09 December 2011

Why We Get Fat, by Gary Taubes

So, back to my epic about last year's health quest.

After 13 weeks working on a slow-carb diet and seeing very little in the results department, someone recommended Why We Get Fat on the forum I mentioned in an earlier post. This book was crucial in helping me understand my own body chemistry.

WWGF is an updated, shorter, and easier-to-read version of Taubes' previous Good Calories, Bad Calories. I've started GCBC, but haven't taken the time to finish it as life has gotten in the way, but it's patiently waiting in my Kindle for me.

Taubes questions the theory that eating fat makes us fat (the lipid hypothesis). He looks at other cultures and societies that shared our modern American propensity toward largeness and found some interesting elements. He also looked to the past, both past research and past wisdom. And he looks at body chemistry and lays out the role of insulin in fat storage.

As I read this in April of last year, I realized that the reason the slow-carb diet didn't work for me was that it was still too heavy in carbs. I was too insulin-resistant for that many carbs, even slowly-absorbed carbs, to work.

So, in April, I cut way back on my carbohydrates. And the scale began to go down. I also increased my intake of healthy fats - coconut oil, butter, lard, tallow, the fat on meat, palm kernel shortening, cream, eggs, etc. For about a month, I was eating about 3,000 calories per day and still losing weight easily. But that couldn't continue - the budget couldn't take it. When I cut back on how much I was eating, the weight-loss slowed and even reversed a little.

WWGF isn't a diet book. It's a book about biochemistry, history, and anthropology that explains the why (hence the title) behind most weight-gain, insulin resistance (a.k.a. metabolic syndrome). I've always found that, once I understand the philosophy behind something, the why, applying it, becomes more natural and thoughtful. I don't need someone else's plan if I understand what stands behind the ideas I'm wanting to implement (which is why even good diet books have never been very helpful for me).

By mid-May, I had lost a total of 15 lbs. Not great, but at least the scale was moving in the right direction. After reading WWGF, I read an exercise book, which seemed like the next thing to add. However, when I started doing what the book taught, all weight-loss stalled, and that includes no lost inches and no lost body fat percentage or anything else (although I was getting stronger - but soon my hands couldn't handle the weights I needed for my arms, shoulders, back, etc. - quite a predicament).

I also read another diet book and incorporated that into what I was already doing, but after two weeks, there was nothing happening, so I ditched that one (see how helpful record-keeping can be? I didn't waste that much time on something that just didn't work). That brings us to July, and a new post as I review, yet another book.


05 December 2011

The Value of Self-Experimentation and Keeping Copious Records

Almost a year ago, in late December 2010, I finally got to a weight that was my tipping point. I won't say what that weight was, but it was far too high. 2011 was the year I was going to get a hold, not just of my weight, but of my health.

I had struggled with adrenal fatigue for most of my life (not just my adult life - I had symptoms going back to high school, it was only in retrospect that I figured out what they were pointing to). During most of my pregnancies, I'd gained 50 lbs and then lost 50 lbs, but not all of them. The others saw the scale much higher at the end of the pregnancy/nursing cycle, and only one where I lost more weight than I'd gained. In addition to the adrenal fatigue, I was also trying to cope with quite a few other hormonal imbalances.

There had been many times through the years when I'd determine to lose weight. I'd either cut back on the fat, exercise a lot, or both. And each time, I'd simply maintain my weight. It was quite frustrating. As soon as I gave up, the scale started going back up again. And at the end of it, my adrenal glands were in worse shape than when I'd started.

So, back to late December 2010 - I downloaded a newly-released book onto my Kindle that promised me that I'd lose quite a bit in just a few weeks. After I read the pertinent parts of the book, I looked up the author's website. His attitude was less than encouraging, as he said that the promise in his book really didn't apply to women, who had to follow his plan for six to eight weeks before seeing results and even then would only see results for half of each month. He basically said that, if his counsel didn't produce the promised benefits, not to come crying to him.

Well, I tried it his way for six weeks, with absolutely no results. I was motivated to follow his counsel to the letter so that I could claim with all veracity that I hadn't cheated, all so that I could confidently say he was wrong. During weeks seven and eight, I did lose nine pounds. Then, I stalled for the next five weeks. I wasn't the only woman who was so frustrated, as plenty posted in the book's forums about their struggles.

