Dietary Heresy – or New Wisdom? #functionalmedicine #sugar #fat #carbs #cholesterol

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A quickie post today: I thought I’d share a few of the websites and influences that I’ve found helpful in shaping my attitude to food and health in recent months.  One or two of the understandings I’ve arrived at, having read some of the material available on the internet and in books, are beginning to catch a wave – it seems they’re not such crazy notions after all.

Sugar – what people generally call either free sugar or simply added sugar (ie, not the sugar found naturally in whole fruits, for example) – is an unhealthy and unnecessary dietary additive and the root cause of the so-called Obesity Epidemic. It may be tasty, but it’s addictive, it brings long-term harm and lifelong weight challenges, and we don’t need it.

Simple Carbohydrates – I’m thinking pasta, white rice, bread – should not be the foundation stones of the average meal. They convert to sugars far too quickly and mess with the body’s insulin regulating mechanisms. Particularly if you’re overweight and want to lose excess pounds, or you have type two diabetes, or are pre-diabetic, ditch those simple carbohydrates.

Fat – is not the enemy. In many, many forms, fat is more friend than foe, and should be an essential component within a healthy diet. The food industry has got rich persuading us that low fat products, processed and stuffed with additives and sugar, are healthy. This is more than misleading.  Dairy fats have much to commend them, and so-called healthy fats in nuts, oily fish, olive oil and avocados, for example, are an absolute must.

Cholesterol – which Big Pharma has gone into overdrive to persuade us is killing us – is natural and normal and for the vast majority of us, does not need to be controlled by drugs.  Statins are a con being perpetrated against vast populations of healthy people, for profit.

Great reference sources and health heroes

Action on Sugar http://www.actiononsugar.org  is a group of specialists concerned with sugar and its effects on health. It is working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful effects of a high sugar diet, and bring about a reduction in the amount of sugar in processed foods.  Spearheading Action on Sugar is one of my dietary heroes, Cardiologist, Dr Aseem Malhotra http://doctoraseem.com.

Diet Doctor https://www.dietdoctor.com seeks to promote natural health. Focused on LCHF (Low Carb High/Healthy Fat) approach, the website is an enormous practical and inspirational resource, particularly for those battling weight issues and diabetes. It promotes what began as a revolutionary approach a few years ago (carbohydrate reduction, the happy consumption of fats), but which is gaining considerable credibility in the medical community and beyond.

Dr Mark Hyman http://drhyman.com is a practicing physician, prolific author and advocate of the power of Functional Medicine. It seeks to identify and address the root causes of disease, and views the body as one integrated system, not a collection of independent organs divided up by medical specialties. It treats the whole system, not just the symptoms. Dr Hyman has written extensively on issues around fat and sugar.

Dr Malcom Kendrick https://drmalcolmkendrick.org Practicing GP and author of ‘The Great Cholesterol Con’, Dr Malcolm Kendrick throws light on the lies, damned lies and statistics that surround the demonization of cholesterol, the pushing of statins to almost anyone over the age of 50, and the ways we are made to fear eating just about any foodstuff you can contemplate. Great blog and real insights into how statistics can misdirect, and the difference between correlation and causation.

Insightful videos, podcasts and films

The Big Fat Fix

http://www.thebigfatfix.com

Addresses the issue of how recommended but misguided dietary advice over the last 50 years has spawned the obesity and diabetes epidemics.  It looks at the role of healthy eating – based around what’s become known as the Mediterranean Diet – in treating and preventing these and other diseases.

That Sugar Film

http://thatsugarfilm.com

In this revealing film, Damon Gameau embarks on a unique experiment to document the effects of a high sugar diet on a healthy body, consuming only foods that are commonly perceived as ‘healthy’. The results are shocking.

The Truth about Sugar (BBC Documentary)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4LzSH9qU_Q

Even-handed documentary on how much sugar there is coursing through our everyday foods.

