Atkins Angst

Why am I not thin yet?!  I've been watching my carbs, eating more meat in the past week or so than I had all told in a good five or so years, waiting for the promised Atkins Edge to kick in and the pounds to start slipping away.  I've felt the fatigue at practice when my energy dropped; I've had the low sodium headache and cured it with beef broth; I've looked yet another helping of chicken salad in the face and managed to finish it even though I didn't really want to.  Why aren't I thin? 

Oh, right, well, there were all those Cravory cookies over the weekend that my husband got me for Valentine's Day, but I didn't eat all of them.  I didn't even really enjoy them, not as much as I would have in the past when nothing was so intoxicating as a sugar-starch high.  And, okay, I'm still drinking orange juice first thing in the morning, just to get myself going for the day.  And we had spaghetti for dinner one night last week.  And I had cereal for breakfast on Sunday when we were out of other food.  But, still, shouldn't I be thin now?

Alas, apparently not.  These things take longer than a week.  But is it going to work ever?  Perhaps I've done so much damage to my insulin levels over the past thirty or so years not eating meat and stuffing myself with carbs that I am doomed to stay the weight that I am now no matter how much I cut down.  Perhaps the only way I will lose weight again is on the adrenaline high of a new situation that I cannot predict and, therefore, cannot control.  Perhaps I will never be thin again, only getting fatter as I go through menopause.  Perhaps I should just stop worrying about my weight.

Ha.  As if.  I was trying to explain to my son the other day why reading Taubes' book was having such an effect on me.  "All women," I insisted, "worry about their weight.  It's a constant."  He didn't believe me.  "They must worry about other things," he said.  "No," I countered, "they all worry about their weight."  But do they?  Maybe he's right.  Maybe there are women out there who can look in a mirror and worry about nothing except whether their clothes are the right colors for their skin and hair.  Maybe there are women out there who don't even have mirrors or scales or "skinny jeans" hiding in the back of their closets "just in case" a miracle happens and they are somehow able to fit into them again. 

Maybe.  But I've never met any.  Even the tiniest women I know say things about how they're getting fat (not that I can ever see what they're talking about); even the heaviest express hope that one day they'll find the diet that will take the pounds away.  Fat or thin, it's all the same.  Their bodies are always potentially out of control, ready to balloon up at any moment if they don't keep a strict watch on things.  (Except my sister, who says she never weighs herself or worries about what she eats, except why then is she telling me except to emphasize the fact that she is thin?)  It really is a curse.

Or a plot.  To keep women from ever breaking free.  See?  I managed to get my class prep done early tonight and so have a bit of time to blog for once (it's been a hard quarter), and what do I want to write about except my weight?  I could be telling you about everything I've learned teaching this quarter or listening to Prof. Cary on the history of Christian theology while driving to and from fencing practice or watching season two of Sherlock (okay, that's not quite the same kind of learning experience, but it could be, right?).  But instead I'm defaulting back into my weight.

Perhaps it's because I'm tired.  It really has been an exhausting quarter, but more often than not in a good way.  I have learned a great deal from the course that I'm teaching (on education, no less) as well as from Prof. Cary's lectures.  And, I suspect, like every other Sherlock fan, I've been rereading the original stories in the hopes of catching a glimpse of that coat.  But then I look in the mirror and know that Sherlock would never think of me as the woman.  Even if it would be pointless to pretend that Sherlock would make a good boyfriend (or husband or even lover, to judge from his ability to resist her).  It's simply impossible for someone so dumpy to exercise that kind of mystique.  I'm more like Mags Bennett (okay, so it hasn't been all work the past nine weeks, just mostly).  In body, that is, not (I hope) evil.

Because, of course, it's about power.  It always is.  (Haven't you read your Foucault yet?)  There's the big "if only" that we're all hanging onto (including my sister).  "If only I were thin, I would have the power to ask for whatever I want."  And maybe even get it.  Like a raise.  Or an outside offer.  If only I were thin, men like Sherlock would fall over themselves wanting to figure me out.  Which, of course, if I were thin, they never could.  But they would at least want to try.


  1. You're not doing Atkins properly. Only 20 grams of carbs a day. An OCD diarist such as FB should have no problem writing it down and keeping track ;-)

    I've been a sworn and true fan of Atkins since 2001. When I fall off the wagon and gain 10 or more pounds, then back on to induction and they are gone in 2 weeks, max. But it is VERY strict and the slightest deviation or cheat means that you are simply eating too much protein and fat, in addition to starchy carbs. Send me a pm if you want to chat more. RNS

  2. Not to be disheartening, but - did you see the article in the NY Times around New Year's about how truly difficult weight loss is biologically? (Here it is if you missed it: It made some pretty convincing arguments that the way to truly lose weight and keep it off is to exercise >1 hour every single day and to eat <1500 calories a day. Which like, I don't know about you, but with my student schedule and I assume with your professor schedule, that's a pretty rough regimen to keep up.

    Instead, I've been taking solace in just finding ways to eat healthier and exercise more into my regular routine, which even if I don't make the mark or lose any weight right away, at least I can feel confident/fulfilled in the things that I CAN control - like how many days I've gone for a run this week (despite med school) and how healthy my eating habits I've become. And overall, I feel better (even lighter!), even though the last time I stepped on a scale (which I don't do often), I only shed about 3 pounds in the past month of exercising more and eating better.

