My Dietary Story
2018 July 11
By Gregg Sheehan
In which Gregg 'changes up' his (and his wife's) dietary strategy, based on logical thought and plausible mechanisms, to lose some weight and gain some health. This is all based on what is plausible (to Gregg) as the most efficient way of eating that we have evolved to. That is, giving us the nutrients we have evolved to require, in the smallest and most cost-effective package we can achieve. While the journey started as low carbohydrate, it has, for Gregg, become more 'zero plant' or perhaps 'carnivore' over the last 3 years.
Currently, in 2018, I'm 64 years old and on no medications. All my life I've been a reader and a thinker. As a lateral thinker I found myself challenged at school to the point of hating school intensely. Looking back, I have come to the conclusion that my 'different' way of thinking and analyzing a challenge generally meant that my first (and most obvious) solution was not the one that the teacher was expecting - at which time I found I had to put in extra effort to come up with the vertical answer they required. As an adult I found myself frequently 'at odds' with people who couldn't see things the same way as me. In many cases I found myself unable to communicate my way of thinking to them because it was so totally alien to the way they were thinking.
I've never been a fan of doing repetitive boring work or tasks and have generally searched and thought out the most efficient way of doing things - even if this has meant spending far more time on the effort than simply getting on with the job. Technology has been a long awaited and welcome advance for me - from my first calculator back in 1972 to my first PC in 1987 - each advance has brought me some new avenues to explore in making 'work' more effortless and automatic. Even something as basic as inputting my golf score to an app on my portable device, rather than manual recording and addition by pencil on a piece of card, appeals to me to a great degree.
Therefore, when my wife and I arrived at 2013, 15-20 kg each over our ideal weight, I saw this as a challenge to be solved and went about solving it in my long-accustomed manner - reading and thinking.
At the outset it was always going to be about the easiest and most efficient solution.
We had arrived at our state of obesity gradually over perhaps the last 30 years. From the age of 15 to 30 I had been a heavy smoker - as had my parents. I think that this helped curb any hunger and could go for hours without food - although I always had heavily sweetened beverages. When I did eat, I was always happy to eat the usual foods I'd been brought up on in the 60s - plenty of meat and potatoes. My favourite foods were roasted meat and potatoes and deep-fried battered fish and chips (fries to the Americans). I had also been happy to use the cream from the top of the milk on my cereals and desserts - later this simply turned to buying straight cream for the purpose. (Cream in New Zealand is 35% fat.) None of this seemed to be doing me any harm through my early years - until I gave up smoking at 30. Until that point I had maintained a weight of 8.5 stone (119lb). Within three months of quitting, I gained 3 stone (42lb), largely because I found myself wanting to do something with my mouth - and that something seemed to involve munching potatoes (either in crisp or fried form).
I saw my weight escalating and made an attempt to join a gym - thinking that was the common way to get back a shape I once had. Within about 3 months I decided I was gaining muscle but didn't like the effort of the gym - more particularly the 10 minutes of warm-up on a stationary cycle - I just found it tedious. (Many years later I found that other people have decided that the 'warm-up' isn't so necessary and have dispensed with it - but in those days my gym instructor was insistent that I 'needed' to do the warm-up. Therefore I lost interest and just went about life as best I could - without the expense of joining a gym.)
After that I guess I just gradually climbed up to my eventual weight of 90 kg (198 lb), as did my wife. We looked at each other, and while still generally healthy, we were finding it a bit harder to get around and had less flexibility. We wanted to do something to stop the advance of our weight gain. So I decided to consult 'uncle Google'.
Within a few hours, I'd looked at what people were doing to get healthy and decided that the most promising candidate was LCHF, (low carbohydrate, high fat). It seemed to have the advantage of leaving in most of my favourite foods and requiring no exercise. It would mean, however, that I would have to cut out bread and potatoes and Coca Cola - plus a few lesser things. We were willing to give it a bit of a trial - the biggest hurdle being that up until then we had taken turns in the kitchen and that had meant no consistency. I agreed to do the menu, shopping and cooking - much to my wife's delight as she really didn't like cooking.
So... off the menu were grains (including bread, pasta, pastries, breakfast cereals), starches (potatoes and rice), and sugar (fruits, sugar in coffee, sugary sodas). On the menu was any sort of animal product, including but not limited to: beef; lamb; pork; fish; eggs; cheese; yogurt; cream. Any sort of plant growing above ground: cabbage; broccoli; silverbeet; cauliflower. Mushrooms were in the menu. Some 'fruits' were OK - used sparingly: pumpkin; tomato. Condiments were fine. Nuts were also OK if used sparingly.
Because we'd been in the habit of eating a breakfast cereal each morning, I changed to bacon and eggs - fried in tallow. We also used coffee with cream to replace the coffee with sugar I'd been taking habitually for most of my life - the cream served to make the coffee less bitter and more palatable - I could drink black, unsweetened coffee - but I didn't enjoy it. We quickly became used to the espresso coffees with frothed cream we were able to make on our own machine. Evening meals would use copious amounts of cream in say a 'butter chicken', chopped cauliflower became the 'rice'. I found various LCHF foods and kept recipes on my website for future reference. After a while I just made stuff up as I went - experimenting with various flavours etc.
After 4 months we had both lost around 15 kg and were in the upper level of 'normal' for our heights. So, weight goal achieved.
On the overall health side of things - nothing remarkable has happened in my case. I was on no medications prior to the change and am still on no medications. I'm getting older of course so part of my aging could confound things, I have a little arthritic pain, I've had hemorrhoids fixed (but that had been an issue for more than 30 years of eating a standard diet). I'm still active on the golf course playing an average of 4.5 days a week for the last year - up from an average of 3 days a week over the last 15 years. During the 15 years of golf I've not suffered from colds or flu - while prior to that I regularly got a cold or flu 2-3 times a year. I put that down to the daily access to vitamin D from the sun. Got a page on it here.
