Please talk to me about the ability to stay long-term on a low/no grain diet.
July 27, 2011 2:41 PM   Subscribe

Please talk to me about the ability to stay long-term on a low/no grain diet.

I am considering going off grains (almost) altogether. I have non-celiac gluten intolerance, so I have already given up wheat. I also have insulin resistance due to polycystic ovaries and some joint achiness that I think could be alleviated by removing grains. Also, I would like to lose weight.

My main concern is that I will lose a fair amount of weight doing this and then gain it all back plus more, thanks to the insulin resistance. I was on the Atkins diet for a couple of years before the gluten intolerance and literally could not sustain it. My once low-level anxiety peaked so much I almost had to be hospitalized and pretty much as soon as I added carbs back I was back to normal. Except with twenty pounds over where I had started. I can't keep messing up my setpoint.

If you are on a low or no grain diet, do you find it sustainable? I cook almost all my food myself. The grains I do eat now are rice, corn and tapioca. I don't eat many potatoes. Not a grain, I know, but just for detail. I try to eat lots of protein and vegetables and fruit, so this won't be as huge a change for me as it would have been when I could still eat at restaurants and didn't cook most of my own food.

Any advice about going grain free would also be helpful. I don't know that I'm going as far as paleo, but I'm considering it.

(If your advice is just 'eat less calories' please assume that I have heard that before. As a person with a documented metabolic disorder, this is the path I want to take for now. Thank you.)
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I started going grain-free in February. (I kind of can't shut up about it, sorry.) I have what everyone seems to concur is rheumatoid arthritis that is consistently triggered by gluten, and after a couple of years of so-so compliance, being on and off meds, and having side effects from the meds, I decided to go whole hog.

The thing with being grain-free is that it is not directly connected to how carb-o-rrific your diet is. It's easy to end up going low-carb that way, but just swap in fruit and sweet potatoes for rice and corn and you can go as high carb as you need. I have been eating a lot of fruit the last month or so because a) I'm in Texas and it's HOT and so I don't really feel like eating a ton of heavy stuff and b) it's in season, local, and totally fabulous. So I wouldn't worry about that - just do what you need to do.

In terms of sustainability: I had no problem doing three months with 90%ish compliance (to the full-on no grain, no dairy, no beans Paleo thing, actually) and then took basically a month off for my birthday and a trip. When I got back, two days of concentration and grocery shopping got me right back on track. I feel 100% better when I'm doing the thing - energy levels are almost uncomfortably high, sleep is fantastic, and the travel-stress-induced incipient arthritis flare slunk pretty much immediately back to the hell it came from.

Downside: It's expensive. Buying good-quality (grassfed, organic) meat is not cheap. Eating vegetables and meat in place of grains is not cheap. But I find I actually come out ahead budget-wise because I have no desire to snack and I don't need caffeine. It's also a bitch to eat out and be the weird one asking for exceptions at a lot of places. (My solution to this was to convert all my friends. It's worked surprisingly well.)

I am happy to go on at length about this; you're welcome to MeMail.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:54 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

I don't know how the insulin resistance will cause a spike in weight on a low-carb diet, but...

I've been LC/Atkins/keto for 16 months solid now. You want some advice, here it is:

A) Be very careful with 'fruit'. Especially tropical fruit. Tons of sugar. Temperate fruit like strawberries, blueberries, etc are a MUCH better choice.

B) Learn to experiment while cooking, be open to new ideas. My menu is totally different now then when I started due to growth in my skills/tools/knowledge. Shop the dusty corners of grocery stores.

C) Speaking of which, only shop the 'outside' of grocery stores. Most aisles are filled with crap.

D) If you get anxiety from not eating carbs, you can certainly eat 'some'. Perhaps a CKD-like diet would be better suited? Do you think it was hormonal?