Dr Mark Hyman on Eating Fat to Get Healthy – with Lewis Howes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgWBKJsJtk0

An interview podcast, Dr Mark Hyman talks passionately about why eating fat is the key to weight loss.

That’s by no means an exhaustive list, and remember, I’m hardly the expert. But I personally have found each one of these websites (and their wealth of resources and links), health heroes and videos an excellent source of information and insight.  They have shaped my new eating and lifestyle habits, helped me towards a weight-loss of over 70 pounds in the last 13 months, and helped me to become healthier, happier and more energetic than I’ve been in almost two decades.

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My Top Ten experience-based tips for sustainable and #healthy #weightloss

2016-07-14 19.11.30Following on from my one-year post, here are my personal tips on achieving sustainable and healthy weight-loss. I stress personal, because I’m not a nutritionist or a medical professional, so I’m not qualified in any way to offer advice. These are simply some things that have worked for me over the last year.

I’ve already written about a few of these, and I’ll be covering the rest in more detail in due course. But for now, in no particular order, these things made the greatest difference to me, and contributed to my success-to-date, over the past year:

(1) Build your support network

A coach, a nutritionist, your GP, a slimming club, a friend on the same journey, an on-line community, supportive friends and family. Doing this alone is tougher, so develop your network of supporters, who will guide, encourage and motivate you.  People who care about you will want to help and encourage you. They’ll want to see you succeed.

(2) Keep a food diary

A full-disclosure, honest account of everything you eat; not to show anyone, but to acknowledge to yourself what you’re doing. Raising your own awareness of your consumption does, weirdly, help you to avoid the ‘bad stuff’ – even though it’s only you that sees your diary. You can’t kid yourself that you’re staying on-message when your food diary says you munched through a whole bag of tortilla chips for the third night in a row.

(3) Weigh yourself daily

Going from weekly to daily weigh-ins was a big breakthrough for me. You become aware of how your body behaves – and misbehaves. Days when you think you should have lost, you gain; and days when you’ve scoffed like a pig, you lose. But however those scales confound you, you only have 24 hours to go until the next weigh-in – that’s not a lot of time to go off-the-rails, definitely salvageable. Take your 7 daily weigh-ins and divide by 7, for a weekly average. If you’re generally staying on-track, even if the daily chart looks like a roller-coaster, your weekly average figures should be heading steadily and encouragingly downward.

(4) Give up sweet stuff

berliner-17811_1920I’ve said a lot before about giving up added sugar – check out the post and the links. It’s made a huge difference to me, in so many ways. I’m not just talking about sweets and cakes either; I’d urge you to become more aware of how much sugar (in all its guises) is hidden in the everyday products you consume. I guarantee you’ll find it where you don’t expect it, and you’ll be surprised – shocked – at how much you get through without realising.  If you’re diabetic or pre-diabetic, this is a particularly vital step.

(5) Minimise simple/white carbs

I haven’t gone totally low carb, but I have dramatically reduced, to almost zero, my intake of bread, pasta, white rice and potatoes. I thought it would result in extremes of hunger, but it doesn’t – really doesn’t! You lose the insulin/glucose ‘spikes’ which kick-off the hunger pangs. Your body rebalances, and your gut is grateful. I waved a not-so-fond farewell to bloating, heartburn and acid reflux too, when I ditched these lumpen ingredients.

(6) portion control

2016-04-03 12.18.36Whatever you think you should be eating, reduce it. Portion sizes have exploded in recent years and we’re all far too accustomed to accepting huge plates, stacked high, and ploughing our way through obscene quantities. The easiest way to lose weight is to eat less. If smaller amounts of food look meagre, serve yourself on a smaller plate, or a bowl.  Serve half of what you believe you want, and return to the pot only if you are genuinely still hungry when you’ve finished your smaller portion.

