Monday 28 January 2013

Weight Loss: There is A Better Way

If you've been following my "weight loss" series, I've now got to the point where I'm going to be even more blunt and opinionated.
When it comes to the matter of body weight/fat there are two types of people; people who have a metabolic/endocrine problem and people who don't.  I previously thought the former group was vanishingly small, but I've been reading and learning a lot and I've changed my mind.  People with genetic, pre-existing endocrine problems -are- rare; people with acquired metabolic problems are pretty common and it's usually varying degrees of insulin sensitivity from the sensitive to bordering on type II diabetes and mainly due to battering the body with high levels of (refined) carbohydrates until it starts to give up.

Gary Taubes, Tim Noakes, Steven Phinney, Jeff Volek, Peter Attia, Yoni Freedhoff and many others have researched, thought, read, and digested (pun intended) on the topic and have come to the conclusion that the modern obesity pandemic is caused by cheap, freely available, highly processed, large amounts of carbohydrates in the human diet.  Not just Western society; but increasingly across the whole of the world and as the availability of cheap, highly processed carbs increases, any given country will see an increase in obesity, diabetes and a number of other chronic diseases.

If you put on weight quite easily, are slowly gaining weight as you get older, have a high waist-to-hip ratio, struggle to lose weight or maintain healthy weight, crave foods, get hungry a lot of the time, think about food a lot (in terms of when/where is your next meal coming, or how you can justify eating X or Y, not in terms of a recipe you'd like to try 'cause it looks interesting or it's your job etc.) you are probably along the path to insulin insensitivity/resistance.  If that is the case, you would probably benefit from a low carbohydrate diet for general health reasons and a side-effect of a low carbohydrate diet could well be weight loss.  When I say "diet" here, I do not mean it in the sense of "going on a...", I mean it in the sense of what you eat for now and forever.

If you don't put on weight easily, have a relatively healthy waist-to-hip ratio, don't vary much in body weight with time, have no problem losing a few pounds (maybe for the racing season?), don't get food cravings, don't have "intrusive thoughts of food", then you're probably towards the "no problem" end of the insulin sensitivity scale.  You're quite lucky.  Also, a low carbohydrate diet will probably have little effect on your weight.  That said, there are a good few reasons why you might want to move to a higher fat (and, logically, lower carb) diet (have a read of Why We Get Fat and what to do about it and/or The Great Cholesterol Con).  I don't mean to the extent of this...

...but golly-gosh there are a lot of good things in some of them thar fats like olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, (grass fed) beef fat, (wild) salmon, mackerel, herring, (grass fed) butter and milk, (free range, organic) eggs, macadamia nuts, brazil nuts etc.

So if you are away from the lucky end of the insulin sensitivity scale and want to change, take a look at your diet.  See how much white flour, potatoes, sugar, white rice etc. you eat, or even how much brown rice, brown flour, brown pasta, bananas, fruit juices etc. if it's more than 200g or so per day.  If you are struggling to lose weight, suffer unpleasant hunger/cravings, can't make it work on a calorie counting diet (usually low fat), CHANGE THE STRATEGY.  Swap low fat for low carb.  Eat real butter, milk, cheese, eggs, meat, fish and feel less hunger.  If you go low enough carb for a few days you'll stop getting cravings, stop the constant thinking about food, stop the horrible hunger sensations.  You'll enjoy what you're eating!  You'll start to find that things like strawberries are insanely sweet-tasting without adding sugar because you can actually taste them properly.  You'll start to find that you don't need a huge plate piled high with pasta, rice, potatoes, bread etc. to feel satisfied after a meal.

And if you think it's all too much like hard work, there are so many quick and easy things you can make/cook/grab on the go.  And if you think low carb is too restrictive and all you'll be eating is bacon and eggs... well, there's a lot of help and ideas and once you get going it's really really easy.

Saturday 26 January 2013

I've been doing it wrong!

