How Did I Get Here? Dana Carpender’s Journey of 29 Years on Low-Carb – CarbSmart Podcast Episode 7

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You read her articles, you buy her cookbooks, you make her recipes, now you can listen to her CarbSmart Podcast! In the episode, Dana Carpender describes her Journey of 29 Years on her healthy Low-Carb lifestyle. Explore her ups and downs to becoming a Low-Carb author & guru.

Want to know how a girl who stole to support her sugar habit turned into a hardcore nutrition buff who has made her career writing about nutrition?

How I got here by Dana Carpender

My carb addiction started early, and so did other problems. I started seeing a shrink when I was 11. I also already had an unhealthy relationship with sugar. At Girl Scout meetings, I always went back to grab more cookies before I’d finish the first handful. I was afraid they’d run out.

Low-Carb cookies allulose
Note, I am now eligible for Social Security, and they’re still making Oreos. That scarcity mentality was strange. I was the weird kid. Super bright, unmotivated, compulsively talkative, overweight. My social skills were, shall we say, lacking. All of this inspired my parents to turn to a psychologist when I was 11.

My mom and I joined Weight Watchers that same year. It’s worth noting that the original Weight Watchers program was generous with lean protein but limited carbs quite sharply. For the youth program, a few slices of bread a day with no alternatives such as rice, potatoes, or pasta, and one-half cup of higher carb vegetables per day, non-starchy vegetables were unlimited.

It was the common wisdom of the time that if you wanted to lose weight, you gave up potatoes, spaghetti, bread, and sweets. I did lose weight on that plan, but at that age, the notion of a permanent change in eating habits wasn’t within my grasp.

Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution
Dana Carpender’s first book she read about the Low-Carb lifestyle was Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution.

Then came the Atkins Diet.

When I was 13, Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution first hit the market.

I tried it. It worked. But as soon as I got through the induction phase and could add 5 grams of carbohydrates per week, I spent those carbs on a chocolate-covered ice cream bar, that had exactly that count. My early Atkins phase lasted maybe four weeks. I spent much of that time perfecting saccharine-sweetened chocolate whipped cream.

My carb addiction led to a life of crime.

Like so many addictions, my sugar jones led me to theft. By fourteen, I was lifting fives and tens out of my mother’s wallet to support my sugar habit. This was the early 1970s. That was a lot of money. Most days, on the way home from school, I would buy a half-pound Mr. Goodbar and a half-pound Hershey’s with Almonds. In school, I would go through five or six rolls of Wild Cherry Lifesavers, or most of a bag of lemon drops, or a box of caramel nips during classes. Sugar in my mouth all the time. At lunch, I would eat three to five desserts in the school cafeteria.


Thursdays, I had choir practice, church choir practice. The walk to church took me past the bakery where I would buy a bunch of those Big chocolate chip cookies. You know, the ones that are about four inches in diameter. Usually, I’d get three or four. My record was seven. Sometimes I’d substitute a couple, few chocolate eclairs.

There was another bakery around the corner from our church that made the most wonderful, huge apple turnovers with puffed pastry crust. I could put down one of those on top of all those cookies. If you’re wondering, my crime spree came to a screeching halt when mom busted me, but not before I’d stolen hundreds of dollars.

I was seeing a different shrink by that time

but I was still the Problem Child and classic underachiever. I have a stack of elementary school report cards that my mother saved. They all say the same thing.

Dana’s such a bright girl. If only she could pay attention. It wasn’t until the age of 52 that I was finally diagnosed with ADHD at, I’m going to say 14, but I’m not certain. My parents took me to an MD/hypnotherapist. Please note that this was not against my will nor unkindly done. He hypnotized me, then told me to avoid carbohydrates. Are you sensing a theme here? But by then, I was picking up other addictions, which is really common in ADHD.

