Most the best lessons in life come from what we mess up, and how we mess it up.
I have been on and off lowcarb for three years now. There are lessons, both from weight loss, and from lack of it -- and lessons both from staying on plan, and from falling off -- that I have learned as part of this process.
I thought to celebrate getting my ass back on plan here I would document a few of these lessons learned. Partly as a reminder to myself. But also so I can link some other people to it who I see are new to LC and around my size. These will not be short because I want to explain a bit, but I'll do it in a list.
As a caveat, of course this is my opinion based on what works for me and often others I've met and see in the same situation weight-wise. But everyone is different.
Also: I feel these are more specific to "supersized" people. Not just low-carbers, not just people overweight, but especially for people who are 300#+. Because there are some issues that are just a helluva lot more critical when you are 150#+ overweight than when you are 40# overweight, that's just the way it is.
So possibly worth what you're paying for it, but well intended, here is my list.
10 Biggest Lessons for the Biggest People
1. Nobody knows. Get over the idea that you or anybody else knows much of anything about your body metabolism. Everything you have learned from media, school, parents, and other forms of indoctrination regarding nutrition and bodies is (a) mostly wrong about most bodies anyway it turns out, and (b) with few exceptions, definitely wrong about yours. There are generalities between people, sure, but there is so little serious research done on morbidly obese persons (let alone 2x MO) that even the Ph.D.'s most expert in the world at this subject don't have all the answers. Or even many. So that means that no magazine article or lecturing coworker does either, ok? If your body was 'typical' of healthy college research subjects, it wouldn't be huge. Nobody knows jack about your body. Probably including you. So toss out everything you think you know, and ignore all the people who feel entitled to lecture you with their opinions, and start from scratch.
Because this is not just a diet or eating plan: more importantly, this is a learning process. Whether you succeed or fail in a meal, in a day, in a week, is less important to the "big picture" than what you learn about your body and yourself in the process. Knowledge is power; the more you learn about your body and yourself, the more power you have to improve things. That's going to take experimenting. It's going to take writing down what you're doing so that when you have results in any direction you can look back on it and understand what that means, and learn something. It's going to take NOT taking everything literally and not thinking that what others say is always true for you. Take advice from the best experts you can find (lowcarb authors are a good place to start) and then pay attention to what works, and doesn't, for you.
2. Protein matters more than carbohydrates. That doesn't mean that carbs don't matter or that you can eat a lot of them. It means that of the things which make me feel better vs. the things which make me feel worse, and the things which help me stay on plan vs. the things that send me spiraling into the pasta, the most important thing, more than every other consideration, is sufficient animal protein. In order to maintain a positive eating and moving plan you need three things especially: a) psychological enthusiasm, b) physical energy to DO it, and c) lack of overwhelming temptation to NOT do it (eg avoiding cravings, situational problems, etc.). Getting enough protein is a major helper in all categories.
Many supersize people err on the side of not eating, or eating an insufficient amount of protein especially, or eating too seldom. We think, "It's fine," or "I lived, so what" or "well it's a few less carbs/calories, so that's good, right?" No, it's not. Here's the deal: when appetite is low (and it's not ketosis) it's because metabolism is low. Eat the damn food if you want your metabolism to wake up. And if it's ketosis, eat it because you need the protein and aminos whether or not your body is more than happy to skip the calories. You feel fine today so you think you can not bother to make yourself lunch because cooking's a pain, right? But know that what it affects is not just how you feel right now but how you'll feel in 1-3 days. As well as contributing to the decisions you make for the next few days. Everything you eat is more important than the trivia of its moment.
I think this is moreso an issue for the largest folks, but in my view, the most important thing is not "not eating carbs" but rather IS "eating protein." MEAT IS FOOD. Everything else is nature's extra vitamins and treats. Unless you eat A COW it's nearly impossible to get too much protein in your day (because animal protein is damn filling and you have a lot of muscle-bone-tissue to feed that is NOT fat), though it's important to spread your meals/intake out through the day. [Edited to add: I changed my mind. Meal spacing is mostly a myth and for bigger people it's probably better to do it differently. See Myths of Fasting.] Find out your minimum protein needs (get the Drs. Eades' "Protein Power Life Plan" book as a good start) and eat at least that much every day. If you have to err in either direction, do it with more, not less. You can experiment with what is best for you in this area over time. Some people may find less protein is better for their unique body. But if you are supersized, to begin with, EAT MEAT.
