We've all tried low calorie diets in an effort to lose weight, often finding that it takes much of the pleasure out of eating and that the pounds pile on again as soon as the diet stops.At a glance, calorie counting makes sense but when you delve deeper it raises a few questions. China is one of the slimmest nations in the world, and yet the average daily calorie intake there is higher than in the US, the fattest nation in the world. We've been told for years that a low fat diet is also a low calorie, and low cholesterol diet, and is therefore much healthier for us. Yet having spoken to lots of people who have lived well into their old age about what they've been eating, it tends to be high fat foods. We've survived for millions of years on a high fat diet, eating a variety of fats essential for healthy brain and immune function, but as a human race we haven't had a weight problem until the early 50′s, when we started to be told about calorie counting and cholesterol. We were encouraged to eat less meat and fat, and these foods had to be replaced by something else: carbohydrates. Since then the temptation to eat cheap, carb laden foods like bread, pizza, pasta, cakes and pastries has just become too great. You've probably noticed the numerous fliers for pizza takeaways, and the revival of bakery programmes on TV which are all responding to our love of sweet and stodgy foods.
In order to reach your ideal weight, you first need a basic understanding of how carbs and proteins are used by your body.
Carbohydrates break down into sugar which we need to give us energy. That's why our last harvest of the year is rich in berries (sugars) and root vegetables (starchy carbohydrate). When energy isn't needed immediately, the body stores it as fat, so you would have been able to live off your fat stores throughout the winter when fresh foods were more scarce. Simple carbohydrates are foods which the body doesn't need to process in order to get your energy - so sugar is a prime example, hence why Lucozade which is full of sugar is marketed as an energy drink. Brown and molasses sugar still contain some chromium and other nutrients which your body needs to convert sugar to energy, so if you're going to use sugar - go for brown. Complex carbohydrates like those found in fruit & vegetable fibre require a little more effort from your body in order to break them down into sugars, and then either energy or fat depending on what's needed at the time.
The type of food and amount of time it takes the body to process is calculated into a Glycaemic Load (GL), and apart from the occasional treat, you want to be going for low GL foods like oats, quinoa, apples, and rye bread. Low GL foods tend to be the ones that make you feel less bloated after eating them, so you'll feel better for it too.
I had personal proof of this when I was 23. In my graduation photo taken when I was 22, I was somewhere between a size 12 and a size 14. Then I moved in with my friend's mum so that I could save up to go travelling. She very generously charged me only £10 a week as rent, and although I saved up enough within a year, I paid the price. Our daily meals were pasta, pizza, chips, baked potatoes, and other carb rich foods, and I piled on the weight until I was almost a size 20! Once I was back home I joined the gym, totally overhauled my diet (but I've never in my life followed a 'calorie controlled diet'), and got back down to a sensible weight. The carbs had most definitely been the culprit!
So when you eat a high GL food, the body quickly breaks it down into sugar and pushes it into your cells using insulin from your pancreas. Your cells then use it to create energy, which gives you a quick lift but also lowers your blood sugar again soon afterwards (because the sugar has moved from your blood into your cells). That leads to you feeling hungry, grumpy, shaky, craving sugars, caffeine, nicotine, or something else to pep you up again. Over a period of time it also exhausts your pancreas and your adrenal glands, which has a permanent negative impact on your health and your longevity. It also leads to insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes, which thankfully with quite a lot of effort is reversible - but really it's best not to go there in the first place.
Next, we need to understand protein. Protein is used by the body for lots of different things, including building muscle and connective tissue, and collagen to stop us getting wrinkly! It also makes antibodies and hormones so it's important to have a good variety of proteins, preferably from animal and vegetable sources in your diet. That way your body can take its pick from the amino acids which make up the proteins, and reassemble them according to its needs at the time.
You have more stomach acid first thing in the morning than at any other time of day, which is your body's way of saying that you need to include protein in your breakfast ('pro' means 'first'). If you exercise after a protein & low GL carb meal, you will start to burn off your fat stores because you haven't eaten enough carb to keep you going. We tend to make the mistake of having just cereal or toast for breakfast (or worse than that, no breakfast at all) and then sitting in the car and at our desk for the rest of the day. Those sugars have not been needed so the pounds start to pile on. Don't be fooled by the clever marketing -you need a combination of dense protein (milk on cereal doesn't count) and some carbohydrate for your first meal of the day, so you could try:
Rye bread toast with any of these: Eggs, cheese, ham, mushroom, bacon, sardines, mackerel, haddock.
Quinoa porridge (quinoa is a high-protein grain) made with apple juice (which has a low GL)
A full English breakfast (high-quality ingredients though please), with 1 slice of brown/rye toast.
