10 tips to help reduce your water-bloat

I got a question on my members’ Facebook page a couple of weeks ago regarding water retention. There is nothing worse than a bloated tummy – it can not only make you feel physically uncomfortable, but can also wreak havoc on your psychological state (as many people equate the bloating to ‘feeling fat’, despite there being no relationship between the two). Further, a bloated stomach impacts on your ability to move properly. We can’t engage our core muscles, so aren’t able to move, lift, push or pull in a way that is functionally optimal. This has important implications for our core strength and injury prevention. Of course water rentention affects more than just our stomach – a long haul flight to somewhere warm can turn anyone’s lean calves into kankles due to changes in the pressure in the capillaries, causing fluid to leak out into the body tissues. There can be many reasons for this, so I thought I would investigate the most common causes and possible solutions.

  1. Minimize your sodium intake. Although sodium (aka salt) is an essential mineral because it’s used to regulate the fluid levels in body tissues, bringing water into the cells. Excess intake of sodium may cause excessive fluid retention in the body tissues. While the evidence behind this recommendation suggests it isn’t something that affects everyone, this may help some people, particularly those who are salt sensitive or hypertensive. Do note, though, that if you follow the types of principles that I suggest, your diet is probably quite low in salt anyway, as most salt comes from processed foods (around 70%). However, there are whole foods that are high in sodium, such as cheese, miso, cured meats and biltong, so you could reduce these, and avoid adding salt to your food to see if this makes a difference.
  2. I probably don’t need to tell you to avoid eating too many refined carbohydrates – these tend to spike insulin, which causes sodium (often found in these foods) to be re-absorbed back into the kidneys, thus increasing water retention. Your best bet for carbohydrate foods are those whole-food, minimally refined varieties that have negligible sodium for a start, and that you eat in a mixed meal with good fats and proteins to help slow down the release of carbohydrate into your bloodstream, minimising insulin response.
  3. Any form of dehydration can cause your body to hold onto water. Therefore, ensure that if you drink alcohol, do extended exercise training sessions, or are in a hotter environment that you remain well hydrated to offset any potential for dehydration. The fluid you lose during exercise should be replaced in the three hours after training, and at 1.5 times the amount lost – you can work out how much this is by weighing yourself before and after an exercise session. The amount of weight lost roughly equates to the amount of fluid lost. Prior to drinking alcohol, have a couple of glasses of water (this will also help slow down your drinking). And be an adult about how you drink: is it necessary to drink more than a few in any one sitting?
  4. Take adequate amounts of vitamin B6 combined with magnesium. For women, prior to your period you can feel a little bloated and that you are retaining water. Interestingly, however, some research investigating the timing of this around the menstrual cycle has found bloating occurs more in the onset of your cycle (day 1) after which is rapidly declines, despite the perception of puffiness or bloating in the week prior to menstruation. This puffiness, however, could well be related to food choices in that week, as the intake of higher sugar choices can increase for some.
  5. If you have water retention before your period, you may, however, benefit from taking both a magnesium supplement (at 250mg per day) combined with a vitamin B6 supplement (40mg) daily – a study found this combination the most effective for decreasing premenstrual symptoms when administered for two months by balancing your hormone levels.
  6. Potassium works in conjunction with sodium, pumping fluid out of the body cells. Therefore, if you aren’t consuming enough then it could cause problems with water retention. The reality is, though, that you are following the meal plan and including plenty of vegetables, your potassium intake is likely fine. However, if you don’t have a good intake of vegetables (at least 7 serves per day) then increasing these is a good idea. This will also bump up your fibre intake, which can further help reduce fluid retention.
  7. Take natural diuretics. Dandelion root has long been used to help flush water out of the body – therefore investing in a good tea such as this Golden Fields one is not only delicious (often used as a substitute to coffee), it will also be beneficial. In addition, this kidney cleanse tea from Artemis has other natural diuretics to help flush water out.
  8. Exercise regularly. Exercise can help reduce water retention, not just by increasing sweating, but by moving water from the intercellular compartments to the muscles.
  9. Increase your caloric intake, if only for a day. I know – this one sounds weird, but a ground-breaking study in the 1950s called the Minnesota Experiment found something interesting mid-way through their study. The study followed men on a 1500 Calorie diet for 6 months, and subjected to hours of hard labour per day. Half way through the trial the men were allowed a celebration meal, effectively increasing their caloric intake to 2300 Calories. Following a night of getting up to go to the bathroom several times, the men were a few pounds lighter the following morning. Obviously, the weight lost was water weight – but why would this be the case? Potentially the long-term calorie deficit caused an increase in cortisol levels, and this increases water retention in the body. By increasing caloric load, the body reduced cortisol levels and this reduced water retention.
  10. Reduce overall stress load. As we have just discovered, higher cortisol levels will increase water retention, therefore anything you can do to reduce stress is going to impact favourably on water loss. Let’s not forget the impact that high stress levels have on blood sugar levels, inflammation and fat gain (to name just three areas it impacts). While stress is a perception of a situation, and changing your mind-set is one of the best things you can do to lower stress levels, ensure you are getting adequate sleep, time in nature, time with loved ones and taking time just for yourself. These are going to help lower your cortisol levels and combat any stress-related water retention.

So… not a definitive list, but hopefully a few pointers to help you get to the bottom of your fluid retention issues and make some improvements. For more individual advice, don’t hesitate to contact me for a consultation or for online nutrition coaching. Further, if you’re in the Bay of Plenty, Queenstown, Nelson or Wellington regions, then I’m headed your way for an evening of ‘real food’ talk – click here to find out more information and to book tickets!

 

Constant cravings? Here’s 18 evidence-backed (or anecdotal) tips that will curb them.

Are you back into the swing of things but your taste buds aren’t?  It happens! Especially around this time of year where intake of sugar, alcohol and processed carbohydrates tends to be higher for most people, and while going cold turkey can be the best move, it’s sometimes easier said than done. The good news is that by reducing these foods, you’ll begin to lose the taste for them, and they’ll no longer hold the appeal that they had. For some though, completely removing them is a better idea – even small amounts can continue to drive the appetite for them. Regardless of which camp you fall into, here are some proven, some anecdotal, and some interesting ways to combat those cravings.