E) You can still eat at restaurants. But I hear the IHOP eggs have farina in them. ;)
posted by unixrat at 3:01 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

We've been doing the grain-free (really starch-free) for about six months now. My husband is Type II diabetic, and this has really helped him control his blood sugars. The bonus for me (and, to a lesser extent, him as well) has been the weight loss. The protein keeps us filled up so much that I actually find myself skipping meals because I'm not hungry. That never happened before.

As to how to sustain it: The whole "carb addiction" thing seemed like a racket to me, until we cut the carbs way down. The first few days were rocky, but then we stopped craving them. Interestingly, if we "backslide" by eating bread or a grain the cravings come back (but only for a day or so). To keep it from getting boring, though, it's important to experiment with different vegetables or different ways to prepare them.

The anxiety issue you experienced on low-carb is a mystery to me (but IANAD). Are you sure it was caused by the Atkins diet?
posted by DrGail at 3:02 PM on July 27, 2011

F) Watch out for sugar-alcohols.
posted by unixrat at 3:03 PM on July 27, 2011

First: insulin resistance doesn't prevent weight loss or make weight gain inevitable. It just makes it more likely for your body to store carbs as fat. The only reason you'd gain the weight back is if you started eating a lot of excess calories and sugary carbs. I'm not sure how a low-carb diet would cause you to gain weight.

Second: the low-grain, low-sugar diet combined with the weight loss should actually improve your insulin sensitivity. If you start exercising (especially weight training) your insulin sensitivity should improve further. It's quite possible to go from insulin resistant to a normal metabolic state--I was in the former category and after a few years of exercise and watching my diet more closely I'm now in the latter.

Eating no-grain is totally sustainable. Dinner is meat and vegetables. That's what many people order at restaurants anyway. The only difference is your sides are more vegetables rather than potatoes or rolls or rice.
posted by schroedinger at 3:06 PM on July 27, 2011

F) Watch out for sugar-alcohols.
posted by unixrat at 5:03 PM on July 2

Could you explain this, please? Is it because they will cause carb cravings, or is there another reason?

posted by MexicanYenta at 3:45 PM on July 27, 2011

Hey! I've been eating grain-free (minus the singular exception of PIZZA!! once in a blue moon -- and by "blue moon," I mean every six months or so) since 2007. I did lose weight on it -- about 38 pounds -- and I've gained back about five of them since I started eating fruit like a HOG. But I'm comfortable with that. :)

Insulin resistance: no-grain is great for this. It's absolutely fantastic, in fact. I'd see this as a prime reason to adopt a no-grain diet. I guess I'm a little confused about exactly what your concern is, in this regard. Could you elaborate?

Weight gain: Yes. If you go no-grain and lose weight, and then you return to your old eating patterns (grain-heavy diet), chances are that you will gain back a significant amount of weight.

However, in my experience -- a no-grain diet somehow changed the way I react to high-carb food on the rare occasions I now consume it. To whit: I started a no-grain diet because my appetite was no longer functioning correctly. I could sit down with a bag of corn chips and some cheese dip and finish the whole damned thing and be hungry not an hour later. It was like certain foods just broke the "off switch" or the "satiety signal" and made me want to keep eating forever. Moreover, I had crazy intense cravings for these very foods -- nothing else would satisfy me, and these cravings really got powerful enough to disrupt my concentration!

That alarmed the hell out of me, as did my sudden weight gain when I hit 27 or so. So. I quit 'em entirely.

Now, on the rare occasions when I have pizza or sweets, a miraculous thing happens: I get full and I don't want more. If that seems not-so-extraordinary to you, chances are you wouldn't find a no-grain diet as amazing as I did. However, if that seems like a rare and lovely thing to aspire to, I strongly recommend you give no-grain a try.

do you find it sustainable?

Yes. I had to learn to cook, though. The fact that you already cook -- and are therefore willing to spend the time cooking -- gives you a huge advantage over a lot of people who try this diet.

You'll have to learn all new recipes. You'll learn the wonders of cooking with almond flour and flaxseed meal and coconut flour and coconut oil. And you'll make some damned tasty things. This forum has a great recipe section that has yielded so many awesome dishes - not only muffins for snacking, but also their famous deep-dish pizza quiche, that for many years was a more than satisfactory substitute for the real thing!


