When it comes to nutrition, it’s not one-size-fits-all. It really can be different for individuals based upon:
- Your likes and dislikes
- Your upbringing
- Your religion
- Your lifestyle (work hours, young kids, travel)
- Humanitarian reasons
- Your vices (sweet foods, savoury foods, alcohol, soft drinks, lollies, carbs, fast food, chocolate)
- The things you read on the internet
- How different styles of eating make you feel
I like to help people develop a style of eating that is:
- Results in weight loss
Meeting this criterion increases the likelihood of people sticking with the plan and making it sustainable. Sometimes it takes some back and forth and a few conversations to get this right, and even trying a few different nutrition strategies. I always say that working with a personal trainer or health coach should not just be a physical experience, it should be an educational one. I believe that for every individual there’s a key that unlocks the door to massive results. Sometimes we find the key that fits immediately, and other times it takes a while and some experimenting to find the right approach. It is not one-size-fits-all. It’s not even just the approach to exercise and nutrition that is the main consideration. There are emotional factors, and there are many different ways we can tailor an approach to meet the 6 criteria above. Sometimes a client works with a health coach for three months and learns new things that they implement and benefit from for the next 20 years!
When working with a client, we do the following:
- Develop a plan
- Implement the plan
- Measure and monitor the results of the plan, and change things where necessary
Food plans can sometimes get fancy, detailed, confusing, and complicated, so let’s remember the basics and minimise the consumption of rubbish, fast food, bread, dessert, biscuits, chocolate, ice cream, and alcohol.
A lot of people achieve amazing results having a coffee or two in the morning hours, a protein and salad-based lunch, an optional afternoon snack, and healthy dinner. Eating two to three medium-sized meals each day achieves the goal of creating a calorie deficit, allows for fat loss, and is extremely powerful when combined with the optimal type and frequency of resistance training and overall weekly exercise. It’s also a very simple strategy to implement. Most people underestimate how many calories they consume in a day or a week, and overestimate how many calories they burn.
I speak a lot about nutrition because it is mostly responsible for fat loss. In a moment, I will explain the difference between “fat loss” and “weight loss”. Some people say that losing weight is 70 percent nutrition and 30 percent exercise. It’s probably closer to 90 percent nutrition and 10 percent exercise. Exercise is the part that puts the icing on the cake, makes you feel amazing, and gets you lean, toned, fit, and strong, improves the health of your bones and heart, and increases your metabolism. What you eat (and don’t eat) is what’s going to see you shed the weight. Exercise can be the easy part. Eating well 24/7 (most of the time) can be the challenging part.
The number one rule for weight loss is that you must be in a calorie deficit. This means that you must consume less calories than you burn. Think of it over the course of a week, not every single day. Some days you might consume about the same amount of calories as you expend, and on some days you might eat more than you burn. But for the most part, you need to be in a negative energy balance, which is created either by increasing calorie output (through moving more), decreasing energy input (through eating less), or both. It is extremely hard to lose weight when you consume more calories than you are burning. Most of the time, if you’re not losing weight, then you need to eat less.
I often ask people how many calories they consume in a day and how many they burn in a day, and they don’t know. This is normal. You’re not supposed to know off the top of your head, and part of the education process is understanding these numbers. Not knowing how many calories you consume and how many you burn is most of the problem. Hint: if you jump on the scales each week and you are not losing weight, or you are gaining weight, you are probably consuming too many calories.
The Body’s Two Energy Sources
Another important fundamental of fat loss is that our body has two sources of energy:
- The carbohydrates we consume
- Our stored body fat
And we burn them in that order.
Many people in society eat more carbohydrates than necessary, and are not as active as they should be. As a result, they are always burning carbs and never burning their stored body fat.
The double whammy with carbohydrates is that they make us produce the storage hormone insulin, which stores excess carbohydrates as body fat. It takes our body 12 hours to eliminate any carbohydrates we consume, and it is only after this time that we can burn fat.
This is why a lower carbohydrate intake can be beneficial for fat loss, and it is why not eating in the morning hours allows our body to tip into a fat-burning state. For example, if our last meal of the day is at 8 pm, we cannot burn any fat until 8 am the next day. If any carbs are consumed prior to 8 am, our body immediately gets to work burning them, and body fat is spared (not burned).
Educational Tips on Health and Weight Loss
Listed below are a selection of short points outlining tips and educational snippets on health and weight loss. You’ll find that some of the tips I repeat but in a different way or from a different angle. This is to help you gain a more complete and nuanced understanding of the given issue.
- Eat less in order to create a calorie deficit most of the time.