  1. The basics: build your plate based around protein and fibre, with fat for satiety. Protein is well known to be the most satisfying nutrient, and along with fibre (also key for adding bulk and feeling full) will keep most people satisfied longer than either carbohydrate or fat. Any starchy or carbohydrate-based foods are best if they are minimally processed (such as potatoes, kumara, legumes, fruit) as these will provide more nutrient bang for your buck). How much of each? Protein-type foods (meat, fish, eggs, poultry) aim for 1-2 palm-sized portions. Starchy carbs (if included) at around a fist-sized amount.  Fat? 1-2 thumb-sized amounts, depending on the type of protein portion you’re eating: a fattier cut might be satisfying enough, however a lean chicken breast will likely require some added fat to help satisfy you. And vegetables? Go for gold – other than the starchier varieties (mentioned above) you could fill your boots with these. For some people, having a full plate is essential to feeling satisfied and if you can do that by adding more volume, it is going to have a positive effect on the satiety from a meal (that’s definitely me). For some ideas, check out my recipe e-book or my online coaching service.
  2. Get rid of anything that is ‘your poison’- if you are the person that hears the icecream calling you from the freezer, it is much better off out of the house. Out of sight, out of mind.
  3. Put all the ‘treat’ type food in one place in your house, preferably above eye level. This will save you seeing the Christmas cake when you are grabbing the eggs, and the chocolate almonds when you are searching for the bottle of olive oil. Constant reminders of all the things you are trying not to eat will NOT help your cause.
  4. Chew your food properly at each meal. Aim for 30 times per mouthful. That way you’ll digest your nutrients effectively, feel more nourished and less likely to be hungry an hour after eating because you wolfed that meal down.
  5. Do not substitute those refined sugars for ‘natural’ sugars. That dried fruit is pretty much just sugar – and (a few nutrients and fibre aside) no better than sugar and will continue to drive your sugar cravings. You shouldn’t rely on dried fruit (or any sweet food that is marketed as ‘refined sugar free’) as a substantial nutrient source . Any additional fibre or nutrients they provide in the diet is negligible compared to the whack of goodness you’ll get when you follow #1 above. When health bloggers or food producers market something based on the healthfulness of the ‘natural’ sugar, it is pure embellishment. 6 meedjol dates and a banana does not make a smoothie sugar free.
  6. Coconut oil – this is a favourite of Sarah Wilson’s: a teaspoon of extra virgin coconut oil can kill a craving in its tracks. If we head to the literature to find any peer reviewed papers on the topic (for what it’s worth, there is a LOT of research published by the Coconut Research Center), there isn’t a lot to definitively tell us that it will cut cravings. That said, there is some research has found that people who include more coconut oil in their diet (compared to other types of fat) have reduced food intake overall, particularly in the subsequent meals. Like most things, you have nothing to lose by trying it.
  7. Cocoa – chocolate is long associated with cravings, though right now, consumption of chocolate may well increase the cravings rather than stamp them out. It’s also not exactly useful if you’re trying to focus on reducing your intake of junk food! That said, chocolate is known for its cognitive and mood enhancing benefits. So how about some unsweetened cocoa (or cacao) in hot water with some milk to deliver the chocolate taste you are after. Add a touch of stevia if you wish. You could also do this cold with almond milk and ice – and add 1 tablespoon of psyllium husk or gelatin in there for some additional fibre or protein. If chocolate is what you’re after – go for the darkest that you can stand. Many people find they stop at 1-2 pieces of 90% chocolate instead of the 1-2 rows consumed of the 70%.
  8. Anything that lowers your blood sugar response to a meal is going to positively impact your cravings. The steep rise and fall of your blood sugar in response to a meal causes alarm bells to start going off in your brain. The body runs a tight ship and prefers when all systems are in homeostasis. Low blood sugar causes a release in stress hormones which tell your liver to dump glucose into the bloodstream, and create cravings so you can re-establish blood sugar to within a normal range. Including cinnamon can reduces glucose response after a meal (in amounts of 6g) and affects insulin response. Stabilising blood sugar is going to help reduce cravings. Sprinkle this gold dust on your breakfast, with your teaspoon of coconut oil, in your cocoa drink etc.
  9. Glutamine – can enhance secretion of GLP-1, a hormone which promotes insulin release that helps increase satiety and dampen appetite – this is only seen in some people however, suggesting there is individual variation of its effects. The flipside of this is that the insulin-releasing effects may override any satiety benefits, increasing hunger (and subsequent meal size) at the next meal. However, in practice this is a tool that many clinicians (myself included) have found useful for some (but not all) clients. The presence of glutamine in the bloodstream is associated with improved insulin sensitivity in healthy people. In addition to this, glutamine has been found to be beneficial for improving intestinal permeability and tight junction protein expression in the gut, being one of the most abundant amino acids in the body. If your cravings are related to gut dysbiosis then it could be useful from this perspective. In addition, it functions as part of neurotransmitter production. Taking L Glutamine by putting it under the tongue as a craving hits (1-3,000mg) may just work for you.
  10. Magnesium is a nutrient that is involved in over 250 processes in our body, and particularly when we are under stress, it is put under the pump. Sugar (or specifically) chocolate craving is often linked to a deficiency to magnesium, but that isn’t conclusive. At any rate, magnesium is perfectly safe to take, and as our food supply is relatively low in magnesium, looking for a supplement that is a magnesium glycinate, citrate or chelated with amino acids may be useful, at amounts of around 300-400mg elemental magnesium.
  11. Chromium is another supplement that some people have found useful for stopping cravings – research has found a reduction in carbohydrate cravings, food intake and an increase in satiety when supplementing with chromium…however this is in the laboratory using mice. There’s nothing definitive in the research to support using it for people who already have adequate amounts of this mineral. That said (as with anything), it’s individual – I know many clients who swear by using Chromium supplements when a craving hits. The only way to know if it works for you is to try it, by taking 1000mg chromium in two doses in meals that contain carbohydrate (due to its suggested benefits at reducing blood sugar response to carbohydrate meals)..
  12. Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are three amino acids that act as nutrient signallers which may help reduce food intake . Leucine (one of the BCAAs) activates mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) which is required for our brain to respond to leptin (a hormone that tells our body when we have had enough food). BCAAs are involved with hormone release in both the gastrointestinal tract and in fat deposits. BCAAs and dietary protein enhanced glucagon like peptide-1 (GLP-1) release and reduced the expression of genes required for synthesis and adsorption of fatty acids in a human intestinal cell line (NCI-H716), suggesting an intestinal mechanism for the beneficial effect of BCAAs. Those that have successfully used BCAAs suggest 5g in the AM and every few hours while you’re adjusting your diet back to baseline awesomeness.
  13. 5htp: 300-500mg taken with a meal to increase satiety of the meal – studies have found a reduced food intake (particularly carbohydrate). Studies conducted have focused on people who have reduced availability of tryptophan in the brain (a precursor to 5htp). Increasing 5htp increases tryptophan and therefore serotonin production, reducing cravings and overall food intake. (Don’t use if you are currently on antidepressants without clearance from your doctor.)
  14. Exercise. A no brainer, really, but research has found this to be super effective for reducing cravings. In fact, any activity done while in the midst of a craving will take your mind off it. So when a craving hits, doing something active for 10-15 minutes can reduce your desire for something sweet. Go for a powerwalk, shoot some hoops, do some hill sprints…
  15. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep! It’s hard this time of year with longer days and opportunities to take advantage of summer (when it shows up…) Sleep restriction enhances activity in brain regions involved in reward in response to energy dense, nutrient-void food (think: lollies, chips, chocolate), suggesting heightened sensitivity to rewarding properties of food. This can lead to increased cravings. If you are burning the candle at both ends and not yet back to your regular 7-8 hours sleep per night, then nailing this will go a long way to helping curb that sugar demon.
  16. Meditation: decentring – viewing your thoughts as separate from yourself – has been found to help reduce food cravings and want for unhealthy food items. Mindfulness practice is also useful for not only reduced cravings, but for reduced emotional eating, body image concerns. It doesn’t require a 90 minute class three times a week (though there’s nothing wrong with that!) Headspace, Calm or Buddhify are three smart phone applications which may help you get going and provide guided sessions of between 2-20 minutes long. It’s consistency and frequency that makes a difference (like any habit).
  17. Clay modelling to reduce cravings: yep. Researchers found that visual imagery plays a key role in reducing craving. Participants who worked for 10 minutes constructing shapes from plastacine had reduced cravings for chocolate compared to people who were left to their own thoughts or who were given a written task.
  18. Your gut bacteria can influence your cravings. There is indirect evidence for a connection between cravings and the type of bacteria lurking in your gut. For example, people who enjoy and crave chocolate have different microbial metabolites (i.e. bacteria by-products) in their urine than “chocolate indifferent” individuals, despite eating identical diets. In addition, gut bacteria can influence the production of our ‘feel good’ and motivation hormones (serotonin and dopamine), thereby influence food decision-making based on our mood. Finally treating mice with a probiotic reduced hunger-inducing hormones and food intake. Action points here? Yes, you could start with a probiotic, particularly when you’re in the thick of it all, as this will help ensure there are beneficial bacterial strains present in your gut. However, for ongoing gut health, the regular addition of probiotic and prebiotics through food will help you maintain a healthy gut microbiome. Therefore:
  • Include fermented vegetables into 1-2 meals daily, working up to 1-2 tablespoons at a time.
  • The addition of unsweetened yoghurt (dairy or coconut) as part of your everyday diet (as it contains beneficial bacteria).
  • Kombucha, at around 100-150ml per day (check the back of the label to ensure a lower sugar variety).
  • Water, milk or coconut kefir, start with around 100ml per day.
  • Raw apple cider vinegar in water – start with 1 tsp in a small amount of water, working up to 1 tablespoon. This will help stimulate stomach acid when taken prior to meals, helping you digest your food properly, and delaying gastric emptying, so your glucose response to the meal will be slower too.
  • Vegetables, in abundance, to include fibres that feed your gut bacteria.

(As a side note, any change to your gut environment can result in unintended (and unwanted) changes to your digestive tract! If you’re new to the fermented foods and/or probiotics, then start small and work your way up. If you end up spending way more time in the bathroom than you wanted, reduce back further. Consider yourself warned.)

You won’t need to do all of these – but I think #1-5, #14, #15, #16 and #18 would completely diminish that sugar demon so you can get back to feeling awesome.

cravings

Grab that cupcake and bin it immediately. Underneath something that will stop you from retrieving it later on. (PC: SamadiMD.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nutrigrain does not build Iron Men (or Women) + an Up and Go isn’t breakfast

(But I’m picking you know that).

By default, I’ve been in the sports nutrition world more than usual over the last couple of weeks. The Eat Well Live Well topic at New World (where I’m on hand to give nutrition advice and share good choices for foods), a sports nutrition talk during the week to a bunch of athletes and my first experience of Saturday morning kids winter sport this weekend. Well, first adult experience, as being your typical kiwi girl I was an enthusiastic netball player when I was in my early teens, and remember 9am starts at Kettle Park, playing on an ice-white netball court that had been frosted over the night before.