If you are vegetarian -- this will be much harder.

If you eat meat but don't like it - or dislike high-fat foods -- try to open your mind to them, and also trust that your tastebuds might change. I hated (to the point of GAGGING) eggs when I started eating this way. Now, I eat two every morning, and find them delicious. High-fat (real) food used to taste gross to me, but when I was losing weight, I used to crave tablespoons of straight coconut oil (and I'd drink 'em, and lose weight the next day). It's very weird how your tastes change when your diet changes. (Strange footnote: the smell of most bread aisle in grocery stores now nauseates me. They smell overpoweringly of yeast.)

Do I find it hard to keep eating this way? Nope. It's surprisingly easy to be social on this diet -- simply ask for veggies instead of potatoes when you're out at a restaurant; eat the sausages at a bar instead of the popcorn and pretzels; eat your hamburger without a bun, if you have to.

The biggest reason I love this way of eating concerns the huge amount of energy I have now, compared to what I had before. But it's also nice to be able to feel full after eating -- to go for long hours without even thinking about food. And also, in my 30s, it's great to effortlessly stay at a weight that's lower than what I weighed even in high school. Win-win all around, IMO.
posted by artemisia at 5:04 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

I've been eating a low-carb, very-low-complex-starch diet for about six years, and I'd never go back. Yes, it's sustainable -- the key is to cook for yourself (as you're already doing), and explore different ways to cook meat and veggies.

Indian food has been a huge boon for me; most Indian dishes are naturally grain-free (if you omit the rice) and very low-carb, and India's strong vegetarian tradition will provide you with a million ways to cook veggies. Check out Madhur Jaffrey's cookbooks, or 660 Curries. Likewise, squishy meals are usually pretty easy to make low-carb: soup, stew, spaghetti sauce, chili, curry, casseroles, etc. Just throw in more veggies and meat instead of the carby stuff. In particular, sauteed broccoli slaw or thinly-sliced zucchini both make a good substitute for pasta. I also like to substitute chopped, sauteed cauliflower for rice/potatoes/whatever. It has a great flavor and is a perfect substitute for your typical starchy side-dish.

I'll say one more thing: do not count calories and do not worry about fat. If you try to go low carb on salad, skinless chicken breast, and skim milk, you'll probably crash -- in the absence of carbs, your body needs plenty of fats to convert to energy. Nuts, avocado, fish oil, butter, red meat, and the like are your friends. Don't be afraid to snack, take seconds, etc!
posted by vorfeed at 5:06 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

MexicanYenta, not sure if this is what unixrat meant, but sugar alcohols can pose different problems to different peoples. I've got no problem with erythritol (which is the best tolerated according to various studies), but some of them cause stomach upset in varying doses. They can also act like sugars for some people in terms of blood sugar spikes (causing cravings, mood swings, and crashes, at the least). Finally, if weight loss is the goal, they can stall that for some people.

I like to use Z-Sweet in my muffin baking, but I didn't touch sugar alcohols when I was losing weight, instead going with Stevia and, on occasion, Splenda.
posted by artemisia at 5:09 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another vote for "sustainable" -- have been gluten free for about 18 months. Not exactly the same as grain free, but I think it is close enough that my experiences may be relevant. I was eating a zone diet before that, so like yourself, I was already mostly there. I'm not allergic, but it started as a one month experiment, went back to grains for two weeks, then really committed to going gluten free. You mention that you cook all of your own food; I think that is a key practice to making it sustainable.

Other than cooking for yourself, the biggest challenges on sustainability I've found are (a) eating at restaurants, (b) food at the workplace, and (c) eating with other people. Eating out because you have less control over the food and have to deal with things like a waiter bringing a basket of bread to the table without asking or croutons showing up on your salad. Food at the office because invariably the food that gets brought to share are going to be grains (e.g. bagels, donuts, cake) and there is some peer pressure to go along ("just a little slice won't kill you!"). And eating with others for the same reason -- a lot of questions on why you choose not to eat grains. I've got a little spiel now to explain that I'm not allergic, but just do better without wheat.