    Because being healthy is not just for this month or this week, but for ever. So, I might as well try to find way to celebrate/enjoy the daily experience.

    Just my two cents. Good luck!

  3. Thanks, Emily and RNS! Re: doing Atkins right. Yes, that was the joke about the cookies and juice: it is astonishingly hard to cut down to 20g/day, even without your husband getting you two dozen cookies for Valentine's Day. I have had to learn to grocery shop a whole new way (e.g. ask for foods I have not eaten in a good twenty-five years at the meat counter). My plan is to begin the true "carb-fast" (ironically) on Ash Wednesday, but I thought that it would be a good idea to work up to it, otherwise I wouldn't have anything to eat. Re: exercise and semi-starvation. Alas, according to the research that Taubes has reviewed, even that won't work. The body compensates for both metabolically, which is why people struggle so much. I am convinced that metabolism really is the key from my experiences losing weight without dieting. I lost 35 pounds in 2003 without counting a single calorie and exercising less than I do now; but there were some very real psychological differences in how I felt at the time which did something to my metabolism, and the weight just went away. I vowed at the time never to let the weight come back and counted calories religiously for two years, but my father's death and the subsequent grief rather knocked that out of the park. It is hard to trick your body into happiness. The thing is now, I may have lost weight, but I don't have a scale anymore, so I don't know. Nor do I really want to know. As Emily says, the more important thing is to eat healthier, which is what I am trying to do, learning how carbs make me feel so that I can make better choices about what to eat. Those cookies really weren't as good as I think I would have thought they were before I started trying to cut down. But, alas, the desire to be thin is still there--and I don't know a diet for that!

  4. So much easier to just learn to enjoy being fat. Worked for me--now I eat any damned thing I want!

  5. I tried to comment earlier, but blogspot goes through phases of not liking me or something. So here's a briefer version of what I tried to write.

    First, you are nothing like Mags Bennett in body or spirit!

    Second, I generally make it a policy to avoid commenting on, giving advice on, or otherwise getting involved in anybody else's food choices (well, except my kids' choices, since my older boy would live on peanut butter alone if I permitted it!). But I do worry about Atkins as a long term way to eat, because any approach to food that radically restricts a category as basic as carbs seems a) unhealthy, b) misery-inducing on a mental, if not a physical, level and c) unsustainably consuming of time and energy. Also, I've seen people get really caught up with the "Atkins lifestyle" and exist on prepackaged shakes, bars, drinks, really nasty bread, etc. Personally, I hate the thought of spending my food money on products that support the make-women-feel-bad diet industry rather than, say, buying fresh strawberries, homemade wholegrain bread, and locally produced cheese at my local farmer's market. I expect it is possible to "do" Atkins without Atkins products, but....

    Wouldn't it be preferable just to cut back to an extent on carbs and replace the calories with healthy proteins and not obsess over counting grams of this and that? And, honestly, orange juice and occasional cookies without guilt, that's what I say! I don't believe, barring extreme medical necessity, anyone should have to contemplate a life without fresh fruits, a few glasses of wine, healthy whole grains, and even some treats from time to time.

  6. Have you been watching "Justified," too?!

    I know exactly what you mean about not getting caught up in the "Atkins lifestyle." Anything that requires you to buy something with a brandname is already suspect in my book. Nor do I think it is at all healthy to spend your time counting anything (inches, pounds, grams, calories). What I am doing now is trying to pay attention to how I feel after I eat and particularly how I feel after eating lots of cookies or drinking the juice. I am convinced that I have been living on a carbohydrate high and that this is worth attending to. But any lifestyle change is doomed to fail (in my experience) if it is based on willpower rather than appetite. But, in Atkins' defense, the point of cutting down on carbs at first is to reset your metabolism; then you gradually add healthy carbs back in while attending to how they affect your appetite and weight.

  7. I've been living low-carb for a good 10 years and have never bought a single Atkins product. Steak, lobster, butter, lamb chops, spinach, leafy greens, shrimp, vodka, bourbon, etc. yes. My only complaint is that Atkins is a very expensive diet. Sorry, Rachel. I know you don't want your blog to devolve into diet wars, nor would I want to read said blog. So, I keep my peace and wish you success if you go low-carb. RNS

  8. No need to apologize, I started it! I agree, thus far in my experience, it is not about the packaged products, but about real food. I couldn't even find Atkins products at our grocery store (yes, I looked). What worries me about the packaged stuff (from what I've glimpsed of it elsewhere) is not so much that it is branded (although I said that above), as that it is mimicking all the other packaged stuff out there, like "tofu meat" for the vegans. You buy an Atkins bar to substitute for the candy bar--thus leaving a candy-bar-shaped space in your cravings. How can this be good? Like using artificial sweetners: they just keep your sweet tooth activated, which is totally not the point! Re: expense. Interestingly, in my now two weeks shopping low-carb, our grocery bill has been pretty much the same, even with all of the meat. Which suggests to me that eating well is no more expensive than eating badly. Better to spend the money on real food than packaged carbs (cereals, cookies, chips, popcorn)!


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