Well, I’ve had quite the wake up call this past week – literally. My doctor’s office called me at 7:55 AM on Wednesday to report back on my test results from the previous week’s checkup. I’ve had some health problems lately, nothing major or unexpected for my age, but feeling rundown and having gained some weight that one can’t get rid of with the usual routines is a red flag for anyone. As a routine matter of course my practitioner ran the usual checks on my blood: thyroid, iron, hormones, cholesterol…
I’ve been very lucky on that last one: there is a family history of high cholesterol on one branch of the tree and my entire life my levels have been low-normal. It’s easy to think those results meant one has escaped one’s genetic destiny either through good living – eating low carb, moderate physical activity and mostly keeping weight under control – or some luck of the draw. I know plenty of people who are thin and active who have high cholesterol, but I’ve attributed those problems to genetics and diet – mainly one high in sugar, processed foods, white flour, etc. which I’ve been studiously avoiding much of the last 10 years.
Er, well much of the last decade, except for those two years in the middle (akk – lets not go there, I’ve burned most of the photos) and the last 15 months when I have, if forced to admit it, been more off my eating plan than on it. That coupled with a lower activity level has put on the pounds. About 15-20 of them. No one to blame but myself, so Doristas take heart: since staring this blog and cooking out of Dorie’s book I’ve dropped about 3 pounds, something attributable to being more aware of what I’m putting into my body.
Wednesday morning all this “flexibility” came a callin.’ My bad cholesterol is up, way up and is contributing to a cholesterol level where in the words of my doctor, “I’d usually recommend medication.” It felt good to confess to her that I’d done wrong. That I’d driven myself right off the path into a dark woods filled with doughnuts, muffins, bread, rice, more bread, fried potatoes, movie popcorn, Halloween candy, gummy worms, mini-twix bars and all those other carb laden foods I had been so studiously avoiding. On the road more for my job this past year, eating fast food had become more routine (ugh). For quite some time I’d convinced myself that since I wasn’t eating much of this stuff, there was no problem. The problem, my readers, is that my body can’t handle it. The most success I’ve had in maintaining a healthy weight, good overall health profiles, energy and fitness levels has been on a low carb lifestyle, balanced out with the occasional splurge moderated by periods of very strict adherence. I asked my doc for a few months to get back on track and be re-tested. Given that this was the first evidence something was wrong, she agreed.
For a while now I’ve been toying with trying out a plan put together by doctors Mary Dan and Michael Eades, authors of the Protein Power books which D and I both used to lose more than 50 pounds. The Eades like to put a lot of science behind what they recommend, something both D and I appreciate in books on health. While I’ve not agreed with everything the Eades have put forward over the years, this plan appealed to me because it is intended to address “the middle-aged middle” with a 6-week routine. My middle has been creeping up a bit the last few years and given my age, I figured while disheartening, this was an inevitable part of aging. The Eades say no: while it may be the result of metabolism changes and poor eating habits, it can and SHOULD be addressed due to its impact on not only weight, but the health of the vital organs like the liver and heart. In addtion, like other low-carb plans this one also has the benefit of lowering cholesterol.
In a nutshell (although I don’t get to eat those for a few weeks, so maybe I should pick a better word…) it’s a carbohydrate restriction plan with 1) a protein-rich calorie control phase that allows a few more carbs and some dairy, but restricts what you eat to kick start fat-burning and weight loss especially in the abdomen, 2) a protein-centric phase that eliminates all grains, starches and dairy, while allowing for fats that fuel fat burning, and 3) a maintenance phase that allows you reintroduce things in moderation which have been banned in the first two phases, but only to point where you are maintaining your health and weight and only up to your metabolic tolerance. Given the additional weight I need to lose, and the health benefits I’m trying to achieve, after the 6 weeks I will likely stay in some modified version of weeks 3 and 4 since is likely this is going to be more like a 6 month plan and not a 6 week plan.
If you are interested in the Eades plan take a look at the book, as I’m only going to give a short overview. Read the reviews carefully as well: if you’ve never done low carb, I’m not sure I would recommend starting with this plan: it’s short and lacks the detail of their other books like Protein Power. Half the book is recipes – which are helpful if you have never cooked low-carb, but for the most part are quite simple. It assumes some existing knowledge and expects that you will do some research on your own especially when it comes to the supplements they recommend. The book was published in 2009 and some of the sources/supplies they recommend may not be available, or in some cases have expanded to so many options its difficult to make a choice about what to use. As with any plan, I believe following it 95% is better than not doing it at all.
