How My Low Carb Story Started
Please note that any and all information I provide on this matter relates entirely to my own experiences, opinions and research and is for information and entertainment only.
I am not medically qualified, nor do I hold any other qualifications relevant to this field. Nothing I say should be construed as advice. If you do wish to follow any of the actions suggested by my experiences I strongly advise you to consult your own medical practitioner first. This becomes absolutely essential if you already have a medical condition or are receiving treatment.
Please check my Medical Disclaimer.
The Good Old Days
As a teenager and young man I was extremely active, into my rugby and other sports. I also had a huge appetite and ate a varied diet – anything and everything put in front of me (except eggs, liver and mackerel).
When I joined the Merchant Navy and went to the School of Navigation at Warsash (that’s me back row extreme right) I was dismayed in the extreme to be told by the nurse that I was overweight! This despite the fact that I was still playing rugby for my club and county; was a leading try scorer; had thighs like tree trunks (as my lovely late Mum used to say) and proudly sported a six-pack!
Apparently because I weighed 89 kg (14 stone, 196 pounds) and was only 183 cm (6 feet) tall, my BMI (Body Mass Index) was too high!!
Now I find BMI to be contentious in the extreme. It takes no account whatsoever of bone density and dimensions for a start. By which I mean that the skeletons of any two people of the exact same height can weigh vastly differently either because the actual volume of material in their bones differs, or the density of that material differs, or a combination of both.
The other thing it takes no account of is the proportions of fat and muscle in the body. Volume for volume muscle is heavier than fat, so again in any two outwardly identical body shapes and sizes the one with the greater percentage of muscle will always weigh more than the one with more fat.
So from that moment on my mind was set. I had a heavier than average skeleton. And my overall appearance and activity levels showed that I had a higher proportion of muscle than average. Ever since then I have taken the absolute measure of BMI with a huge pinch of salt, although I agree it is a useful indicator particularly when comparing it’s value over time for any one individual.
Just as a side note, my viewpoint was emphatically agreed with by at least two of the highly qualified ship’s surgeons that I went on to sail with in my P&O Cruises career.
The Golden Years
So for the best part of the next 30 years I continued to indulge my healthy appetites, eating my fill of the delicious food available firstly on cargo ships, then the fancier cuisine of the cruise ships, and then the hearty filling fare served up on hydro project construction sites. I also fully indulged my passion for imbibement of the varied nectars of the gods that I made it my business to discover all over the globe.
Because I remained extremely active in all these environments, and was often working in extreme temperatures – of up to 40 C (104 F) or more in some of the ships’ machinery spaces and confined underground power station sites – I do not recall my weight ever getting higher than around 100 kg (16 stone, 224 pounds).
Then in 1999 I came home to UK and settled into a series of rather more sedentary occupations. By mid-2002, whilst studying to become a Hearing Aid dispenser and alarmed at having crept to over 140 kg (22 stone, 308 pounds) I took the advice of a fellow student and together we went on the Atkins Diet which basically involved minimising carb intake (thus inducing ketosis). Atkins has been vociferously criticised for encouraging increased fat consumption, but more of that in a later article. Suffice to say that it worked and in 3 months I lost about 15 kg (2.4 stone, 33 pounds).
But when I qualified I ended up reverting to my old habits and appetites, and for the next 15 years my weight shot up to around 146 kg (23 stone, 322 pounds) with the most that I actually recorded being 152 kg (23.5 stone, 335 pounds).
OK, so I was without doubt clinically obese. By some measures morbidly obese. But I still felt really healthy, I was moderately active both at work and play, and following a lifetime of failed relationships I was not too bothered about attracting the opposite sex so I just got on with life.
Old Father Time Shows His Teeth
Moving on to 2015 – I was driving coach tours at the time and one day as I was stepping down from my trusty steed my right hip just gave way and I was sprawling in the dirt – in a somewhat agonised fashion, may I say!
Anyway, the long and the short of it was that over the next few months, “the twinge” progressed from an occasional annoyance to more frequent painful episodes and a permanent limp.