I drank can after can of Tab, Diet Coke’s predecessor, or glasses of iced tea made from Lipton diet iced tea mix. I also started smoking. Again. paid for with stolen money. But sugar was the seminal addiction. My sophomore year, I started my days with anywhere from two to four chocolate donuts in the student lounge, washed down with a few cups of vending machine cocoa.

Since I was watching my weight, I’d have a chocolate milkshake for lunch instead of real food. My most vivid memory of that year is wandering the halls mumbling I’m so tired… I’m so tired. Dead on my feet at 15 from energy food. The fall I turned 16, I went to boarding school in Dutchess County, New York.

Once again, not against my will, I made that choice. Looking back, going away to school may have helped. We were five miles from the nearest town. That limited the availability of sugar. Still, on town trips, I’d buy scooter pies and the like. Then my family moved from the East Coast to the Midwest, very definitely against my will.

It was traumatic. And I wound up with another shrink.

I managed to pull up my grades enough that I got into a good private college where I could have all the soft serve ice cream I wanted in the dining hall, complete with chocolate syrup, then a hand scooped milkshake later at the student center.

I also was up to a pack and a half of cigarettes per day and smoking a truly remarkable quantity of weed. Unsurprisingly, I flunked out freshman year. But I had a boyfriend there. He was going to be spending that summer studying at UCLA. I learned that I could stay in the dorm there for $500 for the summer – room and board.

Even in 1978, that was a heck of a deal. I went home. Got a job, saved up $500, and got back to California in time to move into the dorm with my boyfriend. And this is where the Road to Damascus moment happened. My boyfriend was legally blind. His mother took him from specialist to specialist, hoping one of them would have something to say other than, yeah, he has macular degeneration.

For some reason, one of them gave him a book called Psycho-Dietetics, now sadly out of print. It was about the psychiatric effects of nutrition. My boyfriend didn’t read it, he had enough reading for classes. But I read it. In it was a list of… Gets up and checks her copy… 48 symptoms of Reactive Hypoglycemia, Low blood sugar due to the body overreacting to too much sugar. Most of which people would assume were caused by emotional problems. I had 40 of them. The dime dropped. I decided to give up sugar and white flour for two weeks. After all, my diet history told me I could be good for two weeks. That was 45 years ago.

Within three days, it was as if I had gone from living in black and white to living in color. My energy, mood, and mental clarity soared. I had set my foot on a road from which I would never and will never turn back. Though there was a major detour. More about that in a bit.

At that time, I read the classic nutrition writers
Adelle Davis, J. I. Rodale, Carlton Fredericks, some others.

They all said roughly the same thing

  • Eat plenty of protein, especially animal protein.
  • Eat vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds.
  • Eat no protein, white sugar or white flour.
  • And if you have trouble with your weight, go easy even on the unrefined carbs.

I did this.

I lost weight effortlessly, though by this point the combination of smoking and walking up and down California hills had gotten me down to a reasonable size. I did eat carbs, brown rice, whole grain bread, honey, and the like, but not in an addicted fashion. Further, I felt so much better that the old sugary junk didn’t look good to me anymore. I associated it with feeling tired and depressed, and I liked the food I was eating.

Low-Carb allulose cupcakes
About two years in, I was in a corner bodega in Chicago and saw one of those racks of snack cakes you see everywhere. Ho Hos, Hostess Cupcakes, Twinkies, that stuff. They had always been a favorite of mine during the sugar addicted days, so I decided to see what I thought now.

I bought something chocolate and cream filled. I took one bite. The rest hit the trash outside the store. I wish I remembered who originally said this because I’ve quoted it so often. It was like running into an old friend and realizing you no longer have anything in common. After three years of self-identifying as a health food freak, I quit smoking with little trouble.

I had simply gone from thinking of myself as the sort of person who would smoke, to thinking of myself as the sort of person who wouldn’t smoke. My heavy cannabis habit backed way off. I worked in a health food store, and later I went to massage school. I felt great.

And then the detour. The detour.

Detour Sign
Photo by Evan Mach on Unsplash

In the mid-1980s, The demonization of fat began.