As well as helping you to manage your weight, it will help you to feel fuller for longer, so less likely to grab any crisps or chocolate before your next meal. You'll also find it easier to concentrate as your brain is being fuelled properly, which is why it's really important to feed your children the same way.
If you're one of those people who either doesn't have the time or the stomach for breakfast, you still need to find a way of getting something down you before you start your day.
Even a handful of nuts with some dried fruit would be better than nothing. Another alternative is to combine protein and fibre drinks so that you get a good balance of protein and carbohydrate, and you can mix in any fruit, crushed nuts or other ingredients if you like. We have one called SynperProtein which is made from soya protein and contains all of the essential amino acids our body needs. It comes in chocolate and vanilla flavours and has extra vitamins and minerals added besides the soya, however, it's not suitable for everyone. There is now considerable research into the effects of unfermented soya on the body which although controversial, raises concerns about its use during preconception, pregnancy, and breastfeeding. It should be avoided by anyone suffering from hypothyroidism as well, as it will tend to make matters worse. On the plus side, SynerProtein is especially useful if you are:
- Vegetarian or vegan - it provides a complete protein with added nutrients in a vegetable base, with no animal ingredients.
- Approaching or going through menopause - it contains high levels of phyto oestrogens, the precursor to oestrogen which is useful in keeping your hormones balanced.
- Convalescing after illness or a stay in hospital.
- Not already on a very healthy diet - junk foods and intensively produced meat/animal products tend to contain very poor quality protein, and so protein deficiency is becoming more and more common.
So blood sugar balancing is the order of the day if you want to stay slim, and here are a few golden rules for reaching your ideal weight:
1. Start with a Detox
It's safe to say that our modern lifestyle has meant we're all riddled with toxins. There are now 80,000 chemicals in the world, many of which end up in our cosmetics, household cleaning products, foods, tap water and medications. The safest place your body can keep toxins is in your fat stores, so it's not going to want to give up any mucky fat until the toxic load has gone down a bit. Detoxing is great if you're reasonably well and not pregnant or breastfeeding.
2. Eat 6 small meals a day, or 3 larger meals with 2 healthy snacks.
Not being able to stomach breakfast in the morning is a sign of blood sugar imbalance which can lead to insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes if it's not caught early. It's the fastest growing disease in the world at the moment, so please don't join in!
Your breakfast and lunch can include a little bit of 'stodge' like bread or pasta, but try and lower the amounts on days when you know you won't get much exercise afterwards to burn it off. Dinner should always be stodge-free, and pudding-free - sorry!
Snacks should be low GL fruits like apples, pears, and berries with a few nuts.
This will take some planning and you'll probably need to gather some recipes for inspiration, but it will all turn out to be worthwhile.
3. Ditch the white - go for brown.
That applies to everything which comes in both colours, including sugar, flour, pasta, and rice. If it's white, it's been heavily refined and virtually all of the nutrients have gone. The brown version is much better for you and slower to digest.
Exercise is the only way you're going to burn off your fat, so it needs to be done every day to the point where you're too out of breath to speak. Choose something you enjoy and can fit easily into your day. Here are a few ideas courtesy of the NHS:
5. Always combine a little bit of protein with low GL carbohydrate
Fish with rice, meat with salad, cheese with oatcakes, nuts with dried apple or berries - you get the idea.
6. Cut your stimulants right back
Caffeine, sugar, nicotine and alcohol are all stimulants and to cut a long story short, they make you fat. Keep your caffeine drinks limited to 2 a day, after eating, and alcohol once or twice during the week. Replace your drinks with plenty of mineral water and herb teas.
7. Curb your cravings
A craving for fatty foods indicates a need for more Essential Fatty Acids, and a craving for chocolate is often down to being short of Magnesium.
8. Supplement for success
Even tiny deficiencies in the fat burning vitamins and minerals can hamper your efforts to shrink, so start by taking a good multivitamin/mineral
9. Eat in silence
Tricky if you've got kids, but I went on a retreat recently where all meals were eaten in silence. I felt full after only a few mouthfuls and soon realised why all the monks were so slim despite being well fed! It's amazing how distraction makes us lose touch with our enjoyment of food and the feeling of satisfaction we get from eating. You can always have a natter once you've finished eating.
10. Look at other possibilities
If all of this doesn't work for you, it's time to look at why. An under functioning thyroid will make it very difficult to lose weight, as will insulin resistance problems like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), psychological/emotional issues, and food intolerances. Don't be too disheartened if you're struggling - just get in touch and we'll do our best to help.