Lentils, eggs and crapples: living below the line.

Living below the line. It’s just like the 40h famine. Except there are no sleepovers, no sneaking of junk food bought with the intention of feasting post-famine, and no continual supply of Heard’s Barley Sugars and orange juice to keep you on a constant sugar high. The premise is to live on a food budget average of $2.25 per day for 5 days – the NZ equivalent of the extreme poverty line. Caryn and I had an additional challenge of not relying on foods such as bread and pasta to fill us up. Not only was it good to have the camaraderie of a friend to be able to share the experience, the buying power of greater than one could go a long way towards getting a decent food supply. Darren pointed out on the blog last week that his whole flat was able to eat meat, seasonal vegetables and eggs – which sounded luxurious compared to what Caryn and I were able to buy together.

So, what could 11.25 buy us? After an hour of scouring four different Asian fruit and vegetable shops (and Pak and Save) we were able to procure the foods below.

The food and cost

Food Cost per person Amount per day (avg)
½ Pumpkin 74c 150g
½ cabbage 85c 100g
250g lentils 1.34 50g
12 eggs 2.99 2 eggs
840g apples 65c 200g
1.1 kg carrots 84c 200g
bunch silverbeet 75c 80g
Coffee, tea, spices, etc 1.00
250g Butter 1.50 50g
TOTAL 10.66

We were stoked to be able to get a decent amount of vegetables as part of our allowance, and while others would have swapped out some of that for another source of carbohydrate, we just love vegetables. It goes without saying that the quality of the vegetables left a lot to be desired. And that it took time (and petrol) to source out vegetables at this price. The apples were…. crapples basically. Anything on the slightly soft side of crisp usually gets dealt to with a grater or baked in the oven. But price overruled all other factors. And lentils. Something I’ve not eaten pretty much all year. But they are a source of protein and pretty cheap. It was funny explaining to people what I was eating that week and the most common response was ‘lentils?! But that’s not paleo.’ Err, no – not paleo but equally, not the evil pulse that staunch paleo zealots consider it to be. If you’ve got metabolic issues (i.e. problems controlling blood glucose or insulin levels), if you’re overweight or you have any kind of digestive issue then lentils are not your friend. More recently proponents in the paleo space are more along the lines of ‘legumes? Well… why would you bother when you could get your protein from animal meat which is far more nutrient dense (in terms of availability of minerals, vitamins D and K, and higher in digestable protein).

The meals 

Breakfast: A poor man’s version of bulletproof coffee: butter in (instant) coffee. I know what you’re thinking – wtf?! It was surprisingly palatable. Or we had low expectations. Regardless, it is basically one step further than cream in coffee (which is certainly palatable), and a lot of people in the paleo-space have jumped on the bulletproof coffee bandwagon. Suffice to say I didn’t really feel bulletproof after drinking it – though many people claim the mental clarity comes through prolonged consumption. I’m happy to take their word for it.

Lunches: Lentil soup made with lentils, grated carrot, stock, pepper, cumin and chilli. And a crapple. This was filling enough, but I didn’t feel particularly satisfied.

Dinner: Vegetables along with an omelette of some sort, pan-fried in butter. I really looked forward to the omelette, as it’s my favourite egg meal. At the start of the week I also made a pumpkin bake (simplified version to one in the recipe section to the left) and baked one of the apples as a ‘dessert’ after dinner – I definitely looked forward to it.

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Not much variety in colour, texture, flavours

I chucked the average day’s food into FoodWorks to see what the overall energy (in kJ) and nutrient content was (below).

Nutrient average per day: Amount % Total Energy
Energy (kJ) 3380kJ
Protein 23.7g 11.38
Fat 56.3 58.75
Saturated fat 31 32.23
Carbohydrate 71.3 24.65
Fibre 20.9g
Calcium 321 mg
Iron 5.3 mg
Vit D 4.8 ug
Vit C 101 mg

