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A Tale Of Two Worlds: The Cognitive Disconnect About Ketogenic Living

Does it ever seem to you that those of us who choose to take an active role in living a healthy low-carb, high-fat ketogenic lifestyle are made to feel like we are somehow from some kind of strange, parallel universe compared with our sugar, grain and other processed carbohydrate-eating, fat-fearing friends and family? This idea has really hit home with me in the past few weeks with several prominent examples from my own life that shines a bright light on the complete cognitive disconnect there is between those who continue to blindly consume foods (more like “food”-like products) that can potentially cause real harm to their bodies and the obvious solution that could possibly play a role in optimizing their health. Let me share with you a few examples of exactly what I’m talking about:

- EXAMPLE #1: My wife Christine and I did some traveling to visit my mom in Florida for Thanksgiving and we stopped for a bite to eat at a Hardee’s along the way to get their Low-Carb Breakfast bowl. When I ordered this low-carb meal, the cashier asked, “Do you want to make that a combo?” I inquired about what came in the Low-Carb Breakfast bowl combo and she didn’t miss a beat when she said, “You get a side of hashbrowns and an orange juice.” I kinda stared at her dumbfounded for a few seconds before uttering, “Those foods aren’t very low in carbs.” Interestingly, the bewildered fast food employee retorted, “Oh really?” Yes, really.

- EXAMPLE #2: A group of church choir friends stopped at a Zaxby’s restaurant (a local chicken-based fast food chain in South Carolina) to eat after a Christmas event we sang at and one of the people noticed me and Christine weren’t eating. “Why aren’t you eating?” she asked. I explained we weren’t hungry and she said, “But can’t you eat something?” It was almost as if we were somehow disrupting her enjoyment of eating by not eating anything. I explained that there probably wasn’t much we could have there since it’s chicken that is mostly breaded and fried in oils we don’t like to consume in our diet. She quickly fired back, “But you could have a salad.” Ummmm, ewwww! That iceberg lettuce concoction reminds me way too much of my low-fat days and is definitely not nearly enough fat for me in a meal nowadays. Like I said, though, I wasn’t hungry at the time. So why do I need to eat to hang out and enjoy the company of others?

- EXAMPLE #3: In preparation for our Christmas concert at the church this past weekend, the minister of music asked the choir to do a marathon rehearsal that lasted nearly four hours last Wednesday. Because of this, he decided to “treat” the singers and orchestra at the halfway point with a “make-your-own-Christmas-cookie” fellowship time. As you can see from that photo above, this included the joy of taking your own sugary, wheat-based cookies, adding decorative green food coloring icing, sticking various colored M&M’s to it, and so much more. They also had (GET THIS!) waffle ice cream cones to turn upside down, paint with the green icing and then decorate the Christmas “tree” with M&M’s like little ornaments. All I can say about that is WOW, WOW, WOW! Then at the end of the long rehearsal that night, each of us were personally given a “thank you” present of a Twix bar. While I certainly appreciate the gratitude shown, that cookie, caramel, chocolate bar will never touch these lips (despite the fact back in the day before I was on my healthy low-carb lifestyle, I was a HUGE Twix bar fan).

- EXAMPLE #4: Since we had two performances of the Christmas concert at church this weekend, the minister of music said he would feed us dinner between the two concerts. When I went over to the Family Life Center to see what kind of food was being served, I was not at all surprised to see that it was dominated by submarine sandwiches, potato chips and brownies. Hmmmm, I’ll have some carbs with a very tiny bit of protein, a big side of carbs, and finish it off with (you guessed it) more sugary carbs! Someone suggested to me that I could remove those thin slices of meat off the sub rolls, but that’s much too lean and processed factory meats for my liking anymore. And so I did without until I got home. Such is the life of a low-carb, high-fat dieter.

These are just four recent examples that highlight and underscore the genuine difficulty of trying to live out LCHF in the real world when it seems our culture is constantly pulling us in a high-carb, low-fat direction. And while I realize it’s a traditional thing to do this time of year, why does everything with the Christmas holiday season have to be centered around sugary, highly-processed foods at every turn? What’s it going to take to shift these societal norms to much better choices? Nothing will ever change if we just keep going through automatic mode accepting this as normal without question year and year. What can we do?

Lest you think I am expecting a low-carb utopia, that’s not what I am going for. I’m not so idealistic to think that everyone makes choices about what they put in their mouths based on the health implications of it. When I weighed 410 pounds ten years ago, I sure didn’t. My motto was if it tasted good to me, I ate it! There was no concern about the quality of the food, the impact on my blood sugar, the effect on my metabolism and blood work, or any of the things that have been on my radar screen for most of the last decade since I lost triple digit weight and got my life back. What can we as health-conscious and super-engaged people do to attempt to merge these two very divergent worldviews when it comes to nutrition? That is the million dollar question.

I believe there are 4 actionable things we can all do right now to help bring together these radically different worlds in a way where they can learn a little more about why we choose to forgo consuming sugar, grains, and processed carbage in favor of real foods that come from mostly fat and protein and very few health-damaging carbohydrates:

1. Be the example. There’s nothing more powerful than a life that’s been changed. I overheard a conversation last night between a woman who has lost over 100 pounds in the past couple of years and someone she just met. The weight loss success story (who is a friend of mine I’d LOVE to get on my podcast sometime in 2014) stated that she has to avoid virtually all sugar in her diet to continue to see the positive impact on her weight and health. The woman she was talking to was genuinely intrigued and will now look to my friend as an example of someone who has been there, done that. For all of us who have seen success, this is our mission in life. Remember, people are watching you and when the time is right they will look to you for guidance about their own situation.

2. Educate when possible. If someone asks me for my input on their weight and health struggles, I’m all too happy to share the ups, downs and in betweens that have been a part of my continuing journey. But I never force the issue. The last thing I think we need to do when we become super-passionate about this message is to think we should ram it down the throats of everyone we come into contact with. That’s a recipe for disaster just waiting to happen. It goes back to #1 of being that example and when the time comes, be ready to share the knowledge and experience that you have gained from living the low-carb life with whoever may want to ask you about it. Are you ready?

3. Refuse to compromise. This is kinda related to being an example, too, but never allow social situations to force you into a compromising position on your personal health goals. Especially around the holidays, it’s easy to allow yourself to partake in the various cookies, pies, cakes and other such foods that are seemingly everywhere this time of year. And when a relative like your mom or grandma makes up a homemade dessert to show you love, it’s easy to convince yourself to just eat the whole thing since it was made by a living, breathing person who chooses to express herself with food. I think it’s okay to smell it, maybe take a small bite, and then leave the rest. You’ll be glad you did and, again, people are watching you to see how you respond in these situations.

4. Stay encouraged that change is coming. Yes, it can be discouraging to hear relatives mock you for consuming something like real butter (I was informed by one of my relatives that another relative was shocked by how much butter I was consuming and that I should be ashamed of myself for putting my heart health at risk from eating it–interestingly, this same relative has a copy of my new book that debunked the myths about saturated fats, cholesterol and heart disease). Meanwhile, they don’t bat an eye at all the processed sugar, flour and vegetable oils they are consuming in virtually everything they eat. With this as the backdrop of our lives, it can be quite discouraging to think that real change will ever come. But remain hopeful and encouraged because I believe the winds of change are blowing and it’s only a matter of time before people start to “get it” like you and I have. We’ve all been on the other side and it’s our job to stay optimistic and principled in our stand for the diet we know is right for us.

What about YOU? Got any words of wisdom on this topic of being a part of a society where the food is dominated by processed carbs and devoid of healthy saturated and monounsaturated fats? Please share your tips for attempting to bring about change in friends and family members who think your low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet is crazy. This will encourage so many newbies who are likely struggling right about now and deciding whether it’s worth continuing on this journey. From someone who has been there, let me tell you–IT IS! Enjoy the holiday season and keep on livin’ la vida low-carb.

  • Anna

    All of my close friends and relatives who are health-conscious continue to virtuously avoid saturated fat. I would recommend your book to them but I’m afraid nobody wants my well-meaning “advice” so I just have to wait it out until someone approaches me. This however is unlikely to happen. I do make offhand comments about how sat fat is not the culprit etc., but I am not a very credible spokesperson as I have not undergone any amazing discernible physical transformation since I started low carbing.

    Rather than being admired for my efforts, I more often find myself regarded as a kook and complete nutter for foregoing the delights of sugary treats as well as the wholesome goodness of starchy meals such as high-quality bread and pasta. Not to mention being the meanest mom in the world for not allowing my toddler to eat any form of processed food, candy or the like.

    But thanks for your encouragement, without which all of this would be even more grim.

