Friday, October 24, 2014

Make Your Low-Carb Halloween Special

Have you noticed that Trick-or-Treat is almost non-existent now? For the past several years, hubby has sat by the front door with a large plastic bowl of candy and other goodies to pass out to the neighborhood kiddies, but hardly anyone ever shows up. We live in Utah, and Utah has organized Trunk-or-Treat festivities at the local church building every year, so very few kids roam the neighborhood after dark.

Halloween Memories

When I was growing up in California, our local church group used to put on a Halloween carnival with a haunted house and fun things like that. We would get dressed in our costumes, head for the church patio, and spend the afternoon and evening playing carnival games and eating hot dogs and chili. But now, the thing-to-do seems to be Trunk-or-Treat instead.

group of red candy apples
For us, the hot treat of choice was popcorn balls and those hard, red slick candied apples. Mom had a large box of old clothing, shoes, wigs, false teeth, and parts of costumes from previous years that we could go through and create our own masterpiece with. We were free to use mom's makeup to complete the look, as the church carnival didn't allow masks. They didn't want to scare the kids.

It wasn't until the scare of going door-to-door surfaced with the possibility of getting poisoned or winding up with a razor-blade in those apples and popcorn balls that mom and dad switched from giving out homemade treats to store-purchased individually-wrapped candy. It was dad watching a youngster toss the popcorn ball into a trash can that did it. And Halloween was never the same again after that.

Halloween Fun Without Sugar or Sugar Substitutes

Halloween Decorations: Jack-o-Lantern Man, basket of squashes, flowers

Hubby is so disappointed. Since he doesn't have any children of his own, he really likes passing treats out to the kids. In fact, Halloween is far more exciting for him than Thanksgiving or even Christmas. Oddly enough, he hasn't even asked for Halloween candy this year. Usually, he tries to play the, "we got to get the candy early" game, so he can dip into it before the great day arrives, but that hasn't happened this year.

He did speak up this morning to let me know there is only one week left until Halloween, after the local news station reminded him that the holidays were just around the corner. But his delay got me thinking. There's no reason why Halloween has to be drowning in sugar, or even sugar substitutes. Fun is the name of the game, and food can be fun without all of those unnecessary carbohydrates and sugar alcohols. Even Splenda has been starting to get a bad name these days.

I've been reacting badly to all sugar substitutes for years now, so my answer to the Halloween dilemma has just been to use a little common sense and a few realistic low-carb survival tactics. But why should I have to do that? Why not just come up with a few fun ways to celebrate the holiday that doesn't include sugar or restraint?

Low-Carb Halloween Food Ideas

Coming up with a cute and tasty low-carb Halloween spread just takes a little bit of ingenuity and creativity. Think pumpkins, jack-o-lanterns, spiders, eyeballs, and fingers. How would those types of Halloween sensations translate into fun low-carb food?

Low-Carb Halloween Eyeballs: Cheeseballs are a solid holiday tradition, but you don't have to mold the dough into a single giant ball. After combining equal parts of cream cheese and butter until well mixed together, roll the dough into giant eye-ball sized balls and then top each eye-ball with a pimento-filled green olive slice for a gross look the kids won't be able to resist.

Bag of Cuties Tangerines
Tangerine Jack-o-Lanterns: This is an easy one. Just buy a bag of those cutie tangerines and use a black felt-tip pen to decorate them like jack-o-lanterns. This would make a great activity to do with the kids. Give them 2 or 3 tangerines each and let them decorate them anyway they want to. Cuties have about 8 net carbs each.

Blood-shot Eyeballs: To make a blood-shot eye ball isn't difficult. Hard-boil several eggs, then smash them just enough to crack the egg shells, but leave the egg intact. You then simmer the eggs in a red-colored liquid such as beet juice or a red food-colored water. The red color will seem through the cracked shell and look like blood-shot eye balls once you peel the eggs.

Spider Eggs: No party or family gathering is complete without a tray of deviled eggs, but Halloween calls for something special. Why not dress your deviled eggs up to look like creepy black spiders? Place a black-olive half in the middle of the filling for a spider body, then cut the other half into thin spider legs.

Low-Carb Mini Pizza: Form low-carb pizza dough into mini pizzas, or use large portobella mushroom caps. Spread or fill with sauce, sprinkle with cheese, and then cut pepperoni into eyes, nose, and mouth for a jack-o-lantern before baking. Alternatively, you could also arrange the cheese into a spider-web design, and then top each pizza with either a plastic spider or an black-olive spider cut as above.

