Meet Dana Carpender

Author of How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet And Lost Forty Pounds

Last week I spent several hours on the phone with Dana Carpender, the author of How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet And Lost Forty Pounds. I have a word of warning for you. Do not talk to Dana if you’re depressed and want to stay that way. Do not talk to Dana if you’re bored and want to stay that way. Dana is upbeat, informative, funny, and fascinating. It would be impossible to be in a grand blue funk when you called her and still be in one when you hung up the phone. Impossible.

Dana’s weight skyrocketed just before she got married. Moderately overweight, she decided that she wanted to lose some weight before her wedding, but when she cut her already low fat and low meat consumption even further her weight went up. Dana, who is not one to sit back quietly and accept anything she doesn’t like, began to do some research. She rediscovered low carbohydrate dieting and set out to learn as much as she could about it. For Dana, ‘as much as she could’ is a lot. A whole lot.

“Low fat/high carb was simply not working for me,” Dana told me. “It was a disaster with fireworks – despite 4 to 5 advanced step aerobics classes every week, I wasn’t losing an ounce. Indeed, I was gaining. I had the good fortune to pick up an old book by Gaylord Hauser, one of the ‘Grand Old Men’ of nutrition, at a used book fair. In it, I found the statement that obesity had nothing to do with overeating, but was, instead, a carbohydrate intolerance disease. I thought, ‘What the heck do I have to lose, here?’, and gave it a shot.”

“I lost forty pounds in about 8 months. I wouldn’t mind losing more, but I’m happy to have kept forty pounds off! I lost another ten or so about a year and a half ago when I started doing breathing exercises, but, sadly, those ten have come back since I was in a car wreck last spring; I haven’t been able to exercise nearly as much as I did. I live in hope that those last ten will come back off as I heal; I’m working with a new physical therapist.

“Of course, I remembered Atkins from my youth, and that when I was a kid, everybody knew that if you wanted to lose weight, you gave up potatoes, bread, spaghetti, and sweets, so the idea wasn’t totally new to me. But it certainly was radical after all those years of reading about how fat was the enemy, and red meat the nearest thing to poison… But again, because I’d been reading so many nutrition books for so long, I knew that this attitude was fairly recent; certainly the nutritionists of the forties, fifties, even the sixties, thought that meat was nutritious, and healthy fats were essential.”

Beginning a low carbohydrate diet was a big change for Dana. She had been the diva of low fat cooking and had accumulated literally hundreds of low fat recipes and countless low fat menus. “The hardest part of beginning a low carbohydrate regime was walking into my kitchen and not knowing what to cook, or how to put a meal together. I was the ‘Queen of Low Fat High Carb Recipes’. Heck, my nickname among my friends was ‘The God Of Food’! And suddenly I had to throw away three quarters of my recipes! No more Curried Chicken and Rice Pilaf with Pineapple Chutney! No more Black Beans and Rice! No more Potatoes and Peas in Yogurt Curry Sauce! It was terribly disorienting, and a real blow to my sense of self. That’s one of the things I hope to help folks with in my new book.”

Maintaining her goal weight has produced different challenges for Dana. “My body keeps changing as I age, and of course with the accident. I have had to continue to “tweak” my diet, to see what’s working best for me now.”

What advice does Dana have for low carbers who have reached their goal weight? “Don’t think that this means you can go off your diet! If carbs are your problem, then carbs are your problem, and they’re going to be your problem for the rest of your life. You can liberalize a little, but always keep an eye on the scale, and the fit of your clothes, and be honest with yourself. If you put a couple of pounds on, go back to the stricter level of low carbing where you lost the weight until it’s back off.”

But for Dana, low carbing is about much more than losing weight. “I have experienced tremendously improved energy levels and mood. Really amazing, and I noticed the difference by about a week into low carbing!. Really wonderful. I used to have a serious crash around 5 o’clock every afternoon, and was nearly dead for a couple of hours. No more!”

