How I am Losing Weight: My “Low-Calorie, Low-Sodium, Low-Sugar” Diet
by Alan Carl Nicoll
Copyright 2018 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved
Disclaimer: Diabetes and heart disease are no joke—they can be life-threatening conditions. If you have either, you need to see a doctor and not go looking on the Internet for cheap-ass advice and anecdotes like you’ll find in this blog post. To those who insist on reading further, I wash my hands of your particular health situation. I am in no position to offer medical advice. You’ve been warned.
Background: You should know that I was diagnosed with coronary artery disease in 2000 or 2001, and had an angioplasty with a stent. Since that time I’ve had no recurrence of my angina, and I’ve been taking low-dose aspirin daily and before prison I was taking high-dose niacin, which my cardiologist had approved. For a while in prison I was on Simvastatin, but I became convinced that it was causing symptoms of dementia (I still believe that is correct), so against the advice of my (different) cardiologist I stopped the Simvastatin. I also stopped seeing him, refusing the last appointment, primarily because I hated that dangerous treadmill test. (Dangerous because I feared falling down.) This was in late 2015 or early 2016. I put on weight during my last year in prison (I had acquired a $10,000 inheritance, and “lived it up” to the extent that I could), topping out at 244.
Current Story: I used to brag or complain—whatever, I don’t know what it meant, it was like a smoker talking about his three packs a day—that I “lived on sugar.” I had always doubted that eating a lot of sugar would cause diabetes; I thought that the science was uncertain, but I also wasn’t serious about researching this. In essence, it was “magical thinking.”
After my release, in May, 2016, I switched to diet soda (which I had been drinking before my arrest in 2007), and tried to avoid the worst dietary abuses (and occasionally succeeded), but my weight remained pretty steady at “obese.”
In early 2017 or even late 2016 I began experiencing a slight numbness in my toes. I ignored this, in part because my Medicare part B didn’t go into effect until July 2017, but the numbness got progressively worse and was spreading; I began feeling numbness in my hands as well. Also, the skin of my lower legs had dried and hardened somewhat; it felt like my legs were wrapped in cardboard. I assumed a circulatory problem. My legs also weakened somewhat, and I had occasional “shooting pains” in hands and feet. I worried and waited.
When Medicare part B started, I went to a doctor. Weighing 239, I was diagnosed “pre-diabetic.” Well, the sugar had apparently caught up with me.
I began drastically reducing my intake of sugar. First to go was sugared sodas. While I usually had diet sodas at home, the fast-food fountain sodas use saccharine or some other sweetener that I can’t stand, so I had sugared sodas (Dr. Pepper, if you must know) whenever I ate out, and was glad to get it; now I drink strictly water when eating out.
I replaced my cookies and such with sugar-free varieties. These taste fine, but the sugar alcohols (like sorbitol, mannitol, and the dammitols—joke) caused intestinal problems, notably tremendous gas and mild diarrhea. So, I finally ended up with “no cookies at all”—which means, in practice, occasional cookies of the cheapest, least appealing kind available:
These cookies are completely uninspiring, but I still abuse them—yesterday I ate a whole package, about 600 calories, 40 grams of sugar, 10 grams of fat, and (ouch) 900 mg of sodium. It’s still a little better than potato chips would have been. But I have rushed ahead. The “low sugar” diet, and cutting out a normal lunch, has been driving my weight down with rather satisfying regularity (now 219). The Merck Manual said something about the loss of 5% to 10% of body weight can reverse a diagnosis of prediabetes. I am approaching the 10% mark. My hands and skin have improved, but my feet and toes still have lingering numbness. My legs have strengthened, and the shooting pains have stopped, or have drastically reduced. I have the impression that the pains are directly tied to how much sugar I’ve eaten recently. I felt that I had things under control.
But about two months ago I noticed that I had suddenly developed edema—swelling due to water retention—around my ankles. While in prison I had seen old men with swollen, scabby, purplish, horrible-looking legs, and I definitely didn’t want to go that route. The Merck Manual says that this swelling is a sign of “heart failure.” That’s pretty alarming.
Why haven’t I been to the doctor yet? I am a procrastinator, and my doctor (recommended by someone) had been a serious disappointment, so I’ve dithered around. I plan to go to the V.A. tomorrow.
Anyway, during the two months I got rid of my cans of chili and soup, bags of chips (though I finished off some as well), some of the A&W diet root beer I had been living on (now drinking diet 7-Up with much lower sodium), lunch meat, crackers—in other words, I got rid of most of what I had been buying and eating.
I’ve also been trying to save money, and failing miserably. My income is $1,844 per month from Social Security; there is nothing else. Given that my rent is $800 (1 br cheaply furnished), which includes all utilities with Spectrum cable TV, I have some disposable income, so it should be possible to save. So, last month I decided that I was spending too much on eating out, and I have cut that down to about twice a week, usually at Taco Bell.
Eating out is now very problematic. After looking at Taco Bell’s nutrition information online, I discovered that the only thing I was willing to eat there would be “crunchy tacos.” (170 calories, 310 mg of sodium each.) The big problem is flour tortillas, which are basically quite high in sodium, while corn tortillas are normally very low. Beans and rice also run very high. I invariably add a “Cinnabon Delights” 2-pack (160 calories, 80 mg of sodium, 10 g of sugar). At 500 calories and 700 mg of sodium, it’s just a bit worse on sodium than my usual at-home dinner these days, but otherwise very similar.
Nothing at McDonalds or Carl’s Jr. passes the sodium challenge, mostly because of the buns and added salt. The only thing I’d consider now would be french fries. And I don’t want to make a meal of french fries.
I’m ignoring fat in my diet—this may have to change eventually, but for now I’m ignoring it. Also, I haven’t seen a doctor for my “heart failure,” but plan to do that tomorrow.
My Diet Now: Going to a low-sodium diet is way harder than a low-sugar diet. I’ve put together a spreadsheet showing the facts for my typical day’s eating.
The top section shows the basic nutrition facts for the things I buy at Food Maxx and eat at home. The next three sections show what I have for my “typical” meals. The last section shows the totals of my typical meals for a day. It’s a rather bland diet, and not especially healthy. There’s undoubtedly too much fat, protein, and cholesterol; but the science on cholesterol has been backpedaling lately. Perhaps that’s just more “magical thinking.” Certainly I could go over to egg whites…
Of course there are no salads or vegetables—my teeth can’t chew lettuce, and there are few vegetables that I’m willing to eat. This is a lifelong habit, unfortunately. I do like carrots as part of a pot roast, and I rather like peas. I should add some peas to my “salisbury steak” dinner.
This is not all I eat, but it’s all I want to eat; typically I have more than the two snacks listed. But I can add a couple of snacks and still lose weight, which is my primary goal aside from not killing myself with sodium and sugar. And I want to point out that this “diet” is by no means settled. It’s just what I’ve been trying to eat for the past couple of weeks (and considerably longer for the breakfast).
I want to get below 200 pounds, which won’t by any means make me “skinny,” or even “healthy,” but hopefully, “healthy looking.” It’s a start.
Copyright 2018 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved