Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Low Carb Dieting: The Final Word?

One of my favorite authors is Jonny Bowden, a well-known nutritionist in Southern California. Jonny Bowden wrote the book, "150 Healthiest Foods On Earth" and it is arguably one of the best written publications on the healthiest food choices. I bought several copies earlier this year and gave them to clients and friends. I wrote about his book multiple times on this blog. I read it myself practically every day. It's been my food Bible.

So when I picked up the March/April 2010 issue of Pilates Style, I was thrilled to see a large, feature article by Jonny Bowden. Even better was the fact that the topic is one that is near and dear to my heart: the effectiveness of low carb eating.

I have been on a low carb eating plan for almost two months. I eat very few carbs, most of which are vegetables and nuts. I eat a lot of protein. I don't eat sugar. I like eating this way, although I can't say I'll do it forever. But Jonny Bowden thinks that maybe I should.
And so should everyone else.

Let's start with a little background on the low carb trend.

In 2004, it seemed that low carb diets were at the top of the charts. The Atkins diet had just been shown to produce more weight loss than either a low fat diet or a Mediterranean diet in a study published by the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. Many other studies around low carb eating showed improvements in triglyceride levels, body composition and reduced risk factors of diabetes.

Low carb was fast becoming the darling of the dieting world. The Zone and The South Beach Diet were both born from the low carb movement. Everyone knew at least one person on Atkins.

And then low carb eating faded, as starches came back en vogue.

According to Bowden, the words "low carb" simply fizzled in the media and in the mainstream. However, Bowden states that, "low carb is wildly effective, perfectly safe and has enormous health benefits." He goes on to say, "Low carb is alive and well, and if you're one the of folks who's historically dismissed it, you may want to take another look."

I've always wondered how low you should go, in terms of carbs. Currently, I eat anywhere from 20 to 40 a day, depending on my physical output and my appetite. The ADA (American Dietetic Association) designates a low carb diet as less than 130 carbohydrates a day. Bowden hardly considers this as "low." But it does provide good framework for a baseline, considering that Americans consume, on average, 300 carbs a day!

Bowden believes that you can get the most of controlled-carb eating and still eat up to 100 carbohydrates a day. He goes on to report that a copious amount of research supports the notion that even a modest reduction in carb intake is enough to stabilize blood sugar, reduce insulin and facilitate weight loss.

In fact, the highlight of the article - in my opinion - is Bowden's statement about simple carb consciousness: "Merely attempting to reduce carbs resulted in vast improvements in weight and overall heath among dieters in several, large scale studies."

One interesting thing that I have noticed in my own low carb eating, is that my mood has shifted dramatically. Once a slave to blood sugar dips and climbs, I am much more stable all day long. I no longer have a need for afternoon caffeine and my energy stays consistently high throughout most days. Bowden says that these improvements are due to insulin sensitivity improvement. He calls it "the dietary trifecta," meaning that insulin is balanced, pounds are being shed and there isn't that ravenous, "I have to eat right now" feeling. I call it pretty darn great.

To tie the issue up with the largest, prettiest bow possible, take note of this next finding. Bowden concludes the article by saying, "Remember, hard as it is to believe, your body has no physiological requirement for carbohydrates." If you're looking to lose weight, Bowden advises to get the vast majority of your carbs from vegetables and fruits, and not from pasta, rice, bread, baked goods, cereal and desserts.

The blueprint for weight loss, Bowden says, is this:

Carbohydrates: 100 to 130 a day (endless amounts of vegetables and berries and some melon)

Protein: 100 to 120 grams a day (poultry, seafood, lean cuts of red meat)

Fat: 60 grams ("good" fats such as olive oil, nuts, flax and avocado)

I was completely encouraged and heartened by this article. It's good to know also, that I can start to increase my carb consumption without giving up the many health benefits that I'm already experiencing.

My advice to my clients, based on this research, is to experiment with low carb eating as it seems appropriate. A gentle start might be replacing your lunch time sandwich with a salad and some protein. Gradually try weaning off of morning cereal and opt for high quality protein sources such as eggs or cottage cheese.

One meal at a time, one day at a time. Always the best approach to any successful dieting program!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Week 5: Life in Kitosis: I Have To Do What With That Stick?