Before Christmas, things were going well on the Low Carb High Fat train.  Then Christmas came and went and something changed.  I went a bit too far with the experimentation, away from the basics, and I got a bit lost.  The physical sensations were different, I started eating more often and larger plates of food (averaging 500kcals a day more than I'm supposed to need even accounting for training).  I didn't put on any weight (go figure), but nor was it dropping off like it should do (I'm still nowhere near a lean, fat-fuelled body composition and I reckon there's about 5kg to go from the weight I was 2 days ago), I felt squashy, cranky, sleepy and just not the same as before Christmas.

I stumbled across a post by Sweet Geek about ketogenic diets and her experience and it made me realise that urine ketone measurements doesn't tell you enough of the story for my purposes.  I need to be at the place where my brain isn't powered by glucose created in my liver from dietary protein; "By testing your blood ketones, you can really tell not only if you are in ketotis but if you are well adapted, i.e. making enough ketones to fuel your brain and the rest of your body runs on fat. If you are on the borderline, then your liver will create glucose from protein which if you are trying to lower glucose metabolism, isn’t terribly helpful. In addition it seems that in that borderline state you aren’t getting enough glucose to use it as your primary fuel and yet you aren’t able to run off of fat well either and consequently you probably feel awful with low-energy, fatigue, cravings and mood swings."  Bingo!  There were the differences between before and after Christmas.

So, when I'm back from training camp in Lanzarote, I'll be using the ridiculously expensive ketone testing strips that MrTOTKat got for me (along with a ketone testing machine, which is far less stupidly expensive in the grand scheme of things) once a day, in the morning probably.  And I'll lay off the fancy experimentation stuff, stick to the delicious things we were eating in November/December last year and try a new thing once a week or so, but not obsessively.  In the mean time, I'll just aim to keep carbs to 30g a day or less, easy on the protein and eat when I'm hungry rather than when it's time.

Monday 21 January 2013

Weight Loss: why bother?

Why should I actually bother? 

I have a theory.  Losing weight is like stopping smoking.  For some people it's easy; for some people it depends where they are with their life and whether they're "ready" to do it or not; and for some it's never going to happen no matter how much stress and pain they put themselves through.

For the last group, the answer to the question "why should I bother"? is probably "actually, you probably shouldn't".  Even with the right support, education etc. for some people the stress and effort involved for them to lose weight and keep it off is probably more damaging to their quality and length of life than the excess weight could potentially be (excepting the obese to the point of needing a crane to get out of bed).  The stress and frustration alone can be so psychologically and physiologically damaging that it's better to keep that little bit of excess.  There have been recent studies that have correlation between slightly extended life expectancy in the elderly and being slightly overweight compared with the current recommended guidelines.  Of course this could be related to having extra padding around joints, bones and organs so that bumps, knocks and falls have less serious consequences, but without having read the studies in any detail, I couldn't say.

There is a great importance, in Western Society mostly, placed on being slim; probably overly slim at that.  Yes, there is a growing percentage of the population who are overweight and yes, there is fat discrimination (which I certainly experienced, first-hand, in the past).  And yes, the pressure to be slimmer can be overwhelming and pretty much dangerous in some cases.  But the dangers of being a bit overweight are surely outweighed by the long term misery, stress and daily difficulties around food and eating?  I, for one, had it pretty easy losing weight (keeping it off was harder, yeah, until I came across a relatively old idea that's re-surfacing) but I'm sure that if it had been a lot harder, I'd've been psychologically better off staying quite fat and probably better off physiologically too.  Stress does bad things to your body as well as your brain and, in fact, can contribute to higher fat gains for the same calorific intake and expenditure compared with an unstressed person.  I was lucky.  I was one one of those people who was "ready" to lose weight and in a position to spend the time and effort controlling intake and learning about food, nutrition and fuelling my body "properly".

For that last group of people... they're probably much better off staying as they are.  Maybe not 100% happy, but happier than they would be struggling, succeeding, failing, getting even bigger, struggling and stressing again, succeeding, and being unhappy with the constant battle.

However, towards the end of 2012, I came across a better way to do all of this.  A lower stress way that involves only a little will power/determination at the start and then there's little to no tears and tantrums around feeling hungry, having cravings (apart from very strong mental states with causes unrelated to nutrition).  If you've been following my posts regularly, you'll already know some bits about it, but for those who haven't, I'll be putting together a more structured permanent page about it in the coming weeks.  (If you can't wait that long, go and read Gary Taubes' "Why We Get Fat and what to do about it"., "Good Calories, Bad Calories", "The Diet Delusion", or if you're comfortable with biology and biochemistry, "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living.)