(7) Plan an exercise schedule

Time does not automatically free itself.  In ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’ world, tomorrow never comes. If you struggle to commit to exercise, as I do, you’ll appreciate the structure of a schedule. I recently came across a neat idea – the ‘3, 2, 1’ approach. You pick three types of exercise; one you do three times a week (for me, that’s a good long or fast walk, for cardio, general wellbeing and the pleasure of fresh air); one you do twice a week (for me, a serious Pilates session for core strength and posture), and one you do once a week (for me, swimming with a friend, cardio again, also sociable). The idea is to inject some variety, to exercise your whole body, and keep you engaged with the whole idea of exercise.  I’m far from perfect when it comes to exercising regularly, but I take the view that whatever you do, it’s better than doing nothing.  We don’t have to all be gym-bunnies and marathon runners, do we?

(8)  stop EATing YOUR EMOTIONS

massage-therapy-1584711_1920One of the first things my Vitality Healthy Lifestyle Coach helped me with, was learning to reward myself – and conversely, comfort myself – with things that don’t involve food. I used to eat for comfort, and eat for reward, neither of which was helpful. Find things you appreciate – a massage perhaps, fresh flowers for your home, scented candles, an hour browsing a magazine, a film or DVD, music, a cosy curl-up in an armchair with a good book, a chat on the phone with a friend – just a few which work for me.

(9) Acknowledge your achievements

I’ve blogged about mini-milestones before.  When you’re on a long weight-loss journey, it’s important to acknowledge your progress towards the bigger goal.  Seeing yourself tick these milestones off, one by one, is very motivating. Learn to appreciate the benefits you’re experiencing beyond pounds/kilos too. Compliments from friends, the pleasure of buying clothes a size smaller, how your more slender body feels and moves – all these things and more can gift you energy and positivity for the next phase.

(10) POSITIVE VISUALISATION

It’s a powerful motivator, when you can visualise yourself as the more slender, more active, more energetic, more toned, healthier person you seek to become. I couldn’t do it at first – it seemed so far away and… impossible.  But as the pounds began to fall away, and I began to imagine I might actually stay with my new healthy lifestyle, not fall off the wagon for good and all, it began to be easier to see myself as the person I wanted to become.

When you visualise, make it very real.  Imagine not just what you look like. Focus on what you feel like, what you’re doing, how you’re moving, what you’re wearing, what you’re eating, where you are, what work you’re doing, who you’re with, and how happy you are. Make a home movie in your head and let the picture become very vivid and colourful, full of energy and vitality.  If you’re a writer – write it! Write the story of your future self. It’s a bit of a psychological exercise, and it doesn’t come naturally for most of us, but it is worth doing. I wrote my visualisation and it sounded crazy, months ago.  Not so crazy now though.

Like I said, I’m not qualified, and I’m not an expert. These approaches have become part of my healthy/weight-loss strategy, along with great bucket-loads of patience. Weight that’s taken two decades to arrive, doesn’t depart in a few weeks. But it does let go eventually – so don’t lose faith in yourself.

One Year On… #weightloss #healthylifestyle #positivechange

At the Bloggers Bash June 2016 (photo credit: Suzie Speaks)
Getting there: At the Bloggers Bash June 2016 (photo credit: Suzie Speaks)

I began my new healthy lifestyle – falteringly – exactly a year ago, on Wednesday 26th August 2015. The day before, I’d had my first of eight sessions with my Vitality Healthy Lifestyle Coach, Pranita Salunke.
I say falteringly because I note, with a degree of embarrassment, that my first few days of so-called healthy eating weren’t oh, you know, actually all that… healthy. They included:

  • 50g bowls of sugar-loaded Honey Nut Shreddies for breakfast
  • Leftover spaghetti carbonara (white pasta, shop-bought carbonara sauce, leftover chicken pieces and a dollop of double cream)
  • A meal of crackers loaded with butter and seafood cocktail

Clearly I had a lot to learn about healthy eating, and many, many adjustments to make.

On my first day, I managed two 15-minute slow walks on my treadmill. The second day, I noted a 20-minute round-trip walk to the post box – a circuit which would take me half that time today, if I ever went on a walk which was quite that short (it is, literally, just to the end of the road and back).