Often in health, and life as a whole, it can be helpful to think in terms of evolution. Human beings are not designed to eat breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and supper. We are not supposed to eat 24/7. By doing so anyway, it places enormous pressure on our digestive system, which is one of the most taxing bodily processes.
When we are continually digesting (especially carbohydrates), we have constantly elevated blood sugar, which stops fat-burning and leads to weight gain. It also does not allow time for our immune system to function the way it needs to because so much energy is tied up in the digestion process. Our body appreciates having a break from constantly digesting food, which is where a non-eating window of 16 hours (I recommend from 8 pm to midday the next day) can be a smart strategy to implement, anywhere from two to seven days per week.
Back in the hunter/gatherer days, humans were lucky if they ate a couple of times per day. Even then, we had to catch and prepare our food, it was unprocessed, and as a species, we were a lot more active. Think about the slimmest people in the world and see if you can identify some common traits. One common trait: they eat light.
Think about times in the past when you lost weight. Chances are you were consuming less calories than you burned. We call this a calorie deficit (as opposed to a calorie surplus, which is when you consume more calories than you burn in a 24-hour period).
I had a personal training client called Yvonne, who was a successful, corporate type. She felt she was eating well, and she was exercising three times per week consistently, for 30 minutes each time. I had to explain to her, that this amount of exercise was not enough to compensate for the 50 hours she spent sitting at her desk each week and the 56 hours she spent sleeping, in addition to the calories she was consuming over the course of a week. In order to lose weight, Yvonne had to increase her energy output or decrease her energy input. This is also referred to as creating a negative energy balance.
We tend to think of our stomach as a petrol tank, meaning that when we eat, we think it needs to be full. It doesn’t. Hippocrates said that the best medicine is fasting. Mark Twain said that a little starvation can do more for us than the best medicine and the best doctors. If you are hungry, eat something small to quieten the stomach. Eat light. Eat less. You will feel better when you do. People still equate food with energy. The irony is that when you eat less, you will have more energy.
- Get your nutrition right and do what you like for exercise.
There is often a debate surrounding the best way to exercise in order to achieve optimal health and your ideal weight. Bearing in mind that nutrition is 90 percent responsible for results in these areas, once you find and implement the nutrition strategies outlined in the following pages, you can do your preferred forms of exercise and not worry about what some people think you should or should not be doing.
Gyms are full of people who exercise six or seven days per week but don’t lose weight because they don’t have their nutrition right. Anyone can exercise for 45 minutes per day, and a lot of people enjoy it. Proper nutrition requires education and an element of discipline. People often smash themselves with exercise and proudly point to their Fitbit and say they burned 400 calories … Then they go and eat 800 calories at their next meal. Long, regular bouts of high-intensity exercise actually increase your appetite, which makes eating well harder, not to mention that exercise of this nature also results in muscle loss, meaning that you can lose weight on the scales but actually look less toned. Also, exercising super hard is rarely enjoyable for the long term. It is counter-intuitive to learn that low-impact exercise and the right nutrition strategy achieves better fat-loss results and is smarter and kinder for your body.
Some people love yoga, walking the dog, weight training, running up and down sand hills, Pilates, or swimming. I am passionate about simply being active, and all forms of exercise have benefits. When it comes to our body—mobility, strength, flexibility, and fitness—it really is a case of “use it or lose it”. My only criteria for fat loss is that resistance training must be a part of your weekly regimen because of the benefits it has for your metabolism and muscle tone.
Quick definition of metabolism: the rate at which your body burns energy. Our aim is to increase this rate. Boatloads of cardio burns muscle, which actually reduces your metabolism, which is why long, frequent bouts of cardio are not the best long-term weight management solution. In order of importance in terms of losing weight, it goes:
- Resistance training
You know your nutrition is working in the best way for you when you are living life at the weight you want, and from there you can feel free to enjoy whatever forms of physical activity you choose to engage in. After all, an exercise program filled with things you dislike is not going to be enjoyable or last very long. I’ve said this before and I keep repeating it because it is true, yet many people don’t realise it.
- The body burns carbs before fat.
When it comes to weight loss, aside from the calorie deficit, this is one of the biggest, most significant principles of them all. I talked about this in the earlier section in this chapter called “The Body’s Two Energy Sources”, and we revisit the concept again here to parse it out more.
At the most basic level, our body has two fuel sources: the carbohydrates we consume and the fat on our body. If carbohydrates are present in our system, which are broken down into glucose and float around in our system in the form of blood sugar, then they are burned first, meaning before the body will burn body fat.
So, if you consume regular meals that contain carbohydrates, you will always have an element of blood sugar and always be burning these sugars, and, therefore, never burn body fat. In order to burn body fat, we must create an environment where our body has the chance to burn off glucose, so our blood sugar is low.