The first two weeks, even for a regular low carber or dieter will require a level of discipline that many other diet plans deliberately ignore in order to assure you this won’t cause any discomfort and keep you on the plan. Honestly, I’ve never been hungry on a low carb plan, except for brief times when I was restricting calories for several months to reach my goal weight. The plan starts off with a phase similar to one I’ve used at the end: good levels of protien, but limited calories. No alcohol, no caffeine, no diet soda. No between meal snacks unless it’s one of three protein shakes. Yep, you heard correctly: one meal and three shakes a day for two weeks.
Weeks one and two started in earnest on Friday; Wednesday and Thursday I cut out all the carby junk, but I was eating regular meals. Starting Friday I switched to eating three whey protein shakes (two meals and a snack) and one regular meal of protein, vegetable and fruit, and sometimes a few starch carbs like a few wheat free crackers. I’ll be doing this for two weeks. The plan includes a host of supplements in addition to my regular ones. The focus of the additional minerals and plants seems to be on organ health especially liver detoxification, which makes sense given the liver’s role in regulating excess fat outside of the subcutaneous layers (foie gras anyone?). Figuring out what I needed to add took an evening of reviewing current supplements, tallying up what was missing and scouring the shelves of the local health store and the internet to make sure I had the right stuff on hand. Label reading is important as some supplements have added sugars or starches to make them more palatable.
Sounds simple. I’m on day three of the plan (day 5 of no cheats low carbing, but day 3 with the shakes) and I never realized how much I enjoyed the texture and act of eating real food! Don’t get me wrong – the shakes are great since the book gives you lots of ideas of calorie free flavorings to add to jazz up the monotony of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry protein powder. And protein powders have come a long whey (heh heh) since I started low carbing. They dissolve quickly in a shaker bottle, there are many options for sweeteners or lack thereof, and several come in flavors that taste like lemonade or fruit punch. Based on flavor mix-ins that I already had in my pantry, I’ve whipped up (literally in several cases as the blender is needed when you use fruit) “black forest”- a chocolate cherry combo, cappuccino caramel (beat that Starbucks), lemon cream pie, very berry (with my allotment of fresh fruit for the day), and turtle pecan sundae, among others.
At this point, it looks like I can work in some of the French Fridays recipes – clearly not the sweets and baked goods – but the ones with protein and vegetables. Since I only get one meal a day – any meal breakfast lunch or dinner, but only one – I’m cooking much less. When D cooks up meals, I need to find a distraction or leave the room. LOL. On the weekends, dinner or brunch are our big meals where we sit down together, so it makes sense to have one of those be the the solid food meal of the day. Last night I made an herbed chicken with some buttered brussels sprouts and I’m looking forward to steaks tonight. The Eades 6-week plan includes a recipe for lemon herb chicken, but I’ve been making one for many years, so here is my version, with onions added based on their recommendation for weeks 1 and 2.
Lemon Herb Marinated Chicken Legs
10 chicken drumsticks or thighs or a combination, with the skin on
*juice of two lemons
2-3 teaspoons of dried “Italian” seasoning or a combination of basil, oregano, parsley, marjoram, thyme and rosemary.
*3 cloves of garlic, chopped fine for about 1 Tablespoon.
*1/2 a large onion, cut in large slices or large crescents.
salt and pepper
2 Tablespoons of olive oil
Combine all the above ingredients in a bowl or plastic bag and marinate the chicken for two hours. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the chicken in a deep baking dish/casserole pan, pour the marinade including the onions over the chicken, and bake uncovered for about one hour. Depending on the size of your chicken legs, you may need an additional 15 minutes of baking time.
*Many low-carb plans restrict onions, garlic and lemons due to their higher carb count. This plan allows for non starchy vegetables of any type in the first 4 weeks, but restricts the amount you can eat to about 1/2 cup per meal serving. it allows some fruits and higher carb items like lemon juice due to their lower calorie content.