In the ever-expanding world of diets and weight loss tips the two prevailing types of diets are either calorie restriction diets or low carb diets.  While a low carb diet if done correctly is also reduced in calories, the focus of the diet is less in cutting calories than it is about cutting carbohydrates (sugar and starch).  There are many existing models of the low carb diet plan, two examples including the Atkins Diet and the Scarsdale Diet.  While both diet were put forth by doctors, both of them are now seen as commercial diets.

The reason low carb diets play so prominently in weight loss theory is the way in which starches and sugars are converted into fat.  While carbohydrates are the body’s chief source of fuel, the body conserves (saves) what it doesn’t use.  Any sugar or starch will raise a person’s blood sugar.  The hormone insulin is released to lower blood sugar levels back to healthy levels.  While numbers vary by individual doctors it is generally agreed that a fasting blood sugar level of less than 100 is healthy, while the blood sugar two hours after a meal should be around 120.  The sugar that insulin pulls out of the blood is converted into fat.  Hence, the less carbohydrates eaten, the less sugar and insulin in the blood, and the less fat is produced.

High insulin levels also cause other serious health issues, among them  Type II Diabetes.  Type II diabetes is a condition in which the body does not produce enough insulin or in that the body has become too resistant to insulin.  One of the chief causes of insulin resistance is obesity, though certain illnesses can also contribute.  The bottom line is that the body loses its natural ability to process carbohydrates.  While a commercial low carb diet might be used for weight loss, in the treatment of Type II diabetes or pre-diabetes (insulin resistance) a low carb diet becomes medically necessary.  Take for instance the following account of Thomas, who was put on a low carb diet by his doctor in order to control his blood sugar.

I was 27 years old, 6 foot tall and 240 pounds.  I didn’t even know that I had pre-diabetes except for the fact that I got sick and they caught it in the hospital.  My recovery was long and slow and for a time my blood sugar was managed by glipizide, a prescription used to trigger more insulin production.  With my blood sugar responding well to medication my doctor said she thought we had a good chance of controlling my high blood sugar through careful diet and exercise.  But first that meant losing the weight and that meant I would be playing by a different set of dietary rules than what I was used to.

My doctor told me to record my blood sugar four times per day, and to start a food journal of everything I ate.  This journal had to include portion size, calories, and the nutritional break down of protein, carbohydrates, fiber, fat, and sodium.  The restrictions were simple enough to understand but difficult to follow.  I was placed on a calorie restriction of 1400 calories, with carbohydrate restrictions of 40 grams in the morning, 30 grams in the afternoon, and 20 grams in in the evening.  The rules meant two things; I would have to count the carbohydrates and I would have to plan out my meals.  In addition to the diet it was recommended I added 30 minutes to an hour of cardio per day.

I found out quickly how dense most foods are in carbohydrates.  I found out that a serving of carbohydrates counts as 15 grams, and I was restricted to 6 servings per day, or 360 calories.  Put in perspective the RDA allowable for the typical diet allows for 130 grams of carbohydrates per day, while the FDA (%DV) places that cap at 300 grams.  Either way I found my eating habits began to change.  Gone were the days of regular pop, a bag of potato chips or even a baked potato were sinful indulgences.  I got used to eating salads and more vegetables.  Eggs became a staple and peanut butter was a life saver. 

My doctor didn’t chastise me when I went over on the calories or the carbohydrates; she simply encouraged me to try harder and told me she hoped I enjoyed that bowl of peach cobbler even if it did cause a 30-point spike in my blood sugar.  But she was also the person who broke the good news to me several months down the road when I was no longer on medication and my A1C (average blood sugar over six months) was still in the healthy range. No more pills, no more diet.  I was given a clean bill of health and told that so long as I maintained a healthy weight and a balanced diet that I wouldn’t need medication or insulin to control my blood sugar.  In reality, that 40-30-20 diet was the first diet I had ever been placed on, and it dropped me down to 195.  But it sure felt good to come to the end of it with the sense that I had regained control of my life and that I wasn’t doomed to repeat the mistakes that sent me down that road in the first place.

In the case of people like Thomas, getting to a healthy weight was done under a doctor’s care, though many people wanting to avoid that same road choose to diet and control their weight before it takes control of them.  According to Thomas he felt hungry on the diet most of the time and that when he did overdo it on the carbohydrates that savoring them, almost letting them melt on the tongue and eating them very slowly was one of the ways to prevent an all-out binge.  The long term goals of getting a clean bill of health also kept the short term sacrifices in perspective.  And while this doctor prescribed low carb diet might be more restrictive than some and the primary focus was blood sugar control, weight loss is still the goal and end result of any nutritionally balanced low carb diet.