Friday 18 January 2013

Low/no carb recipe: pancakes

Inspired by a recipe from Blogilates which is just eggs and banana, I investigated how to make pancakes with pretty much no carbs in them.

Per person:-
  •  - 1x egg
  •  - 25g cream cheese - this is the only source of carb, so check the label carefully (the cheese I'm using at the moment has no carbs, so it can be a 100% carb free recipe)
  •  - 20ml double/whipping cream
  •  - 2/3g coconut oil to cook
  1. Blend egg(s) and cheese with a blender/food processor.
  2. Add cream and blend some more.
  3. Heat a pancake pan with your choice of oil (I use coconut oil)
  4. Pour mix into the pan and cook on a medium heat
  5. Cook mix until the top is almost set
  6. Turn pancake and cook the other side
  7. Slide onto a plate and top as desired - it will deflate when it leaves the pan and look more like a pancake.
Best eaten hot as they go quite brittle as they cool down.  I think thicker is better here for the consistency, so a smaller diameter pan like I used for the blueberry and yogurt one than I used for the cheese one at the bottom below.

With cream, Greek yogurt and blueberries - beautiful texture

Rolled up with grated cheese inside - a bit too thin and brittle

Monday 14 January 2013

Weight Loss: How NOT to do it!

(If you're looking for "how to do it" go to this post.)

Part I - But I'm eating practically nothing!

It's a common cry; "I'm eating practically nothing, I'm starving, why am I not losing weight?", most usually heard part-way through a weight loss regime that involves reducing calorie intake.

Quite simply, the human body is pretty clever.  Have you seen those documentaries on anorexics who survive on 600-800 kcals a day?  They, even though they weigh very very little, exist on way below the number of calories required to maintain their weight and yet it takes significantly longer for them to lose any further weight than it should do given the deficit they're in.  OK, they're a pretty extreme case, but it does illustrate what the human body can do when put under those kinds of conditions.

If you restrict calories significantly for a period of time (the length of which appears to be dependant on the individual) your body starts to become more creative about using those calories.  The one I noticed more than anything else while I was losing weight was that I got cold.  Not just because I had less fat to keep me warm but because my metabolism slowed down!  My body decided that rather than using up fat (oh yes, and muscle too!) to fuel my needs, it would cut down on generating warmth.  It wasn't a huge amount of temperature drop and I was still losing some weight but there was certainly a trade off there and I got oh so very very cold and had to wear many layers more than I was used to just to stay warm.

Other ways your body will adjust to the continued lower calorie intake is to stop laying down as much glycogen for ready energy for your muscles, so you'll get fatigued more quickly when doing anything physical; like getting out of bed in the morning perhaps... And you'll just not feel like being active, your brain will stop you from wanting to expend energy; you'll feel lethargic and unenthused by activity.

Part II - Complete deprivation is rarely the answer

One of the main reasons many people "fall off the wagon" on a calorie restricted diet is because they have placed extreme restrictions upon themselves in their quest to lose weight.  How many times have you heard "I'll never eat cake again" or similar?

But calorie restricted diets usually dictate denial of some form or another.  I don't mean just cutting down on the overall calorie intake, but cutting out specific foods completely; diets that tell you to cut out all carbs, all fats and sometimes (but vanishingly rarely) almost all protein.  These are just crazy and pretty bad for you if you follow them for any long period of time.  But there are the ones that -seem- sensible, like not eating any butter, fried foods, chocolate, cake, biscuits, chips, red meat, bread, potatoes...

Intolerance-finding diets aside; the problem with completely denying yourself something you really like is that the cravings get stronger and stronger and at some point it's very likely that you'll crack, give in, and binge.  Because we are only human after all and there's only so much denial you can take.  And then, because you've binged, the common thought is "well, I've ruined it all now so I might as well give up" or "I clearly can't do this diet thing, I'm so rubbish, I give up", maybe not right away, but certainly drifting that way and all of the hard slog to date is pretty much for naught; if not worse.  So have a little bit of what you fancy every now and then, plan to have it and plan to have a small bit of the best kind of whatever you really really like maybe once a fortnight or once a week or, if you're one of the lucky people who really like something that's not all that calorific, plan it in as even a daily treat!