This is achieved by reducing the number of carbohydrates in our diet, and potentially incorporating fasting. When our body runs out of carbs to burn, it switches to its other fuel source, which is body fat. If you want to lose weight, this must happen and happen often! It’s called “diet-induced ketosis”, which basically means our nutrition strategy results in low blood sugar, so we have to use fat for energy, i.e., burn body fat for energy.
Vegetarians and vegans often find it challenging to reduce the number of carbohydrates they consume in relation to protein and fat because their protein options become very limited, meaning all they are left with is carbs, and quite often vegetarian protein options contain carbs. Carbs are not the enemy, it’s just that in the current day and age with the way our supermarkets are stocked, carbs and sugars are prevalent everywhere.
To illustrate the point, I’m making about making the body burn body fat over carbohydrates stored as glucose in the blood, I give you the following example: I did an initial consultation with a woman called Gail. She was frustrated with her inability to lose weight, and during our discussion, she explained that she exercised religiously at 6 am every morning, and when we discussed her daily nutrition, everything appeared to be in order. I was stumped for a moment, and I asked if there was any information she had left out. She thought for a moment and said, “Before my exercise every morning, I have a protein shake”. I asked her what type of shake it was, and we looked it up on the internet. It was a meal replacement shake that contained 70 grams (280 calories) of carbohydrates. I said, “Gail, you don’t need a personal trainer, just stop having that shake before your morning exercise session. The carbs in your shake are elevating your blood sugar and stopping the fat-loss process”. Gail removed the shake and lost 10 kilograms in the following six weeks.
Two other points: there’s a difference between a protein shake and a meal replacement drink. Meal replacements generally have more carbs and more calories, and a protein shake contains protein with no carbs or fat, therefore, being better for fat loss. Also, there’s a saying: “When you eat can be more important than what you eat”. Gail’s shake had way too many carbs; however, a similar shake would be okay as a mid-afternoon snack, just not first thing in the morning. Loading up on carbs first thing in the morning is the last thing to do if you want to lose weight. It’s okay if you are training for a performance-based event like a marathon or a triathlon when weight-loss is not at all the goal.
- The body burns alcohol before carbs, then fat.
Oh, here’s the real kicker! Our body will burn alcohol before it burns carbs, and then poor old body fat gets burned last, if at all.
Alcohol is a toxin. Our body recognises this and wants to burn it immediately. Alcohol is high in calories, so it can take a while to burn off. A glass of wine has 200 calories and two glasses is equivalent to a 40-minute run, a spin class, or an hour of hard exercise. One of the worst things we can do is have two drinks per night because our body has to burn the alcohol, then get to the carbs, and then hopefully get a chance to burn body fat, which most likely won’t happen.
I worked with a woman called Penelope for seven years. When I first met her, she weighed 74 kilograms and wanted to get to 60 kilograms. For a period of two years, her exercise regimen was flawless. She exercised frequently, never missed a session, and enjoyed it very much. In addition to this, her nutrition was perfect. Carbohydrates, protein, fat, and water intake were all spot on. The problem was that Penelope drank a bottle of wine every night.
Due to sheer persistence and the high quality of her exercise and nutrition, Penelope still managed to lose 6 kilograms and get down to 68 kilograms. Then something interesting happened. Her relationship of 10 years ended. As it turned out, her partner was the person she indulged in a bottle of wine each night. Penelope met a new man who didn’t drink, and her bottle-per-night habit ceased. Within three months she went from 68 kilograms to 60 kilograms, and has remained there for the past 10 years.
This point raises two other points:
- Most people have a weakness somewhere, and it is probably the thing holding them back.
- The people you spend the most time with have a big impact on your behaviour and results.
- If you eat too many carbs and are not active enough, it’s a recipe for weight gain.
Let’s take a look at how weight gain occurs.
As I explained, when we consume carbohydrates, we produce the hormone insulin. Insulin has a couple of roles, and one of them is to help our cells absorb glucose which reduces blood sugar. Long term high levels of blood sugar can lead to Type 2 diabetes, and when this happens people have to inject themselves with insulin to help the body do what it should do naturally.
Insulin is also a storage hormone. Our body is a very efficient energy-storing machine. Remember earlier I said that it can be useful to think in terms of evolution? Think about life a few hundred thousand years ago. Food was not in abundance and if we ate it, we probably had to catch it, or only eat foods that were in season. We didn’t have the luxury of eating regularly, and we didn’t know when the next famine would occur. As a result, we evolved to store energy. When we had the chance to feast, our body thought it should store the excess energy as fat, which would keep us going through lean times.