These experiences have reminded me that the ‘real food’ nutrition choices are not mainstream yet. And have a way to go before they will be. It’s still common for athletes to smash food straight after training (to make the most of the ’30 min window of opportunity’, to base their meals around processed carbohydrates (cereals, breads, pasta, rice) and to follow an eating style that didn’t allow for adequate delivery of fat and protein across the course of the day, so they are left irritable, tired, and hungry. The problem isn’t carbohydrates per se. It’s that processed carbohydrate has pervaded the diet to the extent that we now view it as an essential part of every meal at the expense of fat and protein which provide essential fatty acids and amino acids for healthy growth, development and recovery. This is especially true for children. It can get confusing though when cereal companies spend the big bucks persuading the consumer that products such as Nutrigrain or Special K are a nutritious, substantial start to the day. Such examples include:

  1. They fortify their cereals with micronutrients and can then sell them as a substantial source of vitamins and minerals, whereas we don’t know how effectively these are absorbed in the body. Nature is really smart at packaging nutrients in the correct ratios for maximum absorption when we eat, say, an apple. There’s so much about nutrition we don’t know, I doubt that Kellogg’s has cracked that nut yet.
  2. They pump their products with additional gluten and soy and can then promote them as being ‘high protein’ and ‘plant based’. A lot of people are sensitive to gluten and processed soy is far removed from the soy which is attributed to the many health benefits of a traditional Asian diet. And ‘plant based’ is bandied around so much these days, as if to insinuate it is nutritionally superior to a diet that contains animal protein. The opposite is true, given that many minerals and vitamins aren’t able to be as readily absorbed because of the phytic acid and other anti-nutrients which bind them.
  3. They put dried fruit and ‘ancient grains’ in their products, call them ‘Nourish’ and then sell it as real food. All this does is load them up with additional sugar.
  4. They pay sports stars and other influential people good money to front their ad campaigns. Even if you can do 12 Weet-bix in one hit, I’m picking that you’re not going to be able to do much else for the rest of the day if you make a habit of it.
  5. They compare a product to something else that we perceive as being  healthy or nutritious – for example, Up and Go being marketed as having as much ‘fibre, energy and protein as 2 Weet-bix and milk’. For the record, 2 Weet-bix and milk doesn’t have much fibre, protein or energy – but you wouldn’t know that from this claim which is what Sanitarium is counting on. There is 4.3g of fibre in a 250ml serve of Up and Go, and 19.3g of sugar. And a bunch of other additives, preservatives and vegetable oils to go with it.

    upandgo

    How many ways can you say sugar? There’s 5 right here.

The cereals I’ve mentioned above are as good (or bad) as junk food. But, do any of my points really matter if your kid is super active? They can’t just eat more of it, right? Hmm.  I’ve recently been reminded that there is a real culture in sports that suggest people who are active can ‘get away’ with eating high sugar junk food, and kids especially can eat sugar (I’ve heard some suggest they NEED sugar) as they can ‘burn it off.’ Nothing is further from the truth. Despite what the sports nutrition resources tell you, or what you might learn in a nutrition talk at the sports club, or see advertised on television, they don’t need additional sugar to make up for energy burnt during their practices or games. Sports drinks, white bread jam sandwiches, 2-3 jet planes aren’t necessary straight after exercise and are best left out of a young athletes menu. The ‘window’ of  opportunity of replenishing carbohydrate stores has been a convenient theory for sports nutrition products to justify their use, but we have since discovered the body can adequately restore carbohydrate up to 48 hours after a match or training. Unless, of course, there is a multi-day or multiple events on one day that requires a quick refuel, but even then there are options that allow for quick refuelling that are real food options.

A calorie is not a calorie, and active kids need more attention paid to their diet because of the heavier demands placed on their growing bodies. This expands their micronutrient and energy requirements. However, because we use body size as the main marker (or for some, the only marker) of health, we look at kids who are active and thin as ‘healthy’ without giving consideration to other equally (if not more) important indicators. I’ve worked with a number of adults who are prediabetic, yet have been fit and active their whole life, and a blood sugar screening reveals their metabolic state is probably worse than if they didn’t do any activity at all. A contributing factor to this is the carbohydrate-dominant diet that has fuelled them through the preceding years, and not just the additional treats they may have eaten because they could ‘eat what they liked.’ To the body, a high carbohydrate load is a high sugar load, regardless of where those carbs come from, because it’s broken down to the same single glucose unit.

So to save your active kids from the same fate, we need to set them up right from the get go.

Now I got a bad rap last year when I suggested that the new Weet-bix campaign that provided a ‘better brekkie’ was anything but. Weet-bix have long been the staple kiwi breakfast and growing up in winter, I had mine with hot water, warm milk, raw sugar, (because it was healthier*) and the aroma of a Gregg’s instant coffee with a freshly lit cigarette (it was the 80s, after all). Even now that combo conjures up that warm snuggly feeling of familiarity in me. The problem is that Weet-bix, or any cereal, isn’t typically a great vehicle for a nutrient dense, energy filling breakfast. Even with the campaign to make them a ‘better brekkie’. Most of the recipes on Sanitarium’s website sound amazing, but better breakfasts they are not.

So I offer a few suggestions**.

  1. Better breakfast shake: swap out the dates for an egg and add a tablespoon of peanut butter or tahini ( for a nut-free variety). We’ve lowered the sugar content and upped the fat, protein and calories. This will at least keep them awake for a little longer.
  2. Power porridge: swap the apple juice for grated apple. Use actual coconut milk (and not coconut flavoured milk), up the amount of rolled oats to a cup and add ¼ cup sunflower and pumpkin seeds. We’ve added more fibre, protein and lowered the sugar content.
  3. Weet-bix winter warmer: swap the trim milk for full fat (so much better for growing kids and adults alike actually) – or coconut milk, up the oats, add a few tablespoons of sunflower or pumpkin seeds and ditch the dried fruit. Stir through an egg before taking off the heat.
  4. Hot Weet-bix apple crumble: add ¼ cup shredded coconut, ½ cup roughly chopped mixed raw nuts – which you microwave with 1 Tbsp butter or coconut oil to make a crumble-type mixture.

Any of these would be okay if your kid feels a bit nervous before an early weekend sports game and just wanted something small. Otherwise, they will probably need some more food to go alongside the ideas above. Some good examples would be:

  1. Leftover cooked sausages or other meat leftover from dinner
  2. Scrambled eggs
  3. Hardboiled eggs (you’ve boiled these the night before)
  4. This tahini chia loaf with some nut butter spread on it
  5. Kumara ‘toast’ – slice and toast as you would your bread and top accordingly (mine took a couple of goes on high to get it to a cooked but still firm stage. So easy!)
  6. Three ingredient pancakes made with banana and eggs
  7. Peanut butter or tahini with chopped fruit
  8. Baked kumara or potato with butter
  9. Chicken drumsticks
  10. Glass of full milk and a banana

For more awesome ideas, click here for individualised nutrition advice or sign up for online nutrition coaching.

image1 (35)

Kumara toast spread with fennel pesto and topped with tasty cheese.

*it’s not healthier, but it the 80s we thought it was. Sugar is sugar is sugar. Including dried fruit, rice malt syrup, fruit juice and coconut sugar or coconut nectar.

** Weet-bix optional

11 things you may not know about perimenopause (and 10 things you can do about those symptoms).

I know what you’re thinking. She’s too young to be writing about perimenopause, right?! Actually, no. I might feel 24 years old, but it only takes being around younger age groups to remember I’m not! Despite the ‘M’ word being almost a taboo, unwanted phase of life that some women fear (and men too!) it is a natural part of our lifecycle. What isn’t natural are the symptoms associated with menopause. Like premenstrual symptoms, the discomfort experienced through perimenopause may be common, but it’s not normal. This was reaffirmed in my mind when I listened to a fabulous interview with Lara Briden (naturopath who works with women with hormone imbalances, based in Sydney and Christchurch). A wealth of information who had some great information around why we can experience symptoms and (importantly) what we can do about them.

