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How Following a Low Carb - High Protein Diet Saved My Life

Susanna Sisson's picture
Low Carb High Protein Food

Several years ago, I was asked to speak to a group of medical school residents about nutrition. What I told them was this: “Whatever you do, don’t put your patients in the hospital and then starve them.”


Many years later while living in Hawaii, I met a woman at a restaurant. During the course of our conversation I started talking about nutrition, diet, and supplements. After a few minutes, she grabbed a pen and started writing down what I was saying. When I finally got around to asking her what she did for a living, she hung her head and sheepishly said, “I’m a doctor.” When I laughed and said, “And you’re writing down everything I’m telling you?” her reply was simply, “But we aren’t taught anything about nutrition.”

Although things have changed somewhat, we still have a long way to go. I have been blessed to work with physicians who do consider the nutritional status of their patients, although they do still rely greatly on nurses and other ancillary personnel to ensure their patients are receiving proper nourishment.

Many still use the old food pyramid but most of the cardiologists I worked with embraced the low carb, high protein diet, not only for their patients but for themselves.

Good nutrition is important throughout a person’s lifetime and more important at certain times: infancy and childhood, during times of illness or injury, when pregnant or lactating and during the later years of life when people tend to neglect themselves and are more prone to the development of cardiovascular disease, endocrine disorders, immunodeficiency, and the aging process.

Several years ago I wrote an article for the use of nutritional counseling for friends and family. I have edited and added to the information several times. I have been told by many people I should start a business and charge for sharing the information but, I feel it is more important to simply help people interested in losing weight or improving their health. For that reason I am including “For Life” in this article in hopes people will be motivated to change.

For Life

First of all I do not recommend dieting; I recommend a lifestyle change. I have to tell you changing my lifestyle saved my life, literally. When people see my family portrait they are often shocked at the differences between myself and my siblings and most remark that I don’t look as if I even belong in the photo. Both sisters and my brother (who has since passed away at age 49) due to complications related to obesity and back surgery) are quite large. In medical jargon they would be described as morbidly obese, and we were all like that as kids. In fact, when I was 13, I weighed almost 200 pounds and couldn’t run farther than a few yards without getting winded.

So, as a young teen, I put myself on a diet. I ate bacon and eggs for breakfast, boiled chicken breast or tuna with lots of veggies and salad for lunch and dinner, and instead of candy, cake, cookies or bread (toasted with butter, syrup or jelly), I ate carrots or an apple for my snack.

I remember walking to the neighborhood store, (back then we had mini mom and pop grocery stores, instead of convenience stores), where the owners always gave each of us a piece of candy every time we came in but, instead of taking that piece of candy I bought an apple. I even remember how it tasted - sweet and juicy - and walking home I pictured myself thinner. I even felt thinner, and a little bit triumphant that I had made a decision to eat something healthy. I noticed the looks on the neighbor’s faces and I realized that to everyone around me I would look healthier and thinner just by eating something healthy for me.

That summer I went from 193 pounds down to 163 and since I was more active put on a lot of muscle which burns more fat. I did count calories and for the first time became aware of how much I had been eating. I began to exercise more, pared down my eating, started to run, and lost weight and although I felt wonderful and wasn’t ever hungry, I was still fat.

Then, when I was 18, I read Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution The High Calorie Way to Stay Thin (and young) Forever (1972) He explained WHY we get fat (metabolic imbalance) and how changing our diet to a healthier (albeit imbalanced (according to nutritionists and some doctors)) way of eating, allows a person to actually burn their own fat for energy. Although the diet restricts carbohydrates, which includes fruits and some vegetables, it is only severely restrictive for the first two weeks, then; important foods such as fruit, nuts, and more vegetables can be added back into the diet and become staples of a new, healthier and more balanced nutritional program. The severe restriction of carbs and gradual increase works to retrain the body’s metabolism and method of utilizing energy using body fat rather than carbs, a process called gluconeogenesis. Side effects will not only be an increase in energy and weight loss as your body begins to throw off ketones in your breath and urine. This is called benign ketoacidosis and is a normal process of fat burning.

