It’s a story that is common to many of us. Modern life is rubbish, and no more so than our diets and the way our diets leave many of us feeling. I used to be something of a stress-head. Not so long ago I was short-tempered, well overweight, always hungry, and pretty unapproachable. I used to find it almost impossible to get out of bed in the mornings. I was unable to get to sleep at night, and I was pretty much dependent on caffeine to get me through the day. And in those circumstances it was easy for me to loose control of my drinking. Being stressed and generally unable to cope wasn’t pleasant.
I would get into arguments for little reason (for some reason especially on trains). I felt like a different person when it happened. It wasn’t really me, but this little monster that was normally hidden inside me and who occasionally reared his head. I found it hard to make good choices. My self-esteem was low, and I was hyper-sensitive to comment and criticism. I found it impossible to win-people over to my ideas, and I became reclusive and over-protective of my remaining identity. I also became reckless and impulsive, and didn’t think through the consequences of some of my actions, so the people around me suffered – even though I tried to protect them from my generally poor disposition by following the well worth path of hiding from it and not talking about it.
So how did I stop what I now look back on as a period of decline? Well it wasn’t easy, but with some good advice from a few people around me who I trust, and some poor advice from my GP which I chose to ignore, I decided to make some changes to my life and the patterns of my living. The first thing I did was stop drinking, and I removed myself from the situations where I felt most vulnerable to the excesses of my dependencies. Effectively I cut myself off from the life I had previously been living and went into a reflective and contemplative mode. I started to exercise on a regular basis again, and as I’d done many times in my life before, I started to follow a diet plan (Slimming World) and made some effort to control my food intake. Over six months I dropped from 92Kg to 82Kg and started exercising four or five times each week.
In the summer of 2014, though, I made a massive change which has had a much wider impact on my life. I cut sugar and carbs from my diet, almost completely. This was after reading both John Yudkin, who had warned about the dangers of excessive sugar intake in our diets in the 1950s, and Booth and Bilton, and their book Know What To Eat. So, no rice, no potatoes, no pasta, no biscuits, no bread, no crackers, basically no carbs or starchy stuff. I now cook with plenty of butter and fat, and my food tastes so much better for it. I use butter, lard and olive oil generously because it tastes so much more like real food. I use salt generously because I don’t eat any processed food – it’s very difficult to reach the levels of salt that we find in most processed food, so when you are adding salt to your own tastes from scratch in a dish it’s good to add plenty.
Here’s a list of things I’ve started to do or include in my daily and weekly routine:
- I eat a lot of green veg, cabbage, broccoli, cabbage, sprouts, cauliflower – and use the leaves on the cauliflower.
- I cook a lot of mushrooms, peppers, courgettes,
- I don’t eat a lot of fruit except for berries, strawberries and avocado.
- Breakfast is often an omelette with onion, celery and cheese.
- I cook at lot of stews (after reading Michael Pollan).
- I cook with the fat in a joint and avoid buying lean meat.
- I use the fat for the base of a sauce or a broth.
- I eat cheese on a regular basis, mainly harder cheeses, which I wrap in greaseproof pa-per and keep in a cupboard rather than putting it in the fridge.
- I use cream to cook with and as the basis of a desert.
- For a snack I eat almonds or brazil nuts.
- I eat oily fish twice a week, something like mackerel, salmon or sprats.
- Under no circumstances do I eat any low-fat food.
- I stay away from food in packs and that has been produced in a factory as the result of any kind of processing.
- I buy my food on Leicester Market.
- I only buy what I can carry and what I need for the next few days.
- I’ve started to cook once a week so I have meals ready for when I get home from work.
- My treat is a bar of dark chocolate (85%).
- Coffee is generally limited to once first thing.
- I drink pots of tea – either Earl Grey or Green.
- I have a drink of broth/stock first thing in the morning.
- I take a prepared meal to work for my breakfast and lunch.
- At no point do I skip meals or reduce the portion size.
So what have I noticed? Well I can taste my food again that’s for sure. When I first cooked onions in butter after not doing so for years, it was a revelation. The succulence and the aroma of the fried onion erupted into something that was physically emotional. The supposed low-fat oils I’d been using over the years did nothing but burn the onions and leave them with an artificial taste. As a result my appetite is back under control. I no longer snack between meals, except for a handful of nuts. I used to feel hungry before a meal and then about an hour after a meal. There’s nothing worse than going back to the cupboard foraging for more food. Now I feel full after a meal and don’t think about food again for hours. I try to eat no later than 7pm and go through to breakfast, when I eat after exercising in the morning.
I now have more energy to get out and about and I have energy to exercise regularly. My clothes are fitting better, my waist has lost a couple of inches and keeps getting smaller. I’ve even bought a tighter belt. As a result I spend a lot less on food because I seldom visit a supermarket, so I’m avoiding impulse buys. But the biggest difference I’ve noticed is when I’m working. My concentration has improved vastly. I used to struggle to focus for twenty minutes at a time. Now I can focus for four or five hours of detailed work and writing. I can complete lengthy tasks again without having to pace around, buy sweets and snacks or disturb other people.
I feel comfortable in my own skin again, and I’m relaxing with friends once more. I find it easier to socialise, though I still try to avoid the places that I associate with the bad-old days. I seldom go to pubs anymore, or walk down the centre isles of supermarkets where all the rubbish sits. I still drink, but only occasionally and not when I’m alone. Only with friends on a special occasion. I don’t know if it is true, but people are starting to say I’m getting a set of hips again, and that my face is becoming better defined. I am definitely more interested in clothes and my appearance, and dare I say that my libido is pretty healthy as well.
Things I couldn’t control in the past, on my old standard, processed and carb-ridden diet, I now have no problem with. I seldom go back for seconds. I seldom want more later food. I don’t panic or fret if I miss a meal. I don’t miss drinking, and perhaps above all, I can taste my food again.
So what are the lessons I’ve learnt? The reason we eat, as Gary Taubs points out, is because we are getting fat, we don’t get fat because we eat. Exercise, in and of itself will not make you slim. Nor will starving yourself make you happy – or slim. At the heart of this process, of getting rid of carbs from my diet, is the recognition that controlling my insulin levels, and therefore my blood-sugar levels, is the key. This means rejecting the idea that calories are all the same. They are not. I can eat as much fat and protein as I want, but I won’t put on weight. If I eat carbs then my weight piles on. So, I am intolerant to carbohydrates, and the way I’ve dealt with this is not to restrict my diet but to correct it.
The UK is massively carb-loaded. It’s almost impossible to eat away from home without being overloaded with cheap, processed carbs and sugars. Access to traditional cooking, that is unprocessed and pre-prepared meals, is becoming harder and harder to maintain. Big Food is exploiting us and making it hard for us to keep trim because they are saying that we need sugar and carbs. This is a big fat lie. And a lie in the same way that the food triangle that has been provided by health experts is a lie. The fitness industry tells the big fat lie that exercise will make you slim, and the media scream at us that will-power is all you need to get trim. Big fat lies all of them. Will power won’t make you thin, exercise won’t make you thin, starving yourself won’t make you thin. Changing the environment we are in is the answer, and steering clear of insulin busting foods is the key.