I have broken my body, and now I must repair it.

Let’s talk about what’s been going on inside my body on an average day for the past few years.

I started the day with whatever breakfast I felt like.  Sometimes it would be leftovers, but I’ll pick “kolache day” as a representative sample.  On these days (twice a week) I’d stop by Kolache Factory on the way to work and pick up two delicious bacon and cheese kolaches around 8:30 AM.  This is a somewhat sweet bread roll stuffed with bacon and cheese.  When this hit my stomach, the process of converting that bread roll to sugar started.  It was slowed somewhat by the fats, but we aren’t talking healthy fats here (I can’t find information about what kinds of fats the kolache contained; I’ll just assume the bacon and cheese contributed a good bit of saturated fat.)  The carbs were quickly converted to sugar.  This caused an increase in blood glucose, which caused my pancreas to increase blood insulin.  This didn’t affect me much because lunch was usually at 11 or 11:30.

At lunch, my “I don’t like what’s in the cafeteria” food was a bacon cheeseburger on a wheat bun with tater tots.  Let’s talk about what this did to my body.  The bun, though it is “healthy” wheat, is made from enriched flour which is quickly converted to sugars.  The cheese and meat contain saturated fats.  The tater tots are a one-two punch: finely chopped potatoes are digested into sugar very quickly and the oil is unlikely to use unsaturated fats.  Bacon, as usual, doesn’t contribute much.  I washed it all down with a sweetened tea; I like tons of sugar so we’ll say it’s probably 1 cup of sugar per 2 quarts.  Despite the fat content of the food, the volume of carbohydrates I dumped into my stomach resulted in a huge blood glucose spike.  This caused the pancreas to produce a higher volume of insulin.  At this point let’s diverge to an analogy.

I’m bad at cooking bacon, but it’s because I’m not patient enough to use the tools I have.  I use thick cookware; either cast iron or cast aluminum.  This cookware takes a while to preheat.  I tend to get impatient and start putting the bacon in the pan before the cookware has matched the heat of my pitiful electric stove.  When I don’t hear that satisfying sizzle, I turn the heat up on the stove.  Eventually, the cookware reaches the temperature that the original heat setting would have caused.  This produces the sizzling effect I want and I assume the pot is the appropriate heat.  A couple of minutes later, the pot reaches the actual temperature I have set my stove to, and before I have time to react the bacon is overcooked.

This is what happened in my body every day at lunch.  I dumped a ton of easy-to-digest carbohydrates into my stomach, which resulted in rapid conversion to sugars.  The glucose in my blood is like the bacon in the pan.  My pancreas is in charge of making sure that there’s enough insulin to process the sugar in the bloodstream; it’s like me watching the bacon to make sure it cooks.  My pancreas noticed blood glucose spiking (the bacon isn’t sizzling) so it produced more insulin (the heat gets increased.)  The insulin did whatever it does and brought my blood glucose down (the pot reaches the right temperature and the bacon sizzles.)  But there was too much insulin!  Soon, blood glucose crashed beneath the threshold desired by my brain (the bacon overcooks.)  Since my brain knows it can’t manufacture glucose without fuel, this translated into hunger and a craving for something with easy-to-digest carbohydrates.

Now we’re at 3:00.  My lunchtime dose of carbs guaranteed I’d be short on energy within a few hours; the rapid spike and decline of glucose caused me to reach for the vending machines.  Sometimes I did “good” and ate a banana.  However, that just caused another spike/crash cycle that I didn’t notice because the crash coincided with supper.  My suppertime habits were more varied than breakfast and lunchtime, but I still favored easily-digestible carbs.  I generally ignored bedtime cravings because I knew it wasn’t good to eat before bed.

I was putting my body down a dangerous path.  I wasn’t aware of it, but I was creating a situation similar to diabetes. The rapid intake of carbohydrates led to dangerous levels of glucose, which led to dangerous levels of insulin, which led to cravings for more carbohydrates.  All this time, I didn’t need the carbohydrates and most of this energy was being stored as fat in my midsection.

The Intervention

Last month my employer required a cholesterol screening; it helps satisfy the insurance companies. Glucose? Perfect. Blood pressure? Great! Pulse? Perfect.  Good cholesterol?  Low.  Bad cholesterol?  Not measurable due to other factors.  Triglycerides?  944.

