Thursday, March 10, 2011

Carb Withdrawals

If any of you are contemplating a low carb diet, I would strongly encourage it, for all the reasons laid out in Gary Taubes' book, Why We Get Fat (And What to Do About It).  However, be warned that for the first two to three weeks, you will go through carb withdrawals that can cause some side effects.  Taubes describes it this way (p. 214):

"When you replace the carbohydrates you eat with fat, you're creating a radical shift in the fuel that your cells will burn for energy.  They go from running primarily on carbohydrates (glucose) to running on fat--both your body fat and the fat in your diet.  This shift, though, can come with side effects.  These can include weakness, fatigue, nausea, dehydration, diarrhea, constipation, a condition known as postural, or orthostatic, hypotension--if you stand up too quickly, your blood pressure drops precipitously, and you can get dizzy and even pass out--and the exacerbation of preexisting gout."  (For a more technical explanation of this process, known as ketosis, read this article by Michael R. Eades, M.D.).

Taubes warns us not to "confuse the short-term effects of what can be thought of as carbohydrate withdrawal with the long-term benefits of overcoming that withdrawal and living a longer, leaner, and healthier life."  The symptoms can be lessened with adequate sodium intake and Taubes cites physicians who recommend adding one half to one teaspoon of salt a day to the diet (or by drinking one to two cups of chicken or beef broth daily; p. 216)

The first two weeks can be somewhat miserable, even while you are losing weight.  The first day or two, I suffered diarrhea and for about two weeks I could tell I was a bit dehydrated and tired, and I had headaches.  But  after about two weeks, I started feeling a lot better.  I have increased energy, I am sleeping better, I am not nearly as tired as I was, and my wife tells me she hasn't heard me snoring.  Oh, and my blood pressure dropped to normal and my blood glucose levels have fallen dramatically, almost to "normal."

One more thing: you will have carb cravings.  At first, I slaked those cravings by drinking diet soda (because the diet soda is sweet), but they seem to have diminished quite a bit now and I am not feeling quite the need for sweetness that I did at the start.

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