Life on Zero Carb: What I Eat

When I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes I immediately began eating what would be considered a moderately low carb diet, around 50 net carbs a day. I was able to control my blood sugar without medication or insulin, but as time went on I noticed my numbers creeping up. In response I restricted carbs further and further until I was at a zero, or very near zero carb level of food intake. I’ve been a ‘zero carber’ for two years now, eating only meat, fish, eggs, fats and hard cheeses. If I ever ‘cheat’ it’s the occasional bite of vegetable, and occasionally I fall into a jar of peanut butter. But 99% of my food consumption is of the aforementioned foods.

Turns out I’m not the only one. There’s an online subculture of zero carbers who embrace an all meat diet. They have a subreddit, a facebook page, and various bloggers detail their ‘zero carb journey.’ Vegans hate us!

‘Zero carb’ is a bit of a misnomer. Eggs and hard cheeses have carbs, albeit negligible amounts, less than half a carb per serving. I occasionally eat all beef hot dogs, which have a few carbs apiece. And when I cook meat in the slow cooker, I add vegetables for flavor but discard them after cooking. Probably a few carbs leech in.

A better term would be ‘meatarian’ or ‘animaltarian’ since most if not all of our calories come from animal products. I personally consume mayonnaise and vegetable oils, but many zero carbers do not.

So what exactly do I eat? For the past two days I took pictures of my breakfast and lunch. These are typical meals for me: some meat, some fat, sometimes eggs or egg yolks. I take it easy on dairy, more for taste reasons than anything else.

Clockwise you see: kosher hotdog and slow cooked egg; kosher hotdog mixed with full fat mayonnaise, on the side egg yolks, rotisserie turkey and more mayonnaise; slow cooked pork; bacon, slow cooked egg and vermont cheddar.

Three and a half years into type 2 diabetes my A1C is normal, my triglyceride-HDL ratio is superhuman, my morning glucose is never over 85 mg/dL, I rarely get sick and I maintain a slightly underweight BMI without trying. I am not on any diabetes medications nor insulin.

I sincerely believe this way of eating is saving my life, and may well have saved my young son’s life by sparing me any complications from gestational diabetes while pregnant with him. I have also spared the healthcare industry a tremendous amount of money on medical bills, diabetes supplies and prescriptions.

In closing I would aggressively recommend this diet for diabetics, and for anyone who wishes to lose weight. I quickly went from BMI 19 to 17 without trying. If it worked for me at such a low BMI, surely those with more pounds will have even greater weight loss effect. So go ahead and try it for a few weeks! Worst case scenario, you enjoy a few more bunless hamburgers than you would have otherwise.


Food Update

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. In browsing older posts I realized there might be some confusion to new readers as to what exactly I eat. Thus I would like to clarify (don’t worry, I know the world doesn’t hinge on what I eat, but I don’t want to confuse anyone).

Years ago I was a strict vegan. I truly believed this was the healthiest way for a human to eat. I made this decision based on books like Eat to Live, The China Study, and the various vegan websites out there like vegsource (I have no idea if they’re still around). Eating a whole food vegan diet, claimed these books, led to perfect health and slim waistlines.

I have always been thin but I was trying to improve my health- after my 4th child was born I began experiencing recurring and debilitating fevers. Based on testimonials of vegan converts I switched to a completely vegan diet.

It took a while but my health did improve. I didn’t eat only health foods- I loved vegan cookies and desserts, but I did eat mostly health foods, and I completely eliminated sugar from my diet 4 years ago.

Then I got pregnant with my youngest child and despite being low weight, gaining virtually no weight, and eating a “healthy vegan diet” I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. I was 190 mg/dL on the glucose tolerance test. I obtained a glucose meter and began testing my postprandial (post meal) blood sugar. I was horrified to find all those “healthy” whole grains and beans were spiking my blood sugar astronomically.