The way of eating Dr. Atkins proposed, which is actually heart healthy and the best diet for diabetic control ad well as prevention of cardiovascular disease, made it possible for me to change my metabolism, indeed; for anyone to change their metabolism. It just made sense. Now I understood WHY I had gained weight in the first place and what was necessary to lose it and keep it off. I realized I was carbohydrate intolerant and had a metabolic insulin resistance, which is true of most people who are overweight.

In addition, 9 out of 10 people in the United States, whether overweight or not, are chromium deficient. Because of over farming our soil is leached of essential minerals. Over processing of foods further removes this essential mineral from our foods. To add to the problem of chromium deficiency, diets high in carbohydrates (sugars), cause a loss of chromium from the body. In addition, most forms of chromium are not easily absorbed by the body, so supplementation of chromium chelated with picolinate is necessary.

I can almost guarantee that if you are diagnosed as pre-diabetic, diabetic or hypoglycemic, a major contributing factor is chromium deficiency.

The major preventable diseases in chromium deficiency are Type II Diabetes, Metabolic Insulin Resistance, Impaired Lipid Metabolism, Muscle Wasting and Weight Gain.

If you are overweight and have resorted to bariatric surgery you are most likely more vitamin and mineral deficient than the general population. For those patients supplementation is absolutely necessary for the rest of their lives.

Other reasons for the increase in obesity world-wide is the wide-spread use of processed foods and mineral deficiencies such as iodine which leads to metabolic syndrome, undiagnosed hypothyroidism and other disease processes.

The Fallacy

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What Atkins found was that when carbs are restricted, and more protein and therefore naturally more fat is ingested, amazing things begin to take place in the body. Not only is there weight loss, but blood sugar stabilizes without the necessity of taking oral hypoglycemic medications or insulin, triglycerides go down and the LDL to HDL ratio improves. Other markers for inflammation such as C-reactive protein (CRP) also improve. What Dr. Atkins was recommending was not a high fat diet as some of his critics have indicated, but rather a diet high in lean protein, good fats and complex carbohydrates. His recommendations work because they are simple biochemistry.

My Journey

When it clicked that I could eat all I wanted of lean meats, seafood (even dipped in real butter), eggs, cheese (up to 4 ounces daily), and reasonable amounts of green veggies, and that I could snack on berries and nuts after the first two weeks, and even have cheesecake (a low carb version made with stevia), I was hooked - for life.

The first two weeks I lost 8 pounds and then lost about 2-3 pounds a week until I got down to 135 pounds. Being 5’ 8” tall that was a little too thin, so I gained back up to 143 where I stayed until I had my first child, over 32 years ago.

When I was 35 and finishing my BSN, I noticed I just didn’t seem to have the energy I once did and I had gained weight back while in school. I started running again, although I wasn’t breaking any records. The first day was mostly walking but, over the next weeks and months my muscle memory and persistence began to pay off. Over the next six months my time and distance improved and was able to run 5 miles in about 35 minutes. Running and working out gave me all the energy and mental focus I needed to work a full time job, go to school, take care of a child, and enjoy an active lifestyle. I lost the 50 pounds I had gained while being too busy to take care of myself.

So, I decided to have another child. During that pregnancy I was sick and gained more weight than I wanted or needed to and put additional strain on my heart in the process. Because of the infection I developed gestational diabetes, yet, once it was treated my blood sugars stabilized, I had a normal delivery and healthy child. I again took the weight off safely with diet and exercise losing a total of 70 pounds and going beyond my goal to an even lower body weight. Had I been able to be more active and not listened to my doctor who said I could eat what I wanted, I might not have gained that weight in the first place.

Atkins - A Pioneer

Since Dr. Atkins “Revolution”, there have been other proponents of the low carbohydrate way of eating but, let me tell you a little secret….they’re all “Gucci knock offs”.