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Same event, different body: One year earlier, Bloggers Bash summer 2015 (photo credit Geoff le Pard)
My lumbersome weight on that first day was 270 pounds, or 19 stone 4 lbs (that’s 122.4 kilos in new money). Yet despite the Honey Nut Shreddies and spaghetti carbonara, I must have done a few things right; I lost 6 pounds in my first week, and a further 8 pounds over the next 4 weeks, which was a big boost.

Think Positive

I see from the notes alongside my food diary (which I have kept in detail every day since then – it helps to keep me accountable to myself), that in those first few days, in addition to my coach, I drew support and positivity from a variety of sources:

  • The encouragement of several lovely friends
  • Positive feedback on my work from a couple of clients
  • Some time spent reflecting on the comfort and calm of my home and garden
  • My Pilates habit and the gains I’ve seen from embedding this in my life, and sticking with it even when I got very overweight
  • A personalised hypnotherapy/relaxation tape given to me a couple of years ago by a hypnotherapist, whose help I had sought with my menopausal/health anxieties
  • My twin nephews, so happy, positive – and very, very active
  • A few days on a writing retreat in France; restful, and abundant with good, healthy food.

Sweet enough: Kicking the Sugar Habit

I didn’t get on to the sugar-free thing until the middle of October 2015. I gradually stripped away the more obvious treats (biscuits, confectionary etc), but until mid-October I was still making my breakfast Bircher muesli with Rachel’s Coconut Yoghurt, which is very, very highly sweetened.  Pranita had visited my home and we’d done a helpful store-cupboard and fridge audit, which had made me think about why I was holding on to this last sweet-treat.  My rationale – that it was an organic yoghurt, and therefore healthy – was all wrong. Yoghurt of the right kind is indeed healthy, but sweetened yoghurt, bio/organic or not, is… dessert.

That was a huge turning-point for me, finally acknowledging and then laying my sugar compulsion to rest. Once I replaced the sweetened variety with natural Greek yoghurt – bio, full-fat and proud, since you ask – I didn’t even miss the sweet taste.  And the die was cast. Today, at a guesstimate, I would say I am 99% added sugar free.  The odd microgram creeps in here and there, usually when I don’t read a label carefully enough. That’s about as much of a success as I can claim – but I’m more than happy with it.

Giving up added sugar was… massive. It freed me from hunger pangs, insulin spikes and a mass of barely controllable temptations, requiring extremes of willpower which I struggled to muster. In the weeks and months since then, I have read voraciously about the sugar-free and LCHF (low carb healthy fat) approaches. Whilst I haven’t gone 100% for LCHF, I totally bought the sugar-free message and I’ve succeeded in abandoning not only added sugar in all its many guises, but processed ready meals (where the sweet stuff hides in quite astounding volumes) and big stomach-stretching bricks of simple carbohydrate – bread, pasta, white rice and potatoes. I’ve lowered my general carbohydrate intake very considerably – and I feel so much better for it.

Not only that, but it’s extraordinary and thrilling to me that the sweet stuff is now… too sickly sweet.  My taste-buds rebel when in the vicinity of anything remotely sugary. And unless you’ve been released from sugar addiction yourself, you’ve no idea how truly magnificent that feels!

Exercise is… Hard Work

Ah… exercise. I have tried hard to exercise more often, but even after a year, I still struggle with this. Simple walking, the odd bit of swimming and of course, my Pilates, form the lion share of my exercise habit – but even now, I have to push myself out of the door.

I’m told there should be a joyous shift towards actual enthusiasm for exercise at some point, but all I’m experiencing so far is an ebb-and-flow. Some days or weeks are better than others. I hired a Personal Trainer to come to my home for a few weeks, and that has propelled me into episodes (whole minutes at a time!) of laboured jogging, and some more constructive cardio and strength exercises. I swim, usually once a week, with a friend. I enjoy walking more than I ever have before, but it’s still a big heave-ho to get myself out of bed for a walk at 6:00am, and I don’t always manage.  I make that effort more frequently, I seek out opportunities to leave the car behind and walk instead, and I’m definitely more active than I was; but exercise is something I fear may never come easily or naturally to me.