It goes without saying that it is massively deficient in overall kilojoules, being less than half the normal amount of what I would usually consume. The protein content was slashed too. Typically my diet would consist of around 30% protein, but you can see that 23.7 g equated to just over 11% of overall energy intake – the amount of protein you might find in 100g of a grilled steak. Interestingly I didn’t notice that I was lacking in energy throughout the week. Indeed, there were times I felt hungry but my appetite diminished somewhat over the week. The food, largely, satisfied my hunger, but not my appetite for eating and I imagine that had something to do with it. It wasn’t until Friday when I woke up feeling like I had nothing left in the tank (rather than hungry) that I really noticed it. Equally, today (Sunday), a day and a half since going back to a normal diet, I noticed an overall lack of strength on my longer training run – Cam totally kicked my butt on our run this morning. To be fair, that usually happens, but it’s not quite so definitive. (I was quite glad Belinda wasn’t there also). I put some of the lack of strength down to lack of good nutrition during the week, having lost around 800g over five days. Don’t go thinking I would recommend this type of approach for quick weight loss. First, it just took a few good meals to bump that back up 500g. And, if you were to continue on this path then muscle loss, illness and injury (for athletes) would inevitably follow. If you don’t break physically first, the psychological breaking point of eating this food day in and out would certainly drive most people to the closest shop to make up for lost food. It really is no wonder that, when people don’t eat nourishing whole food, the drive to consume junk food is far greater. By the end of the week the smell of Subway located in the bottom of my building at work was almost appealing.

What I missed

  • Real coffee in my Katmandhu plunger.
  • Animal protein and dairy – I hadn’t eaten vegetarian for so many meals in a row for as long as I could remember. I missed having my sardines or salmon at lunch, and I’d recently gotten into slow cooking meat to go along with mash and vegetables or salad at night, or a roast chicken. That type of food is just far more satisfying
  • Good, crisp, fresh apples
  • My soda stream sparkling water from my soda stream machine.
  • Almond butter
  • Variety: I missed the variety of food I typically eat – and it occurred to me that I didn’t chew as much as I normally did – usually a salad at lunch, and some crunchy vegetables at dinner, with fruit alongside breakfast made for a nice, crisp, colourful diet. I didn’t have that this week. So while I wasn’t hungry – I wasn’t necessarily satisfied.
  • Texture of foods

More than anything, I missed the freedom to eat what I want. It was a novelty for us but, for some, it’s a reality. So while I missed all of these things, I was safe in the knowledge that it was for a very short period of time. What I gained was a very small insight into what it could be like to live below the line, and a reminder of how lucky I am.

Thanks to Trish, Dani, Deb and Glenn, Judith, Hels and Claire for donating too!

Paleo on primetime

Either my awareness of paleo-related news has increased, or paleo is just getting more airtime. Last Friday Seven Sharp did a piece on the paleo diet and whether we should get back to eating how our ancestors did. I’m always interested to see how the media portrays paleo, as it’s often rubbished as a fad diet.  Those who watched would have noted the obligatory cut to some 1970s clip of cavemen – a necessity obviously, just so we are all on the same page of what we mean when we say ‘paleo’. It’s all gnawing on bones and sitting around in loin cloths and mammoth skins. Kind of how I spend my Friday nights actually – so a good depiction of how paleo looks in real life.

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Now where did I put my straighteners?

The two case studies presented were quite different. Though the reporter talked about the health benefits of the lifestyle change for Aaron, the link to Cross Fit, the focus on the barbeque, and the reporter’s comments that you can eat ‘as much meat as you like’ perpetuated the notion that paleo is meat, meat, meat. And bacon. This was backed up by the description of the diet of 40% animal products and 60% vegetables (with no mention of fruit). The second case study of Dan and Corrine was more balanced. The clip highlighted the physical and psychological benefits of eating a paleo-approach. Dan, while admitting it sounded contrived, talked about how he feels like a different person, with a lot more mental clarity and energy. Something I have heard time and time again from clients who make similar changes to their diet.

Seven sharp then interviewed dietitian Nadia Lim about the nutritional considerations of going paleo. I really like most of what Nadia promotes as good nutrition, and she was really good at talking about the benefits of eating a whole food diet that was nutrient rich. But one aspect that she was confused about was that paleo is low carbohydrate. It’s not. Yes, the carbohydrate load is reduced for a lot of people if they are switching from a standard westernised diet, but this doesn’t mean it is low carbohydrate for everyone. She then described the dangers of going into ketosis on the premise of a low carbohydrate diet.  Hang on – weren’t we talking about paleo? This was like a quantum leap from one approach to diet (paleo) to another (ketogenic). Ketosis (if you’re not familiar with this) is when your body breaks down both fat and protein to produce ketone bodies to be used as fuel in the absence of glucose. Two things to say here:

  1. For most people, consuming under 50g of carbohydrate per day is necessary to go into ketosis (and for some, it’s as low as 20g per day). Do you know how hard that is? It takes a fair amount of planning and measuring of your food intake to lower your carbohydrate intake to a level that would enable your body to start burning ketones as fuel. Your protein intake would also need to be carefully monitored, as too high a protein intake will prevent this from occurring. While it’s possible to go ketogenic on a paleo diet, it is by no means inevitable. At all.  Here is an example of what a ketogenic diet might look like (in a non paleo kind of way).
  2. Ketosis is not dangerous. Really. It is often confused with ketoacidosis – whch is dangerous for people who are unable to produce insulin – i.e. Type 1 diabetes or more advanced cases of Type 2 diabetes. This is because, without insulin, the ketone bodies produced are unable to be fed back into the energy system to be used as fuel. These build up in the blood stream and can lead to metabolic disregulation and an acidic environment which is a dangerous state to be in.  However that is really different from nutritional ketosis (to borrow Peter Attia’s term). When you are able to produce insulin, then ketone bodies never get to the levels necessary to cause this state of acidosis and are able to be used effectively for fuel in the absence of glucose. I’m being oversimplistic, I know, and Peter Attia succinctly explains ketosis better than many I have read (and the comments are worth a look at also).  Ketogenic diets (inducing ketosis) have long been used to treat neurological disorders, can be useful in weight loss, may have a place in sports performance, and may be necessary for people with metabolic disregulation to reduce hyperinsulinemia – and for most people these are not dangerous. However, again, going paleo does NOT mean going ketogenic (unless you want it to).

So while I kind of felt it jumped the shark a bit at the end, it was good to see paleo making primetime TV. Dare I say, more interesting than the series on cats Seven Sharp did a few weeks ago.

Also, for anyone interested in the concept of evolutionary health (in any facet, be it diet, exercise, sleep, lifestyle etc) then watch this space as the development of a New Zealand branch of the Ancestral Health Society (AHS) is underway, led by Jamie Scott and Anastasia Boulais of Whole 9 South Pacific. This has the potential for individuals and organisations across New Zealand to come together under one umbrella and have a louder, collective voice in the nutrition, lifestyle and health space. Both Jamie and Anastasia noted in our meeting last week that the concept of ancestral health in NZ is quite different to that in the US (where the AHS has orginiated from). For a lot of people there, ancestral health really does conjure up images of Fred Flinstone. In NZ, as a young country, there isn’t this gulf of thousands of years between us and our ancestors. Indeed, for Maori and Pasifika people there are threads of ancestral life woven into everyday life. It’s not that much of a stretch to imagine that solutions to many health problems of today may be found if we look back to how lives were lived in the past. It is a bonus that the majority of NZers believe in evolution or ‘intelligent design’  – which is almost evolution. (As a side note, while looking up these stats I found that up to 60% of people believe in UFOs. Go figure.) Anyway, if you want to know more about Ancestral Health Society then follow the above link. In addition, seminars by prominent academic and practitioners in the field of evolutionary health can be found on the AHS You Tube channel  – a great way to learn more about the potential to improve our health by looking in the past. And not a loin cloth in sight.

Finally, check recipes for a delicious meatloaf I made this week. And I made a great sweet breakfast omelette. Neither of which I will be eating over the next five days though as Caryn and I have challenged our third year Food, Nutrition and Community Health class to take part in the Live below the line challenge, beginning Sunday dinner time. Thus, we feel obliged to do the same. It seemed like a great idea nine weeks ago when we were planning this semester’s course. Living on $2.25 per day and not relying on Homebrand baked beans on toast. Hmm… I’ll update you on how that goes next week.

LCHF on tour….make or break

Any change in routine from ‘real life’ can bring about its challenges if you’re trying to stick to a way of eating that is different from the ‘standard Westernised diet’.  When you’re not in control of your food choices it can be particularly hard, and can make or break any dietary habits that define what you eat. My good friend Helen shares her experience (and some useful tips) during a recent trip back to visit family and friends in the UK.