  1. Defined as 10 years before going through menopause, practitioners often view this as highly variable, with women from 35 years to 55 years in this perimenopausal state. The average time spent here is around 4 years. Though, as with any ‘average’ this might not reflect your experience!
  2. All hormone levels change during perimenopause. There is first a decrease in progesterone, which changes the balance of progesterone to oestrogen (some describe this as ‘oestrogen dominance’, though not all practitioners like using this term). Testosterone also declines, and this is an important hormone for sex drive. Finally oestrogen drops – and while we will continue to produce oestrogen (as this occurs not only by the ovaries but by the liver, breasts, adrenal glands and by fat tissue, it is at amounts of around 30-60% lower.
  3. Oestrogen is a major regulator of a number of processes in the body, and the sex hormones and our glucocorticoid hormones (the most ‘known’ one, cortisol) are controlled by the hypothalamus -the part of our brain who is also the controller of our sex hormone regulation – therefore it makes sense that a change in one will result in a change in all of them.
  4. Some of the main symptoms of perimenopause are
    1. Heavy periods
    2. Hot flashes
    3. Breast tenderness
    4. Worsening of premenstrual symptoms
    5. Lower sex drive
    6. Headaches or migraines (due to sudden removal/reduction of oestrogen)
    7. Fatigue
    8. Decreased sense of wellbeing (research shows that extended periods of low oestrogen, fluctuating levels of oestrogen and sudden withdrawal of oestrogen – via surgery or stopping oral contraceptive pill – is affected with lower mood)
    9. Irregular periods
    10. Brain fog and memory – oestrogen helps consolidate both episodic and spatial memory in the brain, and protects against cognitive decline as we age.
    11. Vaginal dryness; discomfort during sex
    12. Urine leakagewhen coughing or sneezing and an urgent need to urinate more frequently – due to oestrogen’s role in maintaining the vascular mucosa folds in the vagina, acting as a watertight seal.
    13. Mood swings (via fluctuating levels of hormones)
    14. Trouble sleeping
  5. Some women are ABSOLUTELY FINE and sail through perimenopause. Generally, though, those that have been on the oral contraceptive pill are more likely to experience symptoms than those that haven’t. This may be due to the difference in the hormonal balance once the pill is removed. The pill provides large amounts of synthetic hormones, and it is a huge adjustment to go back to the normal (lower) levels of hormones. Approximately 147,000 women in New Zealand take the oral contraceptive pill, of which 80% of them are on a combined pill, delivering oestrogen and progesterone.
  6. The types of hormones in the pill are synthetic and are not ‘bioidentical’ – meaning that the amounts are higher than what the body would produce AND they are in a form that the body can’t use. The pill doesn’t regulate hormones, it shuts them off.
  7. During perimenopause, women can have fluctuating oestrogen levels due to variable concentrations of FSH (released by our pituitary gland in response to a low oestrogen environment – it isn’t necessarily all low oestrogen. This could also be a result of an inability to detoxify and clear out oestrogen metabolites.
  8. A well-functioning liver is required to remove oestrogen from our body and prevent build up and associated symptoms. Our liver packages up oestrogen metabolites and removes it through our detoxification pathways. We need our inbuilt antioxidants to be firing, along with certain nutrients (selenium, B vitamins and glycine (not present in large amounts in the standard diet) to do this.
  9. Many women going into perimenopause are insulin resistant (oestrogen has an insulin-sensitising role in the body and influences glucose uptake) – this partially explains the increase in body fat (particularly around the middle) that many women experience as they progress through. This makes it harder for their body to metabolise and use carbohydrate effectively
  10. Many women going into perimenopause have a low thyroid function due to age-related changes in thyroid physiology. These include a reduction of thyroid iodine uptake, synthesis of free thyroxine (FT4) and free triiodothyronine (FT3) and the conversion of FT4 to reverse triiodothyronine (rT3). TSH levels may be slightly elevated. Luteal-phase spotting, or lumpy breasts may indicate this.
  11. Your gut? SUPER IMPORTANT!!! The oestrogen might get detoxified (packaged up ready for removal) via pathways in your liver only to be unpackaged (deconjugated) again by nasty gut bacteria which pushes it back out into the blood stream as more toxic forms of oestrogen.

These 11 points may or may not have been news to you – certainly probably not to those experiencing some of the symptoms, or who have dug a bit deeper to determine the cause of the symptoms. This wasn’t a post for you to sigh in resignation and decide there is nothing you can do. Yes these symptoms and health outcomes are common – but (as stated earlier) they are not normal. Like many things, we normalise a lot of health issues because so many people experience them. We just think they are an inevitable process in ageing and moving into a different phase of life. Certainly (I gotta say), some health professionals don’t suggest otherwise so it’s no surprise many are led to believe this.

Some awesome tips from Lara as to how to start the process of mitigating symptoms – some are great DIY ones that you can put into action immediately; others will likely require the help of a practitioner who has a solid understanding of how our hormones interact – this may be your open-minded doctor, which is excellent – or naturopath, nutritionist or dietitian.

  1. Limit alcohol consumption – it impairs oestrogen clearance rates from the liver and may be one of the influencing factors in the relationship between alcohol and breast cancer risk
  2. Limit or omit dairy –dairy can increase oestrogen in the body, increase insulin release and the A1 caesin in dairy is pro-inflammatory and increases gastrointestinal inflammation (which could then push inflammation out to rest of your body).
  3. Ensure adequate vitamin D status – optimal is around 100-150nmol/L which is required for the production of all hormones, and related to other hormonal issues such as endometriosis
  4. Reduce intake of carbohydrate if following a higher carbohydrate approach, and get rid of processed, refined foods and sugar.
  5. Eat your brassicas: broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage – all provide di-indolylmethane (DIM) which targets certain proteins in our body that help reduce inflammation and balance hormones (particularly detoxifying oestrogen). Supplementing with this is also really helpful, but only once you establish that oestrogen clearance is an issue for you – super unhelpful otherwise (a practitioner can help you find this out – and there is a test I’ve started using with clients called the D.U.T.C.H test which is able to measure each hormone and it’s metabolites in much more comprehensive detail than a blood test alone.
  6. Ensure a healthy gut: bloating, excessive gas, cramps and diarrhoea or constipation are not the normal consequence of eating (though they are extremely common). Keep a food diary to establish what might be causing your digestive upset by connecting your symptoms to your food intake. Work with a health practitioner experienced in the ‘real food’ digestive health to help not only heal your gut, but seal it too.
  7. Turmeric in therapeutic doses (more than you can get from food) helps reduce oestrogen related oxidative stress, reduce prostaglandins (inflammatory biomarkers) – opt for one that is also combined with bioperine (to make it more bioavailable) such as this Good Health 15800 Turmeric complex. The alternative is one that says it is formulated to have smaller, more bioavailable particles, and the Meriva formulated varieties have this.
  8. Iodine: low dose supplementation can be extremely helpful in supporting the pathways associated with thyroid hormone production which in turn affects the sex hormone production pathways. Again, talking to a practitioner is a good idea to establish your own requirement. However, 150 micrograms per day (and having 2-3 brazil nuts to balance this with selenium) is a safe amount.
  9. SLEEP. Hands down, the most often overlooked yet important restorative, nourishing thing you can do to support your hormone health.
  10. Meditation. Journalling. Yoga. Diaphragmatic and full belly breathing. Slowing down. Yep – stress reduction.

Regardless of if you are pre, peri or post menopausal, I think there is some excellent information here that will be helpful for hormones in general actually, and if you are experiencing some of the unwanted (and unnecessary in most cases) symptoms of hormone balance, this may give you some pointers as to how to combat them. Definitely check out Lara’s site for accessible and informative hormone related content.

PC www.gazetteinterviews.com

Let this not be you. Or your mum. Or your wife. PC http://www.gazetteinterviews.com.

 

Like what you read? For more, check out mikkiwilliden.com for individualised nutrition plans, or sign up now for online nutrition coaching and meal plans.

14 reasons to ditch the toast and jam (and 7 key tips to help you do this).

After feeling like I’d taken a trip back to 2003 with some of the sports nutrition posts and articles I’d been reading lately, I got tagged in a cool picture from a listener of our Fitter Radio podcast  – a triathlete who has switched from the traditional higher carb, lower fat diet approach to eating lower carb, higher fat, real food whilst training and commented she ‘didn’t know her 41 year old body could be the best body I have ever had’ (Woot! high fives all around!!) This coincided with finishing Mark Sisson’s Primal Endurance book.

Mark outlines 115 reasons why athletes should train and eat the Primal Endurance way. I concurred with pretty much all of them. I have added my own 2c worth, added some literature below (and cut it down to 21 for brevity’s sake). While geared towards athletes, hands down this is applicable to everyone. Everyone.

So if you’re currently eating toast and jam pre OR post training (or in general), I’ve outlined the 14 reasons why you need to ditch that junk and become a fat burning beast, and 7 key tips to help you get there.