A normal triglyceride count is somewhere between 100 and 200.  Anything greater than 400 is considered high risk for stroke or heart attacks.  1,000 or greater is a guarantee that you will eventually develop pancreatitis; I don’t know what it is but I know for sure if my pancreas regulates glucose I do not want it to be ruined. 944 is my triglyceride count after 10 hours of fasting.  I know that my “normal” count is probably much higher.  It doesn’t take a decade of study to decide that this is an unsustainable state for my body.

The Resolution

My physician wants to do some other screenings, but for the time being has advised me to perform 40 minutes of exercise 4 times per week and consider the South Beach diet.  I’m currently preparing for Phase 1 of South Beach.  In this phase, carbs are very carefully regulated and must only come from hard-to-digest sources.  Years of the carbs-glucose-insulin-crash cycle has made my body respond to glucose poorly; Phase 1 is designed to correct this by completely removing the cycle.  I’m not starting yet, but I am trying some of the foods to make sure I’ve picked things I’ll like eating.  Let’s talk about how today is different than usual.

I started the day with a trip to the treadmill.  I walked on “rolling hills” for 40 minutes and burned 200 calories.  More important: my heart rate was elevated, I required deep breaths, and my body was under stress.  This will increase the efficiency of my heart and lungs.  This will increase my muscle density, which increases the amount of calories I burn at rest (important, since I have a very sedentary job.)  I went back home and fixed a 2-egg omelet with a small amount of diced peppers and a slice of turkey bacon cooked in olive oil (I was patient and let the cookware preheat for 10 minutes!) This provided practically no carbohydrates (a few grams from the green pepper) and an abundance of unsaturated fat from the egg and oil.  Presumably, my free-range eggs contain Omega 3, which is important for controlling triglycerides.  The turkey bacon is 97% fat free; it might contain a little bit of saturated fat but its effect is negligible considering how much less it contains than pork bacon.  There’s cholesterol in the eggs, but from what I’ve read in the South Beach diet book it’s not much to worry about: there’s as much good cholesterol as bad.  I might swap an egg substitute for real eggs later, but I think the possibility of getting Omega 3 from the eggs might be worth it.  I’ll have to ask.

Since breakfast didn’t produce many carbs, I got listless around 10:30.  So I ate a light mozzerella cheese stick.  This put a little bit of fat along with protein in my belly; both take a while to digest and neither has a big impact on blood glucose.  My hunger was satisfied and I did not produce more insulin; it’s a win.

Lunch was a salad: romaine, baby spinach, ham cubes, half a boiled egg, a teaspoon of bacon bits, and 4 croutons.  The 4 croutons are probably the biggest worry but my hope is that the fat from the ham and fiber from the lettuce and spinach will regulate the digestion. I also doubt 4 croutons is a serious amount of carbs; a quick search turns up 4g for 2 tbsp, which means I probably ended up with 1 or 2g of bad carbs.  Not bad, considering my wheat bun, tater tots, and sweet tea added up to roughly 90g; that’s more than a 90% decease in intake.  I washed this down with an unsweetened tea; the caffeine may increase my appetite later but I cannot make it through an afternoon without it.

I’m looking forward to an afternoon snack consisting of some nut mix my wife and I made last night.  Again, it’s fatty, but it’s unsaturated fat.  The fat content ensures I’ll fill up before I eat too many.  Nut carbs mainly come from dietary fiber, which is digested slowly and do not produce the dangerous cycle that quickly digested carbs contribute to. The walnuts are a source of omega-3; this makes them something I need to consider frequently.

I don’t know what supper’s going to be tonight, but I’m going to be more careful than I have in the past.  Since I haven’t really started phase 1 I haven’t communicated the kinds of meals I need to my wife yet, so I can’t expect results to be much different.  Soon, we’re going to try out a few phase 1 recipes to get a feel for what they’re like and which ones taste good.  Once we’ve got enough variety to last the 2 weeks of phase 1, I’ll be well on my way.

My body is broken, and its my fault.  I can fix it, and it’s going to take a while, but the longer I delay this the harder it will be and the more likely I’ll develop a condition that makes it impossible to live normally.