Eighteen months ago I sat on the beach at Aldeburgh and selected 46 tiny pebbles. I brought them home and put them in a beautiful Chinese cup, and placed it next to its pair on the shelf in my office.
That ritual was the beginning of my commitment to myself to lose 46 lbs of fat, or 92 packets of butter: the number it would take to reach my ideal weight. Every time I lost a pound I transferred one of the pebbles into the other cup. It felt like a significant gesture.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure of my chances. I’d lost weight many times before: ten pounds, twenty pounds, fifteen pounds. But after every determined attempt I regained every ounce, slowly, surely and sadly, and then some more. I had been clinically obese for more than twenty years and had recently strayed into the zone which meant I qualified for a gastric band.
At times during those years I felt close to despair. I knew I was eating an unusually healthy diet, I had forsworn sugar and refined carbs many years ago, but I was still fat. Not a natural exerciser by nature, I was wary of generating weight loss with habits I couldn’t sustain, and two previous periods of very dedicated gym membership had netted no weight loss at all. I had the added burden of being a cancer survivor, carrying the knowledge that carrying the weight didn’t help my chances much in that direction.
This time, though, I had a different feeling. I was out to prove a point. There was a certain amount of professional pride behind my resolution, there was the glimmer of a new theory in my head, and a death or glory feeling in my heart.
As you can see from the picture, I’m almost there. There are seven pounds between me and my goal. It’s deliciously close.
Ironically it still feels a long way away. After the first, rapid twenty pounds my weight loss slowed to a rate of around 2 lbs a month. Some months nothing. Inexplicably, while my diet has been almost unchanging, my weight loss curve has been full of dips and plateaux. Down and across, but never up. The last three months which, admittedly contained my 50th birthday and Christmas (and therefore, the odd lapse) have yielded a very hard won two pounds in total. I could be disappointed until I look at the bigger picture which adds up to 40lbs over eighteen months.
To sustain a diet for this length of time is an achievement in itself. Most off the shelf diets would be causing health problems by now. Most would have been abandoned in favour of ‘real life’ and ‘normal eating’.
I was talking about those last seven pounds with a friend the other day and he said, ‘Surely it must be easy to lose that last little bit?’
You’d think so. There are various strategies I could employ to kickstart the last few pounds. I could starve myself, or start exercising wildly. But I know that both of these strategies would result in weight gain when I’d ‘finished’. And that’s exactly what I don’t want to happen.
I’m a nutritionist. Getting to my ideal weight on a nutritionally inadequate diet would be cheating. How could I recommend that to my clients? The guiding principle behind this diet – The Dissident Diet – is that a healthy diet that supports healthy insulin levels will result in a healthy weight. And that nutrition alone is enough to get you to your goal.
We’re so used to thinking in terms of exercise and crash diets and calories. What about that?
The government has recently diluted its message on exercise and weight loss, on the basis of growing evidence that it doesn’t really help. That doesn’t mean to say exercise isn’t vital for health. It is. But it’s not vital for weight.
Your weight does not depend one little bit on the amount of exercise you take. It doesn’t depend on the amount of calories you eat either. It depends 100% on the way insulin behaves in your body. We can safely say that if you’re fat, your insulin levels are out of balance. Exercise can help normalise insulin levels, and so can starvation or fasting but, approached wrongly, both strategies can also make it worse.
Quite simply, if exercise was a critical factor for weight loss, I wouldn’t have been able to lose 40lbs. I walk a little, garden quite a lot and quite intensively in the summer months, but I’m not a gym attendee and I don’t spin, or run or cartwheel. Sometimes that makes me feel a little bit guilty but this experiment isn’t about the merits of exercise (there are plenty), it’s about the power of nutrition.
Calories aren’t important either because I have certainly increased my overall calorie intake on The Dissident Diet.
You don’t even need to be hungry.
The weight loss has happened for one reason, and one reason alone. I have changed the bulk of my diet from carbs to fats.
Too simple for words.
So here I am with a further half stone to go before I reach my ideal weight.
Will my body get there? I don’t know. I’ll have to wait and see.
What I do know is that if I am ‘meant to be’ lighter than I am now, my body will take me there, given I maintain a healthy diet. In other words, I will get there because I have found the perfect diet – and not because I have employed any tactics I possibly can to achieve the perfect size.
There’s a world of difference between the two approaches.
The Dissident Diet works not only to help you lose weight, it also reverses the insulin resistance that was making you fat in the first place. By the time you reach your goal weight your body will be handling energy efficiently without storing inappropriately. You will have achieved a ‘normal’ biochemistry, which is much more important in the long term than a ‘normal’ weight, although the two tend to go hand in hand.
So I will reach my goal healthier than ever with a whole new set of sustainable behaviours, recipes, confidence, knowledge and a better biochemical balance than I’ve had since my teens.
You simply can’t achieve a normal biochemistry by crash dieting, or starving yourself, or madly exercising. Anything you do to extremes pushes your body to extremes and disrupts the balance. It might result in temporary change but, in the same way that two wrongs don’t make a right, imbalances cannot create balance. Depriving yourself of food in order to lose weight inevitably means you don’t learn how to eat in a healthy way. It also leads to nutrient deficiencies that set up up for cravings and mood swings and strange hungers that can scupper any weight loss plan. Some of the most difficult clients to help are the ones who have lost a lot of weight on meal replacement diets (and gained it all back again) because they just can’t handle eating.
Right now, I’m in a sort of limbo. I’m pretty sure I’ll end up with the bowl on the left empty. I may even need to gather a few more stones to place in the pot. When I look in the mirror, I’m in no danger of appearing too slim and, for me, the idea of being properly ‘slim’ is still more in the realms of fantasy than reality. I have to employ the most boring strategy I know: being patient. I plod on.
What I do know is that I shall soon be a weight that is no longer a health concern to me or to my doctor. When I get there I’ll probably relax some of my diet guidelines on some days but, to be honest, I so love the way I eat now – and sugary things taste so ‘hyper’ once you’ve broken the addiction – that I won’t ever be going back to what I used to call ‘healthy’ eating.
Ironically, the whole concept of healthy eating is under siege again at the moment anyway. When I first wrote The Dissident Diet there was still widespread scepticism from both the conventional and complementary medical professions about the merits of a low-carb lifestyle. The paradigm is about to shift.
Where is your healthy weight?
How are you planning to get there?
Would you like some help?