If you really look into them – all of them - South Beach, Jenny Craig, Suzanne Sommers, the GI Diet, The Zone Diet, and Protein Power, which, by the way, is very well written and explains WHY the diet works and goes a little more in depth into the biochemistry of metabolic insulin resistance, you will find they are all just variations of the Diet Revolution. They didn’t discover anything new, they just cashed in on what Atkins had already tried to tell us for years. Even the new Paleo diet is a modified version of Atkins.

Several years ago I saw a television interview with Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades, M.D. of Little Rock, Arkansas, and they thanked Dr. Robert Atkins for his courage, tenacity, and vision in the field of bariatrics and nutrition.

Atkins was a real pioneer - someone who cared enough about his patients to find a way of living (and eating) that people could live with and be happy. He said it should be called the Never Be Hungry Again diet… and he was right.

Today I run and lift weights and feel great. When I was 50, I obtained my certification for personal training, the National Federation of Personal Trainers (NFPT). I am now 56, look much younger than my chronological age and I never get sick.

But, a few years ago, I had my first sports related injury which then turned into a cascade of related problems. I had pulled a hamstring, but my sartorius and iliotibial band became involved and I found myself barely able to walk, much less run. During months of rehabilitation I gained weight because I was too depressed to cook and eat correctly, and felt horrible. I also began using a number of sports performance products created by a company I was, at that time, involved with, not knowing the effects of sucralose – iodine depletion and exacerbation of inflammation and weight gain. Despite a strong education in nutrition, what I didn’t know was killing me.

Obesity and Inflammation

There are several studies which link obesity and inflammation. We now know people with inflammation are more likely to become obese as well as develop not only diabetes but heart disease and cancer. [2-4]

Just as I was able to get back into the gym I had an unfortunate accident while doing dips and injured both my shoulder and elbow. Suddenly, even activities of daily living became difficult. I was unable to lift, pull or push and was still in pain from the hamstring pull. To make matters worse I was suffering from depression over my injuries. I lost my 6 pack abs, and began to feel old. I developed plantar fasciitis and was again in incredible pain. By the time I was able to begin working out again, I had lost a huge amount of muscle, had gained fat, and had no energy, even using an incredible number of sports performance products and supplements. Despite my efforts to improve my nutrition and spending an incredible amount of time exercising and in the gym, I wasn’t losing the weight.
I was still in pain a lot of the time due to the injuries and couldn’t take NSAID’s because I had developed a sensitivity to them that caused horrible swelling in my feet and hands. I was miserable.

Initially, I had mild side effects: Upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, headache, diarrhea, constipation, dizziness, drowsiness, but over time the side effects were worse: easy bruising/bleeding, hearing changes (such as ringing in the ears), mental/mood changes, and severe swelling of the ankles/feet/hands. I KNEW I had to do something so I began cleansing every 90 days.

I went to a physician who specialized in weight loss to have a physical, including ECG and lab work with a thyroid panel. I was told everything was normal. So, why was it I couldn’t drop the weight even going low carb and kept gaining? Other doctors put me on an appetite suppressant which only made me anxious, irritable and caused me to have insomnia and feel lethargic when I woke up. So, instead of an appetite suppressant this doctor gave me a bottle of something to take before meals. The bottle only had the name of the supplement and directions to take one before each meal. The label didn’t even have my name on it! When I asked what the supplement was, the nurse practitioner couldn’t tell me. Needless to say, I wasn’t about to take something that neither the doctor nor nurse knew the ingredients in or how it worked so I fired that doctor and set out to find my own answers!

I began my own research to solve my weight problem and it was as simple as correcting my thyroid issues by increasing consumption of organic iodine and chromium from brown seaweed, adding arginine to boost my body’s production of HGH and as well as other amino acids which increased muscle, and the right supplements that Atkins recommends in his later books. Those changes along with a low carb diet made the difference. I was able to lose the weight and at 56 am not on any medications and have an incredible amount of energy.

1. Healinghandsmassages.com
2. Cardiovascular Disease – Prevention, Not Medical Intervention is the Key – What Role Does Inflammation Play
3. Part 2
4. Cardiovascular Disease – Prevention, Not Medical Intervention is the Key – What Role Does Inflammation Play By Susanna Sisson RN