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What I Learned From Diet Breaks, Free Meals and Refeeds

Posted Apr 25 2012 1:51pm

(This is part 7 of a multi-part series on How to Tweak a LowCarb Diet . It explains the path I have traveled in my weight loss journey so far. If you didn’t read part 1, you can do so by clicking on the how-to link. For part 2, see My First Attempt at Tweaking . Part 3 discussed Atkins versus Kimkins . Part 4 talked about my first experience with a Low Fat Low Carb Diet . Part 5 explained what a Protein Sparing Modified Fast is, and my experience with a liquid diet plan. In Part 6, I learned why it was important for me to take a full diet break .)

My diet break obviously refilled my glycogen stores, since I was eating more carbohydrates, but that wasn’t a surprise. I was okay with the eight-pound weight regain because everything happened exactly as Lyle McDonald said it would. Although each of us have the potential to hold different amounts of glycogen in our liver and muscles, there was no reason to believe those eight pounds were fat.

I was used to inputting everything I ate into Fitday, and that didn’t stop during my break, so it was easy to keep tabs on my daily calorie count. That helped to keep me zeroed into maintenance. Overall, my complete diet break went well, except that I took my husband’s suggestion and enjoyed a full month off from dieting that December rather than the two weeks I had originally planned.

What I learned during that time was that as long as I didn’t go over my maintenance level of calories – about 2300 calories per day to maintain 180 pounds – once my glycogen stores refilled, my weight stayed stable. I did not gain back my weight, even though I was not following a low carb protocol. Granted, this was only for a short period, one month, but I saw no reason why a lengthier diet break would have made a difference as far as weight regain. I was learning quickly that the bodybuilding community knew what they were talking about.

However, I was hesitant when it came to consistent free meals and refeeds. That went totally against low carb theory, but I wasn’t the only one at Low Carb Friends who was doing the Rapid Fat Loss Diet. There were several of us experimenting with those principles. I found that particularly helpful because as we each weighed ourselves daily and posted those numbers, we could see the water weight fluctuations that occurred from free meals and refeeds and how those fluctuations affected us similarly.

The diet was pretty much what I had done before: very lean meats, protein shakes and veggies. It did have some major differences though. Protein intake depended on the amount of lean body mass you have and the type of activity (aerobic vs weight lifting) you planned to do. Generally, for the average non-bodybuilder low carber, protein needs are about 1 gram per pound of lean body mass. That would place my protein consumption at around 100 grams of protein per day.

Bodybuilders generally use 1-1/2 grams of protein per pound of lean muscle mass. I was doing a small amount of weight lifting around that time, in addition to about 20 minutes of aerobics, and wanted to error on the side of caution – so I upped my protein to 120 grams. I took six extra-strength fish oil capsules per day for essential fatty acids and ate two servings of low-fat cottage cheese. One in my protein shake, and one just before going to bed.

I was also eating more calories and carbohydrates during this period than I was on my modified Kimkins plan, and more than most of the other women at Low Carb Friends were eating. I ate around 1200 calories and 35 grams of carbohydrates, mostly in the form of fibrous vegetables. I did use a little soy sauce, some sugar-free maple syrup, and fresh ginger for marinades to keep my chicken breast tolerable and I used sugar free catsup or mustard to top my burgers.

In addition, Lyle has a strict policy regarding how long you can stay on the plan. This was one of the most important aspects I learned about crash dieting. Taking a maintenance break was opposite to the way Kimmer did things, but my experience with that complete diet break taught me it was best.

I was still quite heavy for my five-foot frame, so I could stay on the program for as long as 12 weeks before I had to take a mandatory two-week diet break. However, about three or four weeks into the diet, I started having what appeared to be severe hypoglycemia attacks. Since I didn’t know what to do about them, I moved to maintenance sooner than I hoped and stayed there for several weeks – allowing my body to recover from whatever was going on.

I tried to return to a low carb diet several times, but my metabolism started crashing much quicker than before. My body wasn’t handling ketosis very well anymore, and I started to experience a reoccurrence of some intestinal issues and nerve inflammation I’d had before I first started the Atkins’ Diet in 2007. In addition, I started having heart palpitations and pain. Now, the easy explanation for all of this was increased insulin due to the refeeds, which many well-meaning low carbers threw at me, but that’s not what it turned out to be. Refeeds do not cause explosive diarrhea and intestinal inflammation.

I am a big believer that nothing happens by accident. Our journey takes us where we need to be at that moment. That’s why I have a more laid back attitude in regards to the whole Kimkins thing. Somewhere around this time, someone discovered that the photos Kimmer had posted of herself at Low Carb Friends and at her website were fake. They were not pictures of her at all. She had never used her own diet plan to lose any weight.

This was a big deal for many low carbers, and they felt angry about her deception, but since many of her dieting principles had saved me from a life of obesity and pain, I took a backseat approach to it all. Mostly, because her size and deception didn’t invalidate what I had learned about myself.

The other thing I was introduced to during this period was wheat intolerance. There were a handful of women doing refeeds at the Beyond Low Carb forum, who had to use carb sources other than wheat. Instead of loading up on breads and cereals, they ate brown rice and sweet potatoes because when they ate wheat, they became inflamed, sick and unable to lose weight. That really struck home with me, and I began investigating the potential for food intolerances and allergies to affect weight.

One of the first things I did was to begin checking my blood glucose levels myself, such as Dr. Bernstein recommends, because I’d been diagnosed with pre-diabetes many years ago. My glucose readings were not at diabetic levels, but high enough to cause Neuropathy. That pointed to metabolic problems, but the solution wasn’t as easy as most low carbers would think because even simple vegetables like zucchini or a meal with absolutely no carbohydrate content were sending my glucose levels high enough to cause nerve damage. Even a two-week return to the Atkins Induction Diet sent my blood sugar soaring.

For me, the problem turned out to be gluten, not carbohydrates, and strangely enough, I owe that discovery to Kimmer and my modified Kimkins Diet. That’s another reason why I’ve remained neutral throughout all of the Kimkins controversy. If I had not gone on that modified Kimkins Diet, I would never have figured out my health problems. I would still weigh over 200 pounds, and I would still be in pain and sick.

On the Kimkins plan, I was eating gluten and dairy free. I felt good. I experienced no hunger. I had no blood glucose issues. So I took that realization and implemented it into my maintenance diet. Surprisingly, when I eliminated all forms of gluten, my blood glucose levels corrected themselves provided I kept within a particular carbohydrate margin. That margin (when compared to low carb dieting) was high: 20 to 40 grams of carbohydrates per meal always resulted in normal blood glucose control.

Later on, that margin widened considerably when I also removed dairy. In fact, as long as I was eating absolutely no gluten or dairy (a GFCF Diet) I could even eat a piece of gluten free chocolate cake and see no rise in blood sugar levels above 95 mg/dl. So my experiences with low carb eating, diet breaks and refeeds have differed from the norm.

I don’t know how my body would respond to refeeds now that I’ve eliminated all of my food intolerances including corn. The refeeds were not what I was focused on then. While many low carbers turned to refeeds because it gave them an opportunity to eat many of the foods they had been missing, my focus has always been on my health and what works for me. However, I still had one more major lesson to learn about weight loss, low carb diets and sustainability.
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