The Middle Ground?

This started out as a comment to my friend Helen from Jimmy Moore's LLVLC discussion board over at my personal blog.  Here's the post: When to Eat .  That post was mostly thinking out loud about strategies for weight maintenance.

I see an Eating Timing/Quantity Spectrum:  ad libitum (eat when hungry, stop when satisfied) - to - strictly structured/controlled.  I postulate that in the middle of this spectrum, which is where many in our modern world "live", is where weight maintenance issues arise due to overeating.

I had another discussion about a different middle ground with Peter of Hyperlipid fame in the comments on this thread:  VLC and Insulin Resistance.   I posited that  "Humans seem to do better at the "moderate end of the extremes" if that makes any sense but not so much in the middle. Our appetite signalling and metabolic controls seem ill equipped to handle any significant carb + fat load simultaneously."

I blogged some thoughts on Fats & Carbs  in a companion post.  Basically I envision an Energy Macronutrient Spectrum ranging from VLC/VHF - to - VHC/VLF, and our body's ineffectual processing of mixed fuels and inefficient signalling resulting in overeating of the CF foods in the middle.

I would like to marry these two "Middle Ground = Danger Will Robinson" theories in this post.

How do these two middle ground theories relate?  Firstly, I'm going to leave protein out of the discussion here except to say that IMO, the vast majority of us cannot sustain a proper ad libitum diet without sufficient protein.   It is probably protein insufficiency rather than fat "deprivation" that precipitates LF diet failure.  But I digress ...

On the macronutrient spectrum -- especially if one stays away from the LC or LF equivalents to CF foods -- at either end of the spectrum we can probably happily exist on ad libitum "lite".  By that I mean there will probably be occasions when we eat for reasons other than genuine hunger, but it is pretty difficult to overeat (calorically speaking) either extreme.  This bears out in studying various cultures.   IMHO, it is the moderate end of these extremes that works best.  Too stringently low fat and health suffers because we need fats ... too stringently low carb is just unsustainable for many people, and I have reservations as to the long term healthfulness of a VLC/ketogenic diet.  There's something about your body thinking it is starving while awash in dietary fat for the long haul that doesn't square fully with me.  Again, I digress...

If one wants to exist somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, they probably have to go to the structured/controlled end of the timing/consumption spectrum.  I believe this is why Zone and similar plans tend to measure up rather poorly in diet comparisons.  Lots of calculating involved -- and I'm not so sure Zone prescription for the mix at each meal is best, rather overall mix for the day may be better.  One must go "extreme" on one spectrum in order to balance the "middle" of the other.

But regardless of the plan, if lifestyle forces some eating when you are not hungry on any sort of regular basis, you will likely have to shift to the "structured" side of the intake spectrum.  This is an especially difficult thing for many low carbers to swallow because LC plans tend to be ad libitum.  Consider if you make the same breakfast every day (as many do), you are moving to the middle ... perhaps without even realizing it.  Eating at any time other than when your body tells you to will require at least mindful compensation at other times.  You're in the middle ground on this spectrum and so the advantages of living on the edge of the carb/fat spectrum diminish.  Now the "naturally thin" seem to have better compensation mechanisms.  If they eat a big lunch, they'll spontaneously compensate by eating a small dinner or none at all.  Most of us don't seem to be able to do that without a degree of mindfulness.   FWIW, I think this is why many successful LC'ers tend to plateau out at higher weights than originally desired.  Ad libitum in a modern world is difficult to be true to.

Trying to "live" in the middle of both spectra, which I contend to be most Western diets complete with convenience/prepared foods and liquid calories, is a recipe for disaster ... and we are seeing the results.  CF foods are bad enough if we try to listen to our appetite/satiety signaling because they are weak on a satiety:calorie ratio.  But throw in that these foods are frequently consumed when we are "told" to eat (never skip breakfast!  never skip a meal!  it's break time!) and often in portions larger than we would self-select, and we're totally mucking it up in the middle.


James Krieger said…
Have you ever read Brian Wansick's "Mindless Eating"? He delves into many of the non-physiological factors that also causes us to overeat, and why being mindful is important. I think too many LCers think that appetite and satiety are under purely physiological control, which it is clear from tons of studies that they are not. Anyone who does not address the "mindful" part will be set up for long-term failure
CarbSane said…
Nope! Sounds like a good read. I think we all wistfully look to the *lucky* few in our lives who seem to be able to eat anything and never gain an ounce, and figure "if only" we could be thin, we could be like them. But the truth is, more of *them* than we know must be mindful as well in order to maintain their weights.

That whole NEAT adjustment for the formerly obese really sucks -- there's no other word for that! It is hard sometimes not to beat myself up over the damage I've done to my body, etc. But it serves no purpose to do so. It's a tough pill to swallow that I'll have to be MORE mindful than I probably otherwise would have had to have been had I not so abused myself.
Anonymous said…
Hi CarbSane,

Any chance you would write a post some time on what your usual do's and don'ts look like? For instance you have said in your posts that you eat a low carb low fat diet and arrange cheat days, but I wonder what this looks like for you on a typical day? I ask this mostly because I wonder what you think about eating fruit, starchy foods, vegetables and whole plant based diets and recommended limits/quantities as I am a bit confused by all the 'fructose' talk that is plaguing the internet at the moment. I'm really not sure what or who to listen to. I am desperately trying to find 'health' and feel that with all the advise, that I follow my health just gets worse; my skin just seems to get worse and worse and my hair too, despite not eating sugar, pasta, bread. I find it more and more ironic that despite all this science about fats and how good they are and any protein goes kind of attitude my body seems to be saying quite the opposite, yet I still find myself quite confused and following 'expert' advice. This stuff seems to be hard to shift from my brain.

It's timely reading this post 'The Middle Ground' as a reminder of the first (possibly) and last time I truly felt happy with my body etc was when I was living in quite difficult circumstances. I made at the time what seemed to be a conscious effort to create a life more mindfully despite all else that was going on (I was living in a Backpackers Hostel for two years: living was good, bad, and a bit crazy). However, when I left this place and the environment changed I realised how the geography of the City had in part actually helped to dictate how I had structured my life and the quality of it, as much as having been dictated by my own personal wants. For instance I walked a lot because it was that kind of city where you literally had to, I got sunshine because the place I lived was dark and could be quite depressing, I felt I had to get out, I was able to go out and buy fresh, quality produce on my doorstep which made me feel good, etc. So my point in reference to this post is that in the same way all the nutrition blogs, nutrition books have and are structuring thoughts and behavior too, though the guise is somehow that we're supposed to be better in control of our lives through nutritional knowledge. Clearly as you say, what lies behind weight loss or over all health is multifaceted and cant necessarily by cured or even explained by adding cod liver oil, vitimin K, a vitamin D supplement or even, by getting a bit of sunshine etc etc etc.

I wonder how to reach middle ground and undo some of the damage done by this way of thinking, as I no longer know how much these thoughts dictate my not liking to eat oats, because they make me feel a certain way, and things like that. I wonder whether it is possible to reverse all these harmful relationships I haven't the know how to define or distinguish as yet, regarding what is dictating these feelings and decisions about foods. I am really asking what thoughts and decisions that we make are truly our own, dictated by our bodily needs? How do we decide whether our wants are good for us? I suppose thats what nutritionalist advice is about though isn't it, and my talking is possibly the equivalent of one massive oxymoron! HA HA Anyway, thanks for the thought prompts and enjoying your posts all the same! X
CarbSane said…
Hi Jenna, I have some thoughts to share with you but need a little time to organize them. Just wanted to let you know I didn't forget about you and I read your post. :)
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