Hot-Dog Fingers: Hot dogs are the perfect size for creepy-looking fingers that the kids will all be fighting over. Just cut a small piece of hot dog off of the top of one end of the dog to look like a fingernail that has been removed, and then cut slices into the dogs for knuckles and wrinkles. Alternatively, you could use a piece of red or green bell pepper to make a colored fingernail. For a really eery presentation, stick the dogs finger-nail up in a bowl of homemade dip.

pumpkin puking guacamole
Photo by: Arne Heggestad, CC by-sa 2.0
Jack-o-Lantern Puke: Low carb and guacamole go hand-in-hand like bacon and eggs. But why just serve the guacamole in a festive bowl surrounded by cheese chips and nuked pepperoni slices? Sometimes, it's all about the presentation. Go the extra mile by carving up a nice Jack-o-lantern. Set the pumpkin at the end of a large platter, and then arrange the guacamole as if the pumpkin is puking it up all over the table. Drape some of it out of the pumpkin's mouth and then most of it arranged on the platter. This will look even better and more realistic if you add some chopped tomatoes and onions to your guacamole. If you don't like guacamole, you could substitute a homemade chunky salsa for the same effect.

Halloween Quesadillas: If you can have low-carb tortillas, have some fun and cut out triangle eyes and a mouth out of one tortilla. Heat a second tortilla in a pan and top with grated cheese. Cover the cheese with the tortilla cut into a jack-o-lantern face, and heat until the cheese is melted.

Jack-o-Lantern Berry Cups: Cut the top off of an orange, about one-third down. That should give you a wide enough opening to carefully remove the orange sections without hurting the orange skin. You want the orange to keep it's round shape. Carefully carve the orange like a jack-o-lantern, and then fill with an assortment of low-carb strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Whatever you have available.

Halloween-Shaped Cheese Slices or Hamburgers: Who needs cookies for Halloween? Simply pull your old Halloween cookie cutters out from where you've been hiding them, and use them on slices of real American cheese instead. Pumpkin shapes, cats, and witch hats in white or orange cheese slices will add a unique holiday twist to any raw-vegetable or low-carb cracker platter. You could also cut cooked hamburger patties into scary Halloween shapes as well. Use reduced-sugar catsup to draw jack-o-lantern faces on each patty. Another idea is to cut a jack-o-lantern face into your American cheese and then melt it slightly on top of your burger.

Don't Forget the Decorations

When you're talking about a holiday where the focus is on food, don't forget to surround yourself with a festive atmosphere. A Halloween tablecloth, skeleton cut-outs, danging spiders, a variety of decorated pumpkins, witch cauldrons, dried flowers, and lacy doilies will go a long way toward making your low-carb Halloween special. While food is always important at any celebration, allow your imagination and creativity to spill over into a memorable atmosphere that the kids will remember for years to come. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Dr. Atkins Advice on Exhaustion and Leg Cramps

This morning I was taking a stroll through some of the threads over at Low Carb Friends, and I ran into something that really disturbed me. A patient of Dr. Westman was there asking for help. She has been on the high-fat low-carb diet known as Nutritional Ketosis for 4 months now. She is eating 20 carbs or less, is losing about 1 to 2 pounds a week, but she feels horrible.

For some reason, she is not adapting to the state of Ketosis.

Despite a high salt intake, she's having excruciating foot and leg cramps, gets dizzy, and comes near to passing out during her gym activities. She says she has zero energy, so her gym routine has dropped from 5 days a week and 1 trainer session, to just the training. She is taking magnesium and potassium supplements, along with chicken broth every day, but nothing is helping. She's exhausted and feels horrible, and yet, they want her to continue with the regimen she's been on, even though it's not working for her.

That doesn't make any sense to me.

Typical Nutritional Ketosis Diet

I've talked about my experience with a standard Nutritional Ketosis Diet before. My own results were not good. I gained a lot of weight when I tried it. It's low in protein, super high in fat, and keeps you at an Atkins Induction level of carbs throughout the diet phase. Since my hunger never corrects itself when I go into the state of Ketosis, and I don't get that energy upsurge that those who have Insulin Resistance claim to get, I can really relate to just how badly this woman feels eating at very low-carb levels. That level would make me feel horrible too.

Plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, and cheese sticks
Typical Low-Carb Breakfast: Bacon, Eggs, and Cheese

She is eating an adequate breakfast of 2 eggs, 3 slices of bacon, and some coffee with heavy cream and stevia -- but she's eating no lunch. Just a snack 3 times a week of 2 ounces of nuts. Dinner varies, depending on what she is feeding her family, but an example she gave was a chicken breast breaded with pork rinds, broccoli with butter sauce, diet soda, and a Carb Smart ice cream bar.

That particular menu only gave her about 15 grams of carbohydrates per day.

That's more than a very-low carb diet, but less than one would eat on Atkins Induction. Plus, Atkins Induction is only for 2 weeks. After that initial 2-week period, you return carbohydrates to the diet in 5-gram implements per day, per week, until you find the "highest" level of carbohydrate you can eat and still lose a pound a week.

