By Kristie Sullivan
When I opened my fridge, I saw a single pumpkin spice muffin: made low-carb, gluten-free, and nut-free with a sprinkle of cinnamon and brown sugar substitute. Warmed and smeared with a dollop of mascarpone, those muffins have been fantastic, but it wasn’t the prospect of eating the muffin that made me smile when I saw it there in my fridge. I smiled because it was uneaten.
That single muffin is one of twelve baked two weeks ago. I made twelve, gave three away, leaving nine. Of those nine, my husband and daughter ate three, leaving six. One muffin left means that I have eaten five. In fourteen days, I ate only five muffins. There was a time when not one of those twelve muffins would have been given away! In fact, nine of the twelve would have vanished within the first three days. I gobbled them up two at a time or between meals or as a bedtime snack. In the past, I would make double or triple batches of muffins, cakes, pies, etc., in order to have “enough”. Enough meant that I could consume a batch or so by myself, without anyone minding too much since there would still be some for them.
My Old Diet
There was a time when I was nearly always hungry. I woke hungrily and had breakfast around 7 am. By 10 am I needed a snack. When noon rolled around, it called to me to eat lunch. Mid-afternoon earned another snack by 3 pm, and while cooking dinner, I also ate a snack because I was “starving” by 6 pm. Feeding time didn’t end with dinner because I also had a bedtime snack.
The constant feeding was made worse by stress, boredom, joy, disappointment—nearly any emotion was an excuse to eat.
More often than not, I was truly hungry. My body sent signals that told me to eat. At the time I did not understand that I was insulin resistant. I had not yet read about the complex interplay of insulin, leptin, ghrelin, or any of the other dozen hormones that influence hunger, satiety, appetite, mood, and survival.
Years of eating the wrong foods for my body had turned those signals into a dysrhythmic Morse code sending my body faster and faster towards food. Those foods would eventually destroy it instead of nourish it. Maybe the relationship between my hypothalamus and thyroid was genetically dysfunctional or maybe epigenetics (the environment and my genes) played a role, but my relationship with food, but psychologically and physiologically, was far unhealthier than I knew.
I blamed me. I was a fat, pathetic human being who had no self-control.
If I could only lose weight, I would be normal, attractive and completely happy. When I asked my doctor for help, he didn’t have any magic pills. “Eat less, move more” was the mantra.
He told me to eat fruit, vegetables, and healthy whole grains, and avoid fat. When I ate less and moved more, I was miserable. Hunger is a miserable state of being, and I was physiologically hungry. Moving was painful because I was morbidly obese and had significant back issues. Each time I gained weight. For weeks at a time, I ate low fat and low calories and moved more. Because I was starving, I could never “diet” for more than a few weeks. The diet would end with me face first in copious amounts of food. I could not outrun the physiological truth that my body needed energy and was fighting me to survive.
Yes, I was eating, but I was starving because my body was getting the “wrong” foods for me. I didn’t yet understand the metabolic dysregulation that kept my body sick.
My Experience with the Ketogenic Diet
When I learned about a way of eating called a ketogenic diet, I didn’t know what a macronutrient was. Quickly, I learned there are three:
All foods are comprised of macronutrients. Meats are primarily fat and protein, and very low carbohydrate. Plants are mainly carbohydrates, although some do have fats and protein. Each macronutrient affects the body differently because it is processed and accessed differently. Carbohydrates are processed as glucose, a quick source of energy for much of our body.
Glucose in the Body
To process glucose, the body releases insulin. When it works efficiently and properly, glucose is used by the cells and excess glucose is stored. Fats are a very efficient source of fuel, and not as easily stored as carbohydrates. Protein is used to build and repair muscle and can be converted to glucose if the body senses the need. The right ratios of macronutrients and the amount of each that we eat can have a tremendous impact on our health.
The challenge for most of us is figuring out which is best for us, and determining the “right” foods for our bodies, especially when we have some sort of metabolic dysfunction such as diabetes, insulin resistance, PCOS, etc.
Finding The Right Foods
When I consider the “wrong” foods over the “right” ones, looking back in time gives me the simplest answer. Our great-grandparents typically had access to local meats, fish, and vegetables. Their daily lives included working to obtain that balance of real, whole foods. Imagine transporting those ancestors—from before the Industrial Revolution—into modern kitchens. How would we begin to explain Pop Tarts and Fruit Loops and plastic tubs of pasta that go into a metal box that dings when dinner is “done”? The way we obtain and prepare food has certainly changed, but most importantly, what we call “food” is vastly different. Food, for most people, comes from a box or a freezer or drive-thru window. Food has ingredients. Imagine the “ingredients” list in 1883. Did food even have ingredients then?
The joy I felt when I spied the single muffin left in my fridge had nothing to do with warming it, slathering it with butter or mascarpone, and washing it down with French press coffee. That muffin reminded me of the freedom I now have from food. Instead of three meals a day and three or four snacks, I now typically eat two or three meals and no snacks because I am no longer hungry. No. Longer. Hungry.
By eliminating processed and refined foods and eating whole, real foods, I have helped my body to heal, normalized my weight, reduced inflammation, and discovered how true hunger feels. For over three years, I’ve broken the ridiculous cycle of diet, binge, hate myself, diet, binge, hate myself, diet binge, hate myself, and repeat. Eating real foods is a real solution that works.
Kristie Sullivan, PhD, obtained her doctorate in Educational Research and Policy Analysis from North Carolina State University. She is currently working on a series of cookbooks and lifestyle coaching for those interested in following a low-carb, high-fat or “ketogenic” way of eating. Her books are expected out in fall 2016 and will be called Low Carb Journey to Health. You can learn more by subscribing to her YouTube channel, Cooking Keto with Kristie. Check out her video featuring the peanut butter cookie recipe that saved her life, “Peanut Butter Hero Cookies.” You can also follow her Facebook page, Simply Keto, where she often posts links to research related to low-carb diets, or her website.