I will never forget the embarrassing evening when I attended a dinner party at which the menu went like this:
Roast pork Winter squash Corn on the Cob Potatoes
Even for a non-dietitian (but, I might add, an occasional hostess) it looked like pretty poor menu-planning to me. I was really stuck. For this was early in my non-carbohydrate training, and I hadn’t yet gotten my memory down pat on just what was what when it came to carbohydrates. And, let me add, there wasn’t even a salad served, so some-
thing had to be chosen from that unbalanced-by-any-diet-standards meal. I knew roast pork was fine. But I opted for the corn. What a mistake I made!
By morning I couldn’t zip my skirt, and when I stepped on the scale, I had gained five pounds. Hysterically, I ran screaming to Dr. A., who assured me that I had made the worst possible choice in eating corn, which is super-high in carbohydrates. He patiently explained that, when the body has been cut off from carbohydrates for some time, and then is suddenly hit with some, water retention occurs. He also assured me that, within forty-eight hours, it would be gone. It was, I am relieved to say, but it was experience enough for me to make sure I never cheated, even inadvertently, again. Water retention became my bugaboo, but then water retention had always been my bugaboo. Here again, doctors are still working on the whys and wherefores. Is it the enzymes, the hormones, the glands? As yet, they don’t seem to be sure. Or if they’re sure, they surely never let me in on the secret.
In the first months of my diet, I suffered from excruciating headaches. That’s nothing new. I’ve had them all my life. And they’ve usually been premenstrual, at the period when water retention tends to be the highest. This time they came right at the end of my menstrual period. I waited three months to be sure. And each time, they happened. So I rushed to my internist to check on the facts.
They are this: The high-protein-low-carbohydrate diet, just by its being, can affect the growth hormone. And the growth hormone is a nebulous hormone (at least, nebulous to me I’d never heard of it) that controls water retention. According to Dr. Neil Solomon, it may also hold the key to obesity. Researchers are working on it. However, studies have been made as to the effect of such a diet on the growth hormone. And, it seems that, on a normal breakfast (to take the study example of coffee, toast, orange juice, and cereal), the blood sugar level went up temporarily and the growth hormone level remained consistent; whereas on the high-protein low-carbohydrate diet, if the very same individual had a breakfast of black coffee, eggs, and bacon all protein, no carbohydrates the growth hormone went up while the blood sugar level remained steady. Perhaps this is the answer to the machinations of this diet.
Let me say that my headaches ceased when more and more carbohydrate was added to my diet. Ceased as suddenly as they had begun.
Except for normal, workaday headaches, and, in my profession, some workaday headaches are pretty big ones. I’ll blame those on my profession and not my diet.
I will say that I never felt better in my life. I was bursting with energy and looked it. Never once did I feel faint, nauseous, distracted, or have any of the other side effects the American Medical Association has attributed to the Atkins version of the high-protein-low-carbohydrate diet. And this is the only version, of course, that I can speak about with it-happened-to-me authority. After all, there is only one of me and I have only so much weight to give to research.
I had one side effect that seemed nothing short of a miracle. My blood sugar seemed to stabilize itself. I no longer had the shakes ever. This was something new for a lifetime victim of that hypoglycemia. Once I had been on the diet long enough to get my body into the low-carbohydrate groove, I no longer had to rush for the cottage cheese carton. Just as the doctor had predicted, my blood sugar level evened out to a normal condition it had never before known. I call that a positive side effect and one that makes this sort of eating worthwhile, even if you don’t need to lose weight.
For there are, of course, modified versions of the diet for people who wish to stabilize their weight. In fact, the moment you reach the weight you’ve been waiting for, Dr. Atkins puts you on what he terms a “maintenance diet” a diet which is still a low-carbohydrate diet, but not low carbohydrate enough to take off any more weight. It is meant to do just what its name implies. Stabilize your weight at the point where you want it.
Friends who have tried this diet on their own have reported such things as menstrual abnormalities. When they questioned me, I advised them to see their doctors at once and to tell that doctor that they were on the diet. For hormonal changes are not to be taken lightly and, if one is on the birth control pill (as one of these young ladies was) it makes the going doubly difficult. It’s up to a physician to decide the course to take there. But there’s little doubt in my mind that a diet that is, by Dr. Atkins’ description, “deliberately unnatural” can do some pretty unnatural tricks. What you and your doctor must decide is whether the benefits (and there are many) outweigh the oddities. And proceed, always medically supervised, from that point.
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