  1. Western diet is based on excess grains and sugars (and low fibre) which stimulates excess insulin production, leading to lifelong insidious weight gain, chronic inflammation and elevated disease risk factors.
  2. A high carb, grain-based diet can leave endurance athletes nutrient deficient (due to phytic acid effects on minerals), inflamed and more susceptible to the oxidative damage of the stress of training, general life and poor nutrition.
  3. The way that most people consume modern grains (cereals, breads, pasta) ends up being a cheap source of calories which are immediately turned into glucose upon ingestion and offer minimal nutritional value. There are no good reasons to consume these types of grains and many good reasons not to, especially for those who are sensitive to gluten and other anti-nutrients found in wheat.
  4. Everyone is sensitive to the health compromising effects of grains at some level, especially the pro-inflammatory effects of gluten and the propensity for the lectins in grains to cause leaky gut syndrome.
  5. Even lean people suffer from the consequences of carbohydrate dependency, such as chronic inflammation, oxidative damage, and accelerated ageing and disease risk factors.
  6. Carrying excess body fat despite careful attention to diet and a high training load is largely due to carbohydrate dependency caused by a grain-based diet and chronic training patterns.
  7. Carbohydrate dependency cycle looks like this: consume a high carbohydrate meal – elevate bloods sugar – stimulate an insulin response – shut off fat metabolism and promote fat storage – experience fatigue and sugar cravings – low blood sugar elicits stress response and we consume more carbohydrates – stimulate the fight or flight response to regulate blood sugar – dysregulate and exhaust assorted hormonal processes, and end up in burnout and weight gain (potentially lifelong)
  8. Weight loss through portion control, low fat foods and calorie burning is ineffective long term. And while we think calories burned through exercise stimulate a corresponding increase in appetite – research might not back this up. I tend to think that people are more likely to eat more because they ‘reward’ themselves OR the long slow training allows increased opportunity to eat sports ‘junk food’ and the amount of calories burnt through training is far less than you think – and overestimated more so in females in certain instances. At any rate, the secret to weight loss is hormone optimisation, primarily through moderating excess insulin production.
  9. Endurance athletes can begin to dial in to their optimal carbohydrate intake by asking themselves the question ‘do I carry excess body fat?’ Any excess body fat calls for a reduction in dietary carbohydrate intake to accelerate fat burning.
  10. Endurance athletes who already have an optimal body composition but are looking to optimise training and recovery should choose high nutrient value carbohydrates. These include a high volume of vegetables, a moderate fruit intake, kumara/potatoes and other starchy tubers, dairy for those that tolerate, wild rice, quinoa and small amounts of dark chocolate.
  11. Endurance athletes with high calorie needs who also have an optimal body composition can enjoy occasional treats, but the habit of unbridled intake of nutrient-deficient carbohydrates should be eliminated in the interest of health and performance.
  12. Primal style eating (or eating minimally processed foods) is fractal and intuitive, and when escaping carbohydrate dependency and becoming fat adapted, you don’t have to rely on ingested carbs for energy. Eating patterns can be driven by hunger, pleasure and maximal nutritional benefit.
  13. Escaping sugar dependency and becoming fat adapted gives you a cleaner burning engine, since glucose burning promotes inflammation and increased oxidative stress
  14. Ketones are an internally generated, energy rich by-product of fat metabolism in the liver when blood glucose and insulin levels are low due to carbohydrate restriction in the diet. Ketones are burned efficiently by the brain, heart and skeletal tissue in the same manner as glucose. You do not need to be on a ketogenic diet to upregulate your ability to produce ketones – you can do this via a lower carbohydrate approach.

HOW TO DO THIS: 7 KEY TIPS

  1. Step one: omit sugars, grains, industrial seed oils for 21 days. Step two: emphasis highly nutritious foods such as meat, poultry, vegetables, eggs, nuts, fish, fruits, some full fat dairy, seeds, and kumara/potato.
  2. 100g or less of carbohydrate promotes fat loss, 150g is around maintenance level and over this could promote lifelong weight gain and over 300g could promote disease patterns.
  3. While transitioning to primal there are some struggles initially due to lifelong carbohydrate dependency and the addictive (for some) properties of sugar and excess grains and wheat. Headaches, dehydration, lower blood pressure and ‘dead legs’ are all initial side effects when removing processed food. Trust me – this too will pass.
  4. To minimise side effects, start the transition in a base-training phase of your training where training occurs at an easy pace. The transition phase can take anywhere from 2-12 weeks initially.
  5. Consume salt. Don’t underestimate the importance of this! Lower circulating insulin affects your body’s ability to retain sodium (and other electrolytes) – so we need more, particularly as processed food (of which you are no longer basing your diet around) is where you got around 70% of your sodium from.
  6. You can accelerate the process of fat adaptation by instigating some of the tactics used by athletes who opt to ‘train low’ – i.e. in a low glycogen training state. Some of these are naturally undertaken if you train without eating in the morning, or work out after dinner in the evening and don’t consume anything post-workout. If you’re new to this, have a read through to establish which might suit you best, and start instigating 1-2 x per week. Don’t undertake all of them as this aggressive approach could cause too much additional stress, derailing your plans to become a fat-burning beast.
  7. The FASTER study and Peter Attia, Sami Inkinen suggests any endurance athlete can become fat adapted and deliver performances that may be superior to carb-fuelled efforts all of the way up to anaerobic intensity. This is a new and growing research space, one AUT is testing, among other Universities around the globe.
Strong, lean and awesome at 41y.

Strong, lean and awesome at 41y.

 

PS What the Fat Sports Performance – currently an ebook, about to be published is one I can’t WAIT to read as well – sure to be a goody.

What this nutritionist ate on Wednesday.

So after the Business Insider profiled the typical diet of a nutritionist this week, I got a number of people asking to see what I ate in a day. Happy to talk you through the photo essay that represented what I ate on the following day, a Wednesday. It’s a fairly typical ‘non-typical’ day for me. I have busy client days on Tuesday and Wednesday and if I’m not that prepared then it can end up a bit all over the place (as with most people). However I wanted to be genuine with it and not stage the perfect day. Because I don’t eat a perfect diet! Yes I follow the dietary principles that I advocate, but am pretty….normal?! If you follow me on Instagram then you’ve seen all of this before. What follows is going to be of no interest to anyone who isn’t interested in food or my general musings/setting the scene.

A bit of diet preamble: I would describe my diet as low carb,  healthy fat (LCHF). Not low carb high fat – the hangover from being an overweight teen/young adult and from preaching the low fat guidelines up until around four years ago. What does this mean? It means that if you come to my house for dinner then I’m unlikely to serve all of the vegetable dishes swimming in butter, cream, cheese or olive oil.  In fact, that kind of grosses me out to be honest. You might get one vegetable side dish like this. I will also typically drink my coffee black unless I feel a bit on edge for whatever reason, and I will have it with cream – I’ve tried to find some literature to support the idea that cream dampens down the cortisol response of coffee (which makes sense to me, as caffeine and other constituents of coffee stimulates insulin and cortisol) but have yet to do so. It also means that I no longer freak out if someone serves me a meal that DOES have the vegetables swimming in butter or coconut oil (and I will probably like it).  It means that I cook curry-type meals with coconut cream and not yoghurt, that I am no longer afraid to use more than a teaspoon of coconut or olive oil when I cook, that I add fat to my salads by way of mayonnaise or pesto. That I snack on cheese and that I add nuts and seeds to salad. That I don’t purposely buy food that has had the fat removed.

This may not be your LCHF diet, but for me it’s the healthy addition of fat in normal amounts (on my plate at least). If I was keto (as I have been before) then clearly this would be different.  It’s funny, there’s always backlash when I post a food that is (naturally) low in fat from the hard-out LCHF’ers. I use my ‘I know better than you’ nutritionist stance to remind them LCHF is a dietary pattern, not a food category. It doesn’t mean that every food you eat should be low carb, high fat. I prefer fresh and crisp, light and colourful, and I probably eat more of a ‘Zone’ type diet actually (if I was going to ‘label’ it in regards to macronutrient content). I haven’t put my food intake into an food database analysis to check this – but in my job you pretty much know things like calories, fat, protein, carb content of what you eat. Just like a personal trainer knows what muscles they are working when they do a set of mountain climbers. You don’t need a database to tell you the basics.

Anyway: this is what I ate on Wednesday:

  1. A tribute picture...forgot to take one at time so I staged this. You get the drift.

    A tribute picture…forgot to take one at time so I staged this. You get the drift.

    Up at 4.40am (yes, early! I channelled my inner elite athlete or morning radio host here) to do a longer run before an early client. I had a coffee (instant – Moccona. I have a Nespresso that sits on my bench that gets little use) and some coconut butter. I don’t always eat before a run, I base it on how I feel more than a schedule as such. Sometimes I eat before an easy run, sometimes I go fasted before a long run. I have coffee before a long run or a harder effort, and sometimes I have a teaspoon of coconut oil with the coffee. Alongside it, not in it. Not tablespoons of it blended with butter and labelled ‘bulletproof’, just a small amount. Perhaps more psychological than anything else. FYI this run isn’t a ‘long run’ in runners terms, but as I’m building up from Gold Coast many months ago, it was longer than normal.

