A lifetime skill I wish to develop and maintain is cautious skepticism. That entails a willingness to periodically reevaluate systems, weigh evidence, and admit when one is wrong. If I can admit that I am wrong, I can take steps to living a more productive and meaningful life. Steeping oneself in rigid dogma is the antithesis to personal growth.
This time, I had to pivot with respect to my diet. For nearly two years I accepted research showing the benefits of low-carbohydrate diets. I bought into arguments around the optionality of carbohydrates and refined grains’ role in America’s obesity epidemic.
And for the first year, I actually enjoyed a majority low-carbohydrate diet with rewarding results. I was a 225 pounds and buff at the time, working out six-days-a-week with the express goal of becoming a bonafide mass monster.
However, when my shins and knees began aching following a short jog, I questioned the value of being big. What did I gain from carrying around this excess weight? Not much, I surmised. From there, I aimed to slim down.
At the time, a low-carbohydrate diet free of refined sugar and grains was in vogue. I hopped on like a serial fanboy and began to see results. In about six months, I lost 20 pounds. Relatives complimented my slimmer physique, especially in my face. I thought I had found the diet for me.
However, while I appreciated a leaner and meaner physique, I still enjoyed lifting weights and soon realized that my body was unhappy with my diet and exercise plan. My joins frequently hurt, I was taking unplanned days off, and felt generally weak and drained. I knew I could do better.
That was when I supplemented my diet with a cup of oat bran each day. I soon learned that relatively small infusion of carbohydrates vastly improved my body’s ability to recover. My lifts increased, my joints felt great, and I reveled in the ability to ramp up my physical activity.
Then I moved to Korea. Oats are hard to find in this rice-rich nation, so I largely fell out of eating carbs altogether. YouTube videos and books about low-carb lifestyles saturated my brain with dreams of weight loss (that I didn’t need) and (overrated) shredded-ness. I refused rice for school lunches, skipped fruit, and swore off the school-provided yogurt drinks as sugary fat traps.
However, although I was losing a little bit of weight and more-or-less felt healthy, one problem regularly reared its ugly head.
I have an incorrigible sweet tooth.
A desire for sweet-tasting food combined with a carbohydrate-depleted diet led to free-wheeling weekends of diet destruction. You have read about some of them in the past. Since moving to Korea, I have developed a near-abusive relationship with ho-tteok, Oreos, Tim Tams, waffles, Choco Pies, Reese’s Peanut Bars, and ice cream sandwiches.
This unhealthy relationship with food follows the same pattern. I would swear off the scrumptious sweeties, saying things like “I know you’re no good for me,” and “I know you’ll just hurt me again.”
“That was then,” Reese’s Peanut Bar would say. “This is now.”
“Why should I trust you?”
“Come on, just one taste. That’s it. We’ll be nice.”
“Well…maybe just one candy bar will be okay.”
Then my friend Soju enters the picture.
“Well, you already torched your diet today. What is the harm of having some more? The damage is done. There is no need to cry over spilled ice cream. Treat yourself. You deserve it.”
Before my inebriated brain can comprehend the sheer illogic of these statements, I exit a GS 25 with 2,000 calories of ice cream, cookies, and candy bars. I consume the entire confection greedily with little regard to my already alcohol-numb taste buds.
Then I wake up the next day.
“I can’t believe I ate the whole thing…again.”
There had to be a better way.
Fortunately, I switched to watching many fitness channels on YouTube for the past month. Many parrot the same information about weight loss.
“At the end of the day, calories in and calories out matter the most.”
“Sure, a low-carbohydrate diet can help people with obesity, epilepsy, or diabetes, but it is not a magical weight loss panacea.”
“You can lose weight on junk food as long as you simply monitor your energy intake and expenditure.”
One consistent problem in the fitness industry is people’s tendencies see results and slide into dogma.
“Just eat low-carb and you don’t have to count calories.”
“Just count calories and you can eat anything you want.”
“If it fits your macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats), then any food is fair game.”
“Vegan is the only way. Meat is poison.”
“Paleo is the only way. Wheat is poison.”
Most of these people fail to recognize the underlying practice undergirding each of these approaches.
They are monitoring what they eat.
Whether they pay attention to what they eat, how much they eat, or both, they are turning a mindful eye to their diet. This can make all the difference.
It was my turn to turn a mindful eye. I had unknowingly slipped into a low-carbohydrate dogma and failed to recognize that my dietary decisions were working against me. My sweetscapades were not a failure. The only failure was my inability to listen to my body’s cry for help.
So I adjusted. I researched more nutritional facts and decided that whole fruit could satisfy my sweet tooth with far fewer calories and far more water and fiber – crucial elements of food satiety. I began consuming more rice at school and sweet potato at home. I researched my TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) and found out my body needs an average of 3200 daily calories.
I concluded that my binges did not cause weight gain because I consumed calorie deficits on many days of the week. (Except for winter vacation. The scale was not kind to me after returning to work.)
With more complex carbohydrates in my diet, I feel an immense difference in my ability to work out. I feel less tired. Moreover, because I still enjoy intermittent fasting for 16 hours, I give my body plenty of time to digest food and lower my insulin. (A major argument of low-carbers is insulin control.)
However, most importantly, I have formed a healthier relationship with food. While I still try to avoid ice cream, candy bars, and street waffles most of the time, I do indulge once in a while. Moreover, I substitute whole fruit for sweet cravings whenever possible and celebrate it as a victory.
Dieting should not be temporary. It should be a lifestyle. This long-term approach yields two very helpful insights.
- By eliminating time limits, any small change can compound over time for huge results.
- It is never too late to change for the better.
Finally, this shift shepherded me back into scientific skepticism. While I will enjoy this more carb-friendly diet now, I will remember to listen to my body and make changes accordingly.
Photo Corner – School Lunch Edition
I cannot get over the vast difference I see between Korean and American school lunches. As I continue to count my calories, I take photographs of my school lunch each day. Also, I am running dry on pictures. Hopefully, I will take some more during Nightmare’s birthday weekend in Suncheon. Until then, bon appetit.
Here we have udon noodles with pressed fishcake, two small plain kimbap (seaweed-wrapped rice), radish kimchi, pickled radishes, chili garlic soybean sprouts. and a banana.
This time it’s white rice and roasted laver with more radish kimchi, cabbage kimchi, boiled chicken with sweet potato, a soybean sprout soup, and some orange slices.
My favorite meals have good protein and plenty of vegetables. This time we ate white rice, soybean miso soup, beef bulgogi, baked egg squares, and kimchi.
Again, good protein and vegetables – white rice, eggdrop soup, cooked spinach, kimchi, roasted duck, and a slice of Korean melon to polish it off.
One of my favorite weekly meals is bibimbap (a bowl of ingredients mixed with rice). Today, the bibimbap had soybean sprouts, lettuce, and scrambled eggs. A seaweed soup, some dried shredded fish, and some stir-fried greens completed this epic meal.
Today we have more vegetable miso soup, some more duck, rice with roasted laver, kimchi, orange slices, and the notorious spicy octopus and green onion concoction that possibly gave me severe indigestion last semester.