It has been two solid weeks of extreme low carb living. Add those two weeks to the previous three weeks of grain-free eating. So, yes, you've done the math correctly: I have abandoned every culinary treat imaginable for five. long. weeks.

Can I get a collective sigh of sympathy?

Thanks. Now, let me share the news of Week Five.

The first ten days of the "true" low carb plan were a nightmare; the last four have been much more do-able. I think my mind is finally embracing this new way of living; now if my body would only follow!

My doctor put me on such an absurd dose of thyroid medication that I stopped sleeping. I was wired for days. I'm not normally one to deviate from a doctor's orders but after seeing him a second and a third time this month - with the same instructions: "Keep the dose where it is," I took matters into my own hands and sliced all those speed pills in half.

Now I am trying to compensate for the loss of synthetic energy by taking my body into a state of ketosis. Of course, this is all under the careful guidance of my nutritionist, Sydney. Along with a list of "approved" foods (select vegetables, some protein and a whole lot of water), she gave me a testing kit for keytones. Which is kinda like a home pregnancy test. Same procedure, at least.


I never became much of an expert at pregnancy tests but I can say that the last time I peed on a stick and it promptly turned pink, I freaked out. For days. Weeks. For almost ten months. That was over seven years ago.

Now, I live to see a bright pink stick each morning. Because it tells me what I need to know: ketosis is working!

Or not working. If there is a vodka incident the night before! Not that I would know.

Sydney has me testing for keytones every day. Constant ketosis is the goal of this program. Kick start the thyroid and the adrenals by making the body think it's in starvation mode. Great for the 6-pack abs, not so great for the mood.

But all that changed about four days ago when I discovered that I wasn't hungry between meals. I could go from class to clients, back to class, then to clients again and not feel ravenous. I haven't had a headache in six weeks. I gave up my afternoon coffee. I stopped craving sweets. My nutritionist says that this is kitosis. So it's not so hellish after all. I might actually survive, and more importantly, so will those around me!

My body, meanwhile, still thinks it's in hell.

One week into the program and I had lost nearly six pounds. I won't lie; it felt great to slide back into the yoga pants that I had shoved into the depths of my closet in the middle of the winter. I started looking at two-piece swimsuits. My body was starting to resemble its "pre-endocrine blow up" shape. It was not so hard to pass on the pretzels, the crackers, the cake or the chocolate. It was easy to imagine dropping even lower.

Then, exactly one week later at my check-in with Sydney, the weight was all back. And then some.

"What happened?" she asked.

Nothing had happened. I was almost angelic, save for one teeny glass of wine at a party and three bites of a friend's french toast at breakfast. Definitely not enough deviation to warrant the weight gain. Plus, the sticks were still showing a rosy hue of pink every morning.

Determined to defend my good behavior, I told Sydney to measure me. And that's when we noticed that inches had dropped everywhere.

I've always been attached to a number on the scale. Like any other female, I've done my fair share of obsessing over the ups and downs of that damn number. And believe me, I more than freaked out when the scale kept creeping up, up, up this winter.

But a good lesson in all this is that you just can't believe the scale. It lies. It tells stories. It makes you temporarily feel good. It can make you feel really bad. It is not your loyal and consistent friend.

If I was in charge of the nutrition program, I'd toss the scale out for good. It's much easier for me to gauge my success by being honest with myself about how I feel, how my clothes are fitting and how pink those sticks are.

For now, I'll keep weighing in with the understanding that my thyroid is trying to sabotage my weight but also with the knowledge that measurements don't lie, and neither do clothes. Energy doesn't lie, either.

And those pink strips; they're the most honest indicators of all!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Yoga In The Park; It's Oh-So-Good

Move over Reformer and Spinning classes. My new favorite thing to do on Saturday mornings is Yoga In The Park.

This past Saturday morning, I met five friends at McKinley Park. We lined up our mats together, in full view of McKinley's famed rose garden, and spent 75 minutes breathing, moving and appreciating the beauty of being outdoors.