3. The foods you choose matter more than the carbs you count. If you are supersized, it is probably not going to make too big a difference whether you eat 8 carbs or 35: the goal of a ketogenic diet is a ketogenic state, and you can experiment and see what you can eat daily and remain there (the amount of carbs you can eat and be ketogenic does vary by person and over time). At that point pay more attention to what is going in your mouth. I am not referring to vegetables or organic here, I'm referring to the larger picture of how food affects your body and mind, not just today but between now and 72 hours from now.
You may think that when you decide, "Oh to hell with it, I'm going to have beer and pizza just this once!" that it is a spontaneous decision. I have learned about myself at least, that this is wrong. Food is a chemical in the body and all chemicals are drugs, for better or worse, and all drugs will affect your body and your mind is part of your body. My state of mind, energy level, psychological enthusiasm, emotional stability, physical strength, carb craving, and more are directly tied to the previous week of my eating, with the most effect actually coming from 2 days before (oddly!) but really being a composite of the previous week, with the days closer in time having the most impact.
Pay attention to how foods affect you. It's perfectly fine to eat something if it's within your general nutrient-goals, but not if its ingredients turn out to trigger more interest in carbs and less interest in protein in you within the next 24-72 hours. (If you're thinking, "I don't have food triggers," and you are more than 40# overweight let alone 200# overweight, I suspect you might not know your body well enough yet.) Food intolerances are also often undiagnosed and can be an issue in triggers or symptoms, probably as much or more for the supersized -- as it may be possible they contribute to that condition in one or more ways. (Gluten and dairy being two of the most commonly undiagnosed.) Find whatever foods make you feel good and strong and do not inspire you to eat poorly 1-72 hours from then, and eat those. I don't care if "other people" are lowcarb and eat a certain food and it works for them. You are not other people. Foods that fit the numbers and do not trigger you is what matter most.
If a lowcarb wrap has only 6 ecc but the gluten gives you mild asthma or the wheat sparks some gnawing desire in the background to eat other wheat-ish things, it is NOT ok. This is not a dietary plan for the paper it gets written on, it's a plan for YOUR body. Once you are ACTive rather than REactive concerning your diet, then you can focus in on the vast array of lovely foods you 'can, in theory' eat because X oz. of it fits within your carb limit. Something being lowcarb is not nearly as important as it being something that doesn't trigger you. A carb limit per day is not an excuse to eat anything up to that number. This is not just about numbers. It's about your body. What you eat and how it affects you is critical.
4. Survival beats idealism. There are so many good points of advice for healthy habits and eating. But let's just focus on what matters most here: if you are hundreds of pounds overweight, getting some fat and bloating off you promptly probably matters more to your health and longevity and staying with a new plan than whether you had 3 servings of veggies or your meat was free-range or your butter was organic.
If you have been on lowcarb a few months and learned something about your body and the eating plan, then you will probably find your way into foods that are more convenient, bulk-made, freezeable/nukeable, healthier, more organic, more 'whole-food', etc. You will learn to cook more or better to fit the plan. You will learn what you can do quickly, what requires little if any cooking, what is best for lunch at work, and more. All that will come with time. But when you begin this effort, up front, focus on whatever you have to do to make lowcarb with sufficient protein happen. Focus on whatever makes it feasible for you to succeed in staying on plan, because that's what matters most.
Lowcarb is a vast adaptation for most of us, not only changing habits we've had for decades but forcing a different behavior in the midst of an overwhelming cultural norm about food (and even in the face of overt cultural bias). If you aren't really going to eat veggies because you don't like them, trying will only be a drag, that isn't practical or long-term. Find something else you might like instead, maybe some homemade guacamole on a burger. If you hate everything green, then don't eat it. You can work on your resolutions for the 'details' of your diet and how you might like to improve it once you are in the swing of things. One thing at a time! Initially let's just make sure you can stay ON the diet OK? If you are working 70 hours a week and find that eating pepperoni & mozz nuked, or cooked burger patties defrosted and nuked, or some cold precooked tyson chicken breasts dipped in ranch, is more workable for you then a long list of seemingly healthier foods, then do it!