  2. Sometimes I put psyllium husk in it. Not today.

    Sometimes I put psyllium husk in it. Not today.

    Two glasses of water, one of them with vital greens in it. The bonus of writing down what I’m eating is that I’m thinking about my water intake! (Women particularly shouldn’t just rely on the thirst mechanism to encourage drinking – while drink to thirst might be approrpriate for men, hormonal differences mean it may not be true for women. Anyway. Water FTW*

  3. It's v cool to ensure your feet are in pictures too right now.

    It’s v cool to ensure your feet are in pictures too right now.

    This is coffee – my travel plunger from Kathmandu that I’ve had for years AND LOVE IT. Yes it probably contains enough caffeine for 4 shots in here (!) but it is actually just for me. Sometimes I finish it, sometimes I drink just half of it. My question is: if it was meant for more than just one person, why put a sipper lid on it?! This coffee experience has ruined others for me though, as I demand a strong coffee, and like a lot of volume. Alongside this is a grapefruit custard thing that I’m testing as part of recipe development for my online nutrition coaching members. ½ grapefruit, an egg, ½ cup coconut milk, 2 tsp Great Lakes gelatin, 1 tsp psyllium husk. I also had a hardboiled egg alongside it. And (not shown) ½ a Canterbury bierstick (sorry I ate that before I photographed it). FYI The Canterbury brand has no nasties and, while sugar is in the ingredients, it is minimal – maybe 1.3g per 100g.

  4. Love this straw.

    Love this straw.

    Off to the Go Healthy Superfood launch. Get handed a smoothie tester made by one of my food heros Kelly Redmond (bonnie delicious blog). We have bonded via Instagram over a shared love of nutrition and health podcasts and she is as much of a geek as I am. The snoothie had cacao powder, date, almond milk, coconut water (I think?) and possibly another superfood super powder. I have about half of this. I’m not that enamoured by coconut water actually, so just put it to one side. I also have a couple of glasses of sparkling water.

  5. We've got zoodles, vegetable dips, raw cookie, a cacao brownie and some chocolate mousse.

    We’ve got zoodles, vegetable dips, raw cookie, a cacao brownie and some chocolate mousse.

    The recipes that we made as part of the launch. A tasting plate and there is no size distortion in this picture. It’s a small plate. FYI recipes developed by Kelly and Mon from The Snack Pack – she’s the creator of Amazeballs and has made a lower sugar Amazeball (a woman after my own heart). I’m not a big fan of raw treats that are heavy on honey, dates and the like – obviously from the ‘health halo’ perspective of ‘no added sugar’ but I’m mentioning it here not from a zealous nutritional stance, but just a taste preference actually. Another cup of water.

  6. IMG_1190Back up to the clinic in Ponsonby to have a quick snack before clients. Have a small cucumber with a couple of eggs. I also have a glass of water here. Normally I would have a salad actually, but I wasn’t sure if the launch was going to be lunch, or if it was going to be smoothies, or completely sans food, so I prepped some additional food just in case. Yes, those counting would see this is four eggs in one day. I don’t always eat four of them (as I try to vary my protein), however I do love them and they are super easy to just eat like this, so it’s not a major. This isn’t ‘lunch’ per se as it’s not big enough to be a meal – more like (along with the tasting plate and below) one of a series of snacks.
  7. The zucchini in a smoothie is an idea from Sarah Wilson. Makes it smooth and thick and adds vegetables. #winning

    The zucchini in a smoothie is an idea from Sarah Wilson. Makes it smooth and thick and adds vegetables. #winning

    Home to have a smoothie as the random eating pattern has made me hungry today. Usually I wouldn’t normally snack this often, and more often than not I don’t snack  – but if I’m hungry then I will eat. I’m also thirsty so this is perfect. It has cacao powder, zucchini, a cup of almond milk, a tablespoon of protein powder, some psyllium husk. I also have ½ a boerwors stick (found this Mrs Grills no nasties one at my local fruit and vegetable shop. Really hot though!!)

  8. IMG_1196I meet friends for a quick drink before dinner. I generally have 1-3 glasses of wine across the week. Not normally on a Wednesday.
  9. The usual.

    The usual.

    This is pretty standard and I love eating like this. Leftover chicken with assortment of vegetables (brussels, carrot, pumpkin, tomato, zucchini, red cabbage, avocado, almonds, carrot dip and babaganoush (both homemade), homemade mayonnaise and Be Nourished Ruby Raw Kraut. If not chicken (and rarely chicken breast) then it will be beef (mince, burgers), salmon (smoked, fresh), pork (belly, mince), lamb (roast, mince), liver (chicken or beef). I very rarely have vegetarian meals (unless doing some recipe development) and my days at Weight Watchers has put me off The Stirfry for life. It would be a rare event where (at home) I wouldn’t have a salad of some description. Weirdly I wouldn’t have canned salmon, tuna, eggs or sardines for dinner. Nothing wrong with that though – it’s almost like they aren’t on my radar past lunch. Of course if you serve them to me as part of a meal then I’m sure I will enjoy it immensely. I don’t often have steak as I have little confidence around cooking it. I’m no chef – more a food hack.

  10. IMG_1201After dinner treats. 99% of the time I eat a sweet treat after dinner because I enjoy doing it. This is a couple of squares of chocolate and some leftover genuine sugar free treat I made which is seriously delicious. I would often have some peanut butter and coconut after dinner if not chocolate. Yes that is a Starbucks cup. A different one from the one at the start of the day. I love these as they are big and hold a good volume. And cute too. I have a San Fran, a New York and a Los Angeles one.

So there you have it. Nothing was staged, this was my food for this day.  Unlikely to be interesting enough to go viral or to be picked up by a digital magazine (:-) – I mean these pictures are pretty dire even by MY standards). It reflects an ‘atypical’ day but gives you an idea of the choices I make on a day to day basis. I don’t avoid dairy but there’s none in my food intake for this day. I would definitely have a bigger lunch on a ‘typical’ day. I don’t avoid fruit either but I would probably eat more fruit during the summer months. I can’t think of any other disclaimers to add other than, like all posts such as these, it’s not up here for you to emulate (like I said, it’s not perfect! Not that I expect you to be perfect) as we are individual as to our nutrient, energy, meal, allergy requirements. General tips would be:

  • Include protein in all meals and snacks
  • Add fat for satiety and/or include fattier sources of protein
  • Your better sources of carbohydrate are always the starchy (potato, kumara, peas, corn) and fruit as opposed to pasta, bread, crackers etc. Your requirements for this are on a sliding scale from ‘none’ to ‘fist- 2 fist size’ depending on activity, metabolic flexibility (ability to burn fat as a fuel source), metabolic health, energy, mood….
  • Include vegetables where possible and I know you’re thinking Try for 5 or 5+ a day. Back yourself. Why not 8?! Your meal ideally would be based on an abundance of vegetables. As those over on Instagram like to boast #morevegetablesthanavegetarian

* FTW = for the win

A real food success story.

I love a good Real Food success story – and Julie has a great one. She has happily let me post it here. Over to you, Julie.

My name is Julie, I’m a 50 year old nurse, and Neale and I are coming up to our thirtieth wedding anniversary this year. I have four children and three grandchildren. While not being excessively overweight in my teens, I lived in a dieting environment with a mother always going on a diet “on Monday”. Food was always on my mind, the more I ate the more I seemed to want to eat. Four children and seesaw weight loss and gain followed. In 2002 I was heaviest I had been and a friend introduced me to the high protein low carb eating style and the rationale behind it.

The realisation that I had a high insulin response to carbs was liberating. I had always been constantly puzzled about the fact that no matter how much cereal and fruit and trim milk I ate for breakfast, by mid-morning I was ravenous, foggy headed and wanting to have a sleep. No one else seemed to feel like that and I concluded I was an undisciplined pig. If I was trying to lose weight and went to bed starving, that was a triumph. But the weight went back on – that old familiar story. So I read “The Protein Power Plan” and tried that for about a week and went through carb withdrawal complete with the headaches, moodiness and brain fog. I took that book back and she gave me “Enter the Zone” and this is when the light switch really went on and the liberation of knowing my response to carbs was not my fault allowed me to gain some control.

