Juliana’s playing soccer at recess

Among the many transformations in Juliana on the low carb eating plan, one of the most amazing to me is that she is now voluntarily organizing and playing in soccer games at school during recess.  I have been trying to get her to do that for years, because, like most schools these days, she doesn’t have a lot of PE time.  The only way she can get in some movement during the day is to move at recess.

I didn’t push her to start playing soccer during recess.  On the contrary.  A few weeks ago she asked me to buy her a soccer ball to keep in her locker at school so she could play, since the school soccer balls are always getting lost.

As I explain here, she wasn’t getting fat because she was lazy and tired; she was lazy and tired because she was getting fat.  Now that process is reversed.  She’s full of energy because she’s getting thin, and all that stored energy is available to play soccer, every day.

Soccer practice–a whole new experience

Juliana has shed about 22 pounds from her highest weight.  I suspect she will lose 30 more, so she’s still carrying around a lot of excess weight.  Nonetheless, however, she can run faster than she ever has before and has a new level of stamina.  She just started soccer practice for the fall American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) season.  She was astonished by how much energy she had.

On a low carb eating plan, she can run hard the whole practice, and not worry about depleting her limited available energy.  Why is this so?

Carbohydrates require insulin to be processed by the body.  But insulin is also the fat storage hormone–it directs the body to store energy as fat.  In Juliana (and other people who can’t tolerate much carbohydrate), eating more than a minimal amount of carbohydrate causes so much insulin release that most of the energy in the food she consumes gets sequestered in fat cells, rather than being available for Juliana to use on physical activity.

This explanation of fat sequestration robbing the individual of usable energy made a lot of sense when I read it in Gary Taubes‘ “Good Calories, Bad Calories.”  (See: Taubes, Gary (2007-09-25). Good Calories, Bad Calories (Kindle Locations 7584-7587). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

It explained Juliana’s history of not wanting to move–I went to great lengths to keep her physically active.  It wasn’t just that she loves to read (although she does), it was that she had very little energy to move because her body was storing most of it as fat.

This year is her first soccer season ever at a normal energy level.  She is jazzed!

Not getting fat because she’s lazy, but lazy because she’s getting fat

We all associate overweight people with low energy, and there’s a good reason for this.  But it’s not the reason you think.  People don’t get fat because they don’t move much; they don’t move much because they are getting fat.  The energy they could use to be active is being diverted to storage as fat.  The culprit is insulin, which is released mostly in response to eating carbohydrate, much less so in response to eating protein or fat.

When you are a parent, this lethargic behavior is extremely frustrating.  I remember vividly once when Juliana was about 9 and we were on vacation and she didn’t move from the couch all day.  I actually remember wondering what was wrong with her.  She wasn’t sick, but she didn’t look like she felt well.  At 3 in the afternoon I insisted that she go outside and do something, anything.  She didn’t want to.  I had to really push her, and I was trying to hide my anger as I did it.  Eventually she did so, reluctantly.

Now I know that going outside and moving was actually a huge effort for her, because she didn’t have much energy for motion.  It was mostly being stored in fat cells.

Hunter-gatherers don’t burn more calories than we do

Take a look at the brief description of a study of the calorie expenditure in one of the last existing traditional hunter-gatherer societies on earth:  NY Times, Hunter-Gatherer.

The authors conclude decisively that there is no difference in calorie expenditure between the Hazda people in Tanzania and typical adults in the United States and Europe.  They conclude that this finding suggests that “inactivity is not the source of modern obesity.”

Their recommendation to reduce the number of calories we eat is slightly off the mark–although they do particularly recommend eating less sugar, which is tantalizingly close to an endorsement of low carb eating in the very mainstream New York Times.

Times reporting is usually more like this:  A lengthy article by the health writer Tara Parker-Pope in December, 2011 reviewed the steady failure of weight loss diets without ever mentioning low carb plans.  The Fat Trap.  I sent her an email but never heard back.  Gary Taubes sent a rebuttal, but also hasn’t heard back.

We tried exercise…and tried…and tried…

Juliana was lethargic from a young age. I wasn’t sure why parents were always taking their kids to the park–even before she became obese, Juliana didn’t run around, she sat in the sand. I expanded my efforts to get her to move. She did gymnastics, swimming lessons, and soccer. She played basketball and indoor soccer in the winter. She joined a swim team in the summer. We tried softball because it was one of the few sports available in the spring, but it had a terrible driving to exercise ratio–lots of driving, very little exercise, so we stopped.

When she was in third grade, I started the first Girls on the Run program in our town. She ran her first 5k. Then she ran more races. Then she joined a kids triathlon team, and did triathlons too. When she was 12, she ran a 10k race by herself. We did kids’ weight training at home, since muscle mass is supposed to boost metabolism, and is also good for reducing sports related injuries.

Although exercise seemed to help her mood, a lot, it did not help her achieve a healthy weight.  It did not even seem to slow her weight gain.