Life seems to have been very hectic of late, and it has been a while since my last post, but I am now back, and ready to share a three month diet experiment I embarked on at the end of last year.
I am sure you have heard about the Low Carbohydrate High Fat (LCHF) diet as a means of weight loss, and potentially reversing all our obesity problems. It has had a lot of air time and been in and out of the media all year. Now I don’t want to get onto ‘sides’ here, and I am not promoting any one way of eating as the ‘best’ and suitable for everyone, but I do want to share my own personal experiences in following this way of eating, because I did give it a go.
Towards the end of last year we had a guest visit us at work to talk to us about her work and research in LCHF. It was a great presentation, and I found it very inspiring. I am a firm believer that not everyone should follow the same eating style or pattern; what works for one, might not work for another. So I decided to give LCHF a try.
Without getting into too much detail, how does LCHF work as a weight loss diet? Well, essentially you eat more fat, and cut out most carbohydrate sources (bread, pasta, starchy veges, a lot of fruit etc etc) When we eat carbohydrate foods they get turned into glucose which triggers an insulin response. When insulin is released energy is taken into the cells and used or stored as fat. As you eat less carb, you don’t get that same insulin response meaning glucose isn’t taken up into the cell, but instead you utilise your own fat stores for energy by making ketones. Sounds great right?? You can become your very own fat burning machine!! The other advertised benefits of LCHF other than weight loss, are improved cholesterol levels, concentration and blood pressure.
So, off I went to the supermarket to stock up on suitable foods. And boy did my trolley look different to my ordinary grocery haul!
As a dietitian, I initially found increasing my fat intake quite hard – we bought a lot more full fat dairy products, fattier cuts of meat, and an abundance of nuts, seeds, almond meal, olives and oils. On the other hand, there was no more bread, pasta, crackers and most of my beloved fruit got left behind. On the plus, there was green veges galore (amongst other colours). I also made a concerted effort to get the majority of my fat from unsaturated sources (think avocado, olive oil and salmon).
The first few days of switching to LCHF were the hardest. Your body needs time to adapt to using a different fuel source. As our glycogen stores deplete we lose water with it, and if you don’t drink enough you will end up with headaches. Some people describe this as ‘keto flu’ and can even have whole body aches and generally feel miserable. I had headaches and tried to keep my fluids up as much as possible. You are also encouraged to add extra salt to foods to retain water and encourage drinking. On the plus side a lot of people notice an initial drop in weight which encourages them through the not so nice phase. Essentially this isn’t really body weight loss, but water loss, however if people find the number going down on the scales then psychologically it can be the morale boost someone needs to carry on with something when it’s getting tough. After those first few days however, I had no problems. Concentration levels were high and I no longer struggled to stay focused mid afternoon like I normally would. One of the other great things was the satiety factor. Fat fills you up!! I wasn’t starving between meals for a snack, and I often had to force myself to eat something before I went to the gym. I know of some people who follow LCHF and they only eat one meal a day. I wasn’t able to do that – not because I was hungry, but I actually enjoy food too much to skip meals. Some people view food purely as fuel, but I associate food with much more than that; to me food is essential for enjoying life!
I knew that I generally ate about 200-250g carb/day. So initially I aimed to eat around 100g/day and I actually found that quite easy. So then I decided to see if I could get into ketosis. To reach ketosis, you generally need to consume less than 50g carb/day from all sources. This also was not too difficult to do. Once in ketosis you know you are producing ketones, and essentially burning fat. You can measure ketones in your blood just like measuring blood glucose levels, or you can test the ketones in your urine. For me it was easiest to get urine strips, so, you guessed it – testing my ketones involved peeing onto little coloured sticks much more regularly than I will admit to…
I found breakfast the hardest. What do you have when you can’t eat any of the cereals or have toast in the morning?
Of course there is always bacon and eggs. But as the other half will tell you, you quickly get sick of having that every day, and in his words “I just want something fresh and milky!’
Sooooo, you make your own!! In the weekends I was always experimenting with making my own muesli. It would be a combination of nuts, seeds, coconut chips, cinnamon, cardamom, LSA and vanilla. It was delicious – but definitely not as easy as tipping something straight out of a packet!
I also did a lot of research on the internet for new recipes to try, and to find alternatives to things that we would normally eat. This is where I discovered ‘Oopsie bread’ This wasn’t really bread at all, but an eggy mixture baked to look like flat rolls. I wasn’t the biggest fan.
I did find another bread substitute made with almond meal, LSA, egg, seeds and baking soda which ended up looking like an English muffin. I toasted them and would eat them for breakfast quite often with nut butter or marmite. Mini frittatas were a favourite also. I could make a big batch in the weekend and have them through the week. I used to make them with plenty of cheese and vegetables and usually some salami or another type of meat.
The one thing that is suggested for breakfasts that I just couldn’t handle, was coconut smoothies. I just found the taste of the coconut cream far too rich for me, even with frozen berries to balance out the flavour.
Probably the easiest meal of the day was dinner. We are not massive potato, rice or pasta eaters, so there wasn’t really a lot that had to change when it came to dinner time other than adding in the extra fat.
I think the most indulgent meal we had was when I made a delicious creamy mushroom sauce for steak and veges……by that time my taste buds had changed and I was enjoying the more creamy tasting foods, and it was delicious!! For the most part dinners were lots of vegetables and a portion of meat all cooked in more olive oil than I would normally use. Stir-fries were great and so were Thai coconut curries. If you do miss things like rice, here is a great little trick – get a head of cauliflower, blitz it in the blender until it is a rice like consistency and then fry it off with some oil and salt and pepper and voila – you have low carb rice! Alternatively you can mash cooked cauliflower just like you would potato.
Whilst doing this experiment I also had baseline cholesterol levels and blood pressure done, I took before and after weights and fat measurements. I also kept a diary of how much fat I was consuming and what my energy levels were like in terms of performance at the gym.
Soooooo what were my results? What were my overall thoughts? And would I recommend this diet and way of life to anyone else???
You will have to wait for my next blog post to find out
If you want any of my LCHF recipes or explanations of how I made anything mentioned above, comment below, send me a message via the contact form or leave a message on my Facebook page