This genetic survival mechanism doesn’t serve us so well with a 7-Eleven in every suburb and fast-food stores so readily available. In modern society we are not at the same risk of famine, or going long periods without food like our pre-historic ancestors did. Combine this with the fact that hardwired into our DNA is the desire to seek sweet, high calorie foods which are the most efficient way of sustaining survival, and you can see why it’s a challenge to walk out of a supermarket without making impulse purchases.
Summary: consuming more carbs than we need results in weight gain, and we don’t need many carbs. Food marketing suggests we need carbohydrates for energy, when in fact you will have greater energy levels of energy if you eat smaller, lighter meals. Sugar is a carbohydrate, and it is in most processed foods. If you are not sure what processed food is, if it comes in a packet or has a barcode, or if it can sit on a shelf for eight months and still be edible, it’s probably processed. Many people in the western world are consuming more calories than they require, and are not active enough. This is a recipe for “weight creep”, where you gain a small amount of weight each year and after 10 or 20 years you ask yourself how you became so overweight. When we consume carbohydrates they convert to glucose, which is a form of sugar. Our body stores excess glucose as fat.
- Fat loss versus weight loss
This is a good time to distinguish between fat loss and weight loss. Weight loss is the more widespread term; however, our goal really should be to lose fat.
Our body is made up of muscles fat, blood, fluid, bones, teeth, and organs. Out of these, the main ones we can control through exercise and nutrition are muscle and fat. Fun fact: The average total weight of all bones in your skeletal structure is around 2kg for women and 3kg for men. Not much, hey! And we can’t change this weight. In addition to that our bone marrow weighs another 2-3kg, and our body is 60% water. Anyway, I digress… There’s a term called “body composition”, which refers to the ratio of muscle and fat on our body. For example, if someone is 100 kilograms and has a body fat of 30 percent, in the simplest sense we can say that this person has 30 kilograms of fat mass and 70 kilograms of fat-free mass.
A large portion of your fat-free mass is muscle. Muscle is responsible for our metabolism. Metabolism is defined as the rate at which our body burns energy. You have probably heard a reference to someone having a fast or slow metabolism. The aim is to increase, or at least maintain, your metabolic rate.
Perhaps this can be best explained with examples. A woman called Carolyn told me she was interested in working with a personal trainer. She said that she recently gotten married, and before her wedding, she didn’t eat for eight weeks, did lots of cardio, and lost eight kilograms. She hit her goal weight, but felt she looked a little gaunt, and still felt soft and not toned. The day after Carolyn’s wedding, she went on a four-week honeymoon, where she gained 14 kilograms. The day after she returned home from the honeymoon was the day I met her.
What happened to Carolyn’s weight loss? In cases where people lose weight through either unhealthy and unsustainable methods, studies show that the weight lost on the scales is 25 percent fluid, 25 percent fat, and 50 percent muscle. In Carolyn’s case, this means she lost two kilograms of water weight, two kilograms of fat, and four kilograms of muscle. Now since our muscle mass is responsible for our metabolism, we can safely say that Carolyn’s metabolic rate was significantly lower after her eight kilograms starvation/cardio weight-loss strategy. This is because she lost four kilograms of muscle, so her whole body slowed down the rate at which it metabolises (burns) off food energy because it was trying to keep the body from losing more muscle, something the body wants to protect against.
Then she took her soft body and sluggish metabolism on a four-week holiday, destroyed the buffet at every opportunity, and gained back all the weight she had lost, as well as some interest and sales tax. After I explained this to her, she began the process of getting back to a healthy weight that she was happy with, in a way that was sustainable and would ensure she didn’t fluctuate again. She began a program that included regular resistance training, low to moderate intensity cardio, and eating a sensible amount of calories with an optimal ratio of carbohydrates, protein and fats. What often happens when someone loses weight via some form of starvation diet is that have the weight loss, they regain the weight, then they try to do what they did the first time to lose the weight (severe calorie restriction, cardio, and no resistance training), and it actually does not have the same weight loss effect as it did the first time, plus they further damage their metabolism, and their ability to remain at a healthy, stable body weight long term.
- Intermittent fasting brings fast results.
Let’s start with a definition of Intermittent Fasting. It is not exactly a diet, it’s more of an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and not eating. There are a few different approaches to Intermittent Fasting, such as doing a 24-hour fast once or twice each week, or eating all meals within an 8-hour period and not eating for the other 16 hours, or even eating 6 hours on and 18 hours off, or eating all food within 4 hours and having a 20-hour non-eating window. One final common version is the 5:2 method where you eat normally on 5 days of the week, and restrict calories to 500 on two other non-consecutive days of the week. According to Healthline.com, by reducing your calorie intake, all of these methods should cause weight loss as long as you don’t compensate by eating much more during the eating periods. Many people find the 16/8 method to be the simplest, most sustainable and easiest to stick to. It’s also the most popular.
