science

Low-Carb Revisited: Science and Subjectivity of the Atkins Diet Lifestyle

I’ve been dodging a lot of concerns from a lot of people whom I care about that are concerned about what I’m eating– or, more specifically, what I am not eating. I seems as if I am being looked at as a 15-year old girl with an eating disorder rather than an adult with an Honors in Biology and who knows her own body intimately. I know exactly what I am doing to myself, and I know exactly what my body’s responses are. These responses make perfect sense to me, not only from experience, but from my own careful research and recordings. I’ll explain.

Carbohydrates– literally “hydrates of carbon”– are found in most everything we typically eat. Bread, sugars, grains, starches, etc, etc. They’re converted to glycogen, which is what our body has adapted to use as its source for fuel. Adapted, mind you. Anyway, glycogen is either used immediately for fuel, but in the most likely scenario, considering how our diets are laden with unnecessary sugars and starches, only a small amount is used for fuel and the rest is stored in the liver as an emergency fuel source, or converted to fat.

To give you a rough idea of amounts of carbs necessary for energy as our body has adapted, our liver keeps a reserve of about 120 grams. That’s actually being generous. One slice of bread has over 30 carbs… a chocolate bar closer to 70. An apple 20, a slice of pizza 40. A can of Coke? Almost 50.

I’m choosing to eliminate carbs, or restrict to under ~20 a day. After the first day and a half of this, my excesses were used up. Not having this primary source of fuel, your body taps into its other reserves for energy– i.e., stored fat. We begin burning fat for fuel, which in turn produces ketones, small carbonate leftovers. (Remember, carbohydrates means hydrates of carbon, and carbs were converted to the stored fat. It’s sort of like going to a store and asking for a refund. Haha). It’s been suggested that your brain functions 25% better on ketone fuel than it does on glycogen. I’ll vouch for that. After the first few days, I felt amazing. Never being a morning person, I now awake with a clear head and mind regardless of the hour, and I’m not dependent on early-evening naps to make it through the day. I’ve fallen into a rather nice sleep cycle, and have more energy than I’ve EVER experienced during the day. My mind’s clearer, my focus is better, and I feel GREAT.

Low glycogen also causes your pancreas to produce less insulin… Insulin is what is responsible for sending hunger signals to your brain. That being said, you soon learn to think of hunger as a psychological response rather than physiological. You’re no longer eating in response to the hunger pangs resulting from the constant feeding of sugars and carbs that your body has become accustomed to. Anyone who knows me at all knows what a picky eater I am, but honestly, in the past month, the amount of new foods I’ve tried have far outweighed all of the foods I’ve eaten previously COMBINED. And you know what? I’m satisfied. Steamed veggies and some salad, or a side of lean meat, really do fill me, moreso than a few slices of pizza ever did.

Glycogen reserves in your body also require water to perform. One molecule of glycogen is accompanied by 4 molecules of hydrogen within your liver and throughout your body as it makes its way to where it is needed. As your body initially uses its reserves and switches over to using fat and ketones, the excess water is flushed along with the glucose. This explains the initial drop, which was pretty significant. It’s not real weight, and yes, it will return should I decide to return to old habits (although, feeling as great as I do, that’s not likely). After that, our body burns anywhere up to a lb. of fat a day for energy until it becomes more efficient at its reverted style of energy source. Then it tapers off to take what it needs as proportioned to what you have.

That being said, I feel great, and look better. I realize I have a way to go, but I’m SO HAPPY with how well I’ve done so far. My body seems especially resistant to insulin spikes and glycogen/ketone conversion, and I’ve experienced virtually no discomfort while adapting to these changes. I *love* the changes in my body. In fact, I spend probably 15 minutes a day standing in front of a full-length mirror, just touching and marveling. It’s remarkable. I’m getting compliments galore, and I’m really, truly happy.

I’m sticking with this. I don’t feel that I’m “starving” myself, and I feel fantastic, physically and emotionally. I’m comfortable. I’m sure I’ve said that at least a dozen times so far, but I really, truly do feel great. There are no words to express that as strongly as I mean it.

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