  • anitabreeze

    Thanks, I need the encouragement today as I am off to a Christmas party tonight and will definitely eat before I go! By the way, your blog is very helpful to me and even inspired me to start up my own Keto blog, although I do mostly recipes! Thanks for doing what you do!

    • LLVLCBlog

      Send me the URL when you get your blog up and running.

  • Kriste Karma

    Excellent article! Be the example really hit home for me!

  • chelsea prather

    Theses scenarios sound so familiar. At the hospital where I work, when it gets really busy they send us pop, chips, sandwiches, and cookies to make up for our missed lunch breaks. Gee, thanks. Like you, I don’t even bother pulling off the lunchmeat anymore. I just skip it and use my emergency coconut butter pouch if necessary. Ketosis is really good for dealing with these situations because you don’t feel like you’re going to die if you don’t eat. I love your action items, and I remain optimistic that change is possible. Over the last few years, I have finally noticed people complaining about junk in the breakroom and making an attempt at avoiding it. It’s just so sad that a “place of healing” is beating down the health of their own caregivers by feeding their sugar and processed food addictions.

  • LLVLCBlog
  • Deborah Gordon, M.D.

    You are a good example, as always, and I do hope the change is coming: it can’t come soon enough. My strategy is to always offer to bring something, and to bring a plate I can eat, maybe eating nothing else. Last night I took my special chicken liver (recipe on my website), flourless crackers (Paleo Magazine), sliced cheddar cheese, and fresh celery and carrots. It was a sophisticated crowd I think: the food was devoured!!

    • LLVLCBlog

      I made a dessert at a Christmas party recently and didn’t tell them it was sugar/grain-free. All but two were gone. People were surprised it was not a sugary dessert.

  • Suzie Savoy

    OH, thank you, Jimmy for this post. It certainly comes at a good time for my husband and I. Having been confronted with a recent heart event with my husband, we are facing enormous problems with the conventional attitude and standard of care which states he needs to be on a low fat/high carb diet…and a statin. We feel like we are all alone in combating this until your post. Not only do we have to face family and friends with our objections to the sugary-starchy-grains stuff, but also we are having to face our doctors with the same objections! This is giving my husband so much stress. I spent most of last night with loss of sleep vigorously reading through your book, Cholesterol Clarity. I told my husband that it is an easy read. Hopefully, he will get to reading it before his next appointment with his cardiologist this Friday. My husband is convinced not to take the statin that he doctor wants him to take, Thank God! Please pray for our perseverance and fortitude to explain to this doctor why he does not want to take the medicine. Thank you so much!

  • Suzanne dos Passos

    I understand the frustration of wanting all your friends and family to understand and adopt this lifestyle. I have been ketogenic for over a month now and have enjoyed numorious health benifits. I dont have the temptation of holiday treats all around me as I keep them out of the house.. besides I have no cravings for all that carbage.. The one person , my husband has numorous health concerns and just wont hear anything I say about this and how it will help him.. He is 68 and is heading into an age where the effects of a life time of eating sugars and carbs are catching up with him on the inside.. Its sad to see this happen when you know a ketogenic lifestye can help to reverse some if not all of his problems. Most people just dont get that its all accumalative in the body and the damage can not be seen, except perhaps for the weight gain. You opened my eyes to the fact that I need to wait for friends and family to come to me because they see my health flourishing. I have lost 10lbs..not a lot but I do not have that much to lose.. Perhaps my blood test will be something my husband can wrap his mind around.. I am hoping that will be the case. Thank you for what you do…

  • Low Carb Kitty

    YES YES YES Thank you for putting this issue so eloquently. My family is trying (they send me the ingredients to their recipes but it still amazes me that they don’t understand a lot of the things they eat are not low carb) and I make sure to bring my own food any time I am invited out (I bring enough for all). SIGH. THANK YOU JIMMY FOR BEING OUR VOICE!

  • Janknitz

    It is awkward to go to a restaurant and not eat or drink SOMETHING. I will order at least a cup of coffee or tea if there’s really nothing on the menu I would eat. Restaurants are in the business of selling food, even if the rest of the table is buying, it seems a little disrespectful to the restaurant staff not to buy something. And I’m careful to tip well.

    • LLVLCBlog

      This was a fast food joint at Zaxby’s and we had 50 people with us. I agree in a sit-down restaurant, getting at least a beverage is proper decorum.

  • Margaret

    Even when you tell people how you eat and even if you tell them, “I have blood sugar issues that I’m trying to control just with diet and exercise alone” they look at you, look at that plate of cookies, and say, “Oh but surely JUST ONE won’t hurt!” **facepalm**

    • LLVLCBlog

      That is the cross we all must bear.

