Two Years Of Low-Carb Maintenance
In 1996 I weighed 208 (or maybe more) and wore size 22 jeans. Two years ago this month I hit a body fat percentage of 24% and realized that at 137 I had reached my goal. At 5′-4″, I wore sizes 8 and 10.
I started lifting weights at that time and over the course of the next 9 months I gained 15 pounds of muscle and lost 7 more pounds of fat for a net gain of 8 pounds to 145 and a net loss of a dress size, down solidly into 8’s, the 10’s too loose (except for jeans), and the 6’s fitting fairly often.
I ate low carb paleo some days, at ketogenic levels. I ate regular paleo with plenty of fruit other days, out of ketosis. I occasionally took forays back into Atkins and ate cheese or drank a diet drink. From time to time those foods would get out of control in my life and I would gain weight. I had discovered along the way that many carbs make me sick as well as making me gain. Wheat and corn are the worst for me. I eat them only when I feel like gaining weight and getting sick, which is just about twice a year. Period. Every year, in fact, the things I think I “need” to eat with these foods in them diminishes.
Chocolate and dairy make me sick but doesn’t make me fat unless I overeat them.
Sometimes I let myself eat them and then they begin to regain their addictive hold on me and I have to fight my way off of them. Sometimes they make me sick enough (for me that means respiratory reactions) that I am glad to get off of them. I found that rice, potatoes, and pure cane sugar doesn’t make me sick, and in moderation don’t make me fat. But it is hard for me to moderate them. It is relatively easy when I am in a calm place emotionally and/or during the low weight end of my monthly cycle. Any stress and I am cramming rice flour cookies in my mouth if I have been unwise enough to allow them in on a regular basis prior to that.
The big problem is that, of course, some stress can be predicted but most cannot. How do I know when is safe to allow those foods in and when is not? This is the battle I am currently in the midst of. So far, restricting these to the low part of the month has been helpful. Your mileage may vary; you will have a different list of maintenance foods. The person who ends up cramming plums and peaches down their throat on maintenance will not be as able to include fruit as I am. I can buy one or two perfect pieces and am fine for weeks.
I weigh every day. Every day.
After peaking at 145 and size 8, over the next year, my weight has gradually dropped. Presumably, those 15 more pounds of muscle are doing their metabolic job and burning calories for me night and day.
I keep a close watch on my weight, and I keep track of what it should be at what time of the month. If it trespasses that, I make a real effort to get back on meat and salad only until it’s back where it should be for that time of my cycle. I swear that I will fight denial like the plague. I’ve been slim before and gradually gained all the weight back and more, one pound at a time – mostly because I thought of low carb as a diet rather than a permanent way to eat.
Doing this and with the additional muscle burning calories for me, I have gradually dropped down further. Now I as often wear a 6 as an 8. A few of the things I bought when I hit my goal are too big for me now.
On Thanksgiving Day 1998, I wore for the first time a pair of brand new unwashed size 8 Wrangler jeans. They were tight in the waist and I had some skin overlap, but with a size small suede vest, they looked great. Then I washed them and I could almost never get back in them. But as my weight has gradually dropped (as my weight range has gradually dropped, my weight varies up and down all the time within the range), I got back into them and I had decided to celebrate Thanksgiving this year by wearing the same clothes I wore 2 years ago. Except that having been washed they were smaller now…
I didn’t wear them because I ended up eating with a more formally dressed family on Thanksgiving. But I’ve got them on today. I hit a new low weight today too: 135.5.
You can lose weight and keep it off on this way of eating. You may have to tweak it to find your exact optimal way of eating; in fact, most of us do. But every bit of weight I have gained in the last 2 years has either been muscle added from weight lifting or fat gained from going too far off low-carb. (I do not count the 2-3 pound water weight swing I get from going in and out of ketosis as weight gain or loss.)
The biggest battle I continue to fight is indeed the battle of the addict. Low carb does not cure our addictions. It only puts them under control. In order to keep them under control, of course, I have to continue to eat right. One day at a time. Forever.
That is very hard to do. For me to be able to do it, I have had to confront all the underlying fears, resentments, angers, and unfulfilled desires that I have that can move me out of the place where I am making intelligent, long term, rational decisions and into the place where I would make emotional short term, irrational decisions. That work went on for me all through my weight-loss period and continues all through maintenance.
Whatever our optimal weight loss way of eating is, whatever form our optimal maintenance way of eating will take, we have to become people who can stick to it. And people who can get back on it when we (hopefully increasingly rarely) fall off it.
In order to become that kind of person, I had to find my exact best way of eating, and even more importantly, I had to uncover and defeat my conflicting motivations. It’s not as hard to do as it sounds. At least it hasn’t been for me when I add faith into the mix. What’s hard about it is the willingness to do it.
No mysterious metabolic forces have made me gain weight like the doomsayers predict of post-low carb. Maybe that’s because I’m not post-low-carb. I’m still low carb. Previously, most years I couldn’t wear the same clothes from year to year because I’d gained weight. In the 2 1/2 years, I was losing weight, I rejoiced while working my way back down through the sizes. Now for the first time since childhood, I’m wearing my clothes out. I get rid of them as they get shabby, not as they don’t fit anymore. Except of course for the few things that have gotten too big…
And on another note: my favorite garment when I was over 200 pounds was a size 20 midcalf black leather skirt. To celebrate my second anniversary of maintenance yesterday, I went out and bought a size 6 black leather mini skirt. This 47-year-old butt and legs look pretty darn good in it.
208 in l996/135.5 and maintaining since 12/98
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