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Restricting carbs until dinnertime

Published January 12. 2013 09:06AM

Time to review the intent of this column. It's written to help you get healthier and more active so that you can get more out of life more production at work, more enjoyment at play, more contentment in life.

But the articles don't offer do-as-I-do or do-as-I-say help.

That would be contrary to my experience as an athlete, advisor, and most importantly sole subject in the scores of optimal-health experiments I perform on myself. Invariably, what I have found works best is to learn from someone else's success.

Not copy it.

Copying doesn't make sense unless you are clearly a copy of someone else. And that is rare.

What does make sense is to understand yourself, recognize the differences between you and the one or ones who experienced the success, and then tweak the pattern to best suit yourself.

One pattern worth learning from is found in research done at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the impetus of which was rather similar to the learn-and-tweak method used in this column.

Doctors there noticed altered hormonal secretion patterns in Muslims during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar during which all followers fast during daylight hours. At night, they then eat a rather substantial meal, typically loaded with carbohydrates.

By doing so, they change the normal secretion pattern of leptin, the hormone that suppresses appetite. Their secretion of leptin increases throughout the daylight hours, making fasting far more manageable.

Because of this, researchers wanted to determine if the change in hormonal secretion would occur to other people if they limited their carbohydrate intake to the last meal of the day.

So research student Sigai Sofer recruited 78 police officers and followed a plan devised by his mentor, Professor Emeritus Zecharia Madar, now the Chief Scientist at Israel's Ministry of Education. Some subjects ate carbs throughout the day mimicking a typical weight-loss diet while others were limited to carbs only at dinnertime.

Six months later, 63 subjects finished the program and were tested in all sorts of ways. Those who ate carbs only at dinnertime lost more inches around the middle, more body fat, and more weight than those on the traditional carbs-throughout-the-day diet.

Just as importantly, the carbs-only-at-dinnertime group also had lower blood sugar and blood lipid levels, as well less inflammation. Their preceived-hunger scores were lower, too.

If eating carbs only at dinnertime seems impractical to you, consider the story of Dr. Rachael F. Heller who serendipitously stumbled upon this eating pattern years ago. Heller had been overweight since childhood she weighed 200 pounds at 12! and was tipping the scales at 268 as an adult when an x-ray examination for early in the day needed to be scheduled for late afternoon.

Told not to eat until after the x-ray, Heller dreaded the thought of a day without food, but found she felt not as hungry as normal. After the x-ray, she ate a restaurant meal of soup, salad, bread and butter, veal parmigiana, and pasta "to her fill" as well as two crullers purchased earlier in the day from a pastry cart.

The next morning she decided assess the damage done by her end-of-the-day excess by weighing herself. Somehow, she had lost two pounds.

Intrigued, she continued the pattern. Her weight loss moderated to two to three pounds a week, and ultimately she lost a total of 150 pounds.

She tweaked the diet to allow friends and coworkers who wanted to lose weight to eat moderate meals earlier in the day devoid of carbohydrates other than the complex ones found in vegetables. Along with help from her husband, Dr. Richard Heller, she then created a national bestseller in the early 1990s, The Carbohydrate Addict's Diet.

Heller claims her diet works for those whose weight tends to yo-yo, who usually struggle to stop once they begin eating bread, pasta, or sweets, and who find a big breakfast doesn't keep them satisfied until lunch.

I think a version of Heller's diet will work for most readers, not only because of the aforementioned study done at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but also because something similar has worked for me.

In order to maintain my optimal power-to-weight ratio to help me in hilly bicycle races, I need to keep my weight down and my body fat low. As a result, on days when I lift weights in the morning and do not ride the bike generally three times a week in the off-season I eat virtually no simple carbohydrates after my post-workout breakfast until supper. My lunch, mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks are between 50 and 75 percent protein and the majority of the other cals come from complex carbs.

This pattern causes me to secrete glucagon rather than insulin for a good portion of the day (which means I'm burning fatty acids for energy), and it probably increases my leptin production throughout the day.

And just like Heller's diet, my simple carbs are ingested later in the day, most, in fact, after supper. While this would seem to set me up for those cals to turn to fat, they don't.

Because my body has been so low on glycogen throughout the day, the carbs are used to provide fuel to the muscles.

So if you're unhappy with your present weight, you may want to experiment with when you allow yourself to consume carbohydrates, especially simple ones.

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