels and can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
-Many people skip eating vegetables and fruit because of the amount of "carbs" present, so they re missing out on essential vitamins, nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants.
-When your body goes into a ketotic state, you get really horrible breath...kind of a creepy "fruity" breath

Who should NOT do this diet?
Diabetics, people with heart disease or any risk factors for heart disease and stroke, anyone with kidney function disorders.  Even if you think that you are totally healthy, you should still talk to your HCP before starting this diet.

How do I beat the holiday bulge?
I know that it is the season to want eat a ton with family and friends, and eat stuff that you wouldn't at holiday parties, etc. but really the best way to beat the holiday bulge is to continue to exercise, and eat until you feel full...not until you need to unbutton your pants!!  If you do, instead of laying on the couch and "sleeping it off" go for a walk, a brisk 20 minute walk will increase your metabolism, and help you to break down those foods faster and feel like less of a porker the next day, I promise!! Even doing the dishes, having an impromptu dance party (which I happen to be a fan of), play Wii sports with the crew tournament style (not great exercise but better than nothing), or pop in a yoga/exercise DVD to get that blood flowing to the stomach to break down food AND the brain makes you burn more calories and helps you digest faster.  Also, make sure to drink lots of water, as many holiday foods are high in sodium and try to keep alcohol to a minimum (or not, I like to imbibe as much as the next guy....but make sure you keep active!) Get your family and friends to get involved; it is always harder to force yourself to get some exercise, but if other people want to go for a walk, or have a pooch that needs some exercise, get in on it and get the blood flowing!

Also, don't forget, it is actually a good idea to strap on the old feedbag every once in a while to really stimulate your metabolism and make it work!  Granted, eating tons of crap for two months is not what I mean, but having a big meal once a month or so isn't a bad idea, as long as you continue to exercise and don't let it become a habit.  If you think that you won't be as honest with your exercise as you think, then hire a personal trainer for the holiday season, if you have someone to hold you accountable for your health, you are more likely to keep in shape!!

I also want to let people remember, "diets" are only useful if sustainable for the long term and it is more of a lifestyle change, otherwise it is just a yo-yo diet and you lose and gain weight constantly.  So, make a life change that you can stick with.  But any way you choose to beat the holiday bulge, be it a no carb diet, exercise, or your own way, please be safe and remember that a healthy lifestyle means a healthy you!

Yours in Good Health

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