Baby Boomers’ easy Weight Management with slow carb
If you find yourself turning to the TV to learn the latest diet tricks, or picking up magazines in the drugstore to find out what the latest ‘wonder’ supplement is for staying thin, then chances are you’re more than a little aware of the challenges of weight maintenance as the body ages.
I can gladly tell you that you can throw away the magazines, and turn off the TV; because weight management doesn’t have to be difficult, or taste like cardboard. And it certainly doesn’t need you to count calories like some kind of depraved food-accountant. It’s a set-and-forget routine to give you energy, leave you without worries about your weight, and free to get on with living.
Though I realize I’m not in the ‘target demographic’ of this article, it is in fact a topic very close to my heart. My Mum (she’s Australian – so she’s a Mum, not a Mom) is a proud baby boomer, and Kat and I have valued friends in our lives of this generation, whom collectively share, from time to time, their challenges with maintaining their weight.
Sometimes it can be tough to stave off the pounds over a long, cold winter. Be it snowing, or raining, neither makes it easy to get outside, and chances are that for lots of boomers, its through some casual outdoor activities that some exercise is taken. As a double-whammy, for everyone in North America, there’s also that run of holidays that sees the big meals cooked, and the sweets, pies and treats become commonplace for 6 weeks or so. Thank goodness for New Year’s resolutions, or all that might go on endlessly until spring!
But that’s not to say that sweets, or pies, or cookies, cakes, muffins or doughnuts are ‘bad’. They’re not ‘evil’ and they don’t have their heart set on expanding your waist line.
They are, however, misunderstood.
Ask anyone who has been told by the doctor to reduce their weight, or anyone for that matter who thinks they’re about to be told to lose weight, and most commonly you’ll hear ‘moderate your food intake, and increase your exercise’. This old chestnut dates back to the 40′s and 50′s, when much of the early research was being done in the States, which escalated into the fitness age of the 70′s and 80′s.. perhaps you were a ‘jogger’ when it came about, or maybe aerobics was your thing.
You couldn’t argue with those shapely legs, toned thighs and svelte waistlines – all the exercise seemed like it must be doing good work.
And so, now we find ourselves at a point where it just ‘makes sense’ to us – more exercise equals slimmer bellies, tighter legs and looking great.
But what about how you’re feeling?
Have you ever tried to eat less, and also exercise more? It’s counter-intuitive. You could eat the same, and exercise.. and you would feel a little bit more hungry. Or, you could eat less, and do the same things, and feel a little bit hungry. Now, if you eat less, and do more? Surely, you’re going to feel very hungry? And isn’t hunger just a signpost, a warning if you like, that your body could use some more food?
Why would you need more food, if you have lots of energy stored already?
Here’s a straightforward answer that will rattle most commonly-trained Western dieticians who have got their qualifications in the last 30 years – and doctors alike who rely on common recommendations from under-researched national health organizations: Perhaps there’s a ‘setting’ in the body that dictates a preference as to where the food ends up – energy, or storage.
This isn’t my idea – I owe it to the well researched and well written Gary Taubes.
Simply put, due to genetics and other factors, everyone has a ‘natural’ preference between storing or burning energy. Therefore, marathon runners might not be so skinny because they run marathons. They might actually run marathons because their body is set to take all the energy they consume, and burn it off in the muscles. They are compelled to run, to get rid of the energy! Compare this with someone who’s body is set to be more likely to store, and perhaps now it’s obvious why some people can eat their way through 4000 or 5000 calories a day and still feel tired. These are both extreme examples, however they are to make the point that everyone is in fact different in this respect.
The next key to easy weight management is understanding that despite these ‘defaults’, one can still manage their own food intake so that weight is managed. And it doesn’t mean counting calories.
What’s going on here?
Let’s deviate for a moment, and take a quick look at the pathway food takes when it is eaten. Effectively, food eaten ends up in the blood stream, and may be in various forms – glucose (sugar) from carbohydrates, fatty acids from fat and amino acids from protein.
Insulin is something most of us have heard about and with good reason. Insulin is responsible for regulating the level of glucose in the bloodstream – too much is harmful. So, insulin is the ‘hall monitor’ of the blood and the cells, ensuring that glucose is distributed as best it can be, so that blood sugar levels and maintained as level as possible. It goes into the muscles and the liver as glycogen, and into the fat cells for storage, if need be.
Eating a meal with lots of carbohydrates means that there’s a lot of glucose in the blood shortly after. The more fibre, the slower the digestion, and the more ’rounded’ the ‘spike’ in blood sugar will be. For example, eating black beans results in a much slower absorption, and therefore a much more level blood sugar level, than eating bread, which is digested fast, and spikes blood sugar levels.
Insulin therefore blocks the body from using stored fat as a fuel source, because it’s job is the adjust the glucose levels down to a regular level. If blood sugar goes below a certain level, it will pull glycogen out of the liver and muscles, to provide energy. This is why losing fat can be so difficult – insulin effectively stops you losing it, every time it has to regulate blood sugar.