If You Don't Feel Good You Won't Stick With Low Carb

The sad thing is that there is no way this woman is going to stick to this long term if her energy level and the way she feels doesn't improve. She might be able to withstand the program long enough to lose the weight (she didn't say how much she needed to lose), but that isn't going to do her any good if she goes back to the way she was eating before, once she reaches goal.

Replies to her plea for help mostly focused on the type of magnesium she is taking, but a couple of folks did ask her about the small amount of food she was eating. Apparently, Dr. Westman encourages his patients to only eat twice a day, and stresses the need to eat fewer calories in order to drop the weight, so that's what she's doing. She is following her doctor's advice. Plus, she says that she is eating to her personal hunger level. It's just the way she feels and the leg cramps that are the problem.

What to Do About Leg Cramps and Exhaustion

Leg cramps comes from unbalanced electrolytes. Since a low-carb diet keeps your glycogen storage less than half full, the diet is very dehydrating, so leg cramps are common. Shedding the water the body stores to process glycogen eliminates necessary minerals, which have to be replaced. Drinking a lot of water, which she is doing, will do exactly the same thing. It sweeps calcium, potassium, and magnesium out of the body.

If you're having cramps, the most important mineral to replace is calcium, but adequate magnesium and potassium are also important:

"When there are leg cramps, extra calcium is in order, and there is often a kind of fatigue for which potassium supplements are the specific." (Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution, page 126.)

Dr. Atkins was really into vitamin and mineral supplements. He believed in optimum dosages, and not minimum requirements. Minimum daily requirements are only what will keep you alive, not what will produce optimal health and well-being. However, exhaustion isn't always about potassium. Sometimes, it's about losing more weight than the body can adapt to:

"A weight loss that is too rapid is more than the body can comfortably adapt to. And it isn't necessary to lose rapidly. It is more important to lose easily; and losing easily means feeling well all of the time. I can't emphasize this too much: Quick weight loss is not the primary thing we're after -- what we both want for you is an easy and lasting weight loss." (Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution, page 142.)

His advice for those who feel tired and ill on a low-carb diet is to raise your carb intake to the next level and see if that corrects the problem. Eating too few carbohydrates is just as stressful on the body as eating too many. This isn't a race, so the same could be said for calories. The goal of a low-carb diet is permanent weight loss, which means finding an eating style you can live with for the rest of your life. The goal isn't to get the weight off in any way you can. That usually backfires.

The Atkins Diet is Not Atkins Induction

A lot of people call what they are doing the Atkins Diet, when clearly it is not. The Atkins Diet is not Atkins Induction. Atkins Induction is a 2 to 4 week introductory period where you eat from a specific list of foods and try to keep your carbohydrate level to 20 net carbs per day, or less. This introductory period has the goal of getting you into the state of ketosis. Once you are comfortably in ketosis, you then return carbohydrates to your diet at a slow enough pace that the body continues to burn your body fat for fuel.

Pot of low-carb ham and green bean soup
Low-Carb Ham and Green Bean Soup

If you don't return carbohydrates to your diet to discover your personal carbohydrate sensitivity, then you are not doing Atkins. You are doing something else. Doing something else is fine, but calling it Atkins can be confusing to newbies who don't understand what the Atkins Diet actually is. The Atkins Diet is a progressive diet. It is not 20 net carbs per day or less -- unless --- that is the only level that will allow you to lose weight. However, you won't know that until you try to add additional carbs back in.

Very low carbs will depress your metabolism and interfere with the way the body converts T4 thyroid hormone into T3, the usable form. For that reason, many people find that adding carbs back into their diet increases their weight loss! That is why the Atkins Diet is an individual diet fine-tuned to fit your likes, food tastes, weight-loss, and metabolic issues. It's not a cookie cutter diet where everyone eats from a specific list of foods and keeps to 20 net carbs per day or less. That isn't Atkins.

"OWL allows you much more choice. That means you can now craft a weight loss regimen that is uniquely yours." (Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, page 147)

Dr. Atkins always left the rate at which you lose weight up to you, but he also cautioned patients and readers to be realistic. As long as you are free of cravings, you're satisfied with the food, and you feel good, the rate at which you lose the weight doesn't matter. What does matter is that you make lifelong, permanent changes in the way you eat and that you feel well while you're creating good food habits. Dizziness and problems exercising indicates you're having a problem converting fat into energy. If that's true for you, then upping your carbohydrate level and lowering your fat intake a bit might be a better option.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Power of Forgiveness Brings Low-Carb Success

Smoked Pork Butt on cutting board
Going Low-Carb is a Major Event
Going on a low-carb diet is a major event in your life. It is not a whim, and it is not a gimmick. It's a drastic lifestyle change that requires a whole new revolutionary way of looking at food, diet, and health. Most diets are weight-loss games that take a standard American diet and tweak it just enough to trick you into eating fewer calories and fat. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn't, because standard dieting doesn't address the problems that accompany metabolic defects.