Yoga In The Park was created by local instructor, Gina Garcia. Ironically, I've known Gina for years but am just now enjoying the connection we have together as yogis. Gina has selflessly offered up her talents, her experience and her great playlists to our community with Yoga In The Park. Every class is free, but the experience is priceless.

Since discovering yoga nearly ten years ago, I've often said that the only downside of our Western practice of yoga is that it is generally not widely available to the masses. Studios are too expensive, gyms don't offer a "true experience," and instructors usually don't have the resources or the time to cultivate community outreach through yoga.

But now, thanks to the lovely Gina, all that is changing in the greater Sacramento area.

Gina has completed multiple trainings with the famed Baron Baptiste, who is known for his rigorous, yet passionate practice. One thing I love about Gina's teaching style is the fact that she puts her heart and soul into yoga. Her music is strong, she weaves themes into her teaching and she puts forth an energy that is radiant and warm. As she moves through the rows of students, it's impossible not to feel the sweetness of her presence.

Prepare to work hard in Gina's class. On Saturday, she had us in Bow pose at least three times, possibly four. On my final attempt at the pose, she caught my shoulders from behind and literally arced my back into what felt like the perfect Bow. It was a great adjustment; one that I would expect from a very good and very experienced instructor. It was an adjustment that I'm still feeling, three days later!

I'm going to spend as many Saturday mornings as possible in the park this summer. Each time I've gone, at least two people have joined me. Please email me directly or catch me at the club if you would like to come.

And a big thank you to Gina for taking on such a remarkable community endeavor. She's indeed spreading the best karma possible!

Yoga In The Park takes place during the Spring and Summer months each Saturday at 9:00am in McKinley Park. Class is held behind the Rose Garden. Complete details can be found on the Yoga In The Park Facebook page.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Week 4: How Low Can You Go?

Before I get too far into this week's post, let me throw out a quick reference to the previous post which announces my return to teaching on June 23rd! That's right, I'll be back at Del Norte Club instructing the Intermediate class, also known as our "Yoga Love Fest." I can't wait to see you all then. Now for this week's topic...

I wrote out the title of this post one morning and then thought about the question all day long.

"How low can you go?"

I never knew how low I could go until I got there; and it was a pretty deep place of physical depletion. This spring, instead of experiencing renewal and rejuvenation, my body rebelled in ways that I didn't think were possible and I slipped into a dark well of fatigue, exhaustion and extreme cold. My hair became brittle; my skin lost its luster. My body became so puffy that my clothes didn't fit. I didn't want to exercise, I didn't want to socialize, I hardly had enough energy to be a mother.

Something was definitely wrong, so wrong.

After some major testing, I began a strong course of medication to support my failing endocrine system. I found my nutritionist. I swallowed handfuls of supplements and significantly changed my diet. I started to get better. My clothes started to fit again. My skin was glowing. My workouts were great. My social life looked more promising. The worried look on my son's face went away.

Then I went back to the doctor.

This last week, I found out that my thyroid is functioning at the level of a corpse, that I have the blood pressure of a newborn and that to begin to fix it all - somewhat naturally - I have to put my body in an unnatural state called kitosis.

I'm not totally dialed in to the correlation between kitosis and thyroid function but what I know is that as of last week, my diet changed dramatically and now I am eating a diet so low in carbohydrates that I'm pretty sure I'd qualify for an Atkins award.

Not that I want an award. But I do want to get better in the most holistic possible way. And potentially give up a medication that can't help my thyroid, can't help my blood pressure but can give me a synthetic sense of well being. Somehow, that just doesn't seem right. Anything that makes me feel good synthetically has to be short-lived.

Enter the new diet. Or, "The Plan."

My nutritionist reduced my carbohydrate intake to 20 grams a day. Did you know that a bowl of salad greens accounts for five carbs? Neither did I. But that's what I'm talking about: major caloric restriction.

I have to weigh every carrot, every nut, every lettuce leaf, every onion slice, ev-er-y-THING.

It was a major struggle at first. What to do when your run-of-the-mill protein shake has seven grams of carbs? That's more than a third of my daily allotment. Plain Greek yogurt is exactly half of my carb allowance. Forget an apple. Three strawberries? Maybe. If they're small.