If you keel over dead you're not going to have time to worry about the organic or unprocessed rating of your lunch. First rule is to 'to do' it; 'how' you do it comes second. Drop the carbs, drop some weight, get yourself into a solid keto state with consistent animal protein and start to make it a habit. Get yourself to the point where you can stay on lowcarb without being at risk of "inconvenience" (of a dozen different kinds) driving you off, and THEN you can start obsessing on the smaller details. This change in eating plan is a LOT to take on at once--more details than most people can imagine, more habits and triggers and situations and issues than most realize. Don't make it worse, don't overcomplicate and overstress over every detail.
Here's my motto: Do the best you can, and live long enough to do better. If you aren't eating on plan and you are supersize, your LIFE is in danger, period. Start dealing with that issue via lowcarb pronto!, via whatever foods work for you up front with your likes, habits and schedule (and body-triggers), then worry about refining the details as you go.
5. Find people who have succeeded and learn from them. The lowcarb forums online have quite a few people like this, of both genders, of every age and size and former-size. Lowcarb for the supersized is not a temporary diet, it's a way of life if it's to do even half the good you hope. Books are great but they are written for the masses. Individuals who have faced all the trials and learned from them are more likely to be the dose of realism in your life.
6. Deliberately plan "adaptive" behaviors for when things are difficult. When you find yourself obsessed with food all the sudden (it can happen), eat protein immediately (preferably protein+fat), and if you still are focused on it mentally, then "plan" on it. I have spent hours reading internet lowcarb recipes for delicious chocolate concoctions that in fact, I have never made and probably will never make, but because I was able to focus my obsession of the moment on reading rather than eating, by the time I finished gathering all my recipes and grand plans, it was either time for bed anyway or the huge hamburger patty I ate had finally diminished all interest in seriously diving into the kids' halloween candy or a delivery pizza. Learn how to re-focus your attention during the times when your attention is heading for the carbs.
7. Don't attach dates to weight goals. Nobody can predict how fast they will lose weight. The same eating plan that will drop pounds off you at lightspeed will also see 1 lb per month fall off some other time. I'm sure you'd like to know why, and so would every other overweight person on earth. There are a million variables here and even the best research doesn't yet have the answer. So unless the aliens landing on the White House lawn bring that information with them, it's probably going to be a mystery to humans for awhile more. This is a long-term project and attaching specifics to a process-result you really only have partial control over, that is subject to a myriad of variables we don't even know let alone control, is setting yourself up for disappointment.
What matters is that you are focused on what works for you TODAY and planning for the rest of the week. One step at a time here. Your only task is "the next meal". What matters to your goals is having respect for whatever you are accomplishing--and it's not always reflected on the scale (that's a separate item). If you can do this, you can stay on plan, and realize, "Wow, six weeks has passed!" and you've lost weight. It may be more, less, or the same amount of weight as what you hoped to lose during that period. Oh well! What matters is that you had six weeks of not getting fatter, six weeks of not eating stuff that drove you offplan, six weeks of feeling strong and knowing you have a better future, six weeks of probably getting more body-motion in than you would have otherwise due to feeling better, six weeks more practice at something that your life and future depend upon.
I see people coming into lowcarb with a Big Idea, they're going to lose exactly X# in a year and they want to find every great 'success story' of rapid weight loss and calculate the odds and how much per month that is and try to decide what they can plan on based on that. If you are supersized, just plan on being HEALTHIER. Stronger. Clearer. If you can make that happen, everything else will fall into place to whatever degree other circumstance are going to allow. There is much debate about diet and exercise and the degree to which it helps lose weight, but of one thing I can assure you, even without a medical degree: Angst over the speed of it will not help at all.
