When I ate a vegetarian diet, I was heavier

As a former, 18-year vegetarian, the information about carbohydrates was very surprising. Being a vegetarian entails eating even more carbohydrates than an omnivore, and I considered that eating plan to be super healthy. When I thought back, however, I realized that I had generally been heavier as a vegetarian than I was as an omnivore. I weighed more in college than I did after having three children.

I thought about our efforts on the Packard program. Juliana and I had gone heavily into a plant-based eating plan as a way of eliminating reds. We ate a lot of bean soups, with a small amount of meat for flavoring. I went even further in that direction then Juliana, adopting an “Eat to Live” style diet in which one eats mountains of vegetables and fruit.

I also, in accordance with the red/yellow/green system, stopped eating any dessert.  I lost 3 or 4 pounds over a month. I had noticed that while I was satisfied enough after eating a mountain of vegetables, I really, really craved the whole wheat pita bread with lowfat cheese I had alongside it.  It wasn’t a particularly yummy carb, whole wheat pita bread, but my body was acting like it was chocolate cake.  Hmmm…what was it about carbs?

Her grandfather had type II diabetes

I also remembered that Juliana’s grandfather, although healthy overall and not overweight when I knew him (he had been heavier when he was younger), developed diabetes in his 70′s, a few years before he died.  He was able to control it without medication by limiting his carbohydrate intake to less than 200 grams a day.

Type 2 diabetes doesn’t just appear overnight–it’s the end result of an ongoing process.  A person is classified as diabetic when their insulin response crosses a certain threshold.  But before it crosses that threshold it’s been approaching it for years.  And the stimulus that creates the insulin reaction is carbohydrate.

Juliana’s grandfather’s diabetes was a further clue that Juliana could be predisposed to carbohydrate sensitivity.  The effect of carbohydrate sensitivity is more insulin production in the body for the same amount of carbohydrate relative to a non-sensitive individual.  More insulin production causes weight gain.   If you or your child’s other parent is overweight, or his or her siblings or parents; or your siblings or parents; or if there is type 2 diabetes in either family even if no one is overweight, these are further indications that your child may have a low tolerance for carbohydrates.

In Overeater’s Anonymous, they eat no flour

Around the same time I talked to a friend who was doing the Over Eaters Anonymous program.  She said she ate nothing with the word flour in it, and in talking to her it was clear that she ate few grains overall.  She said that in OA they talk about being “in the sugar,” where one is craving carbohydrate rich foods and can’t stop eating them.

I have 3 kids but only 1 is overweight

Taubes‘ books also explained why, although I had 3 children who were offered the same food, only one of them was overweight.  They explained why a child could be overweight even while eating the recommended 5 to 9 servings of vegetables and fruit a day.  While not drinking soda, juice, or even milk–just water.  While not eating fast food.  While virtually never eating out at all.  While rarely eating dessert. While being physically active.

Insulin: The Fat Storage Hormone

Gary Taubes explains that in any basic biology textbook, insulin is known as the fat storage hormone.  Its job is to direct your fat cells to store energy as fat.  If you produce more insulin than your neighbor from ingesting the same amount of food, you will also store more of that food energy as fat.

Carbohydrate provokes the release of insulin, in some individuals more insulin than in others for the same amount of carbohydrate.  That is why two people can eat the same food and exercise the same amount and one can gain weight while the other doesn’t.

It gets worse.  Call the weight gainer Jim and the weight maintainer Steve.  Jim will be hungry sooner than Steve.  Why?  Most or all of the energy in the food Jim just ate will have been tidily stored away in fat cells, instead of being available for Jim to use.  Jim will feel hungry again in response to the lack of energy.

Jim will also feel tired, because the food energy has been sequestered in fat cells rather than remaining available for use.

Protein and fat do not provoke insulin production to nearly the same extent as carbohydrate.  The energy that is eaten is not stored as fat; it remains available for use.  Controlling insulin production is the key to better energy and a healthy weight.  And the key to controlling insulin production is controlling carbohydrate intake.

Taubes concludes that the logical eating plan for weight control (and a host of other health benefits I haven’t described here) is one that limits carbohydrates to much lower levels than the USDA-approved Standard American Diet.