For me, I thought it was going to be cheese.  I LOVE cheese.  Really.  Lo-o-o-o-ooooove it.  But, I didn't get cravings for it at all during my weight loss phase.  What I really REALLY wanted after some time of not having it was bread.  Crusty, fluffy, white baguette, to be specific.  Remember, I was on a calorie restriction diet when I lost weight.  Having stopped having sandwiches for lunch; as I just couldn't keep my daily kcals down low enough and still have sandwiches for lunch and a meal in the evening that meant my partner at the time didn't waste away totally as I liked to have the same meal together in the evening (though he always had twice the carb portion as I had and still lost weight!); I changed to salads for lunch.  The salads were tomato based with some tangy bits added for flavour.  But no bread or crutons with lunch salads and no bread or crutons with any soup, as bread is pretty calorific for the portion size.  After 3-4 weeks of that all I wanted to do was buy a whole baguette, or even just a baton, and stuff the whole thing into my face.  Thankfully, I nipped that in the bud by having a small piece of baguette with salad or a soup at the weekends for lunch.  Yes, I still wanted bread with a vengeance, but I got a little top-up of bread every weekend which I'm pretty sure helped me not to go nuts with a baguette at any point.

So, if your thing is cake and you're trying to lose weight by calorie restriction and stay on the wagon; have some cake!  Really!  Just make sure it's a small piece of really nice cake and only do it once a week, tops.  And savour it; enjoy every tiny morsel and lick the plate at the end!  Doing that isn't going to ruin your overall progress and it is very likely to stop you wanting to buy a whole Victoria sponge and scoffing the lot then hating yourself and potentially convincing yourself you can't do this weight loss thing.  But be careful that your definition of a small piece doesn't drift bigger and bigger ;o)  (And make sure you log it in your food diary and that it doesn't put you over maintenance calories for the day.)

But, if you're looking to lose/manage your weight by the carbohydrate restriction method, you will find that you don't get cravings.  Once you have gone through the first few days (which varies from person to person) of adaptation, the cravings simply don't come.  Period.  If you find you are getting them after a couple of weeks, then you've not managed to sufficiently lower your carbohydrate intake, or done it for long enough.  Check what you're eating and if you're not making it yourself, double check the labels for the nutrition information and ingredients.  If you're seeing any of the below in the ingredients list, or if is it labelled "diet" or "low fat", it's likely to have too much carbohydrate in it for your purposes.

Ingredients watch list:-
  • <anything> starch  
  • Sugar 
  • <anything> syrup
  • <anything>ose
  • Potato
  • Sweet potato
  • Most root vegetables (except turnip and celeriac)
  • Rice 
  • Flour (except coconut, almond or other nuts [remember peanuts are not nuts!]) 
  • Couscous
  • Wheat
  • Semolina
  • Any other grains
  • Any fresh fruits (except berries, an then only in small quantities)
  • Any dried fruits

Sunday 13 January 2013

Low carb recipe: Coffee and Walnut Cake

  • 50g ground almonds
  • 50g coconut flour (from Holland and Barrett)
  • 1 egg - separated into yolk and white
  • ¼tsp salt (use table salt, not flakes in this one)
  • 2 tsp instant coffee, made up with 15ml hot water
  • ½tsp ground cinnamon
  • 5g Stevia/Truvia (granulated)
  • 25g hazelnut butter (almond or peanut butter will do if that's all you have)
  • 25g cacao butter (this came from Vivapure, but coconut oil can be substituted)
  • 30g unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Green & Blacks)
  • 300g full-fat cream cheese (watch the carb count, some of the cheeses are high)
  • 300ml double cream
  • 4tsp (2g) Splenda
  • ½tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼tsp xanthan gum (if the cream mix is too loose, add a little more)
  • 5-10g grated very dark chocolate (I used Green & Blacks 70% with madagascan vanilla)

1. Preheat your oven to 135C and make up the coffee. Set the coffee aside to cool.
2. Combine ground almonds, coconut flour, salt, cinnamon and stevia in a dry mixing bowl.

