A New Diet

This post was migrated from my Lifeblog.

Two or three weeks ago, I went on a low-carb diet called Protein Power. Let me tell you, boy is it something! I feel absolutely great. I love what I’m eating, and I’m always satiated, never hungry. Plus I’m seeing some results already, which is astounding — I was sort of on the diet for a week and then officially on the diet for a week or two, and already I look slimmer.

And as a bonus, it’s cured my acne. Seriously! I have so many acne scars on my face that it took me a full week to realize I’ve stopped breaking out. At first, I thought it was the California air — I started the diet right after I moved here. And that is possible. But after some thought, I don’t think it’s likely. California is drier than Missouri’s summers, but it’s more humid than Missouri’s winters. In Missouri, I broke out every day all year round, whether hot, cold, humid, dry, or anything in between. I tried all kinds of stuff for years before giving up completely. And suddenly, it vanishes. And that’s not all. The dry skin rash on my hand is also fading after months of irritation. Now it could be something healing about Los Angeles, but I’m skeptical. I think it has more to do with what I’m putting into my body.

So how did I get on this diet? What is it about? I hope you’re curious, because I’m dying to tell you all about it!

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So here’s how I got on this diet and how it’s done for me so far. (If you’re itching to read about the diet itself, scroll down to the next section.)

I’ve been smidge overweight for a long as I can remember, but I finally exceeded my own tolerance when I ballooned up to 160 pounds in college. I’m only 5’2” and barely a medium frame, so that puts me between 30 and 40 pounds overweight depending on what chart you use. After two years of feeling pimply and fat, I’d had enough. I wanted to do something about it. However, it was crazy for me to diet while in college, so I decided to wait until I was out. Well, a month ago, that time finally came.

With no reason to think there was a better way, I figured I’d do the usual low fat, high exercise diet. I’d count calories, eschew cream and butter, and go for a jog every other day. I was really, really dreading it. I hated low-fat eating. I’d tried it before and it only made me feel terrible — headaches, constant hunger, painful menstrual cycles, and on and on. In that condition, I was very doubtful that I could exercise without ill consequence. You see, I’d been sick for almost a decade from adrenal gland malfunction. Even after years of recuperation, I could still barely exercise. And I knew low-fat eating would only make things worse. So, I was understandably skeptical that my diet would succeed. Deep down, I expected to try for two or three weeks before giving up in the face of immediate health decline. After that, I would just resign myself to being fat. “At least Spencer always thinks I’m beautiful,” I would reassure myself, “so it doesn’t matter that I hate the way I look.”

It’s a testament to how much I wanted to be thinner that even with all this hovering over me, I was still determined to give it a try. However, God intervened, thank His goodness! On our way out to California, we stopped to spend a few days with Spencer’s father and stepmother, Jim and Joy. It turned out that Jim had just been on a diet with great success, so naturally I asked him what he did. He introduced me to Protein Power, a low-carbohydrate diet by Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades.

Protein Power — I’d never heard of it. Probably some crazy fad diet. I wasn’t keen on it at first. Even though I didn’t like what I had in store — fatigue, hunger, and maybe a five-pound loss if I was lucky — I liked the idea of a fad diet even less.

But then Jim kept talking — about what you eat on the Protein Power diet: Meat, eggs, heavy cream, butter, plus leafy greens, berries, melons, and so much more. Oooh. My mouth started watering: All favorite foods of mine! The trouble was, I loved carbs too. My father’s side of the family comes from Shandong, a province in China that is famous for consuming great quantities of wheat flour. I was raised eating carbs, carbs, carbs. But after a very brief consideration, it was clear that my personal scale was tipped toward protein and fat. I just couldn’t live without meat and eggs. Carbs I would miss, but I could deal.

I wish I could say that something weightier than culinary greed made my decision. But the truth was, I was grasping at straws. I desperately did not want to do low-fat. Protein Power sounded great in comparison. And so what if nutritional experts didn’t like it? I reasoned that one doctor was the same as another, so if there were doctors out there who thought low-carb would work, I was willing to do it.

True to my nature, I jumped right into it. I began eschewing carbs immediately and endeavored to procure the book. However, because we were on the road, the holiday season was in full swing, and ten thousand other things were happening all at once, I didn’t get a good start until about two weeks ago when we moved into our new place. Then I set to work in earnest. It was eggs, cheese, cottage cheese, whole milk, heavy cream, butter, and meat exclusively. Mmm-mm-mmm!

Two or three days in, I hit the infamous carb crash. Most people go through this, I found out later, because your body is readjusting its enzyme makeup. I’m glad I was expecting it because it was rather unpleasant. I was fatigued and dizzy and had to lay down every few hours. But I persevered. In three days, it was over and I was back on my feet.

And was I back! I felt great. I ate less but felt fuller. My endurance also improved, which is a big deal for me. And all this from guesswork: Since the book hadn’t arrive yet, I wasn’t actually following the diet; I was just cutting carbs.

Finally, the Protein Power book arrived. I read it cover to cover. A short ways into it, I realized what a gem I’d unwittingly stumbled into. I had come to this book for weight loss. But it was so much more. This diet was actually developed to treat dangerously high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, heart disease, and diabetes. Weight loss was simply a bonus. Although I don’t have any problems now, my risk factors are not so good: On my mother’s side, my grandmother died of heart disease, and the whole family has heart trouble. On my father’s side, my grandmother has type II diabetes, my uncle died several years ago of a blood clot in his early forties, and the whole family has blood-related issues. If that’s not enough, it’s clear that I store most of my fat in my belly. Very very bad.