There are several different ways to do intermittent fasting. All of them split the day or week into eating and fasting periods. When it comes to health and weight loss, there’s a saying that “when you eat is more important than what you eat”. The human body did not evolve to eat 6 meals per day. in order to achieve weight loss, greater vitality, and improved general health it’s great to give our body regular breaks from the process of digestion.
Our best chance to burn through the carbs we ate that day comes while we sleep. It takes our body 10 to 12 hours to burn through our carbs, which are stored in our liver and muscles as glycogen. Once the body has burned through the carbs we’ve consumed, then the body is ready to burn body fat.
If we eat a breakfast that contains some carbohydrates, we will stop any fat burning that may have happened during the night after the body has burned through carbs we’ve eaten. Eating breakfast immediately puts the body back into carb-burning mode. This is why skipping breakfast or fasting until midday is helpful in fat loss. It gives our body a bigger window of opportunity to burn fat.
Let’s say your last meal of the day is at 8 pm. From 8 pm to 6 am the body is burning up all traces of sugar. From 6 am to 12 pm, assuming you’ve not eaten anything, the body is in a massive state of fat burning. Up until midday you can consume black coffee, black tea, herbal tea, and water because none contains any calories so none will stop the body from being in fat-burning mode. All meals that you consume happen between 12 pm and 8 pm.
Some people say, “I couldn’t possibly miss breakfast”. With these people, it appears that there’s quite a lot of meals they can’t miss, and more often than not they invent a new meal somewhere between breakfast and brunch. Just decide what’s more important to you: toast with peanut butter or dying early. This should motivate you to try out intermittent fasting and to skip breakfast in order to keep that fasting window going from you last meal at 8 pm and your next meal after that around noon the next day.
The beauty of intermittent fasting is that it transcends dietary preferences. You could be vegetarian, vegan, follow religious protocols, be on a ketogenic diet, or enjoy the Paleo diet, and still incorporate fasting. It is also a calorie reduction strategy in itself, because skipping a meal and confining your eating to an 8-hour window, automatically chops out 30 percent of your daily calories.
Plus, it is cheap, simple, and flexible, in that it does not matter which eight-hour window you choose to eat in.
I work with a lovely and successful man in the finance sector called Troy. Since 2003, Troy never had a problem with exercise adherence. He was partial to a beer or wine, and he never really grasped the fact that bread, rice, and pasta are not overly nutritious, and as such were thwarting his efforts in the gym. Troy ate breakfast like most people do: not because he was hungry, but it’s what he had done since he was 2 years old. I had seen Troy’s weight fluctuate over the years, but overall, he was robust and healthy.
Troy and I discussed intermittent fasting, and he was open to it. Twice each week he would wait until 10 am to have his first meal. Just from doing this, the kilos fell off. When he extended his fast and didn’t start eating until 1:30 pm, and his two days of fasting days per week increased to four, he dropped more weight. What started off for Troy as an unusual and mildly challenging fasting practise became easy and enjoyable. On the mornings Troy doesn’t have breakfast, he has two black coffees with a dash of milk and drinks water. At 51 years old, Troy has gone from 136 kilograms to 104 kilograms and is now the lightest he has been since high school.
A similar situation happened with Robyn. A successful magazine editor in her fifties, Robyn was going through menopause and showing the early symptoms of type 2 diabetes. Fasting saw her go from 113 kilograms to 90 kilograms, which is amazing for someone who spent the previous three decades struggling to lose even a little bit of weight. But, that’s the power of intermittent fasting just a few times each week. When you try it yourself, you will see the wonders.
- Get it right 80 percent of the time.
We are all going to “blow it” or slip up with our nutrition, and probably quite regularly! This is fine, it’s called life.!
If we apply the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, we can still achieve amazing results even with slip-ups. The 80/20 rule states that 20 percent of what we do gets 80 percent of the results. So what health initiatives do the 20 percent consist of?
- A lower-carb diet, offset by increasing our consumption of natural fats and protein
- Fasting until midday a few times per week, and especially after a night out, a big dinner, or big weekend of food
- Exercising regularly, including some form of resistance training every week
- 10,000+ steps per day
Your nutrition strategy should be sustainable, enjoyable, results-oriented, and effortless. It should not be a chore. It should be a lifestyle.