3. Melt the cacao butter gently (if you're using coconut oil make sure you don't get it too hot otherwise you'll prematurely cook the egg white in a minute) stir with the nut butter and add to the dry ingredients in the bowl.  Mix thoroughly.

Plastic pot in a bowl of hot water to melt the cacao butter

4. Add the egg white to the bowl and make sure it's mixed in well.

5. Spread this mix over the base of a lightly greased/oiled flan or shallow cake tin and press down with the back of a metal spoon until firm.

6. Bake in the pre-heated oven for roughly 40 minutes, but start checking at 30 minutes.  Do not overcook the biscuit base, otherwise it will taste bitter.  When the mix is the same even slightly darker colour, across the entire base remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely somewhere dry.

This was over-cooked and slightly bitter.
While the base is cooling...

8. Whip the cream until stiff.

9. In another bowl, combine the cocoa powder, Splenda and xanthan gum.

10. Mix the cream cheese with the dry ingredients above. This will get very very heavy and stiff, so don't be put off at this stage, keep mixing until well blended.

11. Then add the egg yolk, cooled coffee mixture and vanilla extract and smooth to a creamy, silky mixture.  This will look like it's gone wrong early on.  It will look lumpy and oily but persevere, continue to smooth with a wooden spoon and it will turn a lighter colour and resemble gently melted chocolate.  When that happens, you're done with this step.

12. Fold the whipped cream into this mixture, gently stir in the broken walnuts and set aside in the fridge to keep cool.

13. Once everything is cooled and ready, spread the chilled cream cheese mixture on top of your biscuity base and smooth to a level top.

14. Sprinkle the grated chocolate evenly across the top.

15. Put the whole ensemble into the fridge until 15 minutes before you want to serve it.

I think this recipe would benefit from a little more coffee in the cheese/cream mix and perhaps chopping the walnuts smaller.  The over-cooked base this time made the whole thing a bit too bitter, though I was very pleased with the consistency of the base - really crispy and crunchy.

Needs another test run.  If anyone tries this recipe, let me know how it turns out and if you modified it in any way.

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Still here. Still low-carbing.

In case the last couple of posts confused y'all; I'm still working on the low carb stuff.  Despite a couple of days over Christmas/New Year when I went as high as 65g a day and Christmas Day itself with 120g(!) I've been at it hard, so to speak.

The interesting part still is that I'm exercising as much and as hard as before the diet change and I'm not seeing any ill effects.  Particularly working on my running at the moment, my speed:effort is improving and my top speed increasing.

This weekend, I'll be taking a look at that low-carb cheesecake recipe and adapting it to being a coffee cake.  The good thing from my point of view is that rather than substituting a whole lot of fake sugar for real sugar, I'm using very small quantities of fake sugars (Stevia and Splenda, and no more than 7g total in an 8 portion cake) and relying on the natural flavours and combinations of flavours in the ingredients to provide really good texture and taste - e.g. cinnamon and nuts give a naturally sweet flavoured combination, double cream is naturally quite sweet so doesn't need any sugary additive etc.

Monday 7 January 2013

Weight Loss: How to do it

How to lose weight successfully

I'm featured as one of the weight loss "success stories" on the Weight Loss Resources web site.  And as a result of that I've had a few questions, mostly around "how did you do it?"  and "I've tried and tried and I can't seem to get the weight to come off and stay off, how did you manage it?".   So I wrote a little piece on it.

This is pretty much how I did it, but not what I'd recommend for everyone now I know a lot more...

