Monday, April 25, 2011

staring over the cliff's edge

Today is Easter, but tomorrow I start a two-week "induction" period on the Atkins Diet. While some of the recommended recipes on the Atkins website actually look quite tasty, the conspicuous absence of fruit, bread, and other carb sources is leaving me depressed before I even start. I'm simply going to remind myself: it's for two weeks. It's just for two weeks. The diet allows for the reintroduction of healthy carbs after induction in graduated steps.

Meanwhile, I found an article about a certain Anita Mills, who lost over 200 pounds following this simple formula (plus exercise), given to her by her doctor. No Atkins.

Both the Atkins Diet and the method used by Anita Mills recommend the frequent consumption of small meals throughout the day. My problem is this: I know for a fact that, if I eat before I start my 3:30PM shift at my job, I'll need to poop at some point while at work. I don't want to be that guy, i.e., the guy who poops while business is in full swing. Example of why this is bad: one day, one of my kids left the desk to go to the bathroom; when he came back, he complained about how horribly the bathroom stank. I'm pretty sure I know which coworker could have produced such a monster-sized odor. Using the spray fragrance doesn't help in such cases; the only solution is to allow enough time to pass before letting the next person in. My coworker decided to be that guy, and the result wasn't pretty.

Scientists have, in these latter years, built an impressive array of devices that function like noses and tongues to detect and interpret various tastes and odors. A small device along those lines, engineered for household purposes, could be hooked up to a signal mounted outside the bathroom, indicating whether it's "safe" to enter without worrying about a given smell. Such a device might prove useful for people with houseguests: it could signal green when odor levels have fallen to a certain minimum.

All of which makes me wonder how I'm going to approach Atkins tomorrow. I tend to eat only after I get home, and I get home around 10:30 or 11PM. This reduces my meal opportunities to about one. Eating a single huge meal at night is never a good idea: there's that whole "blood sugar spike" thing to worry about; such spikes are the royal road to diabetes. At the same time, the entire idea behind Atkins is to minimize any such spiking by avoiding carbs almost entirely for the first two weeks, then bringing back complex carbohydrates that break down slowly, thus distributing a large blood sugar spike over a longer period. Could it be that, with Atkins, I can almost cancel the sugar effect?

We'll see, come tomorrow. I seriously doubt I'll be rearranging my eating schedule, given what I know about how my guts behave, but with the radical change in carbohydrate intake, I'm hoping that, even with my awkward mealtime, I'll see some results after two weeks.



  1. Good luck! Based on what you've said here, I have a few tips:

    1) Vegetables -- Look at the Phase 1 acceptable foods list. You can eat a ton of vegetables. You're supposed to get about 15g net carbs in the form of vegetables, which is 75 cups of iceberg lettuce or 7 cups of cucumbers. I found that it's almost impossible to hit the limit on veggies, unless you are going with the very high-carb veggies. In my experience, you get sick of veggies and start eating higher fat foods because it's way easier to get your calories that way.

    2) Ketostix - Go buy yourself some ketostix at the drugstore within the next 3 days. They are near the diabetes supplies. You pee on the stick, and it tells if you're in ketosis or not. You should be solidly in keto by day 5. If you're not, you're just wasting your time and torturing yourself for no reason.

    2a) Don't worry about the level of ketones on the ketostix. Having high ketones doesn't mean you're buring fat faster, it just means you're dehydrated. Just make sure you are showing ketones.

    2b) Keep the ketostix around, because they're a great way to test if a restaurant snuck sugar into your food. If you've been kicked out of keto by hidden carbs, the ketostix will show it, and you can get back on induction quickly again so that you're not wasting your time.

    2c) I can't stress it enough -- if you're not monitoring with ketostix every couple of days, you're at very high risk of just wasting your time. I've had friends complain the diet wasn't working, and I gave them ketostix and asked them to report back. They all came back and said it showed "no ketones", and then after investigating, they found they had been getting some hidden carbs. It's tragic to torture yourself for 2+ weeks and find you've been doing it wrong. Don't be a masochist!

    3) Toilet Habits - Your bowel movements will change. There is no way you can predict your toilet situation at first, so just plan to deal with it. After the first 10-12 days, you'll have way less BM, and you will need to be worried about constipation. You will want a fiber supplement if you're not eating enough veggies (and it's hard to eat enough). You will not need to worry about stinking up bathrooms -- that is a problem reserved for people who eat lots of carbs.