Then I remembered… in the back of my head… a documentary I watched ages ago. I thought it was funny back then but, as a strict vegan, believed none of it. That documentary was Tom Naughton’s Fat Head, where he eats both a moderately low carb/ high fat diet, and later a nearly zero carb/ high fat diet, and not only does he lose weight but his blood work improves significantly.

Against medical advice I immediately began eating low carb. I was concerned about going too low, given I was pregnant [note: I would no longer have this concern today], so I hovered around 50 net carbs a day. A typical day for me eating was as follows: I would skip breakfast then eat a huge lunch. I ate a tremendous amount of lamb and chicken thighs, and of course did not remove any of the fat. I would have a small amount of dried fruit for dessert (dried fruit and some veggies were my only source of carbs). For dinner I would have the same.

My blood sugar immediately normalized below 100 mg/dL no matter how much I ate, and my son was born 6 pounds just shy of 36 weeks. He did not require any NICU.

Well, when they gave me the glucose tolerance test a few months after his birth my numbers were even worse. I was 300 mg/dL! I was now officially diabetic, although it remains unclear if I am type 2 or LADA- adult onset type 1- since I am so thin it may likely be LADA. My well meaning but clueless internist advised me to “eat brown rice and potatoes.” I kept my mouth shut but knew some of my worst postprandial numbers resulted from precisely those foods.

I have been a low carber ever since, even going down to zero carbs for long periods, eating nothing but meat and fat. That’s right, I am still alive despite eating no fiber and eschewing all plant foods. My blood work is perfect. A1C is normal. I’m thinner than ever- not necessarily a good thing, but for those of you who need to lose weight, if it works at my low weight it would certainly work for you. When I was diagnosed with diabetes I was 135 lbs (at 5’9″). After a few months eating very low carb I went down to 120- slightly underweight for my height- and have maintained and even dipped below without trying.

I truly believe eating low carb has saved my life, and quite possibly saved my son’s life. So would I recommend low carbing to any dieters out there? HELL YES! The emphasis on fruits, whole grains and veggies in nutritional circles is ridiculously overblown. I’m not saying they’re bad for non-diabetics, but they are indeed terribly dangerous for diabetics and are not the golden key to weight loss the FDA would have you believe.

I’ve been able to maintain a normal A1C without meds, insulin, or exercise (I like to walk but don’t consider it “exercise.”) My blood sugar rarely cracks 100 mg/dL. So I would plead- yes PLEAD- with any diabetics out there to consider a low carb/ zero carb diet. There are countless resources online and just as many books. Atkins is a great place to start. I eat only foods from the induction phase, plus nuts.

Thoughts on the Mouse Experiment

A few months ago I blogged about a weight loss experiment where mice were fed the same amount of food over different time windows. One group of mice was restricted to 12 hours a day, while the other group of mice was allowed food access 24 hours a day. The seemingly surprising result was that time restricted mice lost weight while their open access peers did not, despite the fact that both groups consumed the same number of calories. That latter group also exhibited signs of diabetes. At face value this appears to refute the calories-in-calories-out theory.

As I lay in bed last night it dawned on me: the restricted mouse group was probably more active, thus burning more calories, than the open access group. Animals fed a restricted diet (at some point over those 12 hours the mice were bound to be hungry) are known to be more energetic and active than more generously-fed comparison groups. This has been documented in calorie restriction experiments on monkeys and is a natural reaction to hunger; if an animal is agitated and energetic it will put more effort into foraging or hunting for food. The same could be said of humans: people who fast often report an initial “burst of energy” before the eventual onset of weakness and lethargy.

The explanation of excess energy expenditure is so obvious that one wonders why it wasn’t brought up in the nytimes article. As far as I know, researchers didn’t adjust for activity level in the described study.

But the takeaway for dieters might still be salient: make sure you go a certain stretch of time not eating such that you feel at least some hunger. This will probably trigger increased physical agitation even if you’re not aware of it. “Fidgety” people burn as many calories as joggers- so intentionally putting yourself in a restless state might have a positive (or, negative as the case may be) effect on the scale.


