Weight Loss (2 of 3): How to get out of a big fat mess
In the previous blog we explained how your metabolism can go slowly out of kilter following decades of a diet high in carbohydrates, typical of our Western culture, eventually making it difficult for you to lose weight using the traditional method of eating a bit less and moving around more, due primarily to a constant outpouring of the hormone insulin from the pancreas. In this blog we discuss approaches you can take to lose weight effectively.
The approach that works best for you in getting out of your big fat mess is going to boil down to how well it fits into your life, how you like to eat, how much you are prepared to change, and how metabolically imbalanced you already are. But the key word is always going to be: sustainability. And that needs to carry through to the longer term, even though restrictions can relax a bit then. It doesn’t matter how much convincing research is behind a dietary approach, if you can’t sustain it, it’s no good for you. And that’s fine. It just means you need to find one that does work for you. There is huge individual variation here, and there is no “one-size-fits-all”.
The F Word: Fasting
One approach is some form of fasting. How motivating is that! In terms of a typical three day water-only fast it is a useless concept for most people, because it is impossible to sustain even over those few days unless you are in a hospital or army environment. However, it was the observation that insulin levels plummeted during a short water-only fast, and remained low for a good while thereafter, in bariatric patients (such as gastric band insertion) who cannot eat immediately after surgery, that spurred people on to find alternative ways of eating that retained the benefits of the water-only fast without impossible-to-manage food cravings.
Fortunately, it has been discovered that “modified fasting” can produce similar metabolic effects to water-only fasting. This is a fast where you can eat, so already it’s sounding better!The most well-known and publicised is the 5:2 diet, devised by Dr Michael Mosley who used himself as an experimental guinea pig when he found that he was careering towards a lifetime on anti-diabetic medication. The 5:2 involves calorie restriction to around 500 calories of mostly plants (vegetables) and protein for two days per week, and eating normally on the other five days. This works wonderfully for some people, and provides enough flexibility for an unrestricted social life, but doesn’t suit everyone: on paper, restricting calories to about 500 for only twice a week seems do-able but if you are starving at the outset because your body is still crying out for the glucose that it is so used to running on, it’s still going to be a tough two long days each week, and that might not be sustainable for you.
There are various other forms of the modified fast that you may have heard of: alternate day fasting, much like 5:2 and self-explanatory, but because there are more fasting days per week, the calorie restriction is less intense; restricted feeding, where you fast for the majority of the day and only eat during a “feeding window” of about 8 hours, for example between 12 noon and 8pm (you can start with a baseline of what you normally do between your last meal of the evening and breakfast the following morning, and work towards a window of 8 hours); and modified restricted feeding, where you can have a fat-only drink (such as bulletproof coffee, devised by David Asprey; see www.bulletproof.com) or high-fat snack to tide you over until your feeding window is due, since fat has a negligible effect on insulin. So you get the idea of the fasting topic; reducing your insulin output for just a few days per week or for extended hours per day produces splendid long-term results, and if you want to pursue any of them, there is a wealth of information online, or we can provide you with some further reading references and advice.
“I don’t like the sound of ANY fasting approach. I am too tired and too hungry to go for very long without needing to refuel! Is there any other way to get back on track?”
In recent years, we have discovered that it is not so much the amount you eat, but what you eat that can help with weight stability. As such, there is a style of eating for weight loss (actually fat loss, since muscle mass is maintained) that is not quantity / calorie-restricted, but carbohydrate-restricted, with the majority of carbs being replaced with healthy fats, whilst eating only a moderate amount of protein. It’s often referred to as a ketogenic diet, although it would be more accurate to call it a “fat-burning” diet. It’s not Atkins by the way, although you can consider the Atkins approach as a crude “version one” plan of this way of eating. There are some crucial flaws with the Atkins approach that renders it unhealthy, and for many, it was seen as an excuse to tuck into limitless steak or bacon and eggs and completely ignore the vegetable side of things, which we now know obstructs weight-loss.
A truly healthy big fat mess burning diet is predominantly plant based, with moderate protein (about 45g per day). Carbohydrates are replaced with healthy fats from olives, avocado, coconut, nuts and seeds, and from olive oil, coconut oil, butter and ghee, fish, and even saturated fat from meat is included (see below if you think this will give you a heart attack!). The general idea of this dietary lifestyle is that your plate is abundant with vegetables, and a protein source that provides about 15g of protein per meal if you eat three meals a day. You can then use a generous amount of olive oil to make salad dressings, or dress vegetables in some butter, for example, making the meal filling and satisfying. The absence of starchy food maintains a low level of carbohydrate, which kicks back the insulin response, allowing time for a metabolic reset, and the high content of plant foods gives you a wealth of vitamins, minerals, and important phytonutrients, as well as fibre.