Sydney, my nutritionist, promised that my thyroid would get better. She promised that my blood pressure would normalize. She promised she could get me there. And I believe her.

But I have to follow "The Plan." Strictly. Diligently.

This morning, as I was conducting a major science experiment called rationing out my day's carbs, protein and fat, my mom said what I needed to hear: "I know it's hard but you're doing it for Ben. I know you want to be healthy for Ben."

She's so right. Of course we'll do anything for our children, especially if our child's well-being relies on our own health. As a single mom, I carry this burden so heavily. Ben already spent most of the spring weeks with my mom, while I recovered. I do not want that to happen again. I can't lose any more time with him. So I'm acting. Embracing The Plan. Staying the course. Trusting in the process.

And it' working!

I know that I'm on my way. This is the best that I've felt in months, but boy is it hard, hard work.

Being ever-mindful of major dietary changes, I did quite a lot of research on low carb diets. What I found was surprising. It's not all bad. In fact, the low carb approach can actually be very good for most people. I'll be posting more about those findings.

As it is, I've probably given up grains forever and I never thought I'd say that. But it's a situation where the benefits of being without far outweigh the pleasures of a slice of bread, a bowl of rice or a handful of crackers.

Extreme? Yes. Indeed. But I've found that I can derive just as much pleasure by having a colorful salad with salmon, chicken or steak. And I simply feel cleaner without the grains. I can't explain it, but intrinsically I know that my body runs more efficiently when it's not burdened by the heaviness of most grains.

Lastly, I'm still on a big flax regime and I've added apple cider vinegar, too. I never knew of the health benefits associated with apple cider vinegar; there are so many! Vinegar has a great warming effect once it's in the body. I hadn't noticed it before because the amount I ingested was so minuscule compared to what I take in now. But it's another habit that I can easily see adopting as a life-long part of my wellness. In fact, many of my older clients complain of muscle cramping during our sessions together. Turns out, apple cider vinegar packs a huge amount of potassium. I'm definitely recommending it in lieu of, or in addition to, bananas.

I've deviated a little. I have a diet soda every afternoon. I had a little run-in with vodka. But I haven't touched the grains or the sweets in weeks and that feels like the biggest accomplishment of all.

Every day, I'm getting questions from clients and friends about my program. I'm happy to share what I've learned. Please send any specific inquiries to me or catch me at the club.

Tomorrow is my appointment with Sydney. I'll keep posting updates as I go. In the meantime, I'll be splashing with Ben in the pool, pushing hard on the treadmill, finding a new twist in yoga and enjoying the life that was returned to me!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I'm Back!

I am so excited to re-join my yogi friends for Wednesday nights at Del Norte Club! Mark your calendars; my first official day back will be June 23rd.

My doctor gave me the go ahead for limited yoga practice, which I interpreted to mean: full menu of all poses except for handstand. Headstand might be questionable too!

Nevertheless, I have tons of energy to share with all of you, and new music too.

I'm grateful for the outpouring of support that I received from all of you during the time that I was recuperating. As is always the case with my Del Norte community, I am humbled by the enthusiasm that you bring to our class and to our practice of yoga. It is both a blessing and an honor to be your teacher. And I promise to be around for many, many more Wednesdays from this point on!

Rumor has it that Judy will be joining us to practice on the 23rd. Then, we'll head out to the lawn area to enjoy some her amazing treats. Please plan to hang out for a bit after class that evening (kids are welcome, too).

One last thing. There is a wonderful project happening in our community called Yoga In the Park. Every Saturday morning, a free, 75 minute vinyasa class is held in McKinley Park at 9am. This endeavor is the brainchild of Zuda Yoga instructor, Gina Garcia. Gina is a lovely person and a truly gifted yoga instructor. She has generously shared her talents with 30 to 40 people every Saturday this spring.

I went to Yoga In The Park last Saturday and was amazed by the energy of the group. I plan to go every Saturday that I can this summer.

If you are interested in getting a Del Norte group together for a regular Saturday event, please find me at the club or send an email. You can find more details about Gina and her classes at McKinley by searching Yoga In The Park, Sacramento on Facebook.