As the body ages, the responsiveness of those cells to the insulin that’s sent out becomes less and less. In other words, the cells, as they ‘listen’ for insulin, to learn what they should be doing, actually go progressively more ‘deaf’ to the insulin. This means that more insulin needs to be sent out to get the job done. This is a vicious cycle, especially if there’s a lot of candy or sweets involved, and can have negative long term effects.
Back to easy weight management, and this is where the slow carb diet makes an appearance. It has simple rules to follow, and easy food choices. It is not particularly expensive to maintain the grocery shopping, and provides adequate range and variation in the kitchen. Plus, it offers a day off every week, so you can still enjoy pastries, desserts, cakes, scones, bread rolls, potatoes and the like.
During the week, there’s no counting calories, and no specific measuring.
How could this possibly work?
I’m glad you asked.
By using legumes as the basis of the meals, insulin, and blood sugar can effectively be leveled out over the day. You eat 4 meals, 4 hours apart, which accounts for the speed of digestion, and you also always include protein, and vegetables in the meal, both of which will slow digestion further. So you have plenty of fibre, plenty of protein to maintain muscles, and plenty of energy, so you can do whatever you feel like.
Sound a bit better than eating less and moving more?
Of course, experimenting with portions is the way to go. Start small – maybe 1/2 cup of beans with each meal, and a ‘lean’ protein – like chicken, turkey, tuna, salmon, other fish, eggs, lean red meat. Then, add in a favorite leafy green vegetable, or cruciferous vegetable of your choice. Finish it off with a dash of olive oil every now and then, and you have yourself a great, filling, delicious meal.
The next piece of good news is that there isn’t a lot of evidence out there that actually says exercise has a large impact on weight management. It can be useful short term, to burn calories and create a defecit, however over time the body adjusts to this, and you might end up doing less the rest of the day to account for your extra energy expenditure walking, jogging or doing water aerobics.
This doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea to be active. It definitely is. Just don’t stress over being active to lose weight. Your diet really can take care of the weight management for you. Consider weight-bearing activities to strengthen your bones, and consider walking, cycling, swimming or speed walking to get your heart going with low impact on the joints.
The slow carb beans, protein and vegetables combination ensure you get a great variety of nutrients, as much of the key things as you need, and still in a controlled fashion, where carbohydrate intake is actually a lot lower than a typical Western diet.
Many people have had success cutting their calories, and exercising. It’s true. But most likely, they’re actually cutting the amount of carbohydrates they are taking in, simply by cutting the overall amount of food they eat, and generally most people cut out alcohol, which is an additional calorie-in mechanism that doesn’t help you nutritionally speaking.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a drink.
Enjoy a glass or two of red wine of an evening, and on your day off, feel free to have a beer or two, if you so desire, or a sparkling white, nip of gin, or whatever else you might be thinking of.
Over time, this eating plan gets to be so easy to do that you’d swear you were just taking your cereal out of the box in the morning, and toasting a sandwich for lunch.
There’s no reason to be feeling a huge slow-down in energy levels as the years go by, however many people fail to recognise the link between a carbohydrate-dense way of eating, and a sluggish feeling that can only be temporarily cured by coffee. Ensuring you get a slow but adequate dose of food energy throughout the day can make you feel great in all kinds of ways – energy, mood, outlook, relaxation and more.
Plus, the added bonus is that many minor aches and pains can ease through eating this anti-inflammatory set of food. Couple it with generous amounts of water through the way, a couple of cups of tea or coffee, some well-chosen supplements, and some strategically planned activity every week (you don’t need to be at a gym 5 days a week), and you have a foundation for great health.
So what results can I expect?
Everyone’s different, however at the least, moderate continual fat loss is the most common result. Perhaps 2 lbs a week. Some muscle gain is also common, which is a great thing. It’s worth noting that older bodies tend to take a little longer to adapt to this different way of eating, and sometimes weight loss isn’t seen for the first 4-6 weeks. In a test of the slow carb diet, it was reported that average weight loss was around 19-22lbs over 4 weeks – however this included people of all ages. Weight loss seems to be faster for men, and faster for younger people, but it comes for everyone in time.
Over time, you may find less cravings for sweets and breads, a more level mood, more even energy throughout the day, better sleeping, and of course a more relaxed feeling about food, eating and weight management. You might also feel inspired to get moving and be active.
Some people experience a positive change in diabetes management, or in pre-diabetes conditions, as well as being able to more reliably depend on having energy during the day.
Another benefit that has been seen is a positive change in cholesterol levels, which are important as risk factors for heart disease.
Does exercise have to be done?
Technically speaking, following this kind of eating plan, will produce fat loss results without exercise. There isn’t a lot of data that actually supports the idea that exercise makes you skinny, just lots of people that like to think that you have to work hard to get results. Most people in the world don’t like the idea of people getting something they don’t ‘deserve’, and unfortunately many people’s idea about what you deserve is directly proportional to how much you have suffered.
