Have I finally found the weight loss Holy Grail? Could this be the magic diet bullet we have all been looking for? It’s not strictly a diet at all (because statistics show that the more you diet, the quicker you put the weight back on and the harder it is to lose the next time) but just a really easy way of eating... And all you have to control is your sugar intake. Too simple? Let me explain.
I did my usual over the summer: had fun, drank and ate a lot and because I was ‘on holiday’ treated myself to just about anything that took my fancy. And it was mainly food and alcohol that took my fancy.
The end result? Total disaster. I don’t know if it’s my age and that the weight just piles on more and harder, or simply an excess of greed, but I looked at myself in the mirror three weeks ago and despaired. My face was puffed. In fact most of me was puffed, as all of my clothes cruelly testified. When I crept sheepishly onto the scales... even worse. A full 8lbs. That’s 4 bags of sugar that is now permanently affixed to my middle. Depression loomed. What on earth should I do?
And then I remembered all the articles that I had been reading in the press for months, about paleo diets, ketogenic diets and intermittent fasting. Acres and acres of pages that I flicked through quickly because the word ‘diet’ just doesn’t do it for me.
I dug them out, read them thoroughly, chose the bits that appealed and decided to experiment and see if my own ‘pick’n’mix’ combination would work.
It seems to me that sugar and carbs are the two main disruptors of a naturally healthy weight. And they are really one and the same thing, as carbohydrate turns to glucose/sugar in your stomach in a remarkably short time. Not too complicated then. Simple really. Absolutely no sugar. No more bread, rice, biscuits, cakes or creamy desserts for me.
I was so determined not to be that ‘pudding’ person any more that my internal voice (which usually pipes up at even the slightest hint of food deprivation) didn’t squeak for even a second. No comment of any kind. No ‘you can’t do it, you know you can’t’. No ‘just a tiny bite won’t hurt’. Nothing. It remained entirely silent. The situation was clearly too serious for compromise of any kind. No alcohol for two weeks (I gave that one a caveat though. After all, champagne has no calories does it? And I couldn’t really not toast my goddaughter at her engagement party).
What you achieve when you cut out everything that’s basically not vegetables, fats and proteins (you are allowed black coffee and black chocolate, too) is that you enter ketosis. Which is an excellent state for people who want to lose weight to get into.
What is ketosis and how does it work?
Every day, your body burns up the carbs and fats from the food you eat to give it the energy it needs to keep you going. Large numbers of us, however, exist mainly on a daily diet of processed carbs and not much else. Pasta, potatoes, packets of biscuits and crisps, pizza, desserts - all our faithful favourites that we eat far more often than that healthy raw kale salad, or nourishing bean stew with lentils.
The problem is that carbs, whatever their shape and size, turn into sugar in a matter of minutes. That ‘moment on the lips, lifetime on the hips’ prediction is describing the devastation of the carb effect. Your body loves them, it uses them up for the instant energy it needs and then stores the rest as fat around your stomach, hips... everywhere.
Simply put, we overload our body’s capacity to process carbs. There are just too many flooding in, hour after hour, day after day. So they get ‘stored’ instead of used; put on the back burner for anytime the carb shelves might start to empty.
The problem is that these days, they never do.
Cut out those carbs though, stop that daily inundation, and your body is forced to start consuming the stored carbs instead. And when your body has eaten through its reserves and can’t manage to find any more, (because you are cutting them out) it moves on and burns your excess fat instead. Exactly what you wanted, without much effort on your part. Helpfully, while it’s doing all that burning, part of the process is that your body excretes chemicals produced by your liver (ketones) through your urine.
There’s a really simple way of finding out if you have managed to get to that ketosis state. Ketone strips are available at any chemist and many of the supermarket pharmacies. If ketones are present, they change the colour of the ketone strip when you wee on it. Which is how you can officially tell that your weight loss is fact and that you are indisputably getting thinner.
Make sure you drink a lot so that you don’t get bunged up, and if your willpower does crash and burn and you can’t resist that plate of chips, don’t worry. Just start again the next day. It only takes 2 days (of no more than 20 grammes of carbohydrates - so invest in a food scale for certainty) for the ketosis process to start all over again.
So, in a nutshell, if you are producing ketones, your body is gobbling up all the fat that sits around your middle. Ketone burning will rapidly lose your excess weight, though it’s not a healthy long term state to be in. Stick to it for a couple of weeks and then revert to your normal healthy diet as soon those too tight jeans loosen, your bra stops bulging and your rings slip comfortably onto your fingers once more.
Fasting for health?
On top of having fun with the keto-stix, I thought I would add in my own version of ‘intermittent fasting’, which is reckoned by absolutely everybody to be the best thing you can do to reboot your health in a multitude of ways.
The 5:2 diet - five days of restricted eating and two days of eating normally - doesn’t work for me. I have to do something regularly for it to become a habit or I get confused and forget which is the on or off day. Instead, I went for the ‘only eating in an 8 hr period’ where you give your body a rest for 16 whole hours out of every 24. This allows your body to spend its energy mending all your tired out cells or malfunctioning bits and pieces in a long stretch overnight, rather than using it up working on digesting the endless food we snack on throughout the day and running out of juice for those essential repair works.
So, no breakfast then. I can hear you all going, ‘no...that’s not how to do it’. ‘Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper’. I know all that, believed it for years. But no longer. And I don’t feel hungry for a second. Nor does my blood sugar drop or my moods swing. And hey presto! My body absolutely loves it. Weight loss. Painlessly, easily... Back to normal.
All I can tell you is that since adopting the ketosis/fasting approach my brain is clear as a bell and the weight is dropping off painlessly. So I suspect the breakfast thing is yet another of those ‘science statistics’ spoon-fed us by the cereal lobby or the sausage makers union.
Experiment. Break out of your eating rut and try something different for a while. Let me know how it goes.... I think you will be amazed.
Written by health advocate Sara Davenport, who founded one of the UK's largest breast cancer charities, The Haven, twenty years ago. With Reboot Health, Sara aims to bring the best preventative and curative health solutions ranging from nutrition, alternative therapies, fitness and conventional medicine.
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