When I talk to my successful health coaching clients I often ask them what they believe are the 20% of things they do that get 80% of their results. More often than not they say eating all meals between 12pm and 8pm, and exercising 4-5 times per week. It really can be as simple as that.
- How a high-fat, low-carb diet leads to fat loss.
This is one of the most important, yet least understood, counter-intuitive concepts in weight loss. Let’s see if you can wrap your head around this.
When we consume fat, it suppresses the production of insulin. Remember how we said insulin is a storage hormone that results in fat gain? Well, if we inhibit our ability to store fat, we are much less likely to gain weight. That’s it! Simple. So, consuming some fat helps us burn fat by lowering blood sugar, so it is less likely to be stored as body fat. And when blood sugar is low, our body switches to its alternative fuel source, which is deriving its energy from the body fat we are currently storing on our arms, thighs, stomach, and butt.
Furthermore, the consumption of fat results in the production of a hormone called leptin, which signals to our brain that we are full, so incorporating some fats at each meal makes us feel satisfied and drastically reduces hunger cravings because of the leptin that gets released in our system. Personally, I know that whenever I want to eat something sweet or carb-rich in the afternoon or evening, I can look back on that day and identify a lack of good fat consumption earlier in the day.
A ketogenic diet is one in which up to 80 percent of daily calories come from fats. This leaves very little room for protein and carbohydrates. The reason a keto-based approach results in fat loss is because when there is no carbs and sugar in our system, our body has no choice but to burn body fat. Proponents of the calorie-in/calorie-out approach argue with this, claiming that you cannot consume 3,000 calories of fat per day and expect to lose weight. However, a ketogenic diet is renowned for good short-term weight-loss results, and also renowned for being hard to stick to long term. We don’t have to go to the extremes of getting 80 percent of our calories from fats as in the ketogenic diet. But, the point is that a ketogenic diet is one that harnesses the effects of the fact that eating about no carbs forces the body to derive its energy from body fat; thus, a person loses body fat weight when eating according to the ketogenic diet’s strict protocols. It is not that carbs are terrible, it is just that sugar is so prevalent these days, the more low-carb choices we make, the better.
Natural Society is a health research organisation that conducted research into the average consumption of sugar from 1700 to the present day. It found that:
- In 1700, the average person consumed approximately 4.9 grams of sugar each day (1.81 kilograms per year)
- In 1800, the average person consumed approximately 22.4 grams of sugar each day (10.2 kilograms per year)
- In 1900, the average person consumed approximately 112 grams of sugar each day (40.8 kilograms per year)
- In 2009, 50 per cent of Americans consumed approximately 227 grams of sugar each day (81.6 kilograms per year)
- How a high-fat, low-carb diet increases mental acuity and energy.
Evolution again. It’s 400 BC. You’ve woken up. You’re hungry. No food is in sight, so you go in search. You need to be stealthy, alert. Remain safe. Our body has evolved to increase mental sharpness when our carb stores are low.
Modern-day bread and breakfast cereals are mass-produced and high in sugar. Consuming these foods early in the day leads to mid-morning brain fog and not operating at peak mental capacity. Furthermore, sugar is addictive, and these breakfast options that are low in nutrients are temporarily satisfying then lead us on the search for more food. Food companies know this, and they intentionally make foods low in nutrients and unsatisfying for our bodies, so we eat more food.
Over the years many of my clients have kept a food diary, and at the bottom of each day, there is a section to report on areas such as sleep, mood, exercise undertaken, and water intake. People notice that on the days their sugar intake is high, their mood is low, and so is their energy. Generally, many people think that carbohydrates give us energy when the opposite is true. By lowering your carbohydrate intake, you will actually have more energy, and feel a lot clearer and sharper mentally.
Burning carbs is like burning petrol. We get a quick hit of energy which rapidly dies off. Burning body fat is like burning coal. It’s a much more efficient fuel source to operate on and when we do we feel a lot better.
- How a high-fat diet stabilises blood sugar and cuts out peaks and troughs.
Eating foods that are high in carbohydrates elevates our blood sugar rapidly. After a couple of hours, our blood sugar plummets sharply, and our energy levels rise and fall in line with these blood sugar peaks and troughs. When we reduce the amount of sugar in our diet these energy fluctuations reduce. We do not want our blood sugar spiking and dropping all day, every day.
The interesting thing about consuming fat-based foods such as eggs, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, butter, and nuts is that the fats actually suppress the blood sugar spikes, resulting in much smoother energy levels. It is in the sugar slumps that we often crave bad foods and make poor food choices. Increasing the number of natural fats in our diet reduces the likelihood of this.
- Understand the hunger scale.