At the end of the day, this isn’t useful to anyone. There are perfectly great reasons to exercise. It does have positive health benefits. However, it may not be so closely linked to weight management as we might have previously believed. Keep up your activity for the benefit of your joints, your balance, your bones and your mood. They all get benefits from being active. Plus, people who connect with nature are more relaxed and can think more clearly. So, think about being active for the enjoyment of it, and the health benefits it can deliver.
Consider doing some weight-bearing activities – challenging your bones to move/lift/hold an amount of weight greater than your own body weight actually prompts your bones to be stronger. This is true whether you’re 55, 75 or 25 years of age.
How do I get started?
Good question. It’s not terribly difficult actually. Here are my recommendations for getting started:
- Read our article on The new Slow Carb Rules: What to do, not what to avoid to get a sense of how this all works
- Pick up a copy of Tim Ferriss’ The Four Hour Body and read the relevant sections, do some ‘before’ measurements
- Go grocery shopping, and set a target of 4 weeks as a trial, plan out some meals ahead of time
- Get going, and stick to this like superglue, for the 4 weeks
- Check your results, in how you’re feeling, your measurements and your satisfaction with eating
What’s the right amount of food?
This is different for everyone – 4 meals a day is the basis, 4 hours apart. Don’t go longer stretches or you’ll start craving sweets and fats. Eat enough food so that you don’t feel hungry. Start small, and adjust your meal sizes until you’re not hungry between meals. This might mean starting with around 100-150g of chicken breast or another lean protein source, like turkey, or red meat, and start with around 1/2 cup of beans (measured as they come prepared from a can, not raw/unprepared). Add to that a couple of cups of vegetables that are green, and you’re set.
What about Supplements?
There are so many supplements around, and so many different theories that this question is a little too complex to answer in a single article. The general answer is that some supplements can definitely help one’s health. It is a good idea to take a multivitamin (without iron if you are post-menopausal or male) to ensure you don’t have any specific deficiencies to begin with, and then add specific supplements that are backed by quality research.
It is important the check any supplement against any existing medication you are taking – some may interact with each other and cause adverse results.
Also, the combination of Alpha-Lipoic Acid, Garlic Extract, Green Tea Extract and Policosanol can have positive effects on weight loss, body composition (fat vs muscle) and cholesterol. More can be read about this combination here: http://www.fourhourbodycouple.com/tag/pagg/
Dr. Oz advises that taking 2 baby aspirin per day can reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease but check with your doctor before you start this, as timing can be important and aspirin could interact with other drugs you are taking. Also be aware that taking aspirin thins the blood, as does cinnamon, which carries a warning about dosage (1.5 tsp /day maximum). Also be aware that other food additives can have a blood thinning effect, though not as pronounced: curry powder, ginger, cayenne pepper, paprika, thyme, dill, oregano, tumeric, licorice, peppermint.
You may also choose to add other supplements based on specific conditions, but always check if there could be interactions with medications, and/or other supplments.
The other supplement for a healthy life? Sleep. Get more of it, and/or better quality, and you will have everything functioning better.
This sounds a little weird, and different to what my doctor said.
At best guess, I expect your doctor recommended to ‘lower your food intake and increase your exercise and activity levels’. And he may have added ‘maintain a diet that is low in cholesterol, and low in saturated fat’. He might have mentioned keeping fat levels to a minimum, and making sure you ‘eat plenty of whole grains’.
With what you now know, does this sound like the best advice you could deliver someone who was keen to maintain, control or adjust their weight for health? It doesn’t to me.
This doesn’t mean that everything you hear from the medical profession is wrong. In the world of weight management, the amount of data and research can be overwhelming, which is why I tip my hat to Gary Taubes for his depth of research. I strongly recommend reading his book ‘Why We Get Fat, and what to do about it‘ if you would like more information to the research, and the biochemical activities taking place in the body.
The bottom line: Discuss with your doctor the changes you are planning, and find out if there are any potential negative health implications, depending on medications you are taking. Next step: Visit your doctor again in 6 weeks and watch him try to find explanations for your improvements, then ask you where you got your information from.
This doesn’t sound convenient for my lifestyle, or it sounds like junk science
If the idea of 4 meals per day, or switching your primary foods sounds like one huge inconvenience, and you would prefer to keep eating the foods your regularly eat, then odds are you place lifestyle as a higher priority than weight maintenance or health. Everyone has the right to live their life however they’d like. This is merely one method of losing fat and maintaining a healthy weight, and it might not be for everyone. Before you find a dozen objectives and pick holes is what’s described here, however, consider if all of those thoughts might be defences to the idea that deep down you realize your current habits are what’s led to your current state, and that a change might be exactly what you need.
Do you have any questions? Please leave them below, in the comments section.