Low-Carb Cruise Day One

Thursday, May 17, 2012
2012Imagine a vacation where you not only get to visit exotic locales, snorkel in crystal-clear Caribbean waters, and relax in the sun, but meet over 270 low-carbers from all over the world, sharing stories and tips, eating together, and generally having a great time. Plus, all this is only the backdrop for three days of excellent speakers on various aspects of living a low-carb lifestyle.

This year the fun started before we even got on the ship, as on Saturday evening we shared a delicious low-carb meal at the local hotel where most of us were staying. We all got "goodie bags" with low-carb products and information. But the real treat was after the dinner when Tom Naughton, comedian and filmmaker of the great documentary Fat Head "roasted" each of the cruise speakers. It was a great introduction to the speakers, as well as getting us started on the fun part of the cruise. (Tom is a prime example of the fact that people actually learn more when they are relaxed and entertained.)

Sunday we embarked, and Sunday evening shared our first cruise meal together (our group is seated in the same section). Our waitress was at first a bit puzzled about our needs, but soon she was logging onto Google to learn about low-carb eating, so she could help us out. Each evening she enthusiastically tells us which items on the menu we can eat and which can be easily modified to be low in carb. That first night, many after-dinner conversations followed in little knots throughout the ship, including at the first of many karaoke gatherings.

Monday morning began the first day of speakers. As I've reported in my most recent blog post, Dr. Jack Kruse had been removed from the ship the day before due to a fraudulent "tweet", so instead four of our many knowledgeable low-carbers who weren't scheduled to speak filled in with shorter talks:

Valerie Berkowitz, registered dietician, diabetes educator, and author of The Stubborn Fat Fix said that the #1 factor in success is motivation. If you don't have that, you won't be able to find creative ways to consistently stick to your plan in stressful and difficult times. She suggested ditching the scale and using other measures of success. Also, brutal honesty with yourself is called for.

Dr. Mary Vernon, low-carb leader, educator of physicians, researcher, and co-author of Atkins' Diabetes Revolution - told the story of how frustrated she was as a physician when all the advice she was supposed to give her patients didn't work, which launched her on a quest to help them, and eventually has influenced the health of so many. She says, "If you do this, it works! If you keep doing it, it keeps working!" If you want your body to run as it should, you need to find the correct hormonal balance. Carb restriction works for two of the main hormones, but there are other ones.

Dr. Mike Fox, a specialist in infertility and woman's health, says that he sees pregnancy rates double or triple with carbohydrate restriction alone. He said it also works for many of the symptoms of menopause, especially when nutritional therapy is combined with other treatments.

Dr. Lauren Noel, a naturopathic physician, talked about how she turned her health around with nutrition. She advocated a nutrient-dense Paleo, gut-based approached, and says that "everything starts in the gut". She has a stool test done on everyone, and has her patients fill out a 15-page history. This way, she can identify the root causes of problems, and fine-tune the approach to the person. Dr. Noel finds that patients who have bad skin or are depressed are probably eating low-fat. She says that the standard American diet "is turning women into men, and men into women" by changing hormonal balance.

Next was our first "scheduled" speaker: Dr. Eric Westman, leading low-carb expert, researcher, and co-author of New Atkins for a New You. Dr. Westman's talk was "Debunking Myths About Low-carb Lifestyles". It was a user-friendly form of the lecture he's been giving to physicians. Some of the ideas he covered:

Myth: We need a certain amount of carbohydrate every day. Dr. Westman brought us through which tissues of our body need glucose, pointing out that of these, most can do just fine using ketones if your body is "keto-adapted" (used to using fat for energy instead of carbohydrate). For example, 80% of brain energy can be provided by ketones. The bottom line is that our bodies only need a small amount of glucose, which can easily be provided without dietary carbohydrate, as our bodies can make 210-270 grams of glucose per day through gluconeogenesis.

Myth: Low-carb diets are high in protein - Actually, people don't usually change the amount of protein they are eating all that much, although the percentage goes up as they naturally reduce the total calories they are eating.

Myth: Low-carb diets are too hard to maintain - Any chance is difficult, but people aren't given sufficient support in adopting a low-carb diet. When they receive that support, they are a lot more likely to be able to make the change. Also, if (for example) someone stops following their exercise program we don't say, "oh, well, I guess it's just too hard. Forget about exercise, then."

Dr. Westman says that in medical school he was taught what pill to give for what condition. Now, he takes pills away instead.

Lunch time, we sat with Scott Merritt, who has a small ranch in Texas and a silk screening business which includes low-carb T-shirts. He travels a lot and has become quite an expert on obtaining cheap low-carb fast food. I learned:

- Burger King burgers consistently raise his blood sugar, while others don't. He found out that the beef they use includes by-products that contain carbs.

- In many fast food restaurants it is much less expensive to order your burger patty "on the side" than to order the sandwich without the bread. At 5 Guys, if you order one burger you can get as many patties as you want "on the side", but at McDonalds and other places (but not Wendy's or Chick-Fil-A) you can just order on the side. You can also order breakfast items from McDonald's "on the side".

- At Subway, they charge a lot more for a salad, but you can order the sandwich and have the middle wrapped separately from the bread and just throw away the bread.

In the afternoon, we heard from low-carb and Paleo bloggers each had a few minutes to talk about themselves and their sites. Then, fitness expert Fred Hahn spoke about the importance of strength training and understanding what we're doing and why, and doing it in the safest way possible. He talked about how strength training improves hormone regulation, and how all effective exercise increases our mitochondria and improves their efficiency (mitochondria are the energy-producing "factories" in our cells). His "slow burn" method goes something like this:

1) pick a resistance

2) start as slowly as you can, taking about 1-2 seconds the first inch, then continuing through the movement at that rate

3) keep going until exhaustion (the muscle simply won't work any more)

Our last talk of the day was Monique Forslund talking about "Healthy Food Healthy Kids". She is a LCHF (low-carb high-fat) proponent in Sweden, and is a fitness instructor, author, blogger, coach, Montessori teacher, and mother of 3. She told us about her journey to health through LCHF, and about how fats in the diet are so important to babies and growing children in particular (she bemoans the fact that children go from breast milk, which is over half fat, to low-fat milk). Quote from one of her children after school one day: "Mom, today it was sandwiches for lunch, so you know I'm going to be hungry."

Whew, it's Saturday morning, and I've finally finished writing up Monday! But I hope I've given you a flavor of what it's like to be on the cruise. Plans are already in place for next year's cruise. The plan is to go out of New Orleans and go to Belize and other places in that vicinity. Just saying, you can start thinking about it and planning for it now! (Note: apologies to people who saw the first draft of this from the boat, loaded with typos. I had very limited time for Internet access.)


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