Sunday, April 24, 2011

Clean Eating and Journaling

Easter is officially over in about THREE hours. (Yes, I am counting the hours.)
How well did YOU eat this long holiday weekend?
Even I, (eyes to the floor, kicking my feet in the 'pretend' dust) veered off into the world of evil food eating. No, nothing with gluten. I still feel sorry for my poor small intestine (after the catastrophe at the BBQ restaurant a few weeks ago and I REALLY don't want to get sick - again). But alas.. some non-organic carbs and grains found their way into my meals. This weekend, a friend I discovered a fabulous restaurant and went back TWO days in a row. A complete and fabulous food-fest. Great food. Great company. Laughter (lots), and yes, too much really good food.
WAYYYYY too much food. Or did I mention that already?
Now, how do I compensate? Shall I beat myself up? (I could.) Continue on the bad food path? Or shall I step right back on the platform of clean healthy eating? What I do now may be the single most important moment in my meal planning and in my mindset of my week ahead.
I use the experience of my "going off-plan" to strengthen my long-term clean eating success. The choice is mine. Now the discipline begins. How about you? Ready?

The choice is up to you too.
Do you notice you're a bit hungrier after eating more carbohydrates (and/or sugars) than normal? 
After you have been "low-carbing" and clean eating for a while, your body stops producing some of the enzymes needed to digest complex starches and (sugars).  I think that is a good thing.
It takes a day or two for these to ramp back up.
When you eat excess carbohydrates, your blood sugar may go up a lot higher than it normally would, even if you don't usually have blood sugar problems. This is why some researchers have reported that low-carb diets can actually cause insulin resistance. (I've talked about that in previous blogs.)

In fact, for most people, this is only a very temporary phenomenon. Most people will start making the enzymes they need within a day or two and when that happens their insulin resistance will return to its normal state. But until that happens, blood sugars may surge abnormally high and then rebound much lower than usual. When this happens the brain interprets it very simply and screams, "I'm starving! Feed me! Eat! Eat!"

If you don't know that the hunger is only your blood sugar talking, that craving can send you into a high carbohydrate, high sugar downward spiral.

Hard to deal with is the unexpected hunger you encounter after you've gone back to eating a low carb, "clean" diet.

You may wake up morning after a big carb-fest and eat a perfectly decent low-carb breakfast only to find yourself yearning to stuff yourself with whatever high carb food is your personal downfall at lunch. Once again, there is a physiological explanation for this.

Normal people's pancreas cells produce and store insulin between meal times. Then, at the very beginning of a meal your pancreas releases enough of that stored insulin to cover the carbohydrates it expects to come pouring in. This release happens at very beginning of a meal, before you take a single bite. It may happen when you first sniff delicious food, and it ensures that your blood sugar will never rise above a healthy base level.

But there's a hitch. The amount of insulin that body releases is set by how much carbohydrate it has encountered in your previous couple meals.

If your previous meals were full of carbohydrates, your pancreas will release a lot of insulin. If you virtuously consume a low carb meal, that insulin finds no sugars to store--except the glucose in your blood that is meant to feed your cells.

As a result, the insulin removes this glucose from your blood, giving you low blood sugar. Once again the brain interprets this low blood sugar as an emergency and starts screaming, "I'm starving! Feed me!"

It may take a day or two or even three, depending on your own physiology, until your pancreas adapts to your new, lower intake of carbohydrates. When that happens, the hunger signal will quit, you'll sigh a great sigh of relief, and low-carbing will once again be easy to do.
So....let's get back on track, shall we?
The most helpful thing you can do when you go off-plan and eat more carbohydrates than you are used to, is to put on your "science researcher" hat, stand back, and observe the fascinating changes that are happening in your body, and your head. Yes, your head.

Your "research project" is to track what happens to your body for week after you have had your carb-fest. Take notes. The information you gather now will be extremely helpful to you next time you have a carb-fest - whether intentional or accidental. 
Check your weight (just once!) in the morning the first day during this week, log it, and guesstimate how long it will take to come off. 
(I despise scales.)

For example, in my own "research project" I found that I always gain a few pounds after boosting my carb intake over 60 grams per day, if I am not exercising hard core and logging the running miles. After I drop my carbs below 60 grams a day, it takes three days for the (mainly water) weight to come back off. If I carb-load for more than a day or two, it may take as long as a week until all the water weight goes way.
Note how much carbohydrates you ate during your carb-load. 
Should I even tell you about my carb load? You may want to be seated. <laughing>
They involved very beautiful presented corn nachos with lots of veggies, cheese and jalapenos. Oh, and the additional servings of corn chips and bean dips and salsa... I forgot to mention the chocolate covered almonds and nuts too. Heaven.
Shhhhh. But, it's out of my system now. Clean eating is in front of me for the week ahead.
 (I almost "oinked" after I wrote that.)
When you go back on your low-carb, clean eating diet, keep track of what you eat and how you feel in hours after you eat it. Note any cravings and jot down when they occurred and how intense they were. Journal!  (No, it's not that hard.)

I expect these cravings to last a few days, and do what you can to avoid giving in to them.  Mine will involve exercise, and discipline. If you give your pancreas an excuse to secrete a lot of insulin, it will keep doing it and you will continue to have those cravings. If you can hold out for a few meals and not give into the cravings, your pancreas will calm down, your insulin levels will drop, and you will no longer be hungry.

Meanwhile, track those cravings so that you can determine for future use, just how long it takes for them to clear.
When you do journal, you will have collected information that will be extremely helpful next time you fall into the food free-for all.

As you return to your low-carb diet and immediately find yourself obsessing about dark chocolate almonds (Oh, that's me...) you've made it tough for the self-hatred tape to start playing, because, armed with the journal, you will be expecting to crave something, have a plan (that's next) and when that craving hits, you'll respond, "Dark chocolate almonds! Right on schedule. I'm going to be ravenous until tomorrow, crave more almonds.. but then I'll feel fine again." Because you know if you can just hold out for another couple hours you'll be okay, you'll be (or should I say I will be) a lot less likely to eat (more) those chocolate almonds.

Even if you do give in to your cravings, your "science project" continues. Observe your response to food you eat and note how it affects your hunger. Did it satisfy? Did it make you hungrier? Was it good? Did it make you feel guilty and filled with self-loathing? Note it all down in your journal. By doing this, you will collect the useful information that will help you master your cravings. You'll get back on your diet. You'll understand the way your body works just a wee bit better. 


  1. I did well this weekend Michelle! VICTORY to use a friends new favorite word :)

  2. on the re-read....It's great to know that a Blog was written about you...
    on a serious note - getting journal ready - and will now meditate...for my pancreas is "spazzing" right now - and yes most of my bad consumption was in the form of breads...though I love sweets - in clean eating - breads etc. will be my biggest obstacle....yes on the horizon!!! xxoo