Time Restriction for Weight Loss

The NYtimes recently reported on a study where time restricted eating (TRE) produced interesting results when applied to mice.

Mice fed a high fat, high sugar diet were divided into two groups: one that could eat whenever it wanted over a 24 hour period, and another that could eat as much as it wanted over just 12 hours.

While both mouse groups gained weight on the high fat/ sugar diet, the mice allowed unrestricted eating gained twice as much despite eating the same number of calories. These fatter mice also developed symptoms of diabetes while the time restricted mice did not. Even more remarkable, the obese mice lost weight when a TRE was applied to them, even if they continued to consume the same number of calories! This certainly flies in the face of the calories in/ calories expended model, which I’ve always thought was the most legitimate explanation for weight gain or loss.

There has been much speculation over rising obesity statistics, with couch potatoes and high fructose corn syrup typically targeted as usual suspects. Could it be, though, that the loss of traditional family mealtimes has been the primary cause? Once upon a time families ate together at set times, with meals prepared by the women of the house. With mom “guarding the gates” people were restricted to what they could eat and when. Fast forward to today, with less food being made from scratch and more women applying their efforts outside the household, and snacking and convenience foods have increased exponentially. Convenience foods like chips, crackers and packaged cookies are easy to snack on, whereas a homemade dessert served by mom after dinner doesn’t lend itself as well to around the clock snacking. And once mom closed up the kitchen after dinner, it was lock stock and barrel. Not so much anymore, and definitely not in my house. People grab what they want, when they want it, and we have no set mealtimes. However as I’ve mentioned before, my children are strangely effective at regulating their own food intake and none are overweight.

When I was a young child my mother was very strict about food. Diving into the fridge or cabinet for a snack was unheard of, and if I didn’t want what was put on the table I didn’t eat (and indeed I didn’t eat much of the time). As I got older, though, they lightened up and let me eat between meals and allowed different foods beyond the main course. For me this was a good thing as I’d grown quite underweight, but I can see how a kitchen gatekeeper might be beneficial for people prone to obesity.

So how should this translate for adults who want to lose weight? I don’t think it needs to be too complicated- just make sure you go 12 hours out of any given 24 hour period without food intake of any kind (except water, obviously). What I’d like to know is if the 12 hours can be staggered, or if the body needs a straight 12 hours without calories to replicate the mouse study effect (I’m going to assume the body is forced into brief ketosis during this period without food; this is why we can go to bed hungry but wake up feeling full).

I’ve always had a rule with myself that I don’t eat between 12 noon and 5pm. Sometimes I go 11am to 5pm without so much as a lettuce leaf. In addition I try not to eat after 7pm, so I’m technically restricting more than 12 hours- probably 17 to 18 hours a day. But I sleep a lot- and eat heartily when I do have a meal, so I’m not eating low calorie by any means.

Fruits and Vegetables Don’t Make You Lose Weight

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has published a study confirming that fruits and vegetables don’t make you lose weight. This is something I’ve pointed out several times in this blog, that telling an overweight person “to eat more fruits and vegetables” is about the most hare brained approach you could take to weight loss (yet is the centerpiece of the new school lunch program). In A Place at the Table there is a particularly painful scene where an obese child is told “to snack on celery” by his doctor.

I love fruits and vegetables and eat loads of them. If it can be slathered in olive oil and roasted at 400 degrees, I’ll eat it. Broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, eggplant, onions, etc.- I eat them by the bucket load. I also love green salads and would happily choose a huge green salad with peanut dressing over a piece of chocolate cake. But I also know that without that olive oil, or the high fat peanut dressing, vegetables will leave you hungry as they are basically water with some fiber and micronutrients. Fruits are slightly more filling because they contain more sugar (and thus more calories) than veggies, but will also leave you hungry soon enough even if you gorge on them. It has been firmly established by this point that the greatest killer of appetite is protein; second to protein is fat, and last on the list are carbohydrates. While carbs have their place in the human diet, they are not the most effective food to quell appetite, which, unless you enjoy a gnawing stomach, is an important step to weight loss.

