Diets – what works and what screws your brain and body up. Part 1

Now that I sit comfortably at 60-62 kg which is a size 8-10 depending on the clothes I sigh a massive breathe of relief. It seems that the dieting demons that pocessed me for years have finally left. Getting them to leave did take a decade or two!

I am now 43 years old, have had three children and eat lots of food! The above is a photo I took the other day. I am not obsessed with food (except that I love it) and am fortunate that I am in a country that offers access to great food, farmers and resources.

I thought I would take your through my dieting journey as I know many of you will relate to what I personally have been through. I will analysis and critique the current diets around and lastly I will show you what I know works.

For those who don’t know my back ground I am a nutritionist, naturopath, nurse and for years played water polo, lacrosse and dragon boating. I have always been active and fortunate I suppose as I love being active. To me it is the ticket to living. Being able to surf, bush walk, run, paddle, skip, roll down a hill signals to me a healthy body, mind and spirit. And I think because I have such high energy levels that being active is an important step in not driving those around me mad.

I was the generation that grew up with the calorie counter in her back pocket and referred to it continually truly believing that healthy eating and existence was simply a matter of calories in matching up to calories out.

What I didn’t appreciate is that it does actually matter how to make these calories add up! My grandfather was the first to point out my dieting faux pas. “What I don’t understand Sam..” he would philosophically present to me ” is why you eat low fat margarine and then continue to scoff a bowl of ice cream?” In my mind it was a trade off but weight loss was zero!

Once I was in my teen age years Dolly became our gospel magazine. Lucky for us Dolly provided us monthly with new diets and horoscopes that also guided us and our eating. “This week you will encounter troubles with self discipline and a new venture will be too hard”. Of course we would interpret that as the “new diet” we had started would be doomed to fail and hence started my yo-yo dieting days.

I tried the Israeli diet (2 days apples, 2 days cabbage whatever it was), soup diet, weight watchers and even bulimia. It may surprise you that weight loss was 1-2 kgs that would jump back on as soon as I returned to normal eating.

I tried the healthy pyramid eating, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and then decided to study nutrition when I was 25 years old. It was the best decision I have made for my health. What I discovered was the power of nutrition. If you get it right you can heal a cancer-consumed body and if you get it wrong you can give a child behavioural problems or make an adult fat and full of inflammatory diseases. Nutrition held the answers for me.

I discovered in my late 20s that I couldn’t eat carbs at the rate I was and expect to lose weight. I learned that although I was training 10-11 times a week (for various sport teams etc) that I could NOT eat a massive bowl of pasta after the event and lose weight.

The rudest shock was realising what I had considered sound proven eating strategies were a load of rubbish.

I was 28, hooked on carbs and stayed addicted to carbs and sugars until my mid thirties.

If you are worried that your pantry habits are heinous acts of gluttony these are some of the habits I have had over the years..

18 years old – bulimia

19 years old – I would eat 2 litres of ice cream a night every night!

22 years old – I would make a full slab of rocky road a night (250g chic, 1 packet marshmallows, 1 cup peanuts) . This constituted my study food and often was all I would eat after training

25 years old – became a vegetarian for 8 months – pretty cool but I still ate heaps of chocolate and became hooked on MacDonalds thick shakes. I would have at least one a day

26-29 years old – my thick shake fettish continued as did my chocolate addiction (I would sometimes eat 2 family blocks of chocolate)

30 years old – now trained as a naturopath/nutritionist I was ready to tackle my eating issues. I slowly weaned out potatoes (I was hooked on salty hot chips), and started to decrease breads, pastas and rice.

35 years old – eating right for my blood group (O blood group) saw me eat heaps of meats and vegetables and my weight was easier to control.

40 years and on – eating exactly what I want when I want with a massively healthy baseline of organic salads, vegetables and lean meats. I rarely have breads, never pasta and rarely rice. I avoid milk (when I stopped I shed 6 kg in 3 months) and love food! I call it the Italian way of eating. Lots of fresh foods direct from the farmer (or better still my own garden) lots of love and laughs around food and no more calorie counting!

Some days I eat 4000 calories. I drink wine when I like and have no guilt about the occasional binge. I listen to my body and sometimes this means I will eat vegetarian for 3-4 days other times I will eat mince for breakfast, casserole for lunch and steak for dinner. I don’t stress about it. I feel fantastic and my skin/body seems to like it too. So how have I done this and will some of my strategies/philosophies work for you too?