I do it though, I do it – and it’s helping me become fitter.  My resting heart rate has dropped more than 10 BPM, as my stamina, flexibility and general energy level has improved. All these are great rewards in themselves, and they contribute to a significantly diminished experience of health anxiety, which was quite the thing for me through my menopause years.

Half-Cooked

A year down the line, and the weight-loss component of my new healthier lifestyle is a little over half done. I’ve lost 65.5 pounds (that’s over four and a half stone, or 29.7 kilos). I wanted to be under 200 pounds by now, and currently at 204.5 pounds I’m not quite there (until the last few days, I’ve been frustratingly plateaued for nearly two months – like my body was trying to sabotage my ‘anniversary’); but I’m not far off. I last saw this weight in 2002, but only briefly, and before that, it would have been around the early 1990’s.

I’ve dropped 5 dress sizes, a shoe size, 3 ring sizes and 2 bra back sizes (but not even one cup size – hurrah!) and lost at least one chin. And there have been many other payoffs so far too (see past posts here and here) – with many more to come, I’m certain of it.

Indulgence – Just Modified

Don’t run away with the idea that I’m living some sort of parched, fat-free existence, devoid of culinary interest. I enjoy all sorts of indulgences.  I still eat butter (although without bread/toast in my diet, a packet of the stuff lasts me weeks and weeks); I still eat cheese almost daily (limiting quantity – mostly – to a few slivers). I choose full-fat over low/fat-free options, which I’ve always done, but it’s interesting to note that opinion is swinging towards this as the healthier choice these days; I eat plenty of eggs (another healthy foodstuff, long demonised). I try new recipes regularly and have added several healthier, more nutritious meals to my repertoire in recent months.

I still snack on savouries every now and again, but having lost my taste for crisps (USA: potato chips) I’ve found one or two alternatives which don’t press my guilt-button.  The beauty of these is that they’re not addictive in the way that old style crisps are.  I make my own toasted and seasoned seeds, crispy seasoned kale and small bowls of lightly salted air-popped corn.

I still enjoy the odd dessert-like treat too. I’ve made added-sugar-free banana and almond cake; I even (very) occasionally make an unbelievably indulgent ‘ice cream’ from frozen banana, organic (no-added-sugar) peanut butter and Greek yoghurt.  There may be substantially more vegetables and a broader spectrum of nutrients in my diet than ever before, but my taste-buds have not been utterly deprived of naughties.

Onward and Downward

So to the year ahead. I have another 30-50 pounds to go. I’m deliberately vague about this, as I shall see how I feel about it as I progress. But the big change for me – re-educating my taste-buds and my insides to welcome healthy food and reject sugar and processed junk – is something I now dare to feel confident I have nailed. I’ve dieted before, but I’ve never felt this lifestyle victory until now.

I’ve been so very grateful for all the support and encouragement I’ve received through my blog.  It’s clear that my experiences have inspired others to keep going with their own healthy changes, and that thrills me. I cannot imagine anything more positive (apart from the fact that I’m improving the quality, and perhaps even length, of my own life) than to inspire others to do the same for themselves.

So the journey continues. Stay with me, if you will – and I hope you do.  It won’t be dramatic, but it will continue to be frank and honest – a true account of a very ordinary battle to re-establish good habits, achieve a healthy weight and – hopefully – set myself up for a longer, healthier and more active middle- and old-age.

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I love hearing from people who follow my blog, and respond to every comment.  If you have any questions on how I’ve gone about my first ‘healthier’ year, please post them through the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.

Coming next: My Top Ten experience-based tips for sustainable and healthy weight-loss.