Example Food Diary (WLR)

It's both very simple and really difficult at the same time.  The real keys are brutal honesty with yourself and planning.  The final bit is maintenance; the changes you make to lose weight must be sustainable as you will need to hang on to those changes to keep the weight off forever.
  • Logging - if you are trying to lose weight by calorie counting, it is very very very important that you brutally honestly log absolutely everything that passes your lips, having weighed it to be certain of how much you've had.  That last couple of spoons of yogurt from the kids' dessert at dinner -does- count; that bite out of your best friend's hot-dog while you're out at the cinema -does- count; but it is -so- easy to forget that you had them, forget to log them and then wonder why the numbers seem to add up but the weight loss isn't happening.  It is a well known phenomenon that people almost never log everything they eat, not because they want to lie or cheat, but because they actually do forget things because their brain doesn't see it as important at the time.  So, if you're out and about and don't have access to your online logging resource (in my case Weight Loss Resources - WLR), keep a notebook, write things down and then enter them into WLR when you can. And weigh everything. Portion sizes do matter.  Go here for an interesting documentary that includes a section on this.
  • Exercise - can make it harder to be sure of staying inside your allowance; the calorific value of food is a reasonable guess, based on burning food to see how much heat it gives off.  Not exactly the same way your body processes it, but near enough for an estimate.  The same is true for exercise; the effort required for two different people of the same size, weight, height and age may differ based on so many other factors.  The estimates in WLR for exercise are quite variable and if you want to be closer to a more accurate estimate, invest in a heart rate monitor if you can.  But -do- exercise as it will help to maintain your existing muscles while you're losing weight; it's no good losing lots of weight that's muscle as you won't get any definition in your shape and it's less "good" for you to be losing weight through muscle loss than fat loss.
  • Snack.  Regularly.  Seriously.  If you don't allow yourself to get hungry during the day, by eating little and often, you end up eating less overall to feel satisfied and lower the likelihood of splurging.  Or to put it another way, if you leave it too long between meals you will most likely eat bigger portions and with less careful choice in those meals.
  • Planning - Plan your food and exercise at least a day in advance, if not for the week.  If you plan, it's harder to have little "oops" moments and you can plan in for treats to keep you from straying too far off the path or help you make informed choices when spontaneous things happen. 

  • Eat as cleanly as you can - foods you prepare from scratch/original components, rather than prepared foods and packaged meals.  This is a key point.  
  • Eat enough - It can be worth trying for a slower pace of weight loss as you may not be getting enough energy to keep your metabolism working properly.  Many people have switched from 2 or 1.5lb loss rates to 1lb loss rate and suddenly the weight starts coming off properly.  It varies a lot from person to person and giving it a go for a few weeks is really the only way to find out what will work for you.
  • Have a "down" day/week every now and then.  I was lucky that I never really needed to do this, but very many people find that their bodies are clever and cotton on to the fact that they're getting less food/more exercise and adjust your metabolism to deal with the reduced intake vs. output.  Keeping your body guessing (but do stay on or under maintenance kcals) can help break out of that learning behaviour and kick your metabolism back to where it should be.  If you're doing heavy exercise 3/4 times a week, maybe take a week off from it every 10-12 weeks.  Or plan in a "cheat" day every week or fortnight where you do eat up to or even a bit over maintenance kcals rather than sticking to loss. 
  • Weigh everything.  Unless you have the most amazingly accurate estimating skills, your portion sizes WILL drift.  And usually upwards.  It will start to add up to a few more kcals every day than you're logging and again you'll wonder why the kcals seem to add up but the weight loss isn't doing.  In effect, you're kidding yourself.  Stop it.
  • Don't rely on the scales for the measure of success.  Take body measurements periodically, maybe once a month, and keep track of that as well as weight.  You may find there are times when the scales don't shift, but your body changes shape and you lose a few cm around bits of yourself.
  • Patience - with yourself and with the people who will try to, knowingly or not, sabotage your hard work.  You are only human; you will have off days and that's OK.  Just as long as they're not every day ;o)  And other people may not understand what you are trying to do, how or why and they can in a well-meaning way end up trying to sabotage your efforts by offering you food, tempting you out of exercise or saying "oh come on, you're not fat!".  It's down to you how you deal with it; I wasn't very good at that part, to be honest, I just hid and didn't go out!

There -will- be hard times; I remember many many tantrums and fits of tears during my main weight loss period.  The forums on WLR can really help with that and with advice and support when the going gets tough or you have questions.

So remember... plan,  Log EVERYTHING and be honest with yourself.  Losing weight isn't rocket science but it isn't easy either.  You can do it.  You will get there.  But you have to really want to change your lifestyle and keep it changed for life.