Have you ever narrowly escaped a catastrophe you didn’t know was coming? That’s how I felt then, as if I could feel the sheltering light of God shining down on me. Yes I knew about these risk factors, but I’d never put it together quite like that. And even if I had, what was I going to do about it? Go low-fat? See above description of how bad the low-fat diet makes me feel. But now, the solution had landed in my lap. At that moment, I felt so incredibly blessed.

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“That’s very nice,” you say, “but what about this diet. What’s the grand idea?” I agree! Let’s talk about Protein Power now. Here it is in a nutshell:

The idea behind Protein Power revolves around insulin and something called insulin resistance. Insulin is the hormone that keeps your blood sugar from getting too high. You may know that lack of insulin causes type I diabetes. Well, America’s problem isn’t lack of insulin; it’s too much! Here’s what happens: When you’re little, your body is shiny and new, and everything works like a charm. So when you eat a piece of bread and your blood sugar goes up, your pancreas only has to release a tiny squirt of insulin to bring it back down. This is because your cells are very sensitive to insulin. You can eat all the cookies, potatoes, and white bread that you want, and it only takes a little bit of insulin deal with your blood sugar. However, as you age and your cells are constantly bombarded by insulin, they become desensitized and need progressively more stimulus to achieve the same effect. (Just like your classic heroin addict.) Pretty soon, your pancreas is pumping out prodigial amount of insulin to keep your blood sugar in check. At this point, you develop hyperinsulinemia, where you have way too much insulin in your bloodstream.

So what’s wrong with too much insulin? Well everything — that’s what. Hyperinsulinemia causes high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, the thickening and scarring of arteries, and obesity. Eventually it also causes type II diabetes. That’s when your cells become so desensitized to insulin that even ridiculous amounts can’t keep your blood sugar in check. At this point, your exhausted pancreas gives up entirely, and you have diabetes.

If insulin is the problem, the natural question is, “How do we lower our insulin?” The only known way is through our diet. Yep, we have to cut the carbs. Looking at your metabolism, you can see why. Carbs induce a huge spike in insulin. In contrast, fat is completely neutral (remarkable, huh?) and protein elicits only a small response. Here’s the kicker: The combination of high-carb low-protein is even worse than pure carb in terms of insulin. (You wouldn’t believe it possible, but yes.) Which is why the low-fat diet fails: Since most protein sources also contain a lot of fat, when you cut out the fat, you end up cutting out a lot of the protein too. You replace it all with carbs and — voila! — you have high-carb low-protein.

If you’re like pre-diet me and follow the USDA guidelines and all, you probably shudder at the thought of cream cheese or fatty meat. But here’s a paradigm shift: Dietary fat does not automatically translate to body fat. It takes insulin to make that shift. Insulin triggers your body to store fat, while its counterpart, glucagon, tells your body to burn fat. If you keep your insulin level elevated above your glucagon level, you’ll get fatter. You do it the other way around and you’ll get slimmer.

Anyway, all this is explained in much more detail in Protein Power. I’m no medical buff, so I’ll leave that to the Drs. Eades. I would like to relay a small history lesson, which was part of the inspiration behind this diet:

Agriculture has only been around for ten thousand years. “Only?” you say incredulously. “That’s a long time!” Well before agriculture, human beings lived as hunter-gatherers for 700,000 years! That’s 7,000 centuries compared to 100 centuries. Paleolithic people lived on a diet primarily of meat with a small amount of nuts, berries, and other gathered foods. Archaeological evidence shows that these people were tall, lean, fit, and had perfect teeth; there are no signs of obesity, heart disease, or dental problems (and I don’t imagine they ever brushed). Fast forward to the ancient Egyptians. They lived in a modern nutritional paradise: Complex whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oil, honey instead of sugar, fish, and almost no red meat. However, both mummified remains and written records show widespread gum disease and tooth infection, obesity, and heart disease. This pattern is not specific to just these two groups of people. It is so consistent that archaeologists use to classify prehistoric peoples: If you find strong bones and healthy teeth, they’re hunter-gatherer; but if it’s brittle bones and tooth decay, they’re agricultural.

For the record, I’ve heard a lot of the same information about Paleolithic people from other sources, namely my college Agriculture Science class.

You might be scratching your head. “Didn’t Paleolithic people have rather short life spans?” Good point, but here’s why it doesn’t matter. Paleolithic people died young-ish (40 or 50), but almost all of them died from severe injuries like skull fractures that were probably sustained while hunting. It doesn’t say much about their state of health when they died (apparently excellent). Nutritional health won’t save you from being run over by a car — or a woolly mammoth — but it will keep you from dying of heart disease, which is sadly the more prevalent of the two today.

I’ll finish up with a little information about the Eades themselves and the history behind this diet. They practice medicine in Little Rock, Arkansas. They used to be dietary conventionalists too, but over time, they worked out this new diet and the reasoning behind it. Even they were skeptical at first. It looked good on paper, but would it work? After two decades, the answer is a resounding yes. They’ve treated thousands of patients with high blood pressure, high cholestrol, heart disease, and diabetes. Usually, these people are able to test normal and kick their medication within 6 weeks!!

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So I’m going to give this a try! So far it’s been treating me great, and I have the highest hopes for the future.

If you’re intrigued and want to dive in too, you can get Protein Power here on Amazon for only $11. (It’s $16 or $17 in bookstores.) It contains everything you’ll need to know to get started. While you’re there, check out the hundreds of success stories posted in the reviews. Hopefully, mine will be among them soon.