But what about so-called “heart-healthy” whole grains, I hear you say? And beans and pulses? Potatoes, maybe? Hey, where’s dairy in this? Fruit, even? OK, first of all, these things are best off being temporarily kicked out of the diet whilst you reset your hunger hormones because they produce too much of an insulin response to enable you to start burning fat. Grains (especially wheat, a topic in its own right!), beans and dairy proteins in milk, milk products and cheese, are also inflammatory, and wherever inflammation goes, insulin soon follows (and vice versa, in fact). A diet high in inflammatory foods is implicated in cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and diabetes type 2, Alzheimers and other forms of dementia, and many types of cancer, as well as obesity. That’s just about all the typical Western diseases, so although we are focusing on weight loss for the moment, keeping inflammation and insulin low is beneficial for many other reasons. That said, once you have reached, or are near to, your weight loss goal, you can start including them back into your diet occasionally, with a close eye on how they make you feel, as well as what the scales tell you.
“Surely I’m increasing my risk of a heart attack!”
A common response! As long as you are eating healthy fats, this is a fallacy, and something that we will explore further in our blog on fats and oils later in the year, but for now, suffice to say that one of the UK’s leading cardiologists and obesity expert, Dr Aseem Malhotra, not only follows this style of eating himself, obtaining about 70% of his calories from healthy fats, but he also uses to it to restore his patients to long-term health and prevent further cardiac episodes. He is currently lobbying the government to educate health professionals, aware that most doctors are still advising the useless “move more, eat less, save up your calories etc” regime. You can visit his website (draseem.com) for further information.
We have given quite a bit air-time to this style of eating in this blog, and for good reason. The fact that it is not quantity-restricted is a god-send in the early days if you have got to the stage where you are hungry and tired all the time and constantly seeking out food sources. True, you can’t have cake and pastries, but you can fill up on satisfying foods such as avocado, nuts and nut butters, coconut, seeds, eggs, fish, meat and olives. As your metabolism resets itself, you will probably find that you no longer need or even want so much to eat each day; you start to feel like you’re no longer a slave to your appetite. It is certainly worth giving this style of eating a try for 21 days. That’s all it take to reset your body. You will have more energy, lose the brain fog, lose the mid-afternoon energy slump, sleep better, have better skin, and you don’t even need to be hungry! It suits most people, and you get a chance to see if you feel better without grains, wheat and dairy, for example. Dr Mark Hyman has written a great book for further guidance (See References and Further Reading).
And if all that still sounds a bit too extreme for your liking....
.... Then following the general concept of eating a wide variety of real food will restore vitality and health. To get you on the right track with this, we would highly recommend books and recipes by Amelia Freer (see References and Further Reading), a nutritional therapist responsible for the transformation of Boy George and Sam Smith. Her recipes and guidelines incorporate occasional grains, root vegetables, beans, pulses and fruit (which you can eliminate temporarily if you think you need to), and an abundance of colourful fruit and vegetables. They are truly motivating books for improving your health and your soul.
Finally, to bring all this together, the approaches outlined above will do wonders for tackling that dangerous visceral fat, tucked nicely around your organs, secreting inflammatory hormones implicated in many of our chronic Western diseases, but you may find that when you’ve lost weight, and regained energy and vitality, that stubborn area of fat that maybe you’ve always had (lower abdominal area? outer thighs?) won’t go away. Here at Springwell, we offer the ideal solution for this with our fat-freezing treatment. Consultations are free-of-charge and without obligation if you would like to learn more or discuss your concerns.
We’ve touched briefly on healthy fats, and in a later blog we’ll dissect this topic further, but from this discussion, we hope you come away with the idea that the inclusion of healthy fats, in a low carbohydrate setting with a moderate amount of protein, is an extremely healthy way to eat.
In the next blog we’ll tackle the topic of “keeping it off” by dietary means, and also look at where exercise fits in, both in terms of weight loss and prevention of weight gain.
References and Further Reading:
Eat Fat, Get Thin: Dr Mark Hyman (founder of the Institute for Functional Medicine)
A 21 day metabolic reset which also addresses fat phobia.
The Pioppi Diet: Dr Aseem Malhotra and Donal O’Neill.
A Mediterranean-style diet based on the extremely healthy inhabitants of Pioppi, in Italy. Some fabulous, healthy and quick curry recipes from Aseem!
Eat, Nourish, Glow; Cook, Nourish, Glow; Nourish and Glow 10 day Plan: Amelia Freer
Practical recipes brimming with taste, colour and health, for all occasions.