April 2013 marked a turning point in the way I fuel my body…high fat instead of low fat, low carb instead of high carb, meat instead of no meat. The result….more stable energy levels, reduced bloating, feeling great. Eating low carbohydrate, high fat (LCHF), along with a more efficient approach to training, had quickly become a way of life, but how would a month-long trip to the UK challenge this new way of living? Here’s what I found:

The journey

LCHF takes some planning, so while things were in my control, I made the most of it. Bacon and eggs for brunch, and chicken laksa with faux rice before we left for the airport. I also baked some no sugar, no grain muffins for the journey and packed a big bag of almonds.

By the time the in-flight meal was served it was nearly midnight but the chicken curry went down a treat (minus the rice). And eight hours later, a cheesy omelette for breakfast was ideal….so far so good.

In transit at LAX there was sugar sugar everywhere so my almonds and muffins came in very handy, for all of us. And then we landed in England.

Family

My Mum had read my “Diary of a LCHF dabbler” but my in-laws  didn’t even know I was eating meat so had bought in Quorn* especially for me. Mum had switched low fat milk and yoghurt for full fat versions, but as a vegetarian herself, going the whole hog (excuse the pun) on LCHF would always be challenging. As an aside, she was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and although her GP advised her to increase her intake of whole grains and cereals, she fortunately did the opposite and is noticing much improved symptoms.

There were already nuts and seeds in the house, as well as Greek yoghurt, berries, eggs, olive oil, loads of fish, plenty of vegetables and salad stuff. The only extra thing I needed to buy in the first few days was some cream (and some Pepsi Max!).

It was a very different situation at my in-laws. The fridge and cupboards were stocked with all of the foods I used to think were good – pasta, bagels, tomato-based sauces, low-fat yoghurts, low-fat milk and a cereal selection to die for (literally it might now seem).

Not wanting to be awkward (or starve) I had a bowl of cereal the first morning. It was nice but I just wasn’t satisfied, even after seconds. By the second morning I’d managed to get some Greek yoghurt and had that with a bit of natural muesli and almonds. It was a bit better but still not enough fat and too much sugar. Better than the small pottle of yoghurt my husband pulled out of the fridge though – zero fat but almost 25 g of sugar!

Eating meat again was a big plus and it was lovely to not be the awkward vegetarian for once. They probably thought it was a bit strange that I was avoiding some of the foods I’d previously eaten so much of, but nobody asked why and I was too tired to start to explain.

Eating out

Choosing LCHF options is made easier when cafes serve breakfast all day, but this is not as common in England as it is in New Zealand. When it was impossible to go LCHF, it was actually nice to prove to myself that I could have an egg sandwich and the world wouldn’t end! Although I advise other people to aim for 18 out of 21 meals to be LCHF, the perfectionist in me had been starting to think that for me, 20 out of 21 meant failure. It’s almost like a fear of carbs had taken over from a fear of fat (not that that is necessarily a bad thing).

Getting over this hurdle meant that I could enjoy a beautiful dish of spring pea and mint ravioli at Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant in Leeds and one day, when the only thing remotely appealing on a lunch menu was a jacket potato with tuna mayonnaise, I had an unexpectedly nice experience. The jacket potato skin was as it should be, thick and crispy, and with my new found liking for butter (and a realisation that it is far from bad), I enjoyed the unique taste of butter and potato that took me right back to my childhood. OK, so it would have been better if the potato had been a kumara, but I was so full from all the tuna topping and the buttery skin that I couldn’t eat most of the actual potato.

Eating out was often easier than eating in and with meat still being a novelty, the new found variety I found on every menu was amazing. And hotel breakfasts were fantastic. I’ve always loved a hotel breakfast (well hotels full stop really) but would always walk out feeling uncomfortably full, only to start getting a bit peckish again mid-morning! Not this time – after a big plate of bacon, eggs, mushrooms and tomatoes I was satisfied but not bloated and wasn’t hungry again until mid-afternoon.

Shopping

My initial impression of UK supermarkets was of variety and low prices, but as the trip wore on, I realised that in terms of “real” food, availability was reduced and prices were probably similar. For example, I had to go to a specialist health food shop to buy a bag of almonds bigger than 100 g, and even then I could only buy raw ones not roasted. I have since found that roasting your own** is an absolute doddle and delicious. One great thing I did find in one supermarket was a huge salad bar. It would have made a great picture to compare what I put in my box this time versus what I would have put in 10 years ago. 2013: two boiled eggs, grated cheese, coleslaw, etc. 2003: pasta salad, rice salad, mixed beans.