I counted blocks to the gram, lost weight, felt amazing and thought I could do this forever. And I did always continue to try and follow the very sound principles of eating in a balance of fats, carbs and protein to manage my hunger. But I was still eating grains (limited – low carb 2 slices a day with grilled cheese on top) and making choices for my blocks that were still processed and simply started eating too much always thinking “I’ll start again tomorrow” and lo and behold, there I was at the start of 2014 the heaviest I had ever been – again. A friend came to visit on January 2nd 2014. He is an amazing weight lifter and heavily muscled but wanted to lose some weight and he had read about paleo and was following the principles fairly strictly and lost weight fairly quickly. I had heard the paleo term round and about and admit I am guilty of dismissing things I don’t know enough about until it is thrust in my face, so had thought it was just a fad. I thought I had the tools with “the Zone”, I just needed to get my head back around it.

Neale was keen to lose weight as well so the next day we went to the butcher and vegetable shop and stocked up. I wasn’t prepared to give up dairy (again, I thought I knew better and I actually do tolerate dairy just fine, and don’t have as much as I thought I would want) but never ate bread again from that day – I knew it wasn’t my friend, I couldn’t afford to let it in. Do I want it now? Not a bit. Freedom. And I read. I read everything I could; Robb Wolf, Chris Kresser (I find his book is realistic and possible), Melissa and Dallas Hartwig’s “It Starts with Food” and others. I follow Facebook pages and blogs, and found Mikki in the “North and South” magazine at about that time and started following her as well. Mikki keeps it real too which made me realise this is doable. Forever. I still read and search for anything new, because knowing why I am making these changes makes it easier. But I must stress, it just hasn’t been that hard. The weight loss of 30 kilos is a bonus, but was certainly my main motivation in the beginning was because I wanted to audition for “Mamma Mia!”, the stage show. While I was never going to look amazing in lycra, I wanted to look as good as I could!

What do I eat? When I started I ate all the things “allowed” and quite a lot of it so after the initial loss of 7 kg, I stalled. I continued to read and found intermittent fasting. I would skip breakfast – just coffee with a bit of cream – and have around a 16 hour fast overnight. I was surprised at how well I functioned on two meals and consequently eating less (but never starving), the weight started to drop. Meals with adequate protein (palm of my hand) and lots of vege, never skimping on fat (butter, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado) kept me going in peak form. Two or three days a week I would add breakfast. My crockpot is my best friend, I make tons of bone broth which we drink or turn into soup in the crockpot again – kale or other greens, carrot, some kumara or pumpkin, swede (Southland swede rocks!), leeks, celery, whatever is available. Make enough for the week and lunches are never an issue. I have Melissa Joulwan’s “Well Fed” books and prepare as much for the week in one go as I can. I go to the farmers market and prepare vege, chopped, stir fried or mashed. I brown mince in a pan and use that to add protein to my soup. I keep boiled eggs in the fridge. Being prepared is the key and food is simple, often a one pan wonder, but always tasty because you cook in fat and add salt because there is no added salt in unprocessed food. When I cook, I cook plenty so there is always leftovers. I pin on Pinterest. I have a lot of recipes for treats, but in reality I hardly ever make them, because I just don’t yearn for them. But ideas are good. I do make treats for my grandchildren, and feed them a very clean diet. They love my home-made chicken nuggets from The Ancestral Table, and my 18 month grandson loves porridge made with banana, coconut milk, eggs and ground flaxseed. I make coconut flour waffles for waffle toast which gives them extra protein with eggs and added cottage cheese, and coconut flour mini donuts. I buy cheap apples at the market to make apple sauce for sweetening. It’s great to see Nadia Lim’s recipes guiding us to this way of eating as well.

Healing my gut has been important, I make water kefir and of course the bone broth helps. I sleep like a log, I take a magnesium supplement every night, my blood pressure is plum normal and I’m off meds – whilst it was never normal even on meds. I have stopped taking anti depressants, I feel calm and even in my mood. I guess my diet is fairly low carb because it’s hard to eat too many carbs when your main source is vegetables. I eat 1-2 pieces of fruit daily and some starchy vege like kumara. When I first started the Zone, I understood that it worked for me but I was constantly annoyed ( to say the least) that other people could eat bread and a “normal” diet without being starving all the time and not putting on weight. I just don’t feel like that now. I don’t feel cheated, or that I am missing out on anything. Exercise is something I haven’t done with much regularity and that’s just a mental block of mine which I will conquer next.

People ask me what I’ve done. I say I eat clean, I don’t love the paleo label, but at the end of the day if they want to make changes they will listen, and they will want to learn for themselves. A year may seem a long time but the time goes by anyway, so make it count now, not next year. If you want to see obstacles, you will. If you want to make a change to how you feel and ultimately look, you can. And the obstacles become challenges and then you rise to those challenges and you are there, and you will want to learn as much as you can. I eat what I feel like eating now and I only feel like whole, natural, unprocessed food, and continue to lose about a kilo a month. I have a pair of jeans I want to fit…..but the journey is as rewarding as the goal.

julie

Julie’s transformation

Struggling to lose weight on a low carbohydrate, high fat diet?

“I’m a 5’10” guy who weighted 180 lbs. I run about once a week and honestly don’t do much else. I cut out beer and all refined sugars (which included a few servings/day of bread and pasta) and lost 15 pounds in 7 weeks.

I feel like a million bucks. It’s crazy how my legs and arms where there was seemingly no fat all became more defined and skinnier.

The best part – I make a full packet of bacon every Sunday and eat it over the course of the week and I absolutely stuff myself with the good stuff you’re supposed to eat – salted cashews, sweet potato fries, fruits and vegetables etc…”

– Taken from some random comments section from a blog (can’t remember where, sorry)

Not your experience? You’re not alone. Though I know those struggling to lose weight on a low carbohydrate high fat (LCHF) diet do feel they’re the only one not stripping off fat faster than they can pour the cream into their coffee. Unfortunately the mantra ‘fat doesn’t make you fat’ probably requires an asterisk, and an explanation. Along with ‘calories don’t count.’ These are related. A good friend of mine was struggling with unwanted weight gain on LCHF. She had listened to what people were doing with the diet and had swapped breakfast for a couple of coffees with cream, wasn’t eating lunch but perhaps grazing on some nuts or cheese during the day and having a big dinner at night that was eaten quite quickly because she hadn’t really had the pleasure of eating all day. Her one concession on LCHF was white wine and not that she drank often, but the couple of nights a week she did drink, it was definitely more than your standard two glasses. Lacking in energy, motivation, and frustrated with the betrayal of both her body and the diet, she asked for my advice. How come everyone else was losing weight but she wasn’t?

It’s too easy to think that the LCHF diet is the panacea for weight loss and weight maintenance – and absolutely, if you read my post a few weeks’ ago around LCHF diets for health and performance then you’ll know it’s at least as effective as your usual low fat regime. Certainly, too, for people I work with it’s an easier lifestyle approach to eating. If I had to put a number on it, about 75% of people I work with take the general guidelines of a LCHF diet, run with it and see considerable success. This includes people who have a history of weight loss, weight gain, and yo-yo dieting. However for some, the switch to a LCHF diet isn’t the magic bullet that it’s purported to be. After an initial drop in body weight (by perhaps 1-3 kg, largely attributable to fluid loss), the body seems to settle into a new ‘normal’ at that point and those last 5kg continue to remain elusive.

Is it the plan itself? No. Any plan that someone can adhere to is going to be successful. But there’s more to it than that. Even people who abide 100% to a LCHF approach can have weight loss stalls and, worse, begin to gain weight. Is it lack of sleep? Thyroid function? Work stress? Not enough exercise*? Too much exercise? Could be. But for some, it actually is the plan. Not in principle though, it’s how they execute the plan. And by all accounts, my good friend had also fallen into this trap.

Where once fat was vilified, it’s now carbohydrate that has been positioned as That Which Must Be Avoided. Problematic because actually there is no good or bad nutrient as a whole. Yes, there are certainly better choices within each obviously (i.e. butter is a much better choice than margarine, and potato or kumara will trump bread every time), but this blanket approach that demonizes an entire class of nutrients can set the scene for an unhelpful (and, at times unhealthy) approach to meals, snacks and eating behaviour. Carrots, pumpkin and beetroot – off the menu. Tomatoes are viewed with suspicion, onions don’t get a look in, and the rainbow of colour in a salad has now been limited to different shades of green and yellow. But it’s not from capsicum (too many carbs!) it’s from half a block of cheese. Now – I know that for some, this actually isn’t an issue and in fact, it’s the best thing they can do for their metabolic health. A LCHF diet makes perfect sense if someone is struggling with blood sugar and insulin control. In fact, for people with diabetes (type 1 and 2), having a very low carbohydrate diet is the best thing for them (why add fuel to an already out-of-control fire?) People either forget (or don’t realise that LCHF is generally 25% of so calories from carbohydrate which can still equate to a good amount of carbohydrate-containing foods. This all or nothing approach to carbohydrate (or… just nothing) is unnecessarily extreme for most people in my opinion. Like Weight Watcher’s ‘fat and fibre’ plan of the 90s, which saw meringue back on the menu for hundreds and thousands of delighted dieters worldwide (and unhelpful for most of those people), it is almost that the ‘no holds barred’ has been shifted from vegetables to foods high in fat. Cream in coffee, nuts in abundance, lashings of butter with everything – because ‘fat doesn’t make you fat’ and ‘calories don’t count.’ For those that can’t effortlessly lose weight with this approach and you have accounted for the lifestyle factors that I mentioned above (as my friend had), then actually you are eating more than you need. If that’s the case, then fat can make you fat and those calories do count.

