Last week I ran into an old friend from high school, and it led to one of the most amazing conversations I have had so far this year.
I was getting some things in the store when someone I hadn't recognized locked eyes with me. She suddenly squealed at the top of her lungs (about 3 octaves too high for comfort) and said, "Kara, I haven't seen you since graduation! You look exactly the same!"
For a heart-stopping minute, I wracked my brain trying to figure out who this woman was. You know the drill--in that moment of pure embarrassment you only have two options: 1) smile, shake your head and use pronouns instead of names hoping you can figure it out, or 2) admit that you have no idea who the other person is. Thank goodness she let me off the hook.
“It's me, Jenny!”
Ok, that' didn't help a bit. The only Jenny I knew from high school was Jenny Bumbo, A.K.A. Jenny Jumbo. Wait...
I seriously had to lift my jaw back off the ground and return my eyes to their sockets before I could respond. All I could say was "Oh my God, how did you do it? You look amazing!" Yup, that's right. My high school buddy and everyone's favorite super-sized nerd has gone from not to incredibly hot in the last decade since graduation.
We decided to get some coffee, and she told me all about her new diet regime since high school. Now, I'm going to share her not-so-secret secret with you too.
The topic of the slow-carb diet has been picking up in popularity. As a student of nutrition, I had to investigate to try and find out more about this topic. Here are my findings:
Introducing: The Slow-Carb Diet
The first thing to explain here is that everyone is built differently, so we all have different metabolisms and food tolerances. Jenny and I talked about how some of her friends did so well on the low-fat diets and others did best on low carb. But for some reason, none of the other diets meshed with her particular metabolism. Instead, the slow carb diet seemed to be the missing link she was looking for.
We all have a sweet spot that gets us to our ideal fitness goal. The trick is to find it, and then make it work for us all the way to our goals. In the case of the slow carb diet, it's much easier to reach these goals because the diet is designed to cut out or reduce food cravings. This is accomplished by reducing blood sugar peaks and troughs with low glycemic index foods.
This means eating foods with much more complex carbohydrates and fiber instead of simple sugars.
This is not a no-carb diet. The goal isn't to completely eliminate carbohydrates, but rather to replace simple carbohydrates with much healthier choices. Slow-carb dieters still need to watch their total carb intake as a whole, so healthy fats and proteins should be substituted for traditional, higher carb meals.
Here are the basic rules for the slow carb diet:
1. Believe it or not, you'll need to eat a few beans every day. Beans provide complex carbohydrates, fiber, and protein that help us to feel fuller after a meal. This cuts down on the risk of over-eating.
2. Most of the foods you choose should have a glycemic index of 55 or less. If something with a slightly higher glycemic index, such as whole wheat pancakes is eaten, it should at least be paired with a food that has a much lower glycemic index. Eat foods with a GI of more than 70 only on cheat days.
3. Skip the high GI fruit. It will completely derail you. Fruit is a great choice for cheat days instead. Contrary to popular belief, it's not natural to eat fruit every single day. Yes, fruit is a natural food and yes, it's a healthy treat once in a while that packs a lot of nutritional punch. BUT, it also contains fructose and glucose that can really spike our blood sugar fast.
It makes sense that our bodies aren't used to having fruit all the time because it's mostly only really available and fresh during the late spring, summer and early fall when we are the most active. So fruits are a once-in-a-while and treat while veggies should be eaten with every single meal. The two exception to this rule are tomatoes, which can be eaten liberally, and avocados, which should be eaten sparingly.
5. Don't drink fruit juice, soda, diet soda or milk products. In other words, make sure you are getting all of your calories from your food and not from your beverages. If you must put cream in your coffee, try to limit it to two tablespoons. Diet soda is included in this list because it will invariably contain chemicals that can cause damage to our bodies or spike our blood sugar despite the “no calorie” claims. Furthermore, most cans are lined with BPA or other chemicals that can disrupt our endocrine system.
5. Exercise. Changes in our diets might be enough to assist with weight loss, but a healthy exercise routine can help shed those last few pounds once we plateau. It's also a mood enhancer and will help maintain cardiovascular health and bone strength.
6. Drink a lot of water and other low calorie beverages like tea. Drinking plenty of fluids doesn't just help us to feel more full -- it also helps our kidneys, liver and lymphatic system to more efficiently shed toxins, which will help with weight loss.