I started the trip full of good intentions to do lots of baking, partly to make some healthy snacks and partly because Ella enjoys it, but an average batch of muffins and some slightly more successful pancakes were our only creations and my Mum now has a year’s worth of coconut flour to get through!

Spreading the message

A few people I met had read my diary and wanted to know more. But some people, like my brother, didn’t want a bar of it! I wished that I’d had some really short, simple statements to quickly and clearly explain but I found I often got tongue-tied trying to explain something that seems so obvious to me and angry at how brainwashed we’ve been for so long. I tried though and several of my friends are now giving it a go and others asked for more information. I’ve created a bit of a hand out that I can send to people and now need to work on those punchy statements!

So what did I learn?

As well as being fantastic to see family and friends, this trip reinforced to me what a sensible and achievable lifestyle choice LCHF is (with a bit of flexibility). Travelling can be an excuse, or an unfortunate opportunity, to fall off the bandwagon, but whether your lifestyle of choice is Paleo, LCHF vegan or whatever, hopefully some of the lessons learned below might help you stick to it when you’re away from home:

  • Be prepared – pack your own snacks and don’t rely on what will be on the plane or at airports
  • Choose the hot breakfast rather than the supposedly “healthy”, “light” or “continental” option!
  • Book a Diabetic meal on the plane if the airline will let you (although this may just be low sugar rather than low carb; and it will probably be low fat!)
  • Consider telling the people you’re staying with what you’re doing, whether it be LCHF, Paleo, or any other way of living
  • Trust in what you’re doing and ignore what others might say
  • Try to educate people but don’t ram it down their throats
  • Don’t beat yourself up if things slip a bit – remember the 80/20 rule
  • Keep a food diary if you need to be more strict – seeing things in black and white is often all you need to get back on track
  • Stay in touch with your support network(s) or someone who ‘gets’ what you do
  • Have a goal to achieve by the end of your trip or when you get home
  • Enjoy yourself – eating out, picnics, a glass of wine J

*Quorn is the leading brand of faux meat mycoprotein in the United Kingdom. The mycoprotein used to produce Quorn is extracted from the fungus Fusarium venenatum

**How to dry roast almonds: Heat your oven to 175oC. Spread almonds on an ungreased baking sheet.
Bake for approximately 10 minutes or until they are golden brown and fragrant. Delicious!

Addicted to food?

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I’m pretty sure I used to be addicted to Wrigley’s Extra gum. I would chew through at least a packet of it every workday.  It had to be blue (peppermint) and I would feel a little anxious if I arrived at work without it. When Wrigley’s changed the packet from seven to 14 pieces I didn’t buy half the usual packets per week; I consumed twice as much. In December last year when I decided that my dietary habits needed an overhaul, gum was one of the many things to go. And I’ve not had a piece, nor desired one, since. That’s saved me about $487 (more than the JMC Omniblend I have since purchased.) In fact, my friend Cam says people chewing gum grosses him out and – much like a converted smoker – I can see what he means. I’m all about dental hygiene (and, if I wasn’t a nutritionist then I’d totally be a dental hygenist) – but now I have to say I’m a little repulsed by even the smell of it.

Some might say that I can’t have been addicted to just simply be able to give it up that easily however I disagree. And, after attending New Zealand’s First Food addiction symposium in Christchurch on Friday, hosted by University of Otago’s School of Medicine, I am more inclined to feel that way. We live our own reality and listening to people talk about their own dependence made that clear. One woman talked about consuming a block of chocolate over three days, whereas another described eating food covered in ants, such was the strength of her compulsion to eat. Clearly these two situations are vastly different – however for both women they experienced the same emotion about their relationship with food – and who is to tell either of them that it’s not ‘addiction.’

Currently food addiction is not considered to be like a drug addiction – and therefore is not recognised in the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual (DSM) V criteria for a diagnosis of an addiction. There is a reluctance to psychiatrise a seemingly ‘every day life behaviour’, however many psychiatrists – such as Professor Doug Sellman – one of the keynote speakers at the symposium, would argue that food addiction is less behavioural and is more chemical. He likened it to alcoholism – which wasn’t formally recognised by the disease model of dependency until the 1930s/40s. When that changed it did much for those people who, up to that point, suffered from the pain and emotion of not having their disease recognised or understood. A study conducted by his research group last year, where a fake enquirer called up concerned about her sister who was compulsively overeating, found that less than 10% of the service providers called (both addiction services and overeaters anonymous) would see her sister for an assessment. That’s problematic when the services who could provide some support dismisses the problem, and arguably doing more harm to the person than if no help was sought.

