When it comes to food, I have been a very, very boring person for a very, very long time. My interest in nutrition (or my struggle with my behaviour towards food) has escalated since I wrote ‘Food Bore’ in 2016. Team this up with my enthusiasm for fitness, and I am excessively dull. People lose the will to live when I talk about it…but I hope you won’t. I’m as surprised as you are that I’ve become this person. I remember in my 20s and 30s, lying indolently on a sofa chowing down on Mars bars, wishing that I could become one of those people who were addicted to exercise; fanatical about healthy food. I used to start a diet and exercise programme, get a bit fitter, lose a bit of weight, then inevitably fall off the wagon – just like everyone else. But since 2011, and from the age of 39, the health and fitness bug stuck. I know exactly what triggered it – a bereavement triggered it. My weight was the one thing in my life where I was completely in control of my own destiny (I was clearly in control of precious little else). But I think my one-track-mindedness has worsened with the onset of age. The older you get, the more real the battle with your weight becomes. I’m forty-six now, and year-on-year it gets harder to maintain the body I want to have.
The trouble with me is, whenever I take my foot off the gas – even just momentarily – everything goes unbelievably (and very rapidly) downhill. Just this Easter, I put on two or three kilograms, I think. Hand on heart, it took me one week to do the damage (one too many Easter bunnies, hot-cross buns, roast lamb dinners). Still, the moment Easter was over, I was right back on it; excising three times a week, no more than 1,700 calories a day. But those efforts were only ‘maintenance‘ efforts. Okay, no more weight piled on, but those excess kilograms stuck. So I knew it was time to go hardcore again (gulp). I’d done it before on a few occasions and the method was 100% foolproof. 1,200 calories a day and the same exercise regime. A deficit of calories consumed compared to calories expended meant certain weight loss, right? Wrong. Three weeks of misery, three weeks of going to bed hungry, and nada.
It was at this point that my ‘food bore’ tendencies became something else. I’m older now, and those tried and tested tricks just don’t work anymore. I did a tonne of reading around the subject, poured over health blogs and journals, and it was becoming painfully evident that my body was getting wise to this ‘starvation’ tactic. My metabolism was slowing down, doing it’s best to hang on to the excess fat in case another diet came along. Which meant I had no choice but to reexamine my values; reexamine the science. And nobody wants to do that.
I’m not going to lie to you, I love carbs. When I eat a meal, the carbs are my favourite part. The potato, the pasta, the rice, the bread (dear God, I love bread), that’s what I’m interested in. Now, that bit of protein/fat on the side (be it meat or whatever), that part of the plate is okay, but it’s the carb I’m craving. And the veg I can take or leave. I’ve never really cared for a steak…unless it came with chips. But as we’ve all known for a few years now (but have been desperately trying to ignore because we love carbohydrates more than life itself), fat doesn’t make you fat. Carbs do. If you’re still resistant to this earth-shattering idea, watch this ‘Ted Talk’ by a very knowledgeable Obesity Doctor – Sarah Hallberg. Everything she is saying is true, everything she is saying makes me want to kill myself, but nevertheless – it’s still true.
CLICK HERE IF YOU WANT TO BE HORRIBLY DEPRESSED
Guess what? Your body doesn’t need carbs. It needs fat, it needs protein, but you can exist without carbs. Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!! Okay, this Dr Hallberg is talking predominately about diabetes. And I don’t have diabetes. I don’t have pre-diabetes or pre-pre diabetes either. I’m still within healthy limits (weight, BMI, body fat etc). But never say never. There but for the grace of God go I (and you). Refined carbs (and the sugar they become) increase your blood levels of insulin, causing us to store excess fat. However, although this doctor clearly knows her stuff (damn her to Hades!), I just can’t give up an entire food group; I can’t cut carbohydrates out of my life (nobody can completely).
I’ve decided not to drive myself crazy over this. As with most things in life, I take on board the science and the facts, then I take a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and adapt it into something I can live with; something I can tolerate. So first I got me a carb-counting app (gotta’ love an app), and I’m doing a spot of carb-cycling instead. Now I’ve intensified my workouts and upped them to five days a week (mainly so I can eat potatoes more often), and on those five days I eat approx 100-150g of carbs (complex, high-fibre carbs; wholemeal or as unprocessed as possible) – so my body can refuel, and help build lean muscle. On the two days I don’t exercise (I’d workout every day, but I might drop dead) I go very reduced-carb at approx 50g a day (remember, low-carb doesn’t mean no-carb). Let me put into context how tough that is; an apple has 18g of carbs and a bowl of porridge (before milk) is 18g too – the milk is another 10. So you’re pretty much looking at eggs, lean meat, and cheese. God knows how vegetarians/vegans manage it. It’s early days, but I think my metabolism is better. The weight is finally beginning to shift (not that scales always give you the full picture), my clothes are beginning to fit better, and my waist/hip measurements have decreased. I know the regime is not as hardcore as it could be, but if this is the way I have to live for the rest of my life, it has to be sustainable. Being hungry sucks. And I don’t want to live a life without carbs. Hell, no.
So if you’re a carbohydrate-lover like me, I want to end this post on a bit of a positive note to cheer us all up a bit. I’ve always been confused as to why carbs have suddenly become the enemy when we’ve always eaten them. And I found this paragraph in a health journal, and it really highlights what I’ve always said (I may not have said it out loud, but I certainly thought it…):-
“Humans have been eating carbs for thousands of years, in some form or another. The obesity epidemic started around 1980, and the type 2 diabetes epidemic followed soon after. Blaming the new health problems on something that we’ve been eating for a very long time simply doesn’t make sense. Many populations have remained in excellent health while eating a high-carb diet. What they all had in common was that they ate real, unprocessed foods.” Kris Gunnars BSc, 9th Jan 2018, healthline.com
So you see it’s what we’ve done to our carbs that have made us sick and unhealthy. What we need to do is keep them unprocessed; unrefined – and not eat to excess. Now, do you feel a bit better? Because I do. And I need to think of the positives here. Sure, I’ve had a few lapses and blips, but I’ve never really fallen off the health and fitness bandwagon in 7 years. I’ve never really regained too much of the initial weight I lost in 2011, I’m just finding the maintenance harder as I get older. So hopefully, this new regime will work for me. I just need to ensure upcoming public holidays don’t derail me again (Christmas, Easter…Saturdays). And yes, admittedly, I may be more boring than ever when it comes to food (you just ask my long-suffering children and my co-workers, they will certainly attest to that), but there are worse obsessions to be inflicted with. And it’s better than Sudoku.
NB: You never know, I may become obsessed with writing books again one of these days. Possibly.