Eggs in a forest

Eggs in a forest

ARI LEVAUX, for Lee Montana Newspapers

After a lifetime of undisciplined eating, I finally embarked on my first real diet, just in time for the holidays. A lifetime of making dietary choices by gut instinct had resulted in a gut-centric body, and I decided it was finally time to go hunting for that belly fat at at my core.

I speak of the visceral fat, the insidious deposits that lurk between internal organs, or sometimes in them or on them, far beneath the abdominal wall. It's the fat that can't be squeezed, no matter how wide the pinch. It's activist fat; the visceral deposits begin to act like their own internal organs, even releasing hormones, some of which have been tied to inflammation and disease. I began laying down my visceral deposits some time in high school, when I discovered I had a talent for eating. Those old deposits are dug in, and won’t give up without a fight.

The ketogenic diet used to be nicknamed the "starvation diet." But in fairness, it only feels like you're starving, even though the deprivation is real. Complete deprivation of carbohydrates, in an effort to get your body into a fat-burning mode called ketosis. It's like trying to switch your truck from unleaded to diesel fuel, but significantly easier. 

Success at fat loss ultimately comes down to finding a diet and exercise routine you can actually stick to in the long run. The diet itself can be low-carb, high-carb and even carb-agnostic. Ketosis called to me because I like fat so much I already was halfway there. I knew I could live on bacon and eggs, because sometimes I practically do. So why not cut the candy and go for it?

Ketogenic means "ketone producing," which happens when fat molecules are broken down for energy. The cells of the body can use ketones, as they use sugar, to power their activities. When your body is in fat burning mode, it’s living on these ketones.

But you won't lose weight unless you eat fewer calories than you consume. In the first week I actually gained four pounds. Since fat is so dense, a day's worth of calories doesn’t always take up a lot of space and can leave your belly growling again in no time. At first, it’s easy to try to compensate with even more fat, but eventually I weaned myself off that, and didn’t get hungry anymore, even while eating almost no carbs and reducing calories. I regularly make it into the late afternoon on a handful of pecans.

I don’t plan to stay here forever, but for the moment, I’m feeling really good in the keto diet. Since I’m limiting my total calories, I’m actually losing weight, enjoying the remarkable feeling of my belly folding in when I lean over, rather than out. And I’m not feeling hungry.

Little things are adding up. My bad breath has gone away, according to my wife, and I’m having vivid dreams — a side-effect of being in ketosis that I don’t mind.

One way to fill my belly, I discovered, is with the one carbohydrate I'm allowed to eat as much of as I wish: fiber.

A catch-all term for any carbohydrate that we can't digest, fiber, like other carbs, has a way of filling the belly. Unfortunately, lots of high-fiber foods — including many fruits and veggies — also contain sugar and digestible carbohydrates. Finding enough fiber to include in one's ketogenic diet, then, becomes helpful in sticking to the diet. And since fiber has a long list of beneficial impacts, eating more of it does your body all sorts of extra good.

Leafy greens like spinach, kale, mustard and chicory, as well as lettuce and other leaves, are a great source of belly-filling fiber. Toss the leaves in a succulent dressing, and eat until full.

I'm not saying anyone should follow me and do what I do with this low-carb keto diet. In fact, as a general rule I suggest doing the opposite of what I do. Buy nonetheless, allow me to leave you with a recipe for eggs in a forest that anyone will like, even carboholics. It's basically eggs and bacon, plus fibrous leafy green veggies. It could just as easily be cauliflower or broccoli, but today I'm doing greens. It does really well with scrambled eggs, but today I’m using sunny side up eggs because it makes a prettier picture.

Eggs in a forest

Get the bacon going, chopped or in strips, with some olive oil and/or butter. Add the toughest leaves, like kale. When tough greens and bacon are nearly done, add onions and garlic, chopped. Then crack an egg or two on top of the tangled business, with the heat on low/medium. When the egg is nearly done to your liking, smother the pan with tender greens, like spinach or tatsoi, and put a lid on briefly to wilt the greens and cook the top of the eggs. Sprinkle with salt or soy sauce and pepper, and serve with the hot pepper of your choice.

Ari LeVaux writes Flash in the Pan, a syndicated weekly food column carried in more than 60 newspapers nationwide. Though his audience is national, he says he "always writes about Montana. Usually."

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