Prof Sellman’s talk was centred around the question “‘how can we have a food addiction if food is essential for life?” which was what he thought 20 years ago before his own weight gain and loss struggle, along with the stories of others, made him think otherwise. How these people described their relationship with food was parallel to that which he counselled those with drug addictions for. Certainly, food in itself is necessary for life, but – like alcohol and cigarettes – the type of foods which people talk about as triggering unhelpful eating patterns don’t typically fall into the ‘must eat for health’ category. Prof Sellman estimated that half of those suffering from obesity had a relationship with food that might fit the description of addiction. The accuracy of that estimate cannot be determined, but is undeniable is that the drive of obesity is often stronger than whatever emotion or pain is felt by the person who is desperately wanting to be a healthy weight.

The DSM-V criteria for an addiction is three or more of the following criteria:

  1. Consumption is often more than intended (quantity or time)
  2. Unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control consumption
  3. Much time is spent in consumption
  4. Other important activities are given up or reduced
  5. There is continued consumption despite the knowledge of psychological or physical health problems
  6. Our tolerance for the substance increases (so we require more)
  7. Withdrawal if you go without for an extended period of time.

I’m sure other practitioners would agree that when some clients describe their inability to stop at one serving of a ‘trigger’ food, it doesn’t sound too different from the above. While foods high in sugar certainly make up a large proportion of ‘trigger’ foods, savoury foods (such as potato crisps, corn chips, crackers etc) can be an individual’s food ‘nemesis’ too. Prof Sellman talked about these foods being formulated to deliver a certain mouth feel, and to deliver an experience that can trigger the same neurotransmitters in the brain that drugs do.

However while the food industry gets blamed for providing highly palatable, nutrient poor, calorie dense food which leads people to gain weight, that doesn’t explain the overwhelming drive experienced by some people to overconsume these foods.  Kelly Brownell, who lead the first international symposium in Food Addiction just six years ago, in his handbook of Food and Addiction describes nutrients such as sugar as hijacking the brain and overriding will, judgement and personal responsibility.

The increasing awareness of food addiction as more than just a behavioural problem is another step closer to understanding the complexities of an individual and their relationship with food. While as practitioners we can guide people to eating foods that will minimise the chemical response in the brain that drives the overconsumption of food, recognising clients that might benefit from services beyond our scope of practice (such as that from a psychiatrist or psychotherapist) is just as important.

Lovin' it (too much)

Lovin’ it (too much)

(From Prof Sellman’s talk, a version of which can be found here)

Follow your own rules

I’m catching up with someone this week or next, who is in need of a bit of guidance around what to eat. Caryn and I consulted earlier last year about her diet as she was embarking on the Dukan Diet. For those of you unfamiliar with this plan, it is a low fat, high protein plan that basically strips weight off people. Make no mistake. It’s a diet in the true sense of the word. After a 5-10 day induction phase of eating JUST low fat protein foods, you then move on to an alternating regime of either protein and vegetables or protein-only days. As much of the protein foods as you can eat. It is designed to strip weight off and fast. Once the desired weight loss is achieved, you are allowed to slowly reintroduce foods previously forbidden, such as a slice of bread or serve of starch a day, a piece of fruit, and this then extends to a couple of ‘treat’ meals per week. So the diet itself transititions to a generally healthy way to eat that could be sustainable. The only caveat is that, one day a week (for the rest of your life) you must have a protein-only day. Sounds pretty easy, right?

Apparently not. Lately a lot of people Caryn knows have lost weight, improved their sport performance, and generally felt a lot better after shifting to a whole foods approach, particuarly a low carbohydrate, high fat (LCHF) diet. This has encouraged Caryn to dabble in the same LCHF diet, however, instead of experiencing the same success with weight loss, Caryn has noticed she’s gained weight and isn’t particularly happy about it. In her blog she admitted that now she wasn’t sure what she should eat, so she was going to take a little bit of the Dukan principles (as they worked so well for her in the past) and combine them with the LCHF approach. This immediately sent alarm bells ringing in my head. In a non-alarmist sort of way.

