Saturday, August 24, 2013

Week 32 - Slowly Making Progress and Some Thoughts About Carbohydrates

Gained a tiny amout of weight this week, but it probably has something to do with eating Chinese food last night (water weight city).  My measurements are back on the downward trend.  I'm happy about that.

I am still reaping the benefits of the lessons I learned during the fast day as well as during the self-experiment days.  I can live with hunger if it means waiting until I can eat a proper, nutritious meal or snack.  I can also go back to eating without bingeing.  I can spend a day without animal products.  I can even spend a day without fat (joyless as it may be).  I feel encouraged.  Even though I learned to accept I probably won't make my goals by the time the program is over, I am not going to stop trying.

This week the team is revisiting the habit of eating the right types of carbohydrates.  This time around we're on our own about which carbohydrates are the "right" type.  We had an ancestral diet day already, so we know what it's like to be grain free, but it's time to decide just how grains, legumes, and tubers fit into our diets every day.  It's obvious we are supposed to keep refined grains to a minimum, but what about intact grains, tubers and legumes?  Do we eat them?  How much?  What about fruit?  Carbohydrates are an important energy food. They are a very quick and easily-digested source of energy.  If you're going to be active, you need carbohydrates.  The general suggestion from the coach is that we should adjust carbohydrate levels according to activity levels.

For this habit, I have decided to be really strict.  I am aiming for 90% compliance (I will have at least one exception day, which I will elaborate on later in this post) and compliance for me is to avoid all grains, legumes, and tubers (I'm not such a huge fan of potatoes anyway) and keep my carbohydrates to just fruits.  How much fruit I eat corresponds with how hard I work out in a given day.  For example, I had a pretty lame workout this morning due to equipment malfunction so I'm avoiding fruit altogether today.  Yesterday after a tough weight session at the gym, I reveled in a large amount of watermelon.  I don't think I need to say that I'm avoiding all refined sugars. 

I noticed something important this week.  You don't realize just how surrounded you are by refined carbohydrates until you are not allowed to eat them.  I take a lunchtime walk and find myself surrounded by refined flour products: pizza, bakeries, sandwiches, and pasta.  Right next to a Le Pain Quotidien is a shop that specializes in Indian Naan and there is a Banh Mi shop two doors down.  Within two blocks I can find three places that sell pizza for $1 a slice.

All of this food is really tempting.  Other posts have dealt with the fact that combinations of sugar/starch, salt, and fat can hit the sweet spot in our brains and make us want to eat more long after we're physically satiated.  Even the though of eating some of these foods when I'm hungry triggers an intense desire in my brain.  I have to really concentrate hard on resisting.

While I don't agree with the reasoning of most low-carb fanatics, I do see that they do draw the right conclusions.  Our society eats too many carbohydrates.

It seems contradictory to refute the importance of carbohydrates in our diets.  Breads, rice, and pasta have been dietary staples in many cultures for centuries.  If they were bad for us, the human race would have died out from obesity-related diseases a long time ago.  We're still here and we're only seeing the effects of carbohydrates very recently relative to human history.  What gives?

Starchy carbohydrates would have been an important part of human diets for centuries because once humans developed agriculture, grains because an easy and cheap source of calories.  If you spent your days toiling in fields and factories or other manual labor jobs, you need those cheap, easily-digested source of energy.  Bread, pasta, and rice were the fuel that drove the engine of human activity. 

In the past century work has gone from the fields and factories to the cubicle.  We sit around all day.  We don't need that kind of intense energy anymore.  We simply can't burn it off.  The problem is that industrial farming practices (as well as government subsidies to the grain industry) have made these foods cheap and universally available.  A century ago a sandwich was a convenient way to pack a meal because it made your meat, cheeses, and vegetables very portable and the bread helped extend the more expensive ingredients a bit.  Plus the bread gave you the quick accessible energy you needed to do physical labor.  Now we go to high-end sandwich shops where the bread is still a way to extend the more expensive ingredients so they can use less of them and have a huge profit margin on the bread.  The consumer then eats the sandwich and consumes 400 calories worth of bread that can't be burned off very easily sitting behind a computer. 

People speak of grain-free diets as "paleo" but I think the issue at hand is that our lifestyle has simply evolved away from eating grains. 

I'm scrapping my smart carb habit today since my brother is having a pig roast.  I'm making homemade baked beans for the occasion.  I'm sure there will be many other tasty grain-based dishes.  For one day I think I can handle it.  I have other habits in place to make up for it.  I can eat slowly, watch for fullness cues, and remember to only eat the foods that I really want. 

Who knows?  Maybe tomorrow I'll do another fast.

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