The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Hello Proteins, Goodbye Carbs

February 28th, 2014 · 2 Comments · Posted in Wellness


I got my New York driver’s license recently and was horrified. Who was that fat guy in the license photo? Since moving to Upstate New York from D.C., I’ve worked hard getting our small farm together. But all the physical toil hasn’t kept me slim. I’m growing right out of my jeans. Somewhere in the transition I gave myself permission to binge on pizza, French fries and ice cream. I love too much the big country breakfasts with hash browned potatoes. Our local diner makes the best sourdough toast you’ve ever tasted.

In other words, I’ve completely fallen off my high-protein, high-fat diet. I guess I thought nobody was looking–except my wife, of course. “You do all this work, but you’re still fat,” she remarked recently.

Four years ago I went on the Atkins diet and lost more than 20 pounds. Not only that, all the indicators that were climbing into the red zone where my heart health were concerned turned around 180 degrees. Triglycerides plunged, good cholesterol spiked. And I looked great. My goal was to get back to my college weight, when I was really slim. I never got that far, but I was really proud of my new look and my new eating habits.

Like lots of people, I started cheating, Not a lot, mind you. I never went back to eating white rice and bread. But I no longer resisted the temptation for an occasional ice cream sundae or shrimp scampi with spaghetti noodles. Well, now the driver’s license is in the mail and I’ll have to live with that photo for years to come. So I’ve decided to give up the carbs and try to lose all that weight all over again.

I did a lot of research on the Atkins diet the first time around. It sounds a bit crazy at first, eating tons of protein and fat and still lose weight. You have to suspend long-held beliefs in calorie-in-calories-out and start thinking about hormones. When you eat starchy foods (carbohydrates), they turn into glucose which stimulates the body to produce insulin. Insulin allows the glucose to be metabolized in cells throughout the body and is key to storing fat. When you stop eating carbohydrates, insulin is suppressed and another hormone–glucagon–comes to the fore. It’s job is the opposite of insulin: to release fat from the cells.

In the absence of carbs and glucose, your body goes into survival mode and starts burning fat for energy in the form of ketones. Your body may also turn protein into glucose through the process of glucogensis. So, in fact, though it may seem utterly counter-intuitive, your best friend in the battle to lose weight may be fat.

Eating starchy foods also leads to water retention while proteins cause the kidney to kick into high gear and dispel water from your body. Once you go on the Atkins diet, you quickly shed pounds of water. Then you start working on the fat. Even while eating big meals you continue to lose weight. Sound impossible? Ask anyone who has been on the Atkins diet and they’ll tell you it is remarkably effective. Just in the last few days, since eliminating carbs from my diet, I’ve lost enough weight to take in my belt a couple of notches. The trick, of course, is sticking with it over the long haul. It’s not so much a diet as a re-ordering of the way you eat.

I’m not trying to convert anyone here. When it comes to how we metabolize our food, everybody is different. Some people can eat cake and ice cream till the cows come home and still manage to stay slim. What I’ve described is the over-simplified version of how the low-carb diet works. You can easily find more scientific explanations. My suggestion is to read Gary Taube’s book, Good Calories, Bad Calories. Taubes is a decorated science writer who spent years on the subject and came away convinced that Atkins was right, his critics wrong.

Me, I managed to completely resist the cup cakes my daughter made the other night. Fortunately, she took them to school to give away to her friends. I don’t deny it’s a daily struggle. The supermarket shelves are lined with alluring carbs. Fat and protein do not tempt us in quite the same sinful way. Plus, carbs are cheap. Turns out our industrial food system does a great job of making low-cost, starchy processed foods. Healthy fats and proteins generally are not processed, and they are expensive by comparison.

But if it makes you feel better, remember that the only two macro-nutrients absolutely essential for survival are fat and protein. In fact, our bodies could live quite contentedly without any carbs at all. It just wouldn’t be as much fun.


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  • susan rubin

    Check out the book Lights Out! Sleep, Sugar and Survival by TS Wiley. Its an oldie but goodie. It will help you to connect seasonally with a way to eat that will help keep you trim and in good health. You already know that Atkins is impossible to sustain. As many Americans know, that rollercoaster diet/ weight loss game is a sure way to pack on the pounds!
    I’m on the same page as you that good fat is good. I wasted a decade making oat bran muffins and tasteless boneless skinless chicken for my hubby. His cholesterol continued to climb until I discovered Weston A Price and made friends with grass fed butter.
    But I refuse to believe that all carbs are bad! Mother Nature gives us so many wonderful foods to eat in the summer. Its the baked flour and industrial foods that do us in!
    Good luck!
    S 🙂

  • Ed Bruske

    Susan, there are so many permutations in this debate it’s impossible to address them all. People have to know their own bodies and their own tolerances. Not everyone has metabolic issues like I do. Even in the same family there can be huge differences. My dad into his 70s exercised regularly and managed to stay reasonably slim. But he also loved to finish everyone’s dessert plate at Thanksgiving and made his pitcher of margaritas every afternoon. He ended up with quadruple bi-pass surgery. My mother’s always struggled with a bit of a plumpness issue and her cholesterol is through the roof. But she’s been scoped and her arteries are immaculate. On a sliding scale where carbs are concerned, I’d put kale at one end and high-fructose corn syrup at the other. Pick your poison in between. If you insist on eating potatoes, choose a home-grown Yukon gold over Pringles for sure. The zero carb rule only applies for the first 30 days on Atkins, then carbs are introduced slowly. I did pretty well eating lots of fat, protein and green vegetables. But my body does not tolerate starchy foods. I was not on a roller coaster. I was back-sliding and now I have to find my religion again. As I said in the post, you have to treat this as a lifestyle change, not a diet.