In the end, it doesn't matter. If you feel like you might just die if you can't be 150# thinner in a year, I understand totally, but grow up: in a year you will be a year older anyway, and you can either be as thin as eating well and lowcarb gets you, however much thinner that might be, or you can be the same weight you are now or worse because unrealistic expectations brought such disappointment it drove you offplan entirely. Would it at least be better to lose a little, than to lose nothing in a year? Yes. So focus on doing the right things and let the weight take care of itself at the schedule your body is capable of. Usually you will find in the first six months especially that it works just fine.
8. Health is a bigger issue than the scale, and weight loss can come in cycles. Everything else in your body is cyclical, from cellular growth to hormones to brainwaves, so why should this be so different? There are going to be times when you lose weight on the scale. There will be times you see no effect whatsoever. (That doesn't mean that stuff is not going on inside your body.) There will be times when you realize you're not losing weight but your clothes are getting looser. Or your energy is getting higher. Or your flexibility and strength are expanding. There are a lot of ways to measure "improving health" and the scale is only one.
If you are eating well, but not losing weight, but you're out on your knees working the garden in a way you couldn't do or didn't have the energy for even when 50-150# lighter, then I think it's obvious that lowcarb IS helping. If you place all your focus on the scale you are merely going to get demoralized when that particular part of the overall health cycle is not showing results for awhile. It isn't SUPPOSED to show results all the time! It will cycle. This has probably been the hardest lesson I'm still working to absorb of anything. We put all our enthusiasm focus on what the scale says and that's ridiculous, because many of the most important things, whether mental or physical, probably happen internally for awhile first and only show up clearly on the outside in the medium to long term, as a follow-on related to that quiet internal change, anyway.
9. Anybody can do weight-bearing exercise, and that's the kind you need. Forget cardio, and I don't just mean because of the many arguments against it comparatively, or because it's way more dangerous generally for supersize folks, I mean because everything is cardio when you're supersized anyway. What you need is something that focuses on strength training.
If you are so large or sedentary that you can hardly move, no problem: start with your arms, no weights. Lift them as many times as you can. Write down the number, even if it's one half of one. Do it again the next day or in a few days and work to do a little bit more. Put a chair by something you can grab onto and stand up, using your arms as needed, but using your legs as much as possible. Hold onto something and lift one leg straight up as much as you can, even if it's two inches, hold as long as you can and put it down. Nearer my high weight I did "froggies" -- squatting on the ground with my hands flat on the ground between my legs, for as long as I could hold it. It was hard to get there, and I had to roll over sideways to get out of that, and it took 5 minutes to get up off the floor! Pitiful! So what? That did more to strengthen my hip flexors, the muscles used for lifting your legs, than anything and that made a huge difference in my ability to move around.
If you're in slightly better shape, do Goblin Squats -- these spread the legs, point the feet outward, put the arms up high, and can allow decent form for back even if you're really large and usually non-injury to knees (regular knee bends/squats can be problematic when supersized). If you can buy a weight bench, barbell and dumbbells, awesome. If you can't, lift the cans of diced tomatoes or something.
Atkins once wrote, "Exercise is not negotiable." You NEED to exercise for so many reasons. It's not just about weight loss. It's not even just about muscle gain and hence metabolic increase (e.g. that as I once read, 3# of muscle was the caloric metabolic equivalent of jogging 21 miles per week, or something like that). [Edited to add: Turns out that's a myth. Oh well!] It's also about reducing insulin resistance. If you're really fat, you've got a problem with that, pretty much guaranteed. It's also about increasing the blood/oxygen flow to every part of your body including your brain and this can have important results on health. Be sane, don't hurt yourself, just like with dieting, don't make unrealistic goals. Just do it. Each time you walk through the living room do something. It does not have to be a gym membership. If you just do it, even in small but consistent measure, you will find you are much more inclined to 'move' as time goes on.
