Atkins, Paleo, Mediterranean, Keto diets. I'd heard about them for years. We had friends who would come for dinner and eat very little of what I cooked. They ordered hamburgers without buns, had salads instead of potatoes, and ate eggs and bacon for breakfast instead of bagels or waffles. I thought to myself, "Good for them, but there is no way I could ever do that."
But this year, I went and did do just that.
I have been blessed with fairly good genetics, at least where weight is concerned. Throughout my twenties, as long as I taught aerobics classes and did some strength training weekly, I could eat whatever I wanted and remain a size 2-4. In my thirties while carrying, birthing, and nursing five babies, I still ate whatever I wanted and stayed under a size 6-8. But around the time I reached my mid-forties and was no longer breastfeeding or chasing toddlers around, I noticed the weight creeping up little by little. I had to go up another size, and then another. Everything seemed to be settling around my middle, and I felt bloated and uncomfortable all the time. Additionally, I craved sugar and simple carbohydrates more and more. The more I craved them, the more I ate them. I felt my self-discipline waning, and I felt more sluggish and less motivated to go for a hike or do some yoga or hit some tennis balls with my children. When my father was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, I knew that I needed to get my sugar addiction under control. I tried to use will-power. I told myself I would only have dessert on the weekends and I'd cut out breads from my lunch. I did this intermittently, but those pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks in the fall, Christmas cookies and hot chocolate in the winter, Easter candy in the spring, and ice cream in the summer got the better of me. I might lose five pounds or so after the winter holidays before summer came, but in the fall I'd gain it back again. I would begin each year a few pounds heavier and an inch wider around my middle than the previous year.
However, that changed in late-February when I decided I had nothing to lose but pounds and inches by trying to majorly reduce carbohydrates from my daily food intake. What once comprised a good 70% or more of my diet got reduced to less than 25%. I went from eating probably several hundreds of grams of carbs some days to eating under fifty a day. I didn't follow any one specific program; I just did a lot of research and daily chose foods that were low in carbohydrates and high in healthy fats and proteins. That has meant whole, unprocessed foods for the most part. Meat, eggs (which we have no shortage of here), nuts and seeds, greens, most vegetables that grow above ground, heavy cream, full-fat hard cheese and cottage cheese, and a bit of yogurt. This has been a huge change for me, and it's one I never thought I would want to make or that I would be successful at keeping.
In all honesty, I do cheat a little. I sometimes have a dessert. I eat some berries with my eggs some mornings at breakfast. I have discovered that if I don't eat many carbs the rest of the day, I can have a 1/2 cup of full-fat ice cream and only consume 16 grams of carbohydrates. I know that has sugar in it, and it's not ideal, but it's still far less sugar than I used to consume. And once in awhile I break down and get that 500 calorie frappuccino at Starbucks and go over my entire day's allotment of carbohydrates with that one stinking drink. But instead of giving into the temptation several days a week, it happens about once every few months. My point is, I don't follow this plan as strictly as many others would advocate that you should, but I am looking at this as a lifetime change, not a quick fix. And there are a lot of celebrations and holidays in a lifetime that I'm not willing to completely forego indulging in a slice of homemade pie or cake once in awhile.
Even with those occasional indulgences, I have seen success in a way that I wasn't sure was possible for me at this age. I did lose 4-5 pounds in the very first week of cutting my carbs to 20-50 grams/day. This was primarily water weight, but my stomach was flatter, my pants felt looser, and it gave me the motivation to stick with it. Over the past 4 1/2 months, I've lost around 14 pounds, over 2 inches from my waist, and I've dropped 1-2 sizes in pants and shorts. I haven't been able to successfully get down to this weight in over 4 years trying anything else. Not by cutting fat, exercising more, occasional fasting, or simply reducing calories. I'm not saying that eating a low-carb diet is right for everyone, but it has been a positive experience for me.
Now, I'm not going to kid you...it certainly comes with its sacrifices. I haven't consumed a single craft beer (or any beer) since mid-February. I haven't eaten pasta, rice, or bread of any kind. Instead of snacking on crackers, pretzels, popcorn, or cookies, I have 1/4 cup of nuts or sunflower seeds instead. I do sometimes eat dark chocolate-covered almonds or honey-roasted peanuts, which have some carbohydrates, but far fewer than the other processed snack foods. I rarely do any baking anymore because I cannot resist licking the beaters or the wooden spoon. And to pull some steaming homemade chocolate chip cookies out of my oven and not eat a single one is just torture. So I don't do it. Initially, I really missed drinking juice with a bagel or a muffin for breakfast, but now it's not such a big deal. I think that eating out in restaurants is the hardest because it often means that I'm limited to a salad of one type or another. If I can order meat free of sauces or breading, I have that with one or two low-carb veggies. Mostly, I try to focus on the things that I love that I can still have: dry wine, a bit of dark chocolate, and heavy cream in my coffee. I know that I never would have made it this far if I'd have given up those.
So I am going forth with the resolve to continue this way of eating and living. My husband has gotten on board as well, which does make it easier. Learning that I am not powerless to defeat the middle-aged spread is empowering, and fitting into clothes that have hung unworn in my wardrobe for years is a great motivator to stick with it---even with a daughter in the house who creates the best cupcakes in the world.