A lesson in physics
I suppose that we could feel grateful for The Chrétien and Martin Laugh-in Show. It has successfully bumped the ad nauseam discussions of “our” obesity from front-page news, back into the lifestyle pages.
And if you thought that no one could sling mud like a politician, you haven’t been following the latest in the battle of the diet gurus. Most recently, there have been accusations that the founder of the Atkins diet was obese when he died from coronary complications last year. Ouch!
And so, it is with heavy heart that I find myself forced to take sides. The Atkins diet is making me gain weight! It’s true! As I watch my husband Jordan melt away on this low-carbohydrate diet I must report that keeping up with his diet is not only making me heavier, but sluggish and grouchy.
This may partially be explained by physics, which I profess was not my strong suit in university. It seems to me that there is a Law of Conservation of Matter, which states that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. It merely changes form. If this is the case, then all of the matter from Jordan’s belly has attached itself to my hips, and I am the one left walking up and down Norwich hill, trying to pound those unwanted atomic particles into the pavement. Meanwhile, Jordan continues to shed pounds apparently effortlessly. If I hear one more time about his “perfect health report card” and “body like a teenager” I’ll choke him.
For most of my post-university life, I have more or less followed the Canada Food Guide, a pyramid with a grain and carbohydrate base, narrowing to a protein apex. This, combined with regular exercise has kept me healthy, except for the occasional relapse into my stress-related pizza and beer diet, a diet perfected while in university.
I started the low-carb-high-protein thing as proof of my love and support for my husband. My fridge took on a decidedly new look. Where once it was bursting with fruits and vegetables and containers of assorted grain dishes, it was now brimming with cheeses, turkey and chicken sausages, cooked chicken breasts, low-carb salad dressings and steaks.
Packages of high-fibre couscous and pasta, once a staple, were collecting dust on my pantry shelves. I could no longer enjoy veggie burgers with multigrain buns; no more pilafs, stir fries with brown rice, or buckwheat noodles. I had traded my favourite flax cereal snack for cheese. When we ate out, I wouldn’t order anything that came in a bun. Fortunately, I had long ago given up french-fries, so at least I wasn’t going to have to suffer potato-deprivation. I wouldn’t have wanted to test the bonds of our relationship that far!
And then I started to enjoy not worrying about fat content. It was as though I had been given some divine license to eat fats and proteins with impunity, and although I am aware that this is not the true intent of the Atkins diet, I lost all control. It is not so much that I was eating all of these high-fat foods, but that they were displacing my usually high-fibre diet. I had flipped the Canada Food Guide completely upside-down.
I don’t fault low-carb diets entirely. They do serve two important purposes: the quick weight loss gives the dieter confidence and positive reinforcement and it also makes those who never before read ingredient lists, become more aware of what they are eating. Unfortunately, it is also creating a populace of carbo-phobics. Once the desired weight is achieved, they are terrified of putting carbohydrates back into their diets.
Even the Atkins people admit that for life-long maintenance, you need unrefined carbs. They have recently modified their pyramid by adding increasing amounts of good carbohydrates, proportionate to amount of exercise. Their food pyramid has now taken on a somewhat trapezoidal shape, but don’t quote me on that; geometry wasn’t one of my strong suits either.
I knew that I had to get my old diet back. Fortunately, this realization coincided with Jordan moving into the maintenance phase of the program. He is now ready to put whole grains and more carbohydrates back into his meals. I am again cooking all of my favourite grains and researching new ones. The bonus for me is that Jordan is now more willing to try new grain dishes. He knows that white bread and potatoes are not going to be coming back to our table. While we will still eat more proteins such as cheese and chicken than we were once used to, they will take a smaller role in our meal plans. I will be reaching again for a banana rather than a chunk of cheese as a post-exercise snack. We might even enjoy an occasional much-deserved thin-crust pizza with a beer.
Years ago, I discovered that the best diet is not going to help you maintain a healthy body unless you are willing to exercise. The Canada Food Guide and the Atkins diet agree in a few important ways: limit refined foods, fried foods, and white, fluffy carbohydrates. And ultimately, a healthy weight is directly proportional to your level of daily exercise.