I need to mention one thing: I honestly thought, at one point, that the reason it took effort to step up on a curb, or one foot at a time on steps hauling myself up with the arm rail, etc. was because I weighed 400#. That was A TOTAL LIE. A total lie! When I drop all the bloating that carbs and food my body doesn't like gives me, when I increase the strength that finally getting enough protein (so the body isn't busy re-building half its muscle daily) gives me, I could do tons of stuff I could not do when 150# less, because it is not just about how much weight you're moving around, it's also about how much strength you have to move it, and how much internal-bloating/inflammation is gunking up the inside process. I shoveled compost and placed brick and raked and mowed etc. at 400# and knew people who at 300# could hardly walk "because they were so fat." Baloney! It is not because of fat it's because someone is not FIT. And you can work on getting fit at ANY size. So what if it's pitiful at first. Start where you are. Do a little all the time. Two months from now you'll be doing better. A year from now, wow, who knows? Just DO IT. Understand that "feeling strong" is not just physical. It will make you feel that way on other levels too, important areas for your overall drive.
10. Find a mental model that works for you as focus, and use it. If you are religious, pray about it. Every day. Schedule a time to talk to God. If you can schedule time with your dentist why not with God? If you're metaphysical, meditate. Do affirmations. If you're an atheist (or any of the former), learn self hypnosis. Take time for yourself each day to focus on feeling positive about yourself, your future, etc.
Whatever way this works for you, the point is that there is no full separation of body and mind and if you want to get your body in line you need to work on getting your head straight too. Every highly successful person, from CEO's to athletes, knows that your mental focus is a huge, absolutely enormous portion of success. Any 'motivational' program, book, video, etc. can be usefully applied to this healthy goal, so you might consider looking for stuff like that if you think it will help inspire you.
Don't look at your new grand plan for yourself as 'a food thing' alone. That's merely one part of the equation of your overall health and well-being. You should also MOVE, and you should also FOCUS, and whatever way you have of doing those three things, work it out! I have found that any one of the three areas helps to support and promote and maintain the others. And just like with your food intake, your efforts in any one area have impact on more than just the moment of time when they occur.
If you need help, advice, encouragement, inspiration, find the lowcarb forums online and make some friends. This is hands-down the most friendly supportive group of people I've encountered in 14 years of living and working on the internet. It's like the virtual equivalent of the Irish bar: you are already welcome there just because you're already one of them. Lean on people, ask questions, and look for how you can expand your vision to what is healthy life-wide: you are more than what you eat.
As last notes:
You matter. Your life and future matter to you. Your food, your movement, and your focus matter to your life and future. Every day you can learn something about yourself. Every mistake is a lesson learned. And let's get real: there's not a person on earth or a practice on earth that is new and different that a person just picks up and does perfectly, indefinitely. You're going to screw up now and then, but don't consider it failure, consider it a learning experience, just like playing a wrong note on an instrument or missing the hoop wildly in basketball, and keep going. Sometimes people even go offplan for long periods. Regain a bunch of weight. I see people say they feel like losers as a result. Nobody's a loser until they're dead. Until then your next opportunity to make a proactive and real change for the better in your life is only "your next meal away".
If you DO this, there is no way that you will not be improved by it--one way or in many ways. If it seems overwhelming, quit thinking about it! Pick some little thing and just do it better than yesterday and keeping adding more little things daily. When it gets hard, whether physically, practically, or emotionally, talk to other people with experience. Chances are they'll have ideas or perspective that set you straight and make you feel better and help you out in tangible ways.
Whatever or however you choose to approach your eating plan, if you're supersized it's a long term and permanent project. No "10 pounds to bikini summer" hype for you! It's less relevant whether you eat or don't eat any given specific thing as that you learn how your body reacts both to eating that specific thing, and to the intake of that overall nutrient set (e.g. how much carbs/fat/protein per day work for you at any given time). If you can eat fruit, dairy, cheese, wheat gluten, and still lose weight and feel great, then do it. If you can't, then figure out what's in the way, get rid of it, and do what you need to do. Write it down. Type it out. Make a plan, change it as needed, set it motion, and consider everything that happens along the way -- good, bad, or indifferent -- to be part of the educational process.
A year from now you will not only have less fat but you will be in better shape, more centered, and much more expert at the entire process.
It's worth doing! You are worth your doing it.