While the slow-carb method of weightloss didn't work for me at all really (I gained back some of the weight I'd lost in weeks seven and eight), I did find the author's approach to self-experimentation to be quite valuable.

I began tracking many different measurements. I weigh myself daily. I measure myself in key areas weekly. I eventually bought a body fat calculator and measure that daily, too (it measures on the low side, so monthly I plug my numbers into a more accurate online body fat calculator and record those results, too). I also began to keep a closer watch on my eating habits (although the food diary didn't last through the whole year, I go back to it occasionally if I get stuck) and the supplements I take, as well as various symptoms (how I slept, headaches, wrist and hip inflammation, fatigue, adrenal soreness, etc.).

All this data helped in so many ways. I began to understand how various things affected me. Some took a few hours to show up, some days, some weeks, and some months, but I had a much better handle on learning what I needed. I learned to understand that daily fluctuations aren't that important. It's longer-term trends that I need to watch.

All this data gave me the ability to evaluate where I was and gave me the tools to figure out where I needed to go.

I haven't started tracking my blood sugar, yet, but hope to get that going soon so I can learn exactly how different foods affect me and can set up an individualized plan (even if it's just knowing what foods will mess me up and which foods might not be such a poor indulgence).

I set up spreadsheets that would take my weight and body fat measurements each day and multiply them out to show me my fat/lean weight. I also began graphing it all.

Whereas before I could find no rhyme or reason for what my weight was doing at any given time, now I could pin it on different things, whether a poor night's sleep or too many cups of sweetened tea or too much high-sugar fruit.

This principle of record-keeping and self-experimentation works for any health issue. The more data points you have, the better. I also found that approaching my health/weight issues as a science experiment was valuable in keeping my emotions out of the equation. I know I can obsess, but I haven't found that to be a problem at all this year.

In upcoming posts, I'll be reviewing several books that I found helpful, as well as sharing how the rest of the year went in my quest for better health (a quest I'm still very much in the midst of!).


26 September 2011

Yogurt, My Final Word

I've been asked about my yogurt process lots of times since my series about what I learned in my yogurt journey. I usually send people a link to a Google search of my blog and 'yogurt'. But last night, a good friend said that she always does better if she can see the process, so here it is, all pulled together into one post and with pictures!

This makes a gallon of yogurt (unstrained). I'll include variations throughout.

We start by pouring a gallon of half-n-half or heavy cream (when it's on sale) into the crockpot, set on low.

If we've forgotten to pull our starter (in this case, a small jar from our last batch that was put into the freezer) out the night before to thaw in the fridge, we place the frozen jar next to the hot crockpot to defrost.

Once the half-n-half/cream reaches between 112˚ and 120˚ (about an hour and 20 minutes for us, but your mileage may vary), we fill empty, clean jars with hot tap water to warm up (like filling a teapot with boiling water to warm up before actually making tea with a fresh infilling of boiling water and tea). While the jars warm up...

...ladle some of the hot cream/half-n-half into a measuring cup or a deep bowl.

Pour in the thawed starter.

If the starter is still very cold, the cream can be on the higher side of the temperature range. If using Yogourmet starter (one envelope works great for a gallon of yogurt; I've seen recipes that call for four envelopes for a half-gallon of yogurt -- what a waste!), store-bought, plain yogurt, or we did remember to thaw our frozen started the night before, we aim for the lower side of the temperature range.

I'd like to try a cup of plain, store-bought Greek yogurt as a starter, as I've heard it has more kinds of cultures.

Once the starter thaws, it gets thin and runny, but never fear. The cultures are fine and the yogurt should thicken without a problem. If it doesn't, it's not because of the frozen and thawed cultures. Freezing it keeps it fresher longer and you'll be able to get more batches out of each starter before it goes sour, saving money.

Whip it up until there are no lumps.

Pour back into the crockpot.

If you want to add flavoring, it can go in now. I keep ours plain so we can each flavor it individually or I can use it in Silky Buttery Chicken to marinate the meat (see the link below!).

Fill the warmed and dried jars with the cream/half-n-half and cultures mixture and put the lids on. Don't forget to wash, warm, and re-fill your starter jar!

You could probably add different flavors to each jar.

