I made a statement in one of the discussions the other day, without realizing that it described a fairly significant milestone in this way of eating. What I said was that when you find yourself saying ‘ I don’t eat that’, instead of ‘I can’t eat that’, you’re there. You’ve attained some kind of low carb zen. Since most of you have known me only since I’ve been in maintenance, I want you to know that my first steps on this journey were much rockier than you might have guessed.
When I first started this way of eating, it was during October, 1998. It was at that point that I decided to try the Atkins Plan. My reasons were various, including my overweight condition, which had been brought to my attention due to a chance encounter with a bat. (More fully described in “Maggie’s Story”.) I also had a familial history of type 2 diabetes and, since I spent a great part of each day either nodding off or in sugar seeking mode, blood sugar and insulin levels were ordered. I was pre-diabetic.
My early days of eating this way were not wonderful. The first week or so, was dreadful. The fact that no one else had “imposed” this way of eating on me did not lessen my sense of martyrdom. Complicating everything was the fact that, for a number of reasons, I did not achieve or show ketosis easily. I only lost a few pounds during induction. Admittedly, I noticed improvements to both my blood sugar and energy levels very early on. Still, I wanted things. Things I couldn’t have. Bagels, Hershey’s kisses, oatmeal, pomegranates, orange juice, potatoes … I won’t even try to give the whole list, but you get the idea, I’m sure.
Socially, it was a bad time of year to begin a new eating lifestyle, but I had already decided that “cheating” was not going to be an option for me. My goal was to keep my blood sugars in normal range ALL of the time, not most of the time, and see what happened.
For Halloween, I bought my usual assortment of miniature candy bars for the trick-or-treaters. I couldn’t eat any, so what was left over I brought to work and left in the break room where they promptly disappeared. Over the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Years season, I was invited to several gatherings and spent most of the time feeling sorry for myself. “I can’t eat that.” “I can’t eat that,” I told myself, over and over again. Often, I was not a good guest. Always, I found reasons to leave before dessert. After an evening of finding little food I considered acceptable, I was too frustrated to stay and face down a bunch of sweets. I’d force myself to keep smiling until I left. Then I’d go home and scarf some pork rinds and go to bed feeling sorry for myself.
It’s actually sort of painful to recall that period. So many things seemed so difficult.
Yet, there were already some changes creeping into my attitude, even early on. The first thing that started turning things around for me was the institution of the “Sunday stretch” which I started a few weeks into the ongoing weight loss stage. Every Sunday, at one meal (and one meal only) I could have something that I thought I’d been craving all week – but only in whatever amount I could eat without creating a big rise in my blood sugar. If I’d been craving sweets, that was easy. Plenty of ways to make lc sweets, so that was hardly a stretch. But on other weeks, it might be a quarter of a toasted english muffin with breakfast or a half a small baked potato (with the insides scooped out and replaced with sour cream, chives, bacon bits, etc.) with dinner.
I began to realize that, other than pure crap, there were actually few foods I couldn’t have at all. I just had to find the form and the amounts that were right for me. I learned. Food by food, season by season, I pursued my education.
Chocolate? Sure, just not chocolate candy – either regular or “so called” low carb. But homemade chocolate cake, mousse, fudge, etc. were fine. Cooked carrots – no. Half a raw carrot shredded into my salad or eaten with dip – yes. A few cherries for dessert – yes. A half a peach, sliced up with heavy cream – yes. Sweet corn – yes, a half an ear with a meal during the season.
By the time my one year anniversary rolled around, I had little serving sized bags of nuts for trick-or-treaters. Various seasoned nuts in tins, instead of cookies, were what I gave to friends and family. I feared no holiday gatherings, since I had a much better handle on what foods I might eat, and in what quantity, without causing an unpleasant reaction in myself. I had learned to bring emergency rations for myself, so I wouldn’t get nasty from being hungry if there were few foods that I was willing to eat. I learned to bring a dessert to share if I felt that I’d want to have dessert. When I entertained, I served exactly what I wanted to, regardless of what others expectations might have been. And I learned that people continued to eat heartily at my house and would accept repeat invitations without hesitation. Keep in mind, at my one year anniversary, I was still in OWL. I was down not quite thirty pounds from where I’d started.
The “Sunday stretch” became rare, because my choice of foods was becoming so expansive. Also, knowing that I “could” eat so many things, if in the right amount, in the right context and not on a regular basis, the list of “can’t” eat foods was by then fairly short and had somehow become a list of “don’t eat” foods.
Finally, I could walk into the break room at work, where there seems to be constant succession of carbohydrate festivals for one reason or another, without snarling or whining. I really knew that anything they could put out there, I could make a version of or substitute for, that would be every bit as yummy, but which will not make me feel ill if I ate it. It was no longer ” **sigh** I can’t eat that.” It became “Nah, I don’t eat that sh… uh … stuff.”
At this time of year, many of us are either kicking ourselves silly over holiday off plan eating, or feeling like noble but tragic martyrs, for having avoided it. The point of this is to try to persuade you that there is a third way. If you are feeling either of those ways about your way of eating now, that feeling can evolve into one where desires for that, uh, stuff are but vague and fleeting.
To anyone who is in need of a suggestion for a New Year resolution, my suggestion would be this: commit. Commit to six months of on plan eating. Commit to discovering the huge variety of foods, in various amounts, that fall within your carbohydrate limit. Do that, and then let’s talk next 4th of July. It might well prove to be your personal Independence Day. I certainly wish that for you.