    4) Coffee, Cream - Cut out the coffee and heavy cream entirely for the first 4 weeks. Both are acceptable on an extended phase 1, and there are some extremely delicious recipes with heavy cream. But they seem to mess badly with induction at first.


  2. 5) Breakfast - I strongly recommend against waiting until 3PM to eat. During induction, you should always eat a good breakfast, IMO. Breakfast was always the best meal of the day for me. For example, one day I might eat a half pound of ground beef in half a cup of melted butter. Next day, a pile of bacon. Next day, scrambled eggs with hot peppers. Next day, omlette with a bunch of cheese and ham. The reason you want to use a lot of your calories in breakfast is because as soon as you shift to keto, your body will burn that food for most of the day and give you clean, level energy levels all day.

    5b) Don't starve yourself! - Make sure you're getting about the same amount of calories as you always do. Keep track in a spreadsheet if you need to.

    6) Meal Timing - After the first week, when the ketostix show you are solidly in keto, you will actually be eating fewer meals and snacks a day. That's because the fat burns longer and more level. But you should stash some ready snacks around for those "just in case" moments. Sardines were a favorite choice for me, since they have the perfect macronutrient ratio. But anything on that list that you like -- I had a friend who kept around a 1lb block of Tillamook Cheddar in the fridge and gnawed on it when he got hungry. Personally, I would recommend picking 3 or 4 items on the phase 1 list that would be suitable as snacks for you, and buy them today, before your mind starts playing tricks on you, and stash them at convenient places.

    7) Sugary Lifeline - Get some sugar free jello and make it now. Also, get some of the approved carb-free sweetener and a lemon, so you can make fresh-squeezed sugar-free lemonade. Don't eat them for the first 5-6 days, but keep them around to reward yourself once you're solidly in keto. That's when you'll be through the worst part, and you'll be realizing, "I can do this!"

    8) Mind Tricks - You will be making major changes to your metabolism, and your mind is very intelligent and creative. It will tell you all kinds of crazy stuff. You'll convince yourself that you have some unique characteristic that means the diet works for everyone except you. You'll convince yourself that your job has unique requirements that demand a high-carb diet. You'll get scared and think you're causing brain damage. And the list goes on. Just stick to your plan. Recording everything meticulously helps, since you can tell yourself you'll review and adjust later when you're feeling more rational.

    OK, that's it! All of this advice applies to only the first 2 weeks of phase 1. Once you're ready to transition to phase 2, I can give more tips. The main thing is to just ease into it and keep honest by checking the ketostix. By the time you are 4 weeks in, your habits and metabolism will be fully adjusted and you'll really enjoy a lot of things about the diet.

  3. Great comments. Thank you for sharing your wisdom on this. I'm going to buy those Ketostix in the morning. As for my eating schedule, well... we'll see. I know my digestive system pretty well, and I know I definitely can't afford to be running off to the bathroom during my 3:30PM-9:30PM shift. What I may do is figure a way to eat a snack every so often during class time, then eat my main meal once I'm home (which is what I do now-- the main meal, that is).

  4. I guess if you're already used to teaching on an empty stomach (I would be light-headed by 3:30 PM), then you'll be OK. Your BMs will probably change a lot after the first week.

    A quick tip about snacks -- if you are going to try sardines, you'll want a place where you can stand outside and eat them, and throw the empty tins in an outdoor garbage can. Otherwise, you make your office smell like fish :-) Also be careful when buying the sardines to make sure they don't have any carbs. The ones in olive oil are the best.

    Finally, if you are getting light-headed by 3:30, you can try something rather extreme that worked well for me and some friends. You can just chug 4 oz of straight olive oil a few hours before your class. That is 1,000 calories, and there is pretty much zero material in there that would pass through in a BM. Even 2 oz, which is easier to get down, would carry you for awhile, and I can't imagine that ever triggering a BM.

    Anyway, I'm only recommending that because your eating schedule seems really difficult. I drank lots of straight olive oil when I was on my diets, and it's pretty awesome once you get used to it -- and apparently this woman in Israel lived to be 100+ by drinking olive oil every day. But it can be very difficult to get used to it mentally, so I would only recommend it if you are in a real pinch and need pure calories with no extra bulk. Also, I have tried all of the other oils, and olive oil is definitely the best. Coconut oil (not milk) is probably the close second.



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