I have never been one for “fad” diets. This partly due to the fact that for much of my life I was involved in a lot of active pursuits – gymnastics, ballet, pole exercise – which kept me in shape. But the more I reflect back, the more I see how the undiagnosed coeliac disease was probably partly responsible for keeping my weight down while also instilling a desperate need for calories, because I simply wasn’t absorbing enough.
(Click here to read about my full diagnosis story)
Yep, I’ve been hungry basically my whole life, but a big appetite when you do more than an hour of exercise a day is not like a big appetite when you can’t motivate yourself to even get out of the house. No matter your natural metabolism, if you are hungry all the time, and don’t exercise like your neurotic perfectionist 15 year-old self used to do, you are going to put on weight. This kind of hunger can’t be ignored or placated with “hey, maybe you’re thirsty/bored” which seems to be the diet and fitness industry’s go-to advice for dealing with hunger pangs.
Ironically, my twenties were spent educating myself about food and nutrition, eating healthier, trying to “get in shape” while steadily putting on weight. It’s certainly not enough weight to be medically interesting, nor even for anyone to notice much, but for me it’s felt like a battle even to slow the weight gain as much as I’ve done. At my heaviest, I was still only 10kg (22lbs) more than I was as an active 18 year-old, but it felt massive. I didn’t seem to be the right shape for clothes any more and I lost interest in dressing myself well and taking care of my appearance.
Even though I had been eating gluten-free for 4 years now, that frantic hunger had not gone away, in fact it seemed to get worse and worse. Every attempt to diet or exercise the weight away has led to me feeling exhausted from the effort, or hungry and focussed so much on my next meal that I couldn’t concentrate on my work. I should point out that during these “attempts” at calorie restriction I probably never made it under 1500 calories a day, and even 1800 calories left me wanting more. I joined the Nerd Fitness academy, which is a fantastic community, but everyone’s tales of how great they feel just left me cold. Why wasn’t I feeling great? I tried lifting weights but I felt awful afterwards (and of course, it sent my appetite into overdrive). What was I doing wrong?
A few things happened to point me in the direction of a low-carb, high-fat diet. There were no big awakenings, or giant realisations, just a few interesting articles here and there along with the fact that my PCOS reared its head again and decided that it would be stopping periods indefinitely with no promises about if and when they would start up again. PCOS is linked to insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes (both on my father’s side), and the more research I did, the more I felt like it was worth a shot, at least. (NB: I have been tested for diabetes, which came back negative.)
What I ate
I think this diet takes some getting used to, so please don’t take this as dietary or nutrition advice. I’m not a dietician. I’m also not one to follow diet plans, so I focussed on building myself low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein meals. I definitely overshot the protein on several occasions, but now that I am used to eating this way I intend to make sure I am getting appropriate nutrition in the long term.
I decided for the initial period I would concentrate my efforts on limiting the amount of carbs I ate to 50g a day. I started by weighing out every single thing I ate for a few days, which was enlightening but entirely unsustainable. It was enough for me to realise that 1) I would probably need a multivitamin (although I probably did anyway), and 2) as long as I stuck to a certain group of things and remained mindful of the sugar in fruit, I probably wouldn’t need to worry about counting out my blueberries. So I largely stopped counting, since I had cut out starchy vegetables and tubers, and mostly ate from the following list:
- Mini Babybels
- Cottage cheese (I’d never tried this before – it’s gross – won’t be eating that again!)
- Peanut butter (as close to 100% peanuts as you can get)
- Almond butter
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Bacon fat
- Chicken fat
- Aubergine (eggplant)
- Courgette (zucchini)
- Sugar snap peas
I reasoned since this is a lifestyle, not a quick-fix diet, I would have to make room for a bit of alcohol. I kept this to a couple of glasses of dry white wine and a couple of buckwheat beers (over the 2 weeks, not in one go!)
- Water, water, everywhere
- Green tea
What happened to my body
The first few days I don’t think my body really knew what had hit it. I exceeded 2000 calories but didn’t feel too hungry or have any sort of carb cravings. The carb cravings hit the day after I cheated (argh!) and had one gluten-free bread roll. My body’s crazy response to the introduction of carbs seemed to reinforce my image of my stomach being some unsatiable kraken-type beast.
My body’s reaction to “cheating” was clear… NOPE. Besides, I was feeling like a new person. It was as big a difference in me as I felt when originally going gluten-free. My mood improved, my energy levels rocketed and – best of all – my hunger stabilised. I went out for a steak dinner and happily consumed steak and vegetables when it struck me – I hadn’t been greedily coveting my boyfriend’s potato wedges. Not at all. I just didn’t want them.
And when did courgettes start tasting so good?
Two weeks is a short amount of time and when you enter ketosis you do tend to lose some water weight, so take the weight loss with a pinch of salt.
Weight loss: 1.7kg (3.7lbs)
Waist: -0.5 inches (1.2cm)
Mid-waist (love handles): -2 inches (5cm)
Hips: -1 inch (2.5cm)
There is also noticeably less bloat in my face now. I’ve gone from two chins to one chin.
Aside from it being the diet that I apparently can’t cheat on, there are some downsides to the low-carb lifestyle. Keto breath and keto pee is real, my friends. It does require quite an insane amount of checking packets and googling nutritional values when you first try to work out what you can eat, and I’ve eaten more packaged food and meat than I would have liked. (My fridge is small, there ain’t no room to be making loads of stuff from scratch when I could pick up some little packets of hummus and babaganoush from the supermarket!). But none of this is insurmountable. I’ll learn and improve and evolve and adapt.
I honestly don’t feel like the last few weeks has been much of a challenge. My hunger has finally been reined in, and I’m able to do the exercise that I want to do to keep me healthy. I keep saying it, but it’s true – I feel like a new person.
I don’t like to recommend eating habits to other people as I think that everyone’s body responds differently to food. However, I wanted to share the start of my journey in case there are others out there, who like me, were constantly hungry and didn’t know what to do about it.
It’s likely that my blog will start to reflect this new lifestyle, but I still want to make some baked goods as I love tinkering around in the kitchen too much to stop! I am working on a massive site overhaul and redesign so I hope you’ll stick around or subscribe here to stay abreast of future plans.
Are you still doing the low carb, high protein gluten free diet? And if so what have been your results the past +year since writing this?
Stephen Smart says
Stumbled across your blog. You should have a look at The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate living by Volak and Phinney.
I have been on the Atkins Diet for 15 years, I have my TypeII and my weight under control with a bit of exercise and a daily multi-vit.