I really don’t think “dieting” is the answer. I think knowing your body, understanding nutrition and being metabolic stable (including having balanced hormones) is the ONLY way to have optimal health.

I will examine some of the dieting strategies I have mentioned here and over the next few days post about HCG, Ashie Bines, Keto etc.

1. Bulimia as the panacea to dieting?

Bulimia was an interesting way to “diet”. Emphasis on the “die” part I might add. I was nursing at the time and for a short brain-snap period in my life I seriously logically could rationalise eating what I wanted (gorging on fresh bread and honey) and then sticking my fingers down my throat and making myself heave it all up. It made total sense until one day my sunglasses on the top of my head fell into the toilet bowl and snapped me out of the silly way of thinking. Weight loss zero.

Bulimia and anorexia can be phases in a persons’ life. I know many people try it but starving oneself or vomiting up the food is not only mentally flawed it leads to terrible health issues such as weight gain, osteoporosis, stained teeth, stomach ulcers to name a few.

I have nursed anorexics and find it very hard and sad. How can you not love food? From my understanding anorexia and bulimia as on-going eating patterns usually herald an underlying psychological issue (sexual abuse, rebellion, abandonment issues etc). I snapped out of mine and most people do. If you don’t though, please get some help. Food is friend and fun, not the enemy.

2. The (not so) Heathy Pyramid

As nurses we were taught that healthy eating is essential but we were never really taught what “heathy eating” entailed. Even though we were the teachers of nutrition for our patients. Might I add that who ever was putting the hospital meals together back in the 80s also had little idea about nutrition as patients would be served slops at best. (I don’t think this has changed much as I recently went to hospital for an operation and was served a sausage with mashed potato, peas and gravy)!

I can understand in the 1980s – 1990s that Australia was a wheat belt, sugar, dairy and beef exporting country and not surprising our authorities guided us to eat lots of these products.

Like many Aussies I would have toast or crumpets for breakfast (with butter, honey or melted cheese), muffins, scotch finger biscuits and a hot chocolate for morning tea. Lunch would be a sandwich filled with heaps of salad ingredients (so I thought I was very healthy) and after noon tea maybe a piece of fruit or coffee scroll. For dinner I would devour a bowl of pasta, rice dish or casserole. Despite exercising ALOT swimming, running, riding playing in sports (and training in national sport squads) I still bounced around 68-72 kgs and looked quite porky.

I was later an advocate of this carb rich eating plan as I qualified as a critical care nurse and part of our brief in Coronary Care (heart attack ward) was to sit with patients and educate them on healthy eating. Out would come the pyramid diagram recommending 9-11 serves of carbs a day. One serve = 1 piece of fruit, 1 piece of bread, 1/2cup pasta.

NOW I know that eating 10 pieces of bread a day will NEVER lead to fat loss nor a healthy body but at the time that is what was the diet of the day.

What we know now is that the “healthy”pyramid diet has proven to cause metabolic diseases and was dropped by the American Dietetics Association in 2007/8 (not 100% sure on year) but for some reason dieticians in Australia still advocate 9-11 serves of carbs a day.

It is very frustrating to watch as people WILL gain weight using this model. And if they have an existing blood sugar/insulin issue eating this many carbs will only worsen the situation. The only way the pyramid can work is if the serves are green leafy vegetables then sure, 11 serves of green leafy veg probably will lead to better health and fat loss.

3. Calorie counting and calorie restriction diets

My major issue with calorie counting is the mentality it fosters. A balanced meal is not just a sum of it’s calories it is the beautiful balance of fats, proteins and carbs.

Calorie restriction often means withholding fats and eating more carbs or artificially sweetened products. Hence a major flaw with calorie counting – it doesn’t really matter what sources your calories are derived from as long as they add up to your daily needs.  I don’t know any other race in the world (aside from USA and UK) that count calories.

Teaching people to recognise healthy food and not “problem foods” is critical. Calorie emphasis doesn’t do this.

Knowing how many calories a cheesecake has, or a latte or a lettuce is something I have put to the back of my mind and if you are in calorie counter mode I urge you to scrub this way of thinking.

Calorie counting leads to guilt, missing key foods, misguided health and ultimately you will always be calorie counting and “dieting”.

Short term some calorie restriction might help you shake some bad habits and force you to pay more attention to your food but try to construct real food, not buy delivered meals.

I have just realised that dieting is a big issue and I think I have shared enough today… I will write more tomorrow about more diets and success rates,costs etc.. so look for the post then 🙂

Sam BP x