Put them under a thick bath towel or two on the counter to culture.

I used to use four quart jars plus the small jar, but we've been using our quart jars for so many other things lately that I'm running out. Once we replenish our supply, I'll go back to the four quart jars. They fit into our fridge better and my husband takes one to work for snacks there. They also hold the heat better, but the yogurt still comes out thick, even in plastic containers.

After four or five hours, it's nice and thick. Into the fridge it goes to chill.

If it hasn't thickened up after that amount of time, I'll put a heating pad under the jars under the towel and turn it on low or medium for 20 minutes to a half hour. That always seems to do the trick.

This is a good time to strain it for thicker, more Greek-like yogurt. I'm out of cheese cloth now, but want to try this in the near future. I'll try to strain it overnight in the fridge to get out all the whey.

Here it is! Nice and thick and creamy, topped with fresh blueberries.

Since I'm not baking anymore, I've been throwing the whey away, but now that I'm trying some low-carb baking, I may save it and experiment with the new recipes.


24 September 2011

Food Frustrations

One of the big changes that's taken place since I was posting more regularly is that we've gone low-carb. I've eliminated grains, and cut way down on starches and sugar. (A couple of book reviews coming up! And, no, this won't become a low-carb blog.)

I'm feeling so much better than I have in a long, long time. The volcanic acid reflux that was waking me up three or four nights each week disappeared with the grains. My wrist soreness is gone (I had a couple of weird lumps on the insides of my wrists that doctors had no ideas about and was experiencing severe pain when I typed - not so good when one has a deadline and lots of computer work to do to meet said deadline!), and my digestion is greatly improved. I have more energy and it's much easier to stop eating when I'm full (something that was nearly impossible when I was eating grains, wheat to be specific). I haven't had any incidents of hypoglycemia at all. If it's 'time to eat' and there's nothing appropriate around, it's no problem to simply wait until a more opportune moment. I've also found that my previously-thought-untameable sweet tooth has learned to heel - no more cravings for sweets. Even dark chocolates haven't been as appealing as of late.

For the most part, we're eating meat, a good amount of healthy fats, eggs (our newest batch of chickens is beginning to lay!), lots of veggies and salads with feta and olive oil and balsamic vinegar as dressing. Snacks consist of fruit (mostly berries, so far) and almonds (yum!). I'm drinking raw milk, just a little at a time a few times each week, some tea and cold-brewed coffee with a little turbinado and heavy cream, and lots of water. I also splurge every once in awhile with hard cranberry lemonade, hard cider (there's a wonderful, light, hard cider served at our local Irish Pub), or a glass of wine. I'm working to keep fresh bone broth (chicken or beef) on hand, especially when the weather cools down and I'd like something that isn't sweet to warm me up. I wish we could afford more pasture-raised meats, but with the size family we have, that's just not in the cards right now. So we focus on pastured butter

I've started trying to experiment with coconut and almond flours, but I'm not doing too well with them! I've come to the conclusion that it's better not to try to eat low-carb versions of high-carb foods for a couple of reasons. First, low-carb versions of high-carb foods that are processed foods include lots of starches to work toward the same textures. The starches, however, raise blood sugar levels too high for me with my weight-loss goals. Second, the low-carb varieties never taste as good as the real thing and they remind me how much I miss the real thing. This sets up psychological cravings, mostly for bread. (I love bread, but it doesn't love me back!)

But, my family (also doing better with no grains) does appreciate my efforts at the variety, so I'll keep trying. The problem is that I know how wheat flour behaves and how to make it do what I want. I need to find a way to learn how coconut flour and almond meal (and other nut flours and meals) work so I can not only follow others' recipes, but play around with them myself.

More on this as time goes on!


22 September 2011

I'm Back!

Yes, I know it's been forever since I've posted, but I've finally gotten through a few projects and my health is improving, which means I have more energy and more brain cells to devote to writing. I'm eager to begin again.

King's Meadow's American Culture should be shipping soon! I'll be working on Antiquity, but should be able to spread the work out over a longer period, which is good for the whole family's sanity.

I've got several books to review, results of a few kitchen experiments to report on, and some other thoughts to work through in the next few months.

Today's post is short because I'm working on posting some of the kids' first composition assignments and have a house to declutter!