In the case of my wife, however, her health took a dramatic downturn when she was diagnosed with a bowel cancer some 6 months into our LCHF journey. A few years earlier she had had a minor coronary NSTEMI event. It was thought (but not proven) to be a possible clot detaching and causing a problem but nothing showed up on her cardio stress test and she was discharged - albeit with a prescription for statin medications. (Statins inhibit the natural ability of creating cholesterol). There has never been any evidence produced that they are effective in preventing further coronary events in women and only sparse evidence for men. There is, however, evidence that lowered cholesterol levels may make one more susceptible to cancer. On top of that, I've found information that one of the possible mechanisms for cancer is the action of irritants, such as insoluble fibre, (like bran cereal - a previous favourite of my wife's), can cause inflammation of the lining of the bowel. Another factor could be the excretions of the bacteria which feed on those fibres, also being an irritant.
It seems as though the tumour in the bowel may have been there for some time prior to our change of diet. My theory is that, since our diet is very low on carbohydrates, the tumour may have been reacting to the lowered sugar available to it and was perhaps going through some sort of death from starvation when it chose to show itself with a dramatic 'bleed'. Later on with some chemo supported radiotherapy to shrink the T2N2 tumour prior to excision, the tumour shrank to T0N0 - a level of regression experienced in only 14% of similar cases. I put this down to the diet while the doctors at the time (4 years ago) scoffed at the idea - but came up with no alternative theory to explain the result. (Nowadays it seems that some oncologists are recommending keto and fasting to be done alongside the traditional chemo/radiotherapy.) Anyway, after the tumour was excised and my wife was to undergo a period of follow-up chemotherapy, a complication with a deep vein thrombosis at the site of the port-a-cath caused us to rethink the idea of chemo and Chris chose not to go ahead with it. Three year later and a colonoscopy showed clear of any further development of polyps or tumours. She has had some complications regarding the surgery, though, all related to hernias because of the removal of perineal tissue and the siting of the permanent stoma. She's now had six more surgeries to try and fix the issues from the first surgery (which was probably unnecessary since the tumour had shrunk to "no more than an ulceration" - according to her surgeon - who nevertheless had a scalpel in his hand and clearly felt the urge to use it).
My brother saw our weight-loss progress and decided to try out LCHF himself. In a matter of months he fixed a fatty liver issue that had been plaguing him for more than 20 years and lost about 20 kg himself. All his liver function tests went from 2-3 times the upper level to within range - just by dropping carbohydrates in his diet. His doctor - for twenty years had been telling him to cut back fat and alcohol - which didn't make a dent in his results.
As an aside, the LCHF dietary pattern we adopted has made us fat-adapted or more easily able to burn fat for fuel as opposed to carbohydrate. For some of our energy we burn ketone bodies - natural products made by the body from fats and which can pass through the blood-brain barrier to take the place of some of the glucose the brain may require. The essential glucose needed by the brain, red blood cells, kidneys and retinas can easily be produced by our liver from proteins and fats - we have no need to actually eat glucose or carbohydrate in order to get sufficient. Eating carbohydrates causes us to need to control blood sugar downward and this will require us to prioritize glucose as a fuel until we stop eating it. During this stage the body must turn off our ability to burn fat while it clears the glucose. Fat burning is what I'm convinced, from my reading and plain, simple logic, is the default mechanism for most animals to feed and produce energy. Ketones are a natural part of the process and, while they may have some therapeutic application for certain health issues, are not something that one needs to chase in order to lose a bit of weight and stay healthy. You simply have to restrict the carbohydrates and make sure you eat real food. (By real food I mean natural animals and plants (if you feel they are necessary - and some, like my wife, feel they need to have some plants in their diet.)
On that note, I should mention that I've been successfully eating zero plants for the last 3 years as at April 2018. That is with the exception of coffee, which I have with my cream. I've done periods without it - causing a headache for the first couple of days while I adapted - but I don't really have any problem with it and am happy to keep it as part of my vices. I've invested in the espresso machine and don't want to see that go to waste - as have my food processors and planetary mixer.
My typical diet these days is beef steak for 90% of it. I have some liver (raw) now and then because I like it and feel it confers some nutrient benefits not afforded by steak alone - as too with molluscs (in my case fresh mussels). As mentioned above I also have cream in my coffee and the odd snack of cheese. Sometimes a couple of boiled eggs might feel in order. I have eaten the odd seasonal apples out of our garden over the last 3 years - but each time seems to be associated with a subsequent gout attack. This probably stems from some residual insulin resistance (keeping my uric acid high) combined with a dollop of fructose from the apples.
I don't particularly feel the need to have 'variety' in my diet as I have stopped regarding food as 'entertainment' and simply as 'fuel' or nutrition. I do golf and Facebook for entertainment. To those who say that I am lacking some nutrients because of my 'restrictive' diet - I would pose the question "Are those nutrients deemed necessary in the context of the 'modern' diet - and if so, what would be the requirement should we change to an ancient diet?" On this basis, I've decided to come up with my own set of nutrient requirements, based on what I eat and which I think resembles what we have evolved on - more so than any standard diet of today. I've added D as a supplement since it is impractical for most of us these days to get enough. Some of my values are way over the recommendations by dietary authorities and some are way under. I make no apology for sticking my finger up at the modern dietary recommendations - I'm 64, on zero medication and still playful. My cholesterol may be high going by the modern medical best practice standards, but those standards are based on bad diet. My blood pressure has averaged 120/80 for the last 5 years. I'm happy and content with my life. (Is that a measure of success?)