“My blood pressure was borderline high before I started low carbing – around 125/90 – and was normal again within a week. It’s actually a little too low now, if anything. My LDL and HDL cholesterol levels, my triglycerides – all that stuff – has been better each time I’ve had it done. I’ve actually been stopped by the nurses at a local clinic and asked my ‘secret’. I don’t think, “Three eggs a day and all the red meat I can scarf” was quite the answer they expected,” Dana grinned.

Even Dana’s husband, who did not need to lose weight, has weight – he’s one of those tall, skinny guys,” Dana told me, “but he found that he felt a lot better eating this way, especially cutting out sugar. In particular, his moods are far better. He’s a huge fan of low carb now. He will eat a slice or two of pizza if someone orders at the office, but that’s about it.” Dana thinks he’s perfect. “My husband is perfect. No joke. He’ll eat just about anything I put in front of him, and he never complains. (Plus he’s incredibly valuable as our webmaster, of course! Not to mention cute.)”

With her weight loss and the additional health benefits both she and her husband have experienced, Dana has no problem skirmishing with low carb nay-sayers. “When they tell me that low carb will destroy my energy level, make me fat, and give me high cholesterol, I open my eyes wide and say in my most plaintive, quizzical tone, ‘When?’”

“When they say ‘Oh, you only lose water on a low carb diet!’ I ask, ‘Five gallons?!’ I have a reader who lost about 120 pounds on low carb. Her doctor was thrilled – until she told him she’d done it with Atkins. The doctor then said – you guessed it – ‘Oh, it’s just water weight.’ Hilarious!”

“And when they say (and this is my favorite) ‘You just gain your weight back when you go off that diet!’ I say, ‘Not to put too fine a point on it, but – er… DUH! You mean if I lost weight on a low calorie diet, and then went back to eating my old caloric intake, I wouldn’t gain the weight back?’ Of course, the regain rate for diets in general is over 95%, and it’s largely because people go on a diet with the idea that they’ll lose their weight and then go off their diet.”

I read How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet And Lost Forty Pounds some time ago, and after talking with Dana I’m rereading it. It’s one of the few books that I know of that gives an unbiased overview of all the different low carb plans and lets you decide for yourself which plan best suits your needs and lifestyle. Dana gives her readers the information that they need to make their own decisions; she doesn’t dictate or advocate one plan over another.

Dana is a research junkie, and How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet And Lost Forty Pounds is meticulously researched. “I’m the only person I know who will sit at the computer for hours on a nice spring afternoon and read articles from MedLine and other resources,” Dana told me, laughing. “It fascinates me.”

“I’m an educated lay person,” Dana continued. “I ‘got’ nutrition like other people ‘get’ religion – a blinding bolt from the blue that changes your life forever more – when I was 19. Since then, I’ve read everything I could get my hands on regarding nutrition in general, not just low carb. I also have spent twenty years in the field of alternative/holistic health, starting with running a health food store in my twenties, and then working in a holistic health care center as a massage therapist for many years.”

“Of course, I remembered Atkins from my youth, and that when I was a kid, everybody knew that if you wanted to lose weight, you gave up potatoes, bread, spaghetti, and sweets, so the idea wasn’t totally new to me. But it certainly was radical after all those years of reading about how fat was the enemy, and red meat the nearest thing to poison… But again, because I’d been reading so many nutrition books for so long, I knew that this attitude was fairly recent; certainly the nutritionists of the forties, fifties, even the sixties, thought that meat was nutritious, and healthy fats were essential.”

“I have read a stack of low carb books almost as high as me – from Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution and Protein Power, through The Schwarzbein Principle, Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetic Solution, and the Hellers’ The Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet, The GO-Diet, Thin For Good, Neanderthin, you name it. I’ve read books from as far back as 1852; I have Banting’s ‘Letter on Corpulence’, the first low carb book, the first ‘diet’ book in the English language, and another from 1914; a few from the fifties and sixties. And I always have a stack of new ones I’m working on reading!”