The hunger scale can take some of the confusion out of nutrition. Imagine a line going from left to right, and numbered 1 to 10. One means you are so hungry you could chew your arm off. Ten means you are so full you want to fall asleep, a bit like the feeling you have after lunch on Christmas Day. What would be a good word to describe the number five here? People often say “content” or “satisfied”.
Another question: on this scale what is the best number to be at to get you to eat? The answer is three. What’s the danger of waiting until you get to one to start eating? You will eat everything in sight!
What number should you stop eating at? Some people say six, seven, eight, or 10. Some people also say five, which is the correct answer. Think about it: why would you eat beyond feeling satisfied?
I have a friend called Luke, and he told me that he recently lost five kilograms. Knowing what I know about nutrition, I commented that he must be eating well. “Not really”, he said, “I’m just following the hunger scale”. As an example, he said that the previous night he ate two slices of pizza instead of eight slices. Using the hunger scale resulted in Luke being in a calorie deficit and allowed his body to burn body fat rather than contribute to his body fat stores.
- Maximise your fat-burning hours.
This relates to the intermittent fasting image above. It has been mentioned a few times and is worth repeating: our body will burn carbs before body fat, so if we are constantly consuming carbohydrates, we will never burn body fat. Therefore, we need to facilitate a situation where we can “chew” into our fat stores.
Fasting is a great way to do this. An alternative is to reduce our carbs like already mentioned. If you feel fasting until midday is not for you, try a carb-free breakfast. If you are into fasting, a carb-free breakfast is also great on the days you do choose to eat earlier in the day.
An example of a carb-free breakfast is to have eggs—scrambled, fried, poached, oiled, or an omelette—with avocado and bacon, cooked in olive oil and natural butter. No toast! In a breakfast like this there are no carbs for our body to burn. The fat from the egg yolk, avocado, coconut oil, and butter further suppress insulin and lowers blood sugar. This makes our body produce a hormone called glucagon, which enables body fat to be unlocked and released from our fat stores and sent to our bloodstream and muscles to be burned for energy.
There are 24 hours in a day, and we have to maximise the fat-burning hours. Now that you know we burn carbohydrates before we burn body fat, and it takes 10 to 12 hours to burn through our carbohydrate stores, you can see why fat loss is often not achieved. You can also see how easy it can be to gain weight.
On a day where you fast until midday, rather than having breakfast at 7 am, you would get an extra five hours of fat-burning in. If you do these four times per week, it is an additional 20 hours of fat-burning or 1,000 hours per year!
- Manage expectations for long-term sustainability.
Writing food plans for people can often be disheartening because it is difficult to repeatedly eating the same thing. I think what helps most people is ideas, tips, tricks, and education.
In terms of managing expectations and setting ourselves up for success in terms of weight loss and sustaining healthy eating in the long term, let’s understand that:
- There will be temptations.
- You will get hungry.
- You will eat some rubbish.
- You will have social occasions where you don’t have to eat and drink, but you might want to.
- You will be unprepared and enjoy some social occasions.
Sometimes you are good for a while, and sometimes you slacken off. It goes in phases. Don’t fight it too much. If you are in a bad patch with food, try and work out of it or compensate with the intermittent fasting strategy. Be kind to yourself. We don’t want to develop a bad relationship or negative associations with food.
Note: if you have been eating rubbish consistently for 10 years, it’s not a phase and it’s time to do something about it.
If you feel you’ve stuffed up, start again, and take a positive step immediately. You may have a huge lunch and then a snack for afternoon tea. Fine–but don’t have dinner and have your next meal tomorrow at midday. Let your body deal with the food you have already consumed. The worst thing to do is eat meals on top of meals, and heap food on top of undigested food that the body is yet to fully process.
- Who created the food pyramid?
Large food companies—in particular those that manufacture and sell bread, rice, pasta, and cereals—and massive supermarkets created the food pyramid to make carbohydrates the foundation of our nutrition regimen, which is what they sell. The food pyramid helps them sell their products but doesn’t help us achieve peak health.
- Who said breakfast is the most important meal of the day?
There is a quote attributed to John Kellogg in 1891, which says, “In many ways, breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. He said this when Corn Flakes were first invented. Breakfast is actually the least important meal of the day. The food pyramid has left us with the overweight epidemic we have today. To our credit, at least we have done what we were told. We just didn’t realise we were told the wrong thing. Check out the food pyramid image below. It recommends that two-thirds of your diet be comprised of carbohydrates, and the foundation of it all is processed foods that are void of nutrition.
- So how did the low-fat movement originate?
In 1958, an American scientist called Ancel Keys started a study called The Seven Countries Study. It examined the association between diet and cardiovascular disease in different countries. The study revealed that the countries where fat consumption was the highest had the most heart disease, supporting the idea that dietary fat caused heart disease.