Thank you again for your commitment to our classes together and for the warmth, compassion and devotion that you all collectively offer up. It is truly a special opportunity to share my love of yoga with all of you.


Saturday, June 5, 2010

Loving This: Week 3

Talk about feeling great. A solid three weeks into the nutrition program and I feel amazing. Good enough to practice yoga, to keep up with my son and to return to teaching.

I'm back!

I've turned the corner, I think and am beyond the point of craving anything starchy. I even passed up the opportunity to "test" my body's threshold for wheat. As much as I wanted that big piece of bread, I just couldn't do it.

And I'm glad I didn't indulge in the bread because all of a sudden, the need to have it just went away, along with cravings for pretzels, crackers, rice and oatmeal (all of my favorites).

Instead, I'm drinking protein shakes and eating more protein than ever. I'm still integrating fruit and a little bit of dairy. And flax, of course.

Interestingly, my super adorable Southern California friend emailed me this week and we talked about her diet. She has type 2 diabetes and has struggled with it for years. She recently adopted an eating plan like mine, although hers is more rigid, and she's lost 25 pounds and needs no insulin. More importantly, she feels fabulous. (And she's getting married in August and I know that she'll be radiant!)

There are many, many good reasons to cut carbs and I'm finding more and more health experts who endorse this way of eating. Turns out, unless you're an extremely active athlete, you really don't need much more than fruit and vegetables - in addition to lean protein and a lot of "good fat" - to support metabolic function.

Only three weeks into the program and I'm seeing definite changes in my skin and hair. I have no idea whether or not I've lost weight and to be honest, I really don't care. At this point, it's much more about how I feel.

One supplement that I believe is helping me get back on track is Inositol. I think this is a good one for everyone to use periodically as it is a great support for the liver. Used in higher doses, it also supports mood (the studies on bipolar are fascinating!) and my own personal favorite: sleep. I use the Jarrow brand (I think Jarrow is an incredibly clean and credible company) and since it's a sweet powder, it mixes well into my daily smoothie/protein shake. There is no real upper limit on Inositol. Most people tolerate it well.

I will see my nutritionist, Sydney, this week. I have the feeling that she'll be cleaning up my diet even more in the coming weeks, which is fine by me because I'm learning so much in this process.

And now I understand why people give up things in exchange for feeling good. It's worth it. It really, really is.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

One Week, 150 Minutes

I get asked this question all the time: "How much do I really need to exercise?"

My answer always depends on whom I'm talking with and what their goals are.

But after doing some research, I have a better idea of a baseline exercise regime that everyone should be following.

According to the health division of the government, adults should move their bodies for at least 150 minutes a week. And I may regret disclosing this, but...

Pilates does NOT count toward the 150 minutes.

Any moderate to high intensity exercise - like walking, running, Spinning, aerobics - qualifies.

Pilates isn't considered aerobic, thus, it's not going to help your heart. It is, however, a great form of conditioning and, if done correctly, can be quite the strength training workout. Especially if you're exercising on the Reformer. Mat classes don't have nearly as much strength work as Reformer sessions. (There, I've saved my business!)

For more significant health benefits - including weight loss - adults are advised to increase aerobic activity to at least 300 minutes a week. Don't shoot the messenger; I don't make this stuff up!

The recent guidelines also emphasize getting more vigorous activity than a simple stroll after dinner; in other words, you need to break a sweat.

On top of the 300 cardiovascular minutes, you should consider squeezing in some strength training. Lifting weights will boost your metabolism, stave off osteoporosis and, from an aesthetic standpoint, you'll look much more toned. Just a couple of sessions a week - no longer than 30 minutes - can make a world of difference.

Truth be told, I definitely don't get my 300 minutes in. Despite the myth that I work-out constantly because of my profession, the sad truth is that I have to create exercise time just like everyone else. But I do try and walk whenever I can and will often sneak in my own Reformer session between clients. I also really enjoy the energy of a great Spinning class or a long yoga practice. Keeping it varied, I've found, is the key to not getting bored.

300 minutes is a lofty goal. And it can remain just that: a goal; provided that you are at least committed to logging 150 minutes each week for your heart.

Five workouts. 30 minutes each. As my six-year-old would say: "Easy-schmeezy!"