So what now?

For my friend, and others who come to see me, what actually worked was taking another approach. Still LCHF. But not as LC. And not as HF. It also included a lot more protein. It is an­­ approach to eating that is sustainable in the long term. Remember that the premise of LCHF is a nutrient-dense, real food diet. For my friend:

  • I got her to drop dairy – not because it is inherently bad, but because her sources of dairy were only high fat and in larger amounts than I think she was aware of. It was easier to omit entirely in this instance.
  • I got her to start eating breakfast again and to include starchy carbohydrates. Not in large amounts! But enough to help her feel satisfied between her meals and also happy with a standard pour of wine from the bar and not a large. For some, restricting carbohydrate can lead to increased desire to drink more alcohol (or gave them licence to do so). This also helps people recognise that carbohydrates shouldn’t be vilified the way we did fats.
  • I also got her to sit down when she ate and told her to eat slowly, enjoying her meals and to never eat standing up. That way she knew what (and how much) she was eating.
  • I suggested that she cut nuts and seeds unless part of a salad meal and that she aimed for three meals a day and no snacks.
  • If she was hungry in between meals, then I asked her to increase the protein portions of her food, as this would keep her satisfied. For my friend, it wouldn’t have been helpful to focus on increasing the fat as it didn’t work for her previously.
  • The protein foods she ate weren’t necessarily lean, nor did she seek out the fattiest cuts she could find. She ate a broad spectrum of quality protein foods.
  • She ate non-starchy vegetables in abundance.

While initially suspicious of this approach, she very quickly saw success. In fact, over the course of four weeks, she had dropped 5.5kg. Her meals were still lower in carbohydrate, and higher in fat – but also included good amounts of protein and a lot more nutrients overall. For my friend, this ‘back to basics’ approach to diet was just what she needed. It was both the food choices and the behaviour around food that we needed to change. Though weight was her initial measure, she told me the change in how she felt about herself and about the food was far more important.

If you are struggling to lose body fat with a LCHF diet, then remember the devil could be in the details. In my opinion it really is the panacea for optimising your body composition goals, but it might be that the way you execute it needs adjusting.

*fat doesn’t make you fat: unfortunately, eating too much fat could make you fat – because too much of anything can lead to an excess in energy that your body can’t burn and therefore it has to go somewhere – deposited into your fat tissue is the likely scenario.

*calories don’t count: calories do count. But the finer details relate to how your body burns those calories and available energy.

Spice it up

One of the benefits of eating real food is that it minimises the amount of processed refined foods that drive the inflammation pathways in the body which, as you know, is the underlying cause of modern chronic disease. From a general health perspective, this is awesome. From an athlete perspective it is even more so – given that the training derived oxidative stress causes cell damage and breakdown, increasing recovery time from sessions. Anything that impedes recovery is not going to allow you to make the fitness gains you are looking for. Of course, it’s more than just diet you have to consider.  I’m three weeks post-marathon and am up to running around 50 minutes every 2-3 days, with calf and foot niggles making me more cautious that what I’ve needed to be in the past. It’s frustrating for me to tell you the truth; yes I enjoy gym work and swimming, but there is nothing I love more than running and when the weather is blossoming into summer and the choice is between a Smith squat machine or Auckland Domain, I’d know where I’d rather be. Worse is that I really only have myself to blame. I’ve pretty much got my diet dialled in (as to be expected – though, no, it’s not perfect as I am human 😉 ) and I honestly have been taking the return to running seriously and listening to both Coach and osteo advice to ease into it. But it’s slower than what I would have imagined. Where I fall down is the recovery out of training – you know, the wind down time, getting enough sleep – that kind of thing. Hence I’ve been making a real effort this week to get to bed early, to practice diaphragmatic breathing whilst driving and to invert my legs up onto the wall at the end of the day and just ‘be’. So it got me thinking about additional ways to support the body outside of the diet, exercise and lifestyle. What other dietary factors can help support the anti-inflammatory pathways in the body outside of a reduction of processed food and the free-radical scavenging properties of fruits, vegetables, animal protein and eggs?

A lot of athletes are heading into heavier schedules with the Christmas holidays allowing for some block training to occur. This is (for some) combined with the increased indulgences of additional alcohol at end-of year drinks and caffeine to get through the day. In combination with late nights and early starts, it’s no wonder that we hang out for December 23 as this time of year can wreak havoc on the body. It’s too easy to think you can pop a Voltaren or Neurofen tablet before going out and training (or at the end of a hard session) to mitigate the niggles and strains you feel that come from a lack of recovery. This might not seem like a big deal at the time but it really does more damage than what you think. I know – I used to be blasé about these things too – I had a ‘stomach of steel’ that was Impenetrable to even the most harshest of substances (there’s few things harder on the stomach than a mixing bowls worth of green gooseberries that I’ve successfully put this away with no ill effect in my younger years). But the older I’ve become, the more digestive issues I’ve struggled with around training, the more aware I’ve become of the impact that anti-inflammatory pharmaceuticals can have on the gut and subsequent health. Training in itself has been found to increase gut permeability. The decreased blood flow to the gut through even moderate steady-state exercise has resulted in intestinal injury and elevated liver enzyme parameters – and that’s an acute effect of just 60 minutes training. You can imagine what your normal high intensity effort or Sunday bunch ride does in relation to tearing up your insides?*  This increased gut permeability is a big deal. The once tight junctures that should not allow foreign matter to travel through are now not-so-tight. When we have foreign bodies allowed into our system this sparks an auto-immune response. Inflammation is one of the body’s first line of defence against injury, and over time this acute inflammatory response can become chronic which leads to deleterious health effects moreso than just impaired recovery. So the training in itself loosens the guts main defence against foreign proteins, which can increase inflammation – and when you throw ibuprofen on top of that, the effects on the gut and inflammation over time are even worse. It’s an easy thing to do, certainly, and a lot of people do it – however over time this can cause sensitivities to foods that you once had no problem digesting. Think grains, milk, certain types of carbohydrates in the FODMAP spectrum. Our gut has just one cell thickness protecting it from the outside environment. It doesn’t take a lot to upset the balance.

Of course, I’m speaking mechanistically here and everyone is different – some people will go through their athletic career and not have an issue at all despite a regular habit of popping vitamin V; others though, will notice that their tolerance to certain foods is now lower, the time taken to recover from training sessions is greater, and they are not able to get as fit as fast as they used to be able to. Is it an age thing? Sure. You’re not as bulletproof as you were in your 20s. But it could be more than that.

So I thought I’d mention some spices that can help support the anti-inflammatory pathways in the body. This isn’t going to dive into the ins and outs of that information – this post is already verging on being too long.

Tumeric (active ingredient curcumin): (particularly in the presence of fat to help absorption) – my friend Chris loves eggs with a heaped teaspoon or two of turmeric, and avocado and butter in the morning.

Ginger (I love ginger tea, just grating it fresh into hot water) and in green smoothies with lemon.

Cinammon: known for helping blood sugar control and also for its anti-inflammatory properties – I always like to include this in my breakfast meals, as a sweetener for baked rhubarb (no sugar required), in a slow cooked meat recipe or mince.

Garlic a member of the sulfur family, a well known anti-inflammatory compound.(okay, not a spice, but worth a mention)

Cayenne and chilli (active compound capsaicin) – chilli flakes and cayenne pepper are great on eggs, in salad and have you tried chilli chocolate? it is Christmas after all.

The beauty of these spices is that they are cheap, readily available and complement perfectly your real food lifestyle. This post is not prescribing anything more than the liberal inclusion of them in your everyday food. Every real food pantry should regularly utilise these in cooking, baking and barbequing. They are not a panacea to burning the candle at both ends – but it is worth your while to spice things up a little bit in the kitchen if you’re not already doing so.