Things weren’t made any better by having to switch jobs to spend more time at home with my daughter. The new job involved a lot of lifting, carrying and stepping up and down from vehicles – probably not the best occupation for a fat old duffer with a dodgy hip? Anyway, I persevered and managed to get through most of 2017 before my stubbornness was overcome and I went to see an orthopaedic specialist.
He was able to confirm that I had virtually no cartilage left in the joint, and as a result my right leg was measurable shorter than my left.
I was surprised to be honest, because I had expected that if any joint were to wear out on me it would have been my knees – after all, they took all the battering in my roughty toughty harum scarum rugby heydays!
Anyway he confirmed that I needed a hip replacement and that there and then would be a good option. However, he was unable to perform the procedure until I lost a considerable amount of weight.
He referred me back to my GP for weight loss assistance and whilst I was waiting for that referral to crawl its snail like way through the system I got stuck into a calorie counting regime with the assistance of the fantastic Samsung Health app on my S7 Edge. The details are for another article but basically I successfully limited myself to about 1800 calories a day for the next 3 months.
Once my referral came through and my bloods had been done I was diagnosed Type 2 diabetic and offered medication. I refused, wanting to try and control it through diet and lifestyle, and especially in view of my losing over 10 kg over the course of Autumn 2017 the medics were happy with that.
But – it was a DIET. I was often not satisfied with the quantities I was allowing myself. It was quite hard work and I was often tempted to eat more but I persevered; my stomach shrank and things became a little easier. Basically by Christmas I had gone from around 143 kg to around 129 kg, and my blood sugar had fallen to acceptable levels. Great stuff – but it was Christmas and I treated myself! Then in the New Year, having put on very little weight despite my festive bingeing, and under the influence of what I think is probably Seasonal Affective Disorder I stopped counting the calories and relaxed a little. Don’t get me wrong, I was still careful what I ate but I stopped monitoring it and got on with life. My weight loss to date had almost completely alleviated my mobility issues, so apart from the limp I was getting on fine and the urgency had all but gone. So when I checked my weight again around about May this year and found it had crept up to around 133 kg I resolved to start my diet again, particularly with my 6 monthly diabetic check due in 6 weeks and not wanting to have to go on meds .
The Truth About Carbs?
Round about this time I saw a fascinating BBC documentary “The Truth about carbs” and that reminded me of my success on the Atkins and inspired me to try “keto” again. Now the documentary distinguished between good and bad carbs, and showed case studies of folks losing weight and gaining health through limiting the types of carbohydrate they ate rather than the total amount of all carbs. Now this is extremely interesting to me for the longer term but I decided, especially in view of my previous Atkins success, that until I reached my first waypoint target (which for me is 115 kg) I would go with the “virtually no carbs” approach to start with, and then introduce “good carbs” at the waypoint and see what happens.
Now a word of warning – and please remind yourself of the medical disclaimer and my opening paragraph – severely reducing your carb intake can induce a condition known as ketosis. Simply put, your body senses the lack of fuel (carbs) and starts converting stored fat into ketones which are an alternative fuel. This process puts extra work on your liver, and the by-products are removed through your kidneys which then require plenty of water to help flush through. There is potential for ketones to cause poisoning if not controlled, and once again –
DO NOT EVEN THINK OF FOLLOWING THIS ROUTE WITHOUT MEDICAL ADVICE IF YOU HAVE EXISTING CONDITIONS OR MEDICATIONS.
Having said that, in my non-professional opinion going in to ketosis is not necessary if you just want to control your weight, or lose a small amount slowly and gracefully. I believe from my research, and to the extent that the BBC documentary confirmed, that simply controlling the types of carbs consumed will suit you more. As stated previously, this is what I intend to do once I hit that first target. I will produce an article on good and bad carbs in due course, but for now this post is simply to tell what I have been up to and what that regime has done for me.
So basically, I have been eating foods with absolutely no more than 10% carb content, and more generally 5% or less. I’ll give a list in a moment, but if you want to know how to find the carb content –
- Food labelling laws in the EU mean that it is displayed on the packaging. Not sure about elsewhere in the world, sorry.
- The Samsung Health app on my smartphone has many popular foods pre-loaded, and the facility for you to add your own items
- This app works with a Samsung account to store your data so may not be compatible with other manufacturer’s phone – but I’m sure equivalents exist
- You can do Google searches for “nutritional values foodstuff“
Now I have been completely ignoring the calorific values and fat content whilst following this regime, but obviously it makes sense not to ignore current advice about modified or processed fats.