And it wasn’t just the idea that saturated fat would cause heart disease. It was the oh-so-logical-sounding idea that cutting dietary fat would lead to losing body fat. What were we to eat in place of fat? Why, carbs, of course! Healthy whole grains! Pasta salad with fat-free mayonnaise! Baked potatoes with butter buds, fake butter-flavored stuff, fat-free and sugar-full frozen yogurt, etc.

Healthy Fats Butter
Image by rodeopix from Pixabay

In the latter years of the 1980s, we were promised blooming good health, abundant energy, weight loss without hunger, yadda yadda, if we just replaced all that evil fatty stuff with carbs. It was like telling an alcoholic that their healthiest dinner is a six-pack and a shot. I wanted to believe. I was still eating good carbs, whole grain breads and cereals, baked potatoes stuffed with California mix, which is broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, and fat-free cheese.

I made vats of whole wheat macaroni salad with plenty of veggies and just one can of water-packed tuna dressed with low-fat mayonnaise. I made awesome bean soups I ate with whole grain rye toast. My favorite summer supper was air-popped popcorn and sliced fresh tomatoes. Because I was walking a great deal, my weight was not too bad.

But my energy… I had the most awful energy crashes.

I was working as a massage therapist. Do you know how hard it is to muscle through a severe blood sugar crash while doing deep tissue massage? I was in my late twenties to early thirties. I should have been exploding with energy. Sometimes I was, until, boom, I wasn’t.

And I was hungry. All. The. Time.

How's Your New Year's Resolution Remember Things Take Time – CarbSmart
I would eat two bowls of Cheerios with skim milk for breakfast. Low fat, whole grain, high fiber. By 90 minutes later, I could have eaten the damned carpet I was so hungry. The food addiction, the carb addiction, was back. I can remember a night in the early 90s when I had just had a full, healthy dinner.

Skinless chicken and both broccoli and brown rice with butter buds. I told myself that I would not eat anything else for at least half an hour after dinner. It was hard. I had a stomach full of food, and my body was telling me that I was starving. And it wasn’t all good stuff. I fell prey to some of the low-fat processed food. Healthy Choice Butter Pecan Ice Cream with Hershey Syrup. Now, as always, a fat-free food.

I wanted to lose weight for my wedding

Dana Eric wedding photo
In the fall of 1994, I decided I wanted to lose weight for my wedding in the spring, so I went even lower fat. I particularly recall a casserole I made with sliced potatoes, one turkey smoked sausage, and a sauce made of low-fat cottage cheese.

I joined a local gym and started doing five-step aerobic classes a week. I didn’t lose an ounce. Indeed, I whole grain and beaned my way up to 200 pounds at five foot two. I went to my wedding a size 18 and by the end of that summer I was up to a 20. I never did give in and buy clothes in that size, but I was getting that too-much-sausage-in-the-skin look.

The energy swings were wicked, and for the first time in my life, I had high blood pressure. Here I was doing everything officialdom told me should make me slim, healthy, and vibrant, and I was getting fatter. and sicker by the day. It scared me. Cue another Road to Damascus moment. That summer, I picked up a 1950s nutrition book at a used book sale.

I read it, of course. One sentence jumped out at me.

Obesity has nothing to do with how much you eat

Obesity has nothing to do with how much you eat. It is instead a carbohydrate intolerance disorder.

Bingo! I remembered all the weight loss wisdom of my youth. I thought, nothing else is working. What have I got to lose, except the weight, of course. I had already started cooking for Labor Day, so I determined that the day after would be the day I went low-carb.

It was. I’d celebrate my lowcarbaversery on the Tuesday after Labor Day. It was a replay of the summer of 78. Within three days, my clothes were loose, my energy was back, and my mood was on a long-playing high. I’ve been low-carb, in various forms ever since.

More about that in a future article…

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© Dana Carpender. Used by kind permission of the thankful author. What do you think? Please send Dana your comments to Dana Carpender.

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