Many low carb eating plans leave you with the impression that you can eat any amount of food, as long as you don’t exceed a certain number of carbs, and lose weight. I suspect this is a conscious or unconscious counter-balance to the calories in/calories out model, where calories are ALL that matter. The low carb plans want to make clear that what different foods DO in the body is more important than how many calories they contain. Low carb plans in general suggest letting your appetite be your guide about how much to eat. But the appetite of insulin-resistant children and teens may not automatically adjust on a low carb eating plan.
For children and teens who have suffered the gnawing hunger of insulin resistance combined with a high-carb, Standard American Diet, it’s worthwhile to pay attention to how much they eat as well as what they eat, even on a low carb eating plan. Why? Because they are afraid of being hungry. They’ve been hungry a lot on the Standard American Diet, even if they were gaining weight all the while.
They can do fine, without hunger, on much less food if the carbohydrates are controlled. The extra energy they need is made up, without hunger, by using up stored fat. But they may not believe it at first. They may think if they don’t eat a giant breakfast they’ll be starving, and stuck, in the middle of 2nd period math. This is exactly what happened to Juliana on a low-calorie “balanced” eating plan.
So let’s compare a few approaches to limiting overall food intake. How much is enough? How much is too much? If you are controlling your carbs, have tried all their other suggestions for getting weight loss going, and are still not losing weight, the Atkins eating plan suggests counting protein units. The protein units come packaged with fat, without you having to count the fat. For example, one egg is one unit. It has approximately 7 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fat. 45 of 73 calories come from fat. For a 5’4″ woman, the protein range for weight loss on the Atkins eating plan is 10 to 17 units. That’s 3 to 4 units at 3 meals a day, and one or two 1 to 2 unit snacks. Eat more if you are not satisfied at meals; less if you are satisfied. (And remember to wait 20 minutes to determine if you are or are not satisfied).
In Living Low Carb, Jonny Bowden offers a formula: if you don’t have a really large amount of weight to lose, try multiplying your goal weight times ten to get the number of calories you can consume per day and lose appreciable weight. For Juliana, for a goal weight of 120, that would be 1200 calories per day.
So how would a typical day’s Atkins plan of counting protein units compare to Bowden’s equation in terms of total calories? Imagine these meals and snacks:
Breakfast: 2 eggs, 1 ounce cooked bacon, cauliflower roasted with oil
Snack: 1 ounce peanuts
Lunch: 3 ounce hamburger with 1/2 ounce melted cheese, broccoli, roasted with oil
Snack: 1 deviled egg
Dinner: 3 ounces roasted chicken, 1 cup green beans with 1 teaspoon butter
That’s 11.5 units on the Atkins eating plan, and about 1300 calories on the Bowden formula. Pretty close to the 1200 calories Bowden suggests for Juliana’s goal weight. By the way, 63% of the day’s total calories come from fat.
Fat is satiating, and the carbs that create rampant hunger are controlled. But a day’s meals and snacks are a much lower VOLUME of food than Juliana was used to eating before she started eating low carb. In her head, she has to get comfortable with the fact that she can eat so much less food AND NOT BE HUNGRY.
Kids and teens have less control over their lives than adults. They may overeat when the food is available in case it’s not available later. I can remember as a child eating as fast as possible so that my brothers wouldn’t gobble it up and leave nothing for me–the amount I ate didn’t always have a lot to do with appetite. And up until now, you may have been encouraging your child to limit her intake even if she was hungry. On a low carb plan, she shouldn’t be hungry. But now she’ll have to learn to recognize true hunger, and trust that if she is hungry, she can always eat.