Making friends with fat

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If you are obese, assuming you don’t have some underlying health problem that glues the flab in place, all weight-loss diets work. You just have to pick one and stay on it, and eventually you will lose weight. Add exercise, and you will lose more weight (or at least inches) and gain muscle. If hunger or slow metabolism are a problem you can take pills for that, too.

Sounds simple, huh? So … what goes wrong? I mean, every time, for almost everyone. I’ve heard that there are people out there who start out really fat and do something about it and end up thin and live happily ever after, in the same way that I’ve heard there are people who start really poor and get rich, and ordinary girls and boys who grow up and marry princes or princesses, even without having to kiss any frogs. But I don’t actually know anyone that’s happened to. And – getting back to my original point – for every success story, there are 10 research projects filled with the stories of people who started out really fat, got thin, and then got even fatter.

Screw the view. Look at my flab! (Source)

Screw the view. Look at my flab! (Source)

The other day I read this post (the key message is in the video) in a blog I follow. I like Nancy’s blog because usually it gives me hope, and it’s full of excellent advice – even if a lot of it is still way beyond my level of ability. But this post made me want to climb into bed and just give up forever. According to the video, my brain has pegged my present truly terrifying weight (which has been pretty much unchanged, bar minor short-term ups and downs, for more than a year) as “normal”, and it will bring all available resources to bear to resist any downward trend – because to my ancient crocodile brain, weight loss = starvation and death.

In my case, this means that every time I experience a period of sustained, rapid weight loss, instead of feeling happy and encouraged, I hear the rumbling of a crocodile growl, and the goblin horde rushes screaming to the crocodile’s defense.

Actual photograph of events inside my gut.

Actual photograph of events inside my gut. (Source)

And then … I … panic. The only way through that panic is candy. Or cake. Or ice cream. Or even just a surfeit of grilled cheese sandwiches – really, it doesn’t matter; the only way through is food, the more starchy and sugary the better – that’s why they call it comfort food. It appeases the crocodile and calms the goblins and allows me to waddle on in the knowledge that nothing too scary has happened. Nothing has changed.

I’ve been fighting this all my life. I’ve seen doctors, who have helpfully told me I need to practice self-discipline or die. I’ve seen shrinks and dietitians, I’ve read books, I’ve made promises to people who love me (and to myself, who doesn’t always love me), I’ve joined clubs and signed up for challenges. I’ve ingested pills and injected hormones. I’ve wept and joked and prayed and pretended I don’t care.

I even started an accountability record on this blog. I kept it up for 10 days before I felt so dang embarrassed to be offering my readers such tedious drivel that I quit. Not the diet – I stuck that out for nearly the 40 days I’d committed to, but gave up around day 38 because I just didn’t get past feeling ghastly and the pounds weren’t budging.

After watching the video on Nancy’s blog, I reminded myself of a decision I made last year. Over more than half a century, I have been, in turn, chubby, plump, overweight, fat, obese and grotesque. Most of that time I’ve either been on diet or been rebelling against having to be on diet or felt bad about failing yet another diet. It’s time to try something different – and at this point I would like to apologize publicly to my poor body for taking so long to figure that out.

Last year, after the Daniel diet failed I promised myself I would never diet again. I set myself free.

This is pretty much how I spent the month Himself and I got acquainted "in the flesh" (as opposed to via email). So of course he had to marry me! (Pic taken from http://shop.jillnealgallery.com/)

The first thing Himself and I acquired together as a couple was a small print of this painting by Jill Neal. It still speaks to me. (Source)

I bet you think this post is about making friends with the fat that’s on my body, right? Something all warm and gooshy about loving myself despite yadda yadda.

Nope. Sorry. Or not sorry, actually, because what I think I maybe, just possibly, might have is good news of a practical, rather than gooshy, nature. At any rate I’m pretty sure it’s good news for me, and you might like it too. Instead of a diet, I’ve been looking for a lifestyle change, and I think I may have found it. I’m sharing it because it seems likely that there are others out there whose bodies work the same way as mine.

And that brings me to my first point. Human bodies are different in terms of what fuel they need, and how they process it. So if someone cites Adam and Eve, or alternatively billions of Chinese agrarians, as proof that humans do best on a diet of mainly rice and vegetables, that’s true. And when someone else cites Paleolithic hunter-gatherers as proof that what we really need is meat and more meat and occasionally berries (but not bugs because one must draw a line somewhere), that’s also true. The trick is to figure out what type of body you have.

It turns out that what my body thrives on appears to be the ketogenic lifestyle. I’m going to share what I’ve learned through research and personal experience in the next few posts; today’s post is really intended to put what I’ll be sharing in context. So, briefly, here are the answers to a few of the most obvious questions.

What does “ketogenic” mean?
It’s a high fat, moderate protein, very low carbohydrate way of eating that forces the body to obtain energy from fat rather than sugar.

In other words, it’s the Atkins diet. Or Paleo.
Somewhat. It’s like Atkins or Paleo on steroids, because a primary goal is to get into ketosis and stay there

That is the opposite of what the food pyramid recommends. Won’t it make you sick? 
There is a growing body of evidence that the grain-based, high carbohydrate diet recommended by the World Health Organization, the US Department of Agriculture and other similar western bodies is in fact potentially deadly. In my own brief experience, switching from carbs to fats has dramatically improved my energy levels, eliminated brain fog and eased chronic pain related to inflammation. I haven’t felt this good in years!

