where this started
My story starts back in the mid-90s. This was a time when you learned things from things called books that were made out of paper. (Strange concept these days.) The Internet was getting started, but was not yet the go-to place where people got information. That meant that: 1. Information was harder to come by. 2. It was difficult to get a broad range of views on topics.
I was reasonably healthy but high blood pressure was looming due to family history, I was starting to gain a bit of weight and didn't really have a ton of energy. What I learned was that: 1. The key way to health and weight control was exercise -- aerobic, to build muscle which burns more calories even at rest than fat. 2. You have to avoid fat, eat lots of complex carbohydrates, vegetables and fruit. 3. You need to watch your calories and eat less than you burn through exercise, etc. if you want to lose weight.
Much of what I learned and believed can be summarized in a couple books that made perfect sense to me, particularly in the vacuum of other information sources. They were "Fit or Fat" and "The Fit or Fat Target Diet." by Covert Bailey.
a long spiral down
This low fat, high exercise approach worked fairly well for me, on and off at least. The "on" was when I was really regularly exercising. The "off" was at all other times. When I started that, I was getting into road cycling -- typically some pretty long rides like centuries or half-centuries. Cycling is an excellent calorie burning activity. For one thing, for me, it is an activity that I can do for extended periods of time because you are moving fast and able to avoid boredom. Cycling burns a lot of energy. An hour ride burns around 500 calories. A half-century burns around 2000-3000 calories (almost double an average day) and a century burns around 4000-5000 calories.
For various reasons, I got out of cycling and then only the intermittent exercise I would do (stationary bike, treadmill, some weightlifting) would keep me at any level of fitness, and allow me to keep weight off.
Simultaneously, and not coincidentally, other health markers declined. Most importantly, my blood pressure gradually increased being "borderline high" for a number of years, despite avoiding sodium and largely following the low fat guidance, finally spiking at a somewhat "scary high" level, meaning that I now had to get on medication. I was daily taking a combined beta blocker and diuretic. It did indeed control my blood pressure. Of course, as with most modern medications, it also brought side effects. Initially I experienced some tiredness, but this wasn't bad, it was more a feeling of relaxation that eventually went away. Worse though, after several years on the medication, I discovered that my potassium levels were seriously low. So, I started taking a prescription potassium supplement, eventually taking a very large does just to keep my serum potassium levels reasonable. I was getting regular heartburn which I thought was probably due to the potassium, but as you'll soon see had nothing to do with that.
Over the years, while my blood pressure stayed fairly stable, other, not-so-positive things were happening. I was beginning to get arthritis symptoms, particularly in my hands. The heartburn continued and gradually got more frequent. (I was taking Prevacid almost daily and sometimes had to take courses of Prilosec.) My doctor wasn't happy with my cholesterol numbers (he was of course focused on total and LDL cholesterol but my triglycerides were also above normal.) I had started to take fish oil for a few years and that had helped my arthritis symptoms somewhat and actually brought my HDL numbers just into the normal range. My blood glucose numbers were getting worse, to the point I was considered pre-diabetic.
Less quantitative, but easily important things were happening as well. I was getting less and less able to even think about doing what I thought would make me healthier. While I still tried to eat what I thought was healthy, I would give into temptation more and more when those cookies were sitting out at a business meeting, or having an evening snack that I knew I didn’t need. I would also think about exercising but seldom would I have the energy to start, or if I started would I have the energy to keep it up. I got to the point that I was starting to resign myself that I was too old to really change my health or fitness level significantly, and figured I would continue to gain weight, would continue to take prescription medications the rest of my life (and add to those that I was already taking.) I thought this was just an expected part of the aging process and without some super-human effort, which I didn’t feel I had in me, was impossible to change.
There was quite a bit of buzz about low carb several years back, even to the point that restaurants were offering lettuce-wraps etc, I never paid much attention or thought that these people were missing the point that the problem wasn’t the bun or the bread but the fat in the sandwich that was being lettuce-wrapped.