That's the reason why a low-carb diet works. It corrects insulin issues, stabilizes blood sugar levels, primes the body to burn fat for energy, and drastically reduces your hunger. All of that makes low carbing much easier to stick to than a traditional low-fat, low-calorie diet. However, expecting yourself to never fall prey to a chocolate chip cookie isn't realistic. While some people do have the strength to never go off plan, others find dieting a struggle.

Deprivation is no picnic, and while it's exciting to initially be able to chow down on a thick juicy steak, use real butter on your veggies, and spike your morning coffee with heavy cream and sugar-free flavored syrup, at some point, most dieters find themselves unconsciously reaching for potato chips rather than cheese. Habits are extremely difficult to break, and no matter how committed you are to your low-carb lifestyle, you could honestly find yourself waking up the morning after a carb binge, and wondering -- what happened?

For Low-Carb Success Forgiving Yourself is Essential

When you fall off the wagon, forgiving yourself is essential. It doesn't do you any good to sit around trying to find something to blame. It's better to just realize that you did what you thought was right and justified at the time. While the rationalization you used the night before might not make sense now, listening to the internal dialog that's blaming you or the carbs only hurts your chances for ultimate success. You are not a victim and you are not helpless. You are just human, so both guilt and blame are equally destructive activities.

Indulging in that kind of thing only keeps you a slave to the dieting mindset. It paralyzes you, especially if you believe the lies that your inner critic is telling. Guilt weighs quite a bit, and being angry with yourself and beating yourself up for eating something you wanted to eat at the time isn't going to help you accomplish your goals. Resistance to what you want to do is normal. It's not something specific to you. While you might be weak where avoiding carbs is concerned, it happens to lots of low-carb dieters. You are not alone.

Getting Inside Your Head

Lemon-Herb Chicken Barbecued on Paper Plate
Weight-Loss Success Takes More than Low-Carb Food
Successful dieting involves more than following a print out of established rules and regulations. It's more than being told what to eat and which foods to avoid. While the science behind low-carb diets is important in order to make an informed choice about which diet is best for you, once the choice has been made, it becomes a mental game to stay on plan.

Most of us have been feeding the subconscious mind for years. It's set in its ways and doesn't want to change. It loves being in charge. It loves seeking after comfort and avoiding all forms of disturbance and pain. Low-carb diets disrupt the way the subconscious mind has been programmed, so it's common to experience resistance. A lot of resistance. The trick is to observe what's going on without resorting to self-judgment and criticism.

You can't make essential changes in your current lifestyle or thought patterns if you're blind to what's happening. That's why a binge or going off plan is not a bad thing. It's actually something to celebrate, because you now have an opportunity to take a closer look at how your mind currently functions. Only then can you take the appropriate steps that will lead to permanent change.

The Power of Forgiveness

Forgiveness doesn't mean that we make excuses for our behavior. If you have serious issues with carbohydrates, such as metabolic syndrome, PCOS, pre-diabetes, or high cholesterol levels, then it's essential to stick to your low-carb diet. You owe it to yourself to lessen the stress on your body and give it the proper nutrition it needs to function appropriately.

But neither is forgiveness an excuse to go off of your diet every single time there's a chocolate cupcake in your environment calling your name. It's impossible to take advantage of the benefits of a low-carb lifestyle if you're not really living that lifestyle.

Cheating can cause your cravings to skyrocket, your hunger to spiral out of control, and it can even make your feel ill if you have hidden food sensitivities you don't know about. For example, many people who turn to a low-carb diet are sensitive or allergic to wheat, so when they cheat on the diet with bread or grain-based desserts, they feel bloated, crampy, sick to their stomach, and quickly pack on the pounds.

The power of forgiveness lies in the understanding that a low-carb diet plan isn't just a diet; it's a lifestyle change. True change takes time and whole lot of work. It requires you to get on top of your emotional eating style, to observe and consider your eating patterns and tendencies, to look at your activity level, and above all -- to teach yourself and habituate yourself to a whole new way of living.

That takes a lot of self-observation, self-considering, and perhaps a little self-talk along the way. It's takes confidence in your self that you can do this, but even more than that, it takes the strength and courage to get to know yourself. Your real self. Not the image you've created in your mind to hide behind, but the bare-naked self that is sabotaging your dieting efforts and goals.

However, the key to making a low-carb diet work isn't demanding perfection. The key to making a low-carb diet work is experiencing the power of forgiveness.

Weight-Loss Success Requires Inner Transformation

Think of it as transforming your inner couch potato and the carb monster who's currently sitting in the driver's seat into someone who's fit and trim. While they have both served you well up until now, and deserve your thankfulness and full forgiveness, the truth is that if you want to be thin and healthy, you can't do what you've always done.

You have to stand up do something different.