The problem is that he intentionally left out:
- countries where people eat a lot of fat but have little heart diseases, such as Holland and Norway
- countries where fat consumption is low, but the rate of heart disease is high, such as Chile
Basically, he only used data from the countries that supported his theory, a process known as cherry-picking. This flawed observational study gained massive media attention and had a major influence on the dietary guidelines of the next few decades.
In 1977, an American committee of the US Senate, led by George McGovern, published the first “Dietary Goals for The United States”, in order to reverse the epidemic of heart disease in the country. These guidelines received major criticism at the time from many respected scientists, like John Yudkin, who insisted that sugar was to blame for rising heart disease in the USA, and the American Medical Association.
In short, the dietary goals in the protocol were:
- Eat less fat and cholesterol
- Consume less refined and processed sugars
- Eat more complex carbohydrates from vegetables, fruits, and grains
These guidelines were picked up by the USDA and resulted in a low-fat, high-carb diet for everyone. The guidelines were based on observational studies made by biased scientists and had nothing even closely resembling scientific proof to back them up.
Since then, many randomised controlled trials have shown that this dietary approach doesn’t really work for the people it was meant to help. An interesting fact is that the obesity epidemic started around the time these guidelines were published and the type 2 diabetes epidemic followed soon after.
- Who said eggs increase cholesterol? Common food myths
Same people again. For the last 40 years, they have had us thinking that eggs are bad for us because they increase cholesterol. Eggs are actually a superfood, and you couldn’t get a better combination of protein and natural fat. As with a lot of food these days, choose carefully the eggs you eat. Free-range, organic eggs are best.
Some common myths are:
- Low-fat foods (You don’t need to ever eat them again)
- Eggs are bad.
- Drink milk for calcium.
As mentioned above, the low-fat movement was created from misinformation that led people to believe fatty foods created heart disease, which isn’t entirely true. Do you think it is interesting that low-fat foods have been around for 50 years and the western world is fatter than it has ever been? You may have heard of the distinction between “good fats” and “bad fats” in the foods we eat. I prefer to look at it as “natural fats” and “man-made” fats. Natural fats, as the name suggests, and fats that are found naturally and include the visible fat on meat, nuts, avocado, and olive oil. These are great to eat. Man-made fats are saturated fats and trans-fat found in chocolate, margarine, and fast food, and are things we should avoid.
Milk is great if you are a baby cow, and you are drinking it from your mother’s udder. The milk in containers at our local supermarket has very little resemblance to the milk that comes from cows. It is also a little strange that as adults, we are drinking milk beyond weaning, and even then, it is the milk from another mammal. One of the rules in weight loss is to reduce or eliminate dairy.
- Burning carbs is like burning petrol, and burning fat is like burning coal.
There are times in the day when we may feel we are in a slump. We have been led to believe we need some carbs as a pick-me-up. This isn’t the greatest solution. Burning carbs is like burning petrol–it makes us feel good temporarily; however, very soon we are back where we started and looking for another energy boost.
Burning fat is like burning coal, and when we allow our body to become a fat-burning machine rather than a sugar-burning machine, we have more energy, fewer food cravings, and think more clearly.
- Foods have changed over the last 5,000 years.
In terms of genetic evolution, the human body has hardly changed at all over the last 5,000 years. But the food we now eat would be quite unrecognisable to our ancestors. Walk into any supermarket and it is bursting with processed foods containing sugar and preservatives, which that our body does not recognise as food. It is not surprising that after a lifetime of eating such foods, horrific diseases manifest. One in two men will get cancer, and One in three women. This is not normal!
The solution here is simple in theory, but harder to implement. Eat natural, unprocessed foods—organic or locally sourced if possible. Eggs, fruit, vegetables, meat, water, nuts … you can see why the paleo diet is so popular.
- A useful hormone summary.
Work with your hormones to burn fat.
- Insulin: produced by the pancreas and released when carbohydrates are consumed. Designed to reduce blood sugar and also store excess carbohydrates as fat.
- Glucagon: also produced in the pancreas and released into the bloodstream when our blood sugar is low. Glucagon releases our stored body fat to be used for energy. This is a good thing!
- Ghrelin: this hormone is produced in our stomach and lets us know we are hungry, encouraging us to eat.
- Leptin: it is actually produced in our fat cells and signals to the brain that we are full. Our goal is to produce this often, so we remain satisfied for longer and, therefore, eat less and reduce cravings. Metaphor: it’s like having 10 hours to chop down a tree, and using the first six to sharpen the axe.
Spend time educating yourself and results become effortless.