The advice that I have been following says not to be concerned about saturated fats – it appears that within limits fats consumed are burnt along with the stored fats and are not prejudicial to health.
I have to emphasise at this point that I have not had my cholesterol levels measured so can not tell you how true this may have been for myself.
However, on the possibly flimsy evidence of my domestic scales which also measure my fat, muscle and water content, the percentage of fat in my body is indicated as having decreased from around 43% to around 40% whist I have been practicing this regime. Since I have also lost around 15 kg since May on this regime then you don’t have to be a great mathemetician to deduce that in less than 4 months I have lost more than 6 kg of body fat. (My muscle percentage has remained fairly constant so the rest of the loss I assume to be water – which ideally constitutes 45%-65% of our body mass dependent on age and gender.)
I have already mentioned the dreaded word “diet”, and the associated difficulties somewhere above – I want to point out that for me this regime has not been “a diet”. Rather it has been a change of lifestyle. The difference for me is that I have never felt hungry; I have had no difficulty whatsoever in following this regime – AND I HAVE ALREADY LOST OVER 15 KG IN LESS THAN 4 MONTHS!!!!
This is because the foods I have been eating are varied, tasty and have satisfied my hunger. In fact, there are days when I go 10 or 12 hours without needing to eat, which of itself must also assist in weight loss I would think!
And an interesting observation on the subject of calories – although I have not specifically counting calories, my smartphone app records them anyway. It also records calories I have burnt, and monitors the results to let me know whether, on a calorific value basis, I am on target to lose weight.
I am consistently over that target. In other words, most days I consume more calories than I burn. Yet the weight continues to drop off! I’m really beginning to think there must be something in this ketosis!!
So to finish this article, here is a list of foods that I have been eating (careful if selecting processed foods – the nutritional value will vary from product to product and from manufacturer to manufacturer. For instance Aldi’s Snackrite salted peanuts are lower in carbs than KP):
Unrestricted quantities (fresh or frozen) of:
- Red meat
- Lamb, beef, pork – steaks, joints and chops
- Chicken, duck, turkey – leg and breast meat
- Processed meats
- Ham and gammon – loose, pre-packed and home-cooked
- Sausages – only butcher’s own
- Continental meats – german and polish sausage, salami
- Smoked haddock, basa, cod
- Tuna canned in oil
- Hard cheeses – cheddar, gouda
- Nuts (generally good for fibre)
- Almonds, Filberts, redskin peanuts, salted peanuts
- Leafy vegetables
- Lettuce, cabbage, kale
- Cauliflower, broccoli, cauliflower rice
- Cucumber, radish, tomato (careful)
- Real mayonnaise
- Ready Meals
- Many pre-pack curries have acceptable levels of carbs, and are great with cauliflower rice
OK, but watch the carb content and size portions of these accordingly:
- Peas, beans, peanuts (unusual for portion size to be an issue with peanuts for snacking)
- Root Vegetables
- Carrots, beetroot, onions
Ones I’ve been avoiding (mainly starchy):
- Avoiding all types and all potato products like the plague
- As above
- Porridge, muesli, granola, corn flakes etc
- Bread, cakes, anything made with flour
- All manufactured sauces, pickles, cook-in sauces etc
This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, and you will find out for yourself where items not mentioned fit into your personal criteria.
I drink mainly fruit tea, black tea with lemon, green tea, black coffee and water.
You need to make sure you have sufficient fibre and vitamins. Supplements should be OK (I take multivitamins). There is a concept known as “net carbs” where if some of the carbohydrate content is fibre you deduct the total fibre from the total carbs to arrive at the figure to use in calculations of effective carb intake. this can apply to some of the starchy foods mentioned but personally I have just been avoiding starches altogether.
At the end of the day I am talking about a regime for weight loss. Once I’ve lost the weight I will re-balance my intake (I’ll have to, I love pasta!).
So there you have it – My Low Carb/Keto Story so far. If this issue affects you and you would like to keep up to date you can use the form on this page here to subscribe for email updates.