The most efficient sources of protein are meat, eggs, nuts, beans, and some dairy products (vital wheat gluten is a good vegan source of protein, but obviously no good for people with gluten sensitivities). If I were giving advice to an overweight person, I would suggest they focus on these high protein foods while adding moderate amounts of healthy fats. I would further suggest they try to avoid all starches and sugars, and while eating non-starchy vegetables won’t hurt, they have a low satiation index in bare form so I would not encourage them as a diet mainstay. I would also advise that they limit fruit to raw fruit (no juice or dried fruit) and only one or two servings a day. The last thing I would ever say is, “Snack on celery,” because this sends the message that fruits and vegetables will magically trigger weight loss even if the rest of a person’s diet is not radically altered. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “Well I had a salad so I was good, now I can eat _____.” It doesn’t work that way! This is the same trap exercise can cause. A person works out for an hour then rewards himself- either consciously or unconsciously- with excess food. So if anything, increasing fruits and veggies might give a person the illusion that they don’t have to make greater efforts in weight loss.

Another difficulty with encouraging people to eat more fruits and vegetables is that they perceive starchy vegetables like potatoes and winter squash as “vegetables,” but these foods are just as calorie-laden as bread. Again, were we not living in a world of food excess, bread and potatoes would be great things to survive on and indeed have sustained many a civilization during times of want. But in our current food excess environment a plate of french fries- even sweet potato fries- is nothing but trouble. Same goes for veggie chips and vegetable laced pastas.

I know all this makes me sound like a low carber, but I’m not. If a person isn’t trying to lose weight, carbs are no problem in moderation. But for a person aiming for weight loss, carbs need to be delicately handled and limited because 1) they are calorie dense 2) they do not quell appetite efficiently and 3) they are easy to overeat on. Having gone through partial fasts in the past where I ate very little, I learned quickly that the best way to endure many hours of not eating was to consume some protein, especially animal protein (as a former vegan this was a tough fact to swallow, no pun intended). So while I am not a low carb adherent per se, it’s clear to me that this technique is invaluable when trying to teach people to manage their appetites.

Of course, if a person eats only fruits and vegetables, they will lose weight. Dr. Fuhrman’s Eat to Live plan is based on most calories coming from fruits, plain non-starchy vegetables, and beans (prepared without fat). While he says not to count calories he admits in his book that most people will not be eating more than 1000-1200 calories a day on his regimen, a level most people would lose on no matter what the calorie sources are.

What’s Your Excuse?

In the news recently have been stories of svelte moms posting toothsome photos of themselves as admonishment to fat women everywhere to get into shape. Maria Kang, who was briefly banned from Facebook for “hate speech,” posted this now famous picture of herself and her brood:


Post-partum mom Caroline Erikson recently posted this selfie while the placenta was practically dangling from her nether parts:


She too has been accused of hate speech against fat mothers everywhere by virtue of immortalizing her hot bod so soon after ushering her child into the world.

It’s an odd world indeed when fit mothers not only make international news, but are the target of such vitriol. Shouldn’t we be proud of these women for managing to stay fit through pregnancy and beyond? Okay, fine, I get it: it seems excessively catty of them to be spreading their images across the internet– they’re being insensitive, judgmental. But since when do thin women need to cover up, to spare the feelings of heavier women? Aren’t we treading on dangerous territory in this respect?

What neither Ms. Kang nor Ms. Eriksen probably understand is that– for reasons unknown– some people just have a much easier time of staying thin than others. The fact that they are so fit after having children likely places them in this category, and once a person is in that category it’s difficult to stand in the shoes of those struggling with weight issues. Very few people are consciously choosing to be heavy; there are a slew of emotional, neuro chemical, and physiological issues preventing them from losing weight.

