Plan ahead, and pack your meals

We have a busy family life with lots of activities.  I used to pack low-calorie high-carb meals.  Now I pack low-carb meals.  The packing hasn’t changed, but the planning has.

For a teenager, you always want snacks in the fridge she can grab and eat.  Juliana’s favorites are crust-less quiche (eggs, sausage, broccoli, sometimes cheese); and deviled eggs (boiled eggs, slice in half, mash the yolks with mayo, salt, pepper, and if you have time, home-cooked bacon bits).  Cheese and salami, or cheese and turkey, or cheese and your favorite deli meat (make sure it’s low carb, many aren’t!) roll ups are also a good option.  Juliana doesn’t like nuts, but if your child does, almonds are a great option.  Roasted salted are ok, rather than raw, but don’t overdo it–an ounce of almonds is a good-size snack.  They are easy to overeat if your child likes salty crunchy snacks.

For lunch, I usually pack last night’s dinner leftovers, reheated in the microwave and sent in a thermos pack.  I make sure to cook enough the night before that I’ll have lunch ready to go the next day.  With a couple of deviled eggs for snack time.  And two quart bottles of water.

If you’re on the road at dinner time, it’s the same drill.  Quiche is a really easy thing to pack for dinner, because it has a good balance of fat, protein, and carbohydrate (mostly from low carb vegetables) in one compact package.

If you do have to eat out, it’s a lot easier to eat out low carb than low calorie in a restaurant.  I don’t recommend a fast food hamburger (minus the bun and ketchup) because the quality of the meat is so low, but in a pinch, even that will do, perhaps with a fast-food salad on the side (skip the high-carb dressing).

Soccer practice–a whole new experience

Juliana has shed about 22 pounds from her highest weight.  I suspect she will lose 30 more, so she’s still carrying around a lot of excess weight.  Nonetheless, however, she can run faster than she ever has before and has a new level of stamina.  She just started soccer practice for the fall American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) season.  She was astonished by how much energy she had.

On a low carb eating plan, she can run hard the whole practice, and not worry about depleting her limited available energy.  Why is this so?

Carbohydrates require insulin to be processed by the body.  But insulin is also the fat storage hormone–it directs the body to store energy as fat.  In Juliana (and other people who can’t tolerate much carbohydrate), eating more than a minimal amount of carbohydrate causes so much insulin release that most of the energy in the food she consumes gets sequestered in fat cells, rather than being available for Juliana to use on physical activity.

This explanation of fat sequestration robbing the individual of usable energy made a lot of sense when I read it in Gary Taubes‘ “Good Calories, Bad Calories.”  (See: Taubes, Gary (2007-09-25). Good Calories, Bad Calories (Kindle Locations 7584-7587). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

It explained Juliana’s history of not wanting to move–I went to great lengths to keep her physically active.  It wasn’t just that she loves to read (although she does), it was that she had very little energy to move because her body was storing most of it as fat.

This year is her first soccer season ever at a normal energy level.  She is jazzed!

Not getting fat because she’s lazy, but lazy because she’s getting fat

We all associate overweight people with low energy, and there’s a good reason for this.  But it’s not the reason you think.  People don’t get fat because they don’t move much; they don’t move much because they are getting fat.  The energy they could use to be active is being diverted to storage as fat.  The culprit is insulin, which is released mostly in response to eating carbohydrate, much less so in response to eating protein or fat.

When you are a parent, this lethargic behavior is extremely frustrating.  I remember vividly once when Juliana was about 9 and we were on vacation and she didn’t move from the couch all day.  I actually remember wondering what was wrong with her.  She wasn’t sick, but she didn’t look like she felt well.  At 3 in the afternoon I insisted that she go outside and do something, anything.  She didn’t want to.  I had to really push her, and I was trying to hide my anger as I did it.  Eventually she did so, reluctantly.

Now I know that going outside and moving was actually a huge effort for her, because she didn’t have much energy for motion.  It was mostly being stored in fat cells.

Can a child be a low carb vegetarian or vegan?

Can I be a low carb vegan?  Short answer:  No.

How about a low carb lacto-ovo vegetarian?  Possibly, but really difficult.

Most of the low carb eating plans I’ve seen suggest that you can be a vegetarian or even a vegan.  I frankly don’t think this is really realistic even for an adult.  But for a child, a low carb vegetarian eating plan may be setting them up for failure.

There is a dizzying array of high carb food available–most of the food in the supermarket is high carb.  The cereal aisle.  The pasta and rice aisle.  The baking aisle.  The chips and crackers aisle.  The cookie aisle.  The bakery department.  The juice and soda aisle.  When you switch to low carb, your universe of acceptable food shrinks.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that many of the choices are foods you might have wanted to eat but usually didn’t:  pork bacon, steak, cheeseburgers.  At first, the new eating plan is great.  Bacon, again?  Why Not?  After a while, though, you have to get creative with your meal planning.  No one wants to eat cheeseburgers three meals a day.

Now imagine the only protein and fat sources available to you are eggs, cheese and cream, and some tree nuts.   (In my opinion, substituting highly processed soy products, like tofu and tempeh, for animal-based protein is not a good idea).  Try to come up with 3 meals a day where most of your calories come from those fat and protein sources.  You can eat nut butter, but remember you can’t spread it on bread.  Yes, there are a lot of ways to prepare eggs, but probably not enough to keep your child on the eating plan.

My coach at my gym put it well while giving a nutrition talk.  She said she likes animals, and she doesn’t really want to eat animals, but she needs protein and fat, so she does.

Who is Gary Taubes?

Gary Taubes is a science writer who reports and writes about issues of public health, nutrition, and diet.  He wrote two books that completely changed how I thought about Juliana’s overweight, and what we did about it.

Good Calories, Bad Calories is an exhaustively researched and documented history and analysis of obesity research and public policy about nutrition over almost 200 years, that is nonetheless an engaging read.  The book documents that carbohydrates used to be widely recognized as uniquely fattening, and how and why that changed in the years leading up to the push in the 1980s to get Americans to eat high-carb, low-fat diets.

In response to requests from readers for a shorter book they could hand out to family and friends, Taubes wrote “Why We Get Fat and What to Do About it.”  It’s the Cliffs Notes version of “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” and is a great place to start learning about low carb eating.

Visit Taubes’ website.