The potential pitfall of taking ‘a bit of this, a bit of that’ is that the eating ‘unlimited amounts of low fat protein foods’ would look quite a bit different on an LCHF plan – if you are someone who struggles to listen to your own body to determine when you are full and when you are hungry. Any diet that promotes a ‘free-for-all’ approach to any food – even if the plan itself addreses behaviour change – is problematic once you’re no longer following all of the other rules. A generalisation, yes, but often when people start following another diet plan, they don’t read the entire diet book; they go straight to the ‘rules of the diet’, ‘foods allowed’, ‘foods to avoid’, ‘meal plan’ section. Who cares WHY I should follow this plan, just tell me HOW. Even if you tell yourself that you’ll come back to the ‘why’ once you’ve got the ‘how’ figured out, often the book gets shoved into a draw or back on the shelf, and soon forgotten.

Going from a regimented eating plan (such as Dukan) to one where there are no stringent rules (such as a paleo-approach) can be at first daunting for a person wanting to lose weight. There are no point systems to follow, no food groups to track, no calories to count and no restrictions on when to eat. Instead you have to learn to listen to what your own body is telling you with regards to what to eat, how much to eat and when to eat. This is unbelievably hard for anyone who has dieted on and off for the better part of their adult life. It’s a real game-changer. Other times they have permitted themselves to have that control over their eating patterns, it is usually on the back of an unsuccessful weight loss attempt and they have ended up gaining weight. The rules of ‘protein only Thursday’s’ and ‘no carbohydrate after 3pm’ and ‘150 Cal snacks’ suddenly change to ‘listening to your body’, ‘eat until you’re full’ and ‘look at the ingredient list and not the nutritional information panel’. Instead of putting your trust in the rules of the diet – and therefore having something (or someone) to blame if you can’t adhere to it – you have to put the trust in yourself.

Long term weight loss and maintenance really does have to a shift in the way you think, feel, act around food. And that requires time, and effort. While eating a whole food diet really helps nourish you, eliminates cravings, fills you up and leaves you feeling satisfied – years of following rules around diet can make it hard to listen to your own body cues of when you are hungry (physially hungry) versus when you have an appetite (which can be driven by environmental and social cues – ever feel hungry just after breakfast because someone cooks toast?) Some of the strategies that I encourage clients to put into place to start tuning into their internal cues include:

  1. Engage in the act of eating. Some people eat without even realising it – and it’s not until the whole packet of nuts are gone that they realise they’ve consumed the entire bag. People always recommend you to not read/watch TV/surf the net while eating. While that would be ideal, it’s not always possible – so at least try to think about your meal when you’re eating it.
  2. Chew every mouthful and swallow before taking another bite. This will slow down your eating and you will actually taste your food.
  3. Brush your teeth directly after dinner – nothing tastes good after toothpaste (and it’s a win on the dental hygiene front).
  4. Never eat while standing up – it’s too easy to graze in front of the pantry or eat breakfast over the sink and not actually think about what you are eating.
  5. Never eat while preparing food – don’t mindlessly chew on food while you are making a meal – even if it is just carrot sticks. Remember, it’s not the food that is the problem – it can be the habit, so trying to get out of the habit is the first step.
  6. If you find you always eat a snack upon arriving home at the end of the day, even if dinner isn’t too far away, brush your teeth before leaving work.
  7. Don’t eat from the packet or jar – ever.
  8. Put leftovers away before sitting down to dinner (out of sight, out of mind).
  9. Wait 10 minutes and have a glass of water before having seconds if you think you are still hungry after a meal, to give your stomach time to register that you’ve eaten.
  10. If you keep a food diary, then also note down how hungry you are going into the meal, and how full you are once you finish.
  11. Don’t write off the day/week if you overeat. Make the next meal another opportunity to practice any one of the strategies above.

These can help you stop relying on rules and regimes set by external factors and start trusting that you’ll make the right decisions. It does (and will) take time, but you just have to back yourself. Putting in the time now will change the feeling of apprehension around food to one of freedom (at the risk of sounding a bit hippy). And on a completely unrelated topic, my lovely friend Helen made this yummy frittata for her birthday brunch yesterday – which I modified due to time constraints, and have posted as mini-frittatas in the recipe section. Eat them mindfully, and have a happy week!

A mountain of mini-frittatas.

A mountain of mini-frittatas.