    • Laurie-Avalanche Rosen

      In my case “yes, one does hurt”. I don’t like joint pain from wheat or brain fog or digestive agony. As I read somewhere (and it’s one of my favourite expressions now) “Gluten is the devil’s excrement”! Ha ha!

  • Birgit

    Great blog post! As far as churches, the spiritual side of this is that churches have indeed found another god. For this reason and several others where the church looks more and more like the world I suggest forming or joining house churches where personal accountability, real communication between members and mutual support are shared values, just like among Jesus’ disciples. In that environment these issues can be raised and the resulting conflict is seen as a long-term good.:)

  • MFP

    Eating low carb-high fat moderate protein is so counter intuitive… it takes etiher faith or proof to consider making the change – hence the need for examples… the beliefs that the brain requires carbs, that fat makes you fat, that calories are all equal (so it’s all about calories in vs calories out) are so deeply ingrained in our collective knowledge bank that even when I try to explain I usually get “my doctor told me….” and what can you say to that?? Food is an important part of lives – we live to the beat of our three meals a day, our social lives revolve around food.

    There are three things I find particular challenges: not being hungry at the same time as everyone else, finding food while out and about and not compromising….there is meaning in making food for others and others eating the food you made specially for them and I don,t want to hurt anyone’s feelings – Yeah, I know there’s therapy for that! :) So thank you Jimmy, because for me, you are an example, you educate me, you certainly refuse to compromise and you manage to keep me encourged that change is coming! Looking forward to all your contributions on the various platfomrs and certainly looking forward to your upcoming book.

    • LLVLCBlog

      THANK YOU SO MUCH! :)

  • Phil Thompson

    Can we learn anything from the vegetarians ? Despite being a small proportion of the population (5% ?) they seem to have the rest of society running around pampering to their needs. On a UK TV show “Come Dine with Me” the vegetarians always demand special treatment for their food needs but then impose their value set on the other guests when the overrepresented vegetarian is the host.

    Being a vegetarian is a first world choice in most cases – not religion or allergy or even health (one of my vegetarian colleagues doesn’t eat vegetables) – so if their “rights” are to be respected and in fact over-provided for then what can do to get the same privilege.

  • Helle

    Great post as always, Jimmy! LCHF is not difficult in your own home. But at the school, kindergarten, visiting my inlaws etc… I am sooo tired of alle these questions why I am not eating this and that or not eating at all. My kids know that we eat different than most people. My 4 year old daughter has to defend herself to the kindergarten teacher! The problem? A small christmas treat with homemade sugarfree marzipan, 85% chocolate and almonds in her lunchbox one day. The other kids got gingerbread men in theirs, and she just wanted a treat as well…

    And yes there is no point in forcing your knowledge about all the sugars, wheat and processed foods my relatives and friends are eating. They would think I am crazy. But it is really killing me to see my family sick and obese from eating all this junk when they could do so much better on LCHF. My family suffers from obesity, diabetes, arthritis, PCOS, Candida, Autism, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, elevated cholesterol, heart problems, cancer… it’s so sad…

  • Tammy

    Jimmy – This was a really great article and very timely. I’ll say what has worked well for me with the whole family/holiday situation is about three years ago when I first went grain-free (I’d been low-carb a la Atkins since 2002) I very graphically explained what happens to me in the bathroom after I eat wheat/gluten grains. No one has bothered me since, and I only had to explain it once. Because of the horrific side effects of eating especially wheat containing products, I don’t even crave or want any of the holiday goodies. I just keep eating my triple cream brie, or what ever, I never eat “dessert”.

    • LLVLCBlog

      OMG, love this!!!!

  • Laurie-Avalanche Rosen

    Wow, Jimmy. Where do I start with this one?! My dad is in the hospital right now for an infection (he’s coming home in a few days; nothing to be alarmed about) and the hospital food is atrocious! He eats that way at home. He’s eating better there though; he isn’t eating chocolate bars at least there! I realize that even if change never comes about we’re all responsible for our own health. I’ll leave you with one of my favourite memes from one of my favourite sites; yes, I do think this a lot at work! …http://whatshouldwecallpaleolife.tumblr.com/post/69886306026/observing-everyone-elses-lunch-at-work

    • DebraCC

      Thank you for that blog link. I just wasted 20 minutes laughing & crying. I needed that so bad!