“When it comes to specific topics – low carb and, say, blood work, or alcoholism, or PCOS, the MedLine database is my very good friend. I also belong to the Low Carb Technical Discussion List; there’s a lot of MDs, biochemists, exercise physiologists, all sorts of folks on thelist. It’s a wonderful resource; I can always search the archives and find medical journal citations for virtually any low carb topic. I get to see a lot of cutting edge stuff this way.”

Dana was prompted to write How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet And Lost 40 Pounds after she developed an hour-long lecture for her local health club. “Originally, I did an hour-long lecture by the same name at a local health club. The local cable access station asked if they could send a camera along. Next thing I knew, I was the most popular show in BCAT history! (I beat out ‘The Clinton Chronicles’ for that honor.) They were showing the lecture, by viewer request, four and five times a week, and I started getting recognized in public!” Dana told me. “It’s sort of unnerving to be recognized, actually. I got to the point where I was afraid to go out of the house without putting on makeup,” she laughed. “You always get recognized at the most supremely wrong moment, you know? Like when you’re on your way home from the gym, dripping sweat, in your grubbiest clothes, hair every which way, and you just run into a store for a ‘minute’…”

“I also started getting phone calls from people who had seen the lecture and started losing weight, and they always wanted more information! It became clear to me that there was a huge appetite for this information in a non-technical format. It struck me that there were two weaknesses to the low carb books then on the market, which at that point were Dr, Atkins New Diet Revolution, The ‘Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet, and Protein Power. First, they were woefully technical, full of medical jargon. Most people don’t want to know words like “delta-6-desaturase”. They want to know, ‘How does this work? Why won’t it kill me? What do I eat?’ and that’s about it. I knew I could explain that clearly, and hopefully even entertainingly.”

“Secondly, all the books on the market said, ‘THIS IS THE WAY TO DO THE DIET. ALL OTHER WAYS ARE BAD. DO IT MY WAY!!!’ I knew from my own experience, from the experience of friends, and from being on the Low Carb Support List online, that different approaches were good for different people. For instance, I hated the Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet, and plateaued on it very quickly – but was talking to folks who had lost sometimes over a hundred pounds on it. I thought there should be a book that outlined the various approaches, and then helped people work out something that was right for their bodies and their lives. One size fits all doesn’t work for pantyhose or bras, why should it work for nutrition?”

Dana published How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet And Lost 40 Pounds herself, and has sold well over 5,000 copies with no paid advertising. Recently a mainstream publisher has approached her about republishing it and sponsoring a full-fledged publicity blitz. Not one to sit back on her laurels (or anything else, for that matter), Dana is also working on a second book, and is in the editing phase right now. “It will be part cookbook, part support manual – stuff about menu planning, grocery shopping, entertaining, low carb for kids, low carb and alcohol, dealing with holidays… stuff like that,” Dana told me.

Dana is also in the process of planning a low carb weekend retreat, which will be held the first weekend in November at The DeSoto House in Galena, Illinois. For those who can get away early, it will start on Thursday with a “spa day.” (People who can’t get away until Friday will be able to get a rate for just the weekend.) She plans to consult with the people who went on her low carb cruise and ask them which cruise activities they enjoyed the most and what they’d like to see the retreat weekend offer. As people register for the weekend, she will be asking them what they most want to learn during the weekend. “I would also love to teach everybody breathing exercises, because I think they’re so cool!,” she concludes.

I have already told my husband and kids that they’re on their own the first weekend in November. I’m going to be at Dana’s low carb retreat come hell or high-water, and I hope to see a lot for you there, too. The idea of spending a weekend with fellow low carbers, the idea of meeting some of you in person, and the opportunity to meet Dana personally is immensely appealing to me.

Of course, meeting Dana will require that I be well rested so that I can keep up with her. Instead of “The God of Food,” her nickname ought to be “Whirlwinds R Us.”

I’m excited already.

You can subscribe to Dana Carpender’s free e-zine, Hold The Toast, through her website: www.holdthetoast.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>