I am very thin, even after having 7 kids. In fact I’d say I’m thinner than either of these ladies (though I didn’t give birth four days ago):


but I don’t come from a background of “good weight genes.” My entire family of origin is or has been overweight to obese. I grew up watching every last family member struggling with weight and, seemingly, incapable of keeping it off. These were not weak willed or lazy people, nor were they ignorant about nutrition or calories. My family has an incredibly strong work ethic and are all highly educated. But for some reason, in the environment of food excess that the western world currently is, something is triggered in them to eat in a way that can’t be easily controlled. This has nothing to do with strength of character; the reasons are likely infinitely complex, having to do with human evolution and the brain’s response to food.

If anything, I am the anomaly, as I was born with a small appetite and a comparatively low desire for food. So it’s easy for me. Perhaps it’s those of us who are naturally thin who need an excuse; we are the abnormal ones, who, for whatever reason, don’t have the typical response to food excess. That doesn’t mean we should be chased off of facebook or excoriated in the public eye, but it might behoove Ms. Kang to understand that being overweight isn’t a result of laziness and excuses. People aren’t waking up in the morning and thinking, “You know what, I don’t want to look like Maria Kang, let me be utterly lazy and gluttonous today.” People are overweight for reasons far more complex and nuanced than cooking up excuses, and she does deserve to be called out for that.

Global Fat Calculator

I entered my stats into The Global Fat Calculator this evening, which is a calculator using WHO data on BMI to determine which nationality you most resemble, fat-wise.  When I got the following result:


… I realized it might be time to stop my little experiment of seeing how skinny I could get on a partial fast.  I got down to 128 lbs, my lipoma shrunk by half (but no further), and even though all the BMI charts say I can get down to 123, I’m looking rather ghostly thin at this point. Not only are my clavicles sticking out, as might be expected, but my upper ribs are visible in ridges below my neck.

I promptly went upstairs at that point (remember the kitchen is upstairs, we live in a weird house) and fixed myself a huge, by recent standards, meal, and chowed down while watching Continuum reruns.

So where are you on the global fat calculator?  Are you a lean, mean Estonian, or a portly Bahrainian?

Getting Skinny

I’m now on day 15 of my partial fast and I’m down to 130 lb.  In the picture below I’m wearing a size 8 dress and it’s hanging off me (it’s supposed to be form fitting).


I’m happy to report that finally, finally, my lipoma is shrinking.  It’s hard to measure exactly but it’s at least 50% smaller, and no longer itches.  I can’t take a picture of it without taking my shirt off, and that ain’t happening, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

According to google I can get down to 123 before the authorities are called in.  That would put me at exactly BMI 18.5 which is the line between healthy and underweight BMI.  So I’m going to continue as I have been, in the hopes that the lipoma may disappear completely, or at least continue to decrease in size, which would be fantastic.

I’m not sure if I should recommend this method of weight loss to people in blogland, because, supposedly, eating anything under 1200 (for women) and 1500 (for men) is considered unhealthy.  But other than a few days of feeling confused and stupid, I’ve had no ill effects.  I actually have more energy than I normally do (that will probably stop once I run out of fat stores to burn), my hair hasn’t fallen out, I’m getting by on less sleep, I’m so far immune to the colds being passed around the house.  Honestly, I feel quite good.

I’m eating 700-800 calories a day.  I go until 12 noon not eating anything at all.  From 12-4 pm I eat 100-200 calories. Repeat between 4-8pm.  After 8 pm I eat whatever is left until I’m up to 700-800.  I try to eat a huge serving of greens each day (raw or cooked without added calories), at least 2 servings of raw fruit, 2 ounces of protein, and the rest is usually whole grains and nuts (absolutely no desserts, added oils, or fried foods allowed).  Occasionally I have some plain yogurt.  This is not a lot of food, and should never be done by anyone who doesn’t have fat stores to burn.

