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A Little Bit of Maintenance Reality

Posted Jun 03 2009 2:51pm
With all of the mis- and dis-information being presented these days in regards to maintenance, and how to do it properly, I thought I'd revisit some of Dr. Atkins' ideas today. Because it has relevance for even those of us who aren't there yet.
Since I like the Atkins '72 plan better than the 2002, I decided to read that maintenance chapter first. Then also took the time to read what those initial recommendations for maintenance have evolved into. The changes were only slight. So I'll only note the differences when applicable.

To begin with, the bottom line of maintenance isn't any different from Induction or the on-going weight loss phase. The idea is to control one's insulin levels. To watch for the signs and symptoms of hyperinsulinism returning. So you don't really need a scale to tell you when you've over done the carbs, because you'll generally begin craving them.

Now you might not recognize that urge to eat something sweet, more and more often, as craving or addiction, but that's still what it is. And it's a deadly place to find yourself in, if you're trying to maintain your current losses. Because it's soooo easy to rationalize why you think you need those extra carbs, and what those extra carbs are doing to your current maintenance levels.

Which is why Dr. Atkins in all of his plans to date has specifically set a 5-pound ceiling on any weight regained. In '72 his advice was to weigh daily. In 2002, his advice changed to weighing weekly. But the purpose was/is still the SAME. To keep weight maintenance in top priority. To keep weight regain uppermost in our minds. And to help us DO something about it....pronto. Whether that be today, because we're weighing daily, or within a week.

The Atkins plan was NEVER about making excuses and justifications for why our weight is on an upward trend. The Atkins plan is, and always has been, about maintaining CONTROL over our eating. Control over our weight. And especially control over our lifestyle choices. So every pound of weight we regard is statistically significant. In fact, it's an inviolable rule that we take maintenance seriously enough to use that 5-pound ceiling.

So often it's our rebellious mindset that needs to be addressed. Because "any" level of fatness is a serious symptom of disease. Metabolic disorder is a very real syndrome. And ignoring the situation, or pretending that it doesn't exist, or thinking that it's somehow magically healed itself, (or will), won't make health happen. Because metabolic issues cannot be cured, they can only be controlled. And that controlling takes serious effect and attention on our part.

The way we release insulin will always be different from someone who's never had metabolic issues. That is a fact. We can't eat like those folks, and expect to remain thin. Because metabolic syndrome is permanent.

Now a lot of folks will stabalize at their ideal weight level, without a whole lot of effort. But that's because they've figured out just how many carbs it takes to keep their weight at that level. Skipping carbs has become second nature to them. In fact, they're more likely to be eating far below their critical level for maintenance, rather than trying to eat as many carbs as they can get away with, and not gain.

For others, weight maintenance is a serious struggle. Usually because it's hard to wrap our brains around the idea that our critical carb level doesn't always stay the same. At different times in our lives, it changes. Especially as we age. We become more and more insulin resistent. At which time we begin to GAIN weight, even though we're eating the way we always have.
Or we find themselves in the pit of carb creep. Crossing over our own personal threshhold, where the appetite is stimulated by those excess carbs. At which time, we find ourselves wanting them more and more.

Now the answer to maintenance struggle is pretty much the same. You have to LOWER your current carb level, and quite often return to Induction levels, or even less. Because if you're struggling to maintain your weight, whatever you're currently doing isn't working. So the idea is to return to the basics. Return to what gets our insulin levels and cravings for carbs under control. Learn how to conquer those former bad habits, and learn how to cope with real-world challenges.

We can't do that if we're hungry. We can't do that if we're craving carbs. If we're constantly giving into our addictions and food sensitivites. If we're ignoring our current weight gains and justifying them by calling them statistically insignificant. We can't do that if we're proclaiming to the world that we are following and living a "healthy" low-carb lifestyle -- IF WE ARE NOT!

In the 2002 version of the Atkins Maintenance plan, Dr. Atkins reveals what he considers to be a serious flaw in how a lot of people approach maintenance:

"I have worked with too many overweight individuals who have reached their goal weight four or more times, only to gain back the pounds every time. Their fatal flaw: always trying to return, as closely as they could without giving up Atkins altogether, to their old way of eating." (2002 edition, pg. 210)

WHERE do we see this?

In low-carb products and junk food...do we not? In low-carb recipe forums where folks are always trying to IMITATE their favorite foods. Trying to return, as Dr. Atkins warns, as closely as they can to their old way of eating. Rather than clearing their lives of the clutter of excess carbs, and gaining true health, they cling to their low-carb goodies and snack cakes. They cling to their comfort foods. And they ignore Dr. Atkins advice to binge on protein/fat if you gotta.

In '72, Dr. Atkins clearly made the reader promise to use his 5-pound upper limit for the rest of their lives. The promise being to return to Induction that very day. But I guess few folks were willing to do that, because in the 2002 version, that 5-pound upper weight regain limit is stressed over and over and over again. Many, many times. In fact, he even goes so far as to say "do NOT go back to Lifetime Maintenance without first losing all you have regained." (p. 214)

ALL OF IT!!!

And Dr. Atkins also goes on to say that in his experience, in his clinical practise, those who fail to maintain their current level of weight, are those who do not do that. They do not return to Induction at the first sign of trouble. They make excuses for themselves. They rationalize away their weight gain. They allow one circumstance to follow after another (holidays, birthdays, parties, or whatever), until eventually they are right back where they started. Or even worse.

So WHAT is the problem?
WHY don't most folks listen to the counsel that Dr. Atkins gives?
WHY do we think we can override our body's elevated insulin warning signs?

And most importantly, WHY do we think that if we keep doing what we're currently doing, (eating excess carbs), that things will somehow magically correct themselves? Somewhere further down the line?

Now I realize that a 5-pound upper limit is an arbitrary number. My own personal number is 10. Because 8 lbs is how much water/glycagen I've always replaced when first moving to maintenance -- before everything stabilizes. So don't get caught up in the actual number per se. Think in terms of the idea, whether it be 5 lbs or 10.

As we age, we get less proficient in using insulin. We get more insulin resistant. That is a fact. And interestingly enough, Dr. Atkins in the 2002 version clearly states that our consideration for maintenance levels of carbs shouldn't be how many carbs can we eat and still maintain our weight. It should be more along the lines of how we feel. What level of carbs do we feel best on? Because most people feel better at lower carb levels.

In fact, the average male, according to Dr. Atkins, will begin to GAIN weight right around the 60 carb level. With 50 carbs per day about the average for maintenance.

"Your best carb level is the one one which you can be happiest and healthiest without experiencing cravings or regaining weight."

So while it still all boils down to individuality, (what level of carbs keeps the cravings and excess hunger away), there are guidelines we can use to keep ourselves from having to repeat history. Having to start over from scratch.

The first one being to take a good look at ourselves. Where we are right now. And where we want to go. If we're gaining weight, then we have exceeded our current critical level of carbs, irregardless of whether or not we're eating the exact same way we've always eaten. The same way we ate when we loss "X" number of pounds. If we're maintaining, then we're at our critical level of carbs for maintaining.

It just that simple.

Course....I keep hearing that Taubes says in his book that there are "some" who have damaged themselves metabolically to the point where weight loss all the way to goal weight (at any carb level) is impossible. But that can also become a dangerous row to tow. Because until you've lowered your carbs, removed everything sweet from your daily menus, given up all low-carb products, and everything you are allergic/sensitive too, gotten rid of everything that increases insulin levels, you won't ever KNOW if you are standing in your own way of total success. Settling instead for something less.
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