7. Pig out to your heart's content one day a week. This is actually a strict requirement of the diet. The day of indulgence doesn't just keep the diet from becoming intolerably boring; it keeps our metabolism from going into starvation mode. This, along with moderate complex carbohydrate intake, is necessary to keep our thyroid's hormone cycle working properly. We simply need carbohydrates to keep our T3 and T4 at optimal levels. Unhealthy T3 and T4 levels lead to weight gain. Healthy T3 and T4 levels make losing weight and properly controlling our metabolisms much, much easier.
Carbs: The Good, the Bad and the Downright Ugly
When it comes to choosing our carbs, there is a big difference between types. White carbohydrates should be avoided at all cost. These uber bad boys of the carbohydrate world don't just spike our blood sugar well beyond acceptable levels, they often contain chemicals that do even more harm than the blood sugar spike. White bread, for instance, is often bleached with a chemical called chlorine dioxide. Chlorine dioxide combines with the proteins in bread to form a substance called alloxan. Alloxan is used specifically to induce diabetes in lab rats. Enough said.
The white carbohydrates to avoid include, but are not limited to:
And any other highly processed carbohydrate that has had most of its bran stripped away.
Plain potatoes can have a glycemic index as high as 98, which is an almost instant blood sugar rush every bit as bad as soda.
What is the Glycemic Index Anyway?
The glycemic index is a numeric value that shows how fast a food raises blood sugar levels. Lettuce, for instance, has a glycemic index of 0, meaning that it doesn't raise blood sugar at all. Pure glucose has a glycemic index of 100 and is the standard for rapidly absorbed carbohydrates. Some foods, such as Russet Burbank potatoes, have an index even higher than glucose. They are the most damaging foods when it comes to controlling blood sugar. You can search the glycemic index of specific foods at glycemicindex.com
How to Make Low-GI, Slow Carb Work
Simplicity is key. Keep a list of low GI foods with you whenever you shop or eat out. You should be reducing your calories naturally as your substitution of lower GI foods reduces your blood sugar spikes. If you don't notice a reduction in your spikes and cravings, try lowering your total carbohydrate a little further and substituting a little more fat--just a little. Don't overdo it.
Also, nuts are a common culprit when it comes to stalling perfectly good weight loss regimens. Yes, most nuts are lower on the GI scale, but they still have carbohydrates, and they are still very nutrient dense. If you notice your weight loss stalling, reduce your nut intake a bit further.
Keep easy-to-eat, low GI standby foods on hand, so you don't succumb to cravings. It's much easier to resist the dreaded chocolate bon bon your friend is innocently offering if you have some rich, 85% chocolate on hand. Also, keep your meals simple and pleasant. You shouldn't lose three hours a day to cooking. Try to save leftovers in the freezer for a quick lunch. Make large salads every few days, so you always have some on hand. Most important, make sure those simple, pleasant meals have as few unnatural ingredients as possible. Simple, whole foods with recognizable (and pronounceable) ingredients should be the foundation of every meal.
In this video, Tim Ferriss talks about some of the differences between the Slow-Carb Diet and the ketogenic diet. Very useful commentary for evaluating these diets for yourself.
Don't Try to Change Your Diet All At Once
One of the hardest problems we face when adopting a new way of eating is what to do with all of our old food that no longer fits into our diet plan. I remember one year when I wasted roughly 1/4 of my food budget by trying a new diet plant every two months or so. I went:
Each time I changed my diet, I went through my pantry and fridge and dumped out everything that didn't fit into my plan--especially if it tasted good.
This may seem to make sense if you are changing your diet, but it actually makes the adjustment far more difficult. Instead, it's best to change your diet a bit at a time so you can adjust to new tastes and textures. As you run out of one item, simply replace it with an acceptable item on your new food list.
For instance, if you use white flour, replace half of it with coconut flour and flax seeds instead. Then more, till you are completely out of white flour and have replaced it entirely with healthier choices. As you run out of nectarines, replace them with fresh marinated cucumber slices or other low GI munching veggies. Before long, sticking to the diet will be a snap.
I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that my little run-in with Jenny resulted in a life-changing conversation. Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution for healthy eating, Jenny's experience may prove to be the key to helping myself and many of my friends without fitness and health goals too. It's pretty hard to argue with results like Jenny's after all. Now that you know my friend Jenny's new secret, will you be giving it a try? I know I will.