No opinion on the weight loss part of your question. I started out at something like 12% bodyfat and my weight has stayed the same within +/- 2 pounds since I started.
posted by kovacs at 5:42 PM on July 27, 2011

Hit post too soon -- I see that I was sloppy about the different between gluten free and grain free. Should clarify that I eat fairly clean paleo, but will occasionally have a bit of rice or a corn tortilla if I'm eating out, so no gluten and other grains rarely.
posted by kovacs at 5:52 PM on July 27, 2011

I'm doing no grain. (side note: high protein and fat and tons of vegetables; I've lost 20lbs)

It is completely sustainable.

The thing to remember is that it is not by definition low carb. You don't have to lose weight on it. You can eat lots of sweet potatoes and you get plenty of sugar-carbs through fruit, etc.
posted by carlh at 6:24 PM on July 27, 2011

If you have insulin resistance, you have insulin resistance. You will never process carbs like someone who doesn't have it. That's why you'll bounce back if you up your carb intake. In other words: Atkins for Life, mi compadre, with consistent exercise at maintenance levels. And if that still doesn't work, it may be Metformin time.

Obviously, a grain-free way of eating is 2/3 of the way to any low-carb plan, so yes that method will probably get you part of the way. Is that hard? Yes, grains and starches make meals cheaper, and they make people happy so they're everywhere. But it is sustainable, with some vigilance and in some cases pre-planning. Cheese and protein are hard to stash, you can't just carry some cheddar around in your purse (though, thankfully, you can find tiny bits of overpriced cheese at almost any convenience store these days).

I sympathize, as a wagon-faller-offer with 100lbs of "oh, fuck it" weight to lose myself (post-Atkins too, and I'll tell you it's never as easy as the first time when cutting out bread was worth a good 30lbs out of the box), but yes, if you avoid the fuckits you can do it. It's definitely easier than it was 10 years ago and getting easier all the time.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:04 PM on July 27, 2011

Grain-free is wonderful. Sure, I eat rice from time to time because it lacks the potentially problematic things in other grains, sushi is delicious, and rice-eating societies tend to be healthier than wheat-eating ones.

Eating mostly grain-free Primal/loose Paleo has cured my hypertension. In particular, it dropped the most when I really started eating more fatty meat and less cheese. It's completely sustainable and I recommend to people it all the time. Even if one isn't sensitive to grains, they are nutritionally inferior foods and there's no biological reason to eat them. I think paleo carbs like sweet potatoes and tapioca are great, but as someone with insulin resistance it's probably best to limit them - but not completely avoid - for now. Make it a priority to get a good ratio of omega-3-to-6 fats, eat right, and then try re-evaluating your insulin resistance in a few months.

If there is a downside, it's that food can get bland if you don't have time to cook something special. Bringing some boiled eggs to work as a snack instead of getting something from the fast food place just isn't all that exciting. But even this has its upsides.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 8:17 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Could you explain this, please? Is it because they will cause carb cravings, or is there another reason?

P much what artemisia said. IIRC, fructose is hard to digest without glucose. Sorbital converts into fructose and interferes with fructose absorption at the same time. (Resulting in 'intestinal distress') Malitol is just sorbital+glucose, which removes some of the intestinal problems, but increased absorption just means the body treats it more like sugar.

Sorbitol has been shown to be treated very similarly to sugar in rats.

Erythritol is pretty much totally different from those two and seems to be the best bet.

tl;dr - Malitol and Sorbitol should be considered as 60%+ sugar.
posted by unixrat at 10:17 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

You should talk to a doctor or nutritionist first. You're going to get a lot of conflicting answers on anything diet-related from the internet.
posted by schmod at 2:02 PM on July 28, 2011

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