But … high fat. Yuck! And dangerous! Fat makes you fat! It clogs your arteries and gives you heart attacks!
Nope – fat is fuel. Your body would rather run on sugar, because it’s easier to break down – but it runs more efficiently on fat. (That’s especially true of your brain.) And another good thing about fat? Unlike sugar, it’s not addictive!

Surely such an extreme diet is just setting you up for failure?
Well, you’d think so. After a lifetime of giving things up only to be gobsmacked by cravings, it’s hard to believe that I can simply walk away from cakes and candy. I’m not going to pretend I’m never tempted … Right now, in fact, I’d really enjoy a short bout with Messieurs Baskin and Robbins, and if I go out to dinner and someone wafts a hot brownie under my nose I’m probably going to bite it. But what’s different is, most of the time I don’t even think about food. I rarely experience cravings, and those I do feel aren’t that hard to shrug off. That’s why I believe this really could be a lifestyle change, and not just another diet.

How do you know it’s not just a fad?
I don’t. Further, I don’t care. Seems to me one person’s fad may be another person’s lifestyle. What appeals to me about this is the way it makes me feel – energetic, healthy and clear-headed, and getting better every day. Beyond just listening to my own body, I’ve discussed it with my doctor, and I’ve researched it up the wazoo. I’m cautiously optimistic – enough, anyway, to be ready to talk about it.

I have more to tell you, but this is enough for one post. If you’d like to do your own research you’ll find interesting resources here, and here, and … oh, just google “ketosis”. That’s what I did!

Do you have any experience with the ketogenic approach to eating? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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About Belladonna Took

Into my second half-century and still trying to figure out what to be when I grow up. Born South African, naturalized American, at constant risk of losing my balance and landing ass-first in the Atlantic. A wife, a mom, a daughter and sister, kind of a grandma. Until recently a full-time dog rescuer, now more concerned with rescuing myself. User of dog hair as accessory, decor and garnish. Technical writer, strategic thinker, occasional entrepreneur. Voiceless poet and storyteller. Born again Christ-follower and former missionary schoolteacher chewing on some uncomfortable questions. Ignorer of rules, challenger of assumptions, believer in miracles. Skeptical libertarian, equal opportunity despiser of politicians and assholes. Gonnabe gardener, wannabe beekeeper, Monsanto-hating tree-hugger. Morbidly obese chocaholic, with a horse I don't ride because I might break him, and if not he would probably break me.

14 responses »

  1. I’m not familiar with ketosis, but I do know that consuming the right amount of good fat is CRUCIAL to health and wellness, and will turn your body into a fat burning machine. I learned a lot about nutrition during my week at “fat camp”. I wrote posts on fats, proteins and carbs. The one on fats is here, if you have interest. https://myyearofsweat.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/the-skinny-on-fat/

    The thing I love about your plan is that you are approaching it as a lifestyle. Anything with a start and end date (be it a diet or exercise program) is bound to fail as soon as you stop doing that thing.

    Best to you as you adopt this new lifestyle!

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  2. Oh, my gosh. Yes! i started eating Whole30 to curb inflammation gone wild. I had bloodwork done a few months later that was as fantastic as I felt. The only momentary curiosity for my doctor was the ketosis, but he was quick to point out it wasn’t bad … just unusual in today’s world. In this case, I am A-OK being unusual. I am going back to it tomorrow. I can’t wait to return to feeling great!

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  3. I haven’t a clue what works and have no recommendations to offer, but having seen Wild Thing struggle with a range of diets, food programs, and diets disguised as non-diets, I do understand that short-term solutions do pretty much nothing useful for a person. What we seem to have is a large-scale social problem that involves the kinds of food available to us (and promoted to us), and our now mostly sedentary lives–all of which gets blamed on individuals’ lack of self-discipline. Talk about an unhelpful way to approach the problem.

    Wishing you the best of luck.

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    • Thanks, Ellen … It’s really painful when your own body seems determined to sabotage itself. And of course ever since writing here that I feel “better than I have in years”, I’ve been enduring a nasty, niggling headache of the sort I used to get from a surfeit of chocolate. But I DIDN’T eat any, I swear!

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  4. I know there are medical conditions that require the person to only eat a strict fat diet. I have to say, I am grateful I am not one of them. I would get exhausted just eating one kind of food. Oddly, the minute you tell me I ‘can’t have ‘X, Y or Z’, I immediately start craving it. While pregnant, I avoided peanut butter because it was thought to contribute to peanut allergies if the baby was exposed in-vitro. The second I knew I couldn’t have it…I wanted it. And I don’t really eat much to begin with. So, I am with you on the failure of dieting and the positives of lifestyle changes. Good luck and be okay if, occasionally, you fall victim to sugar. It is omnipresent in our culture and lifestyle. I don’t know where you’d have to move (China, maybe) to avoid it. I guess you can always keep that as a back-up plan.

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    • You make me laugh 🙂 No need to move to China, and seriously I’m not battling (too much) with wanting sugar. But I agree, if I do eat something carby now and then it’s not the end of the world. I just have to plan on feeling like hell for a day or two afterwards … and knowing that is quite often a good disincentive!

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  5. Pingback: Kicking into ketosis | American Soustannie

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