The only supplement I’m taking is potassium daily, and a prenatal vitamin every other day (I have leftover from all the pregnancies).  I drink a lot of water.  I don’t exercise, but I occasionally go for a walk.  And that’s it.  The weight is falling off of me, and if it falls off of me, who doesn’t have much weight to discard, it would most certainly fall off a person with ample fat stores.  A pound of fat is about 3500 calories which is enough energy for a person to survive on comfortably for 2 days.  So while I’m not a doctor, dietitian, or nutritionist, I can say that so far this has been an incredibly effective way to lose weight quickly.

Eat to Live, 6 Week Plan

I am happy with my weight; I fluctuate between BMI 20 and 21.  I’d be even happier with my weight if I had a larger pair of “girls,” because when you are small chested you have to be quite scrawny to look proportional.  I once tried buying a set of “silicon bra inserts,” but let me give you some wise advice– don’t bother.  I don’t know how drag queens have such lovely looking (non-surgical) falsies that stay in place.

Anyway, I digress.  I’m happy with my weight, but, I have a large lipoma on my back directly over my spine.  After much research, I’ve concluded that the only way to shrink this thing without surgery (which would be complex, because of its location) is to lose weight.  I can lose 20 lbs while still being considered a normal weight.  That’s a lot of weight to lose when you’re already within normal BMI!  But I am so tired of this thing on my back, that I’m prepared to take drastic measures.  My plan is to lose 10 lbs, and if that shrinks the lipoma, I’ll stop there.  Otherwise I’ll keep going.  And if the 20 lbs doesn’t work, I’ll then consider surgery (maybe they can put the fat from the lipoma into my boobs!).

So I cracked out my copy of “Eat to Live” by Dr. Joel Fuhrman.  What I love about his nutritarian diet is its emphasis on nutrition.  It’s not a gimmick, or a superficial fix– it’s a medically sound, exhaustively researched system based on selecting nutrient-dense foods.  For those who don’t know, Dr. Fuhrman is a board certified physician, so he’s not some hippie guru with a degree in basket weaving.


The nutritarian food pyramid.  Take that, Mrs. Obama.

The six week plan is the more aggressive version of the diet which is completely vegan and has no added oils.  It is also grain free, or close to it.  Each day, you eat unlimited amounts of raw fruit, greens (raw or cooked without oil), non-starchy vegetables, 1 cup of beans, and a handful of nuts.  After the six weeks you can add small amounts of whole grains, and animal products.  But vegan cookie bars are not on the list.

Breakfast this morning was a mango.  Lunch will be a green salad with 1 cup of beans, and more fruit.  Dinner will be 2 cooked non-starchy vegetables, a green salad, and fruit for dessert.  Dr. Fuhrman advises keeping things simple at first for the three meals (fruit/ salad and fruit/ cooked veggies, salad and fruit) because your body will be detoxing from all its bad food addictions, and you will be adjusting your kitchen habits to your new way of life.

Of course, I will still be cooking for my children, so I will have to stare at forbidden foods all day long, but I have already made up a long list of distractions (including blogging).

Weight Watching Politicians

The NYtimes has a piece about politicians who have struggled with, and openly discussed, their battle with weight.  What’s striking– to me anyway– about the before and after portraits is that most of them looked better heavy.  Or at least, they don’t necessarily look better thin.  Claire McCaskill looked better heavy, and Bill Clinton definitely looked better with meat on him.  He looks like an emaciated new age guru in his almost-vegan lithe state.  Even the rotund Chris Christie doesn’t look so bad– depending on the angle of the photograph– so I hope he doesn’t drop too many pounds.  The only one who looks noticeably better is Mike Huckabee.


President Taft looking dashing and huggable at 300+ pounds.