I have just lost 4kg. Yes, that’s right. It’s just over 10 days before Christmas when everyone’s putting on the weight and I have lost some weight. How is that possible, I hear you ask? Full disclosure, this is the weight I allowed myself to put on last Christmas and then the summer holidays. When I travel, like most people, I find it harder to stay on track. It’s important to get back to a healthy routine immediately upon returning home.
I could argue that a lot of things had been happening and following my usual routine became a challenge. However, truth be told, we both know this is an excuse. As far as things go, the last two months have been the most challenging in years, yet I managed to lose the weight and stay the course. (I have had the odd biscuit and sweet, too, during this time). So what was the real reason I hadn’t managed this before? I forgot the golden rule.
Nutrition is not an exact science
Maths is a straightforward science (so they tell me, I have my doubts sometimes, but that’s neither here nor there). In maths 2+2=4. Similarly, if your intake of calories exceeds your energy expenditure you put on weight, right? Well, yes and no. Obviously overeating will lead to weight gain, but as we all know, some people can eat a truckload of pasta and stay as thin as a stick, whilst others put on weight just eating 100 grams of it. German scientists have developed a test to establish the “science” behind this, and it’s pretty straightforward.
Your metabolic type
They called this test the e-scan and here is how it works. There is a black box, let’s call it the processor (or the e-scanner), to which a tube is attached. The patient is asked to breathe into this tube through a mouthpiece for two to three minutes. This measures the exhalations. The major difference between this test and similar tests that athletes undergo, is that the e-scan is done at rest and after abstaining from food for at least four hours.
The reasoning behind this is that the average person spends most of their time sitting or sleeping, rather than running on a treadmill or strenuously exercising. Makes sense, right? Why measure what you are burning during the time you spend at the gym when you spend most of your time outside it? (If you ever go to the gym at all!).
The purpose of measuring your exhalation is to see the composition of the gasses your body is producing. This allows them to figure out what your body is using for fuel.
The three sources of fuel for your body
There are three main sources of fuel for your body. It can either burn carbohydrates (a.k.a. sugar), fat or protein. If your metabolic type is the sugar metabolism (and many people are nowadays), this means that before your body gets to burning fat, it will burn excess sugar. This means that if you want to lose the extra padding (a nice way to say fat deposits), you need to first get rid of all the excess sugar in your body, but it is not as difficult as it might sound.
On the other hand, people with a fat metabolism burn fat first. Hence the large plates of pasta and bread without any weight gain. As annoying as this might sound to those of us who put on weight just by looking at a plate of regular pasta or other carbs (even before any of it passes our lips), this is not as good as it might sound. For starters, a metabolism that is too fast is just as bad as a metabolism that is too slow. Also, just because there are no VISIBLE signs of imbalance in your body (ie excess weight), it doesn’t automatically follow that you are healthy. Balance is key.
I have met people who struggled to put on weight no matter how much they tried. In many cases they were underweight. In one particular case, the person ate everything on the usual diet “blacklist”. She broke every rule in the book when it came to healthy eating. She was, and still is, extremely thin, but her cholesterol level is disproportionally high, as are some other biomarkers which make her a subject at risk of several serious diseases. At the risk of sounding repetitive…. it’s all about the balance.
How to do a sugar detox
Here is where I have some good news for you. Your body only needs three days to get rid of all excess sugar. Yes, that’s right, only three days. That is 72 hours, 4320 minutes. Not months and months of suffering. How you go about this is quite simple. You can probably figure it out quite quickly. You need to eliminate carbohydrates and sugar. In other words, no bread, pasta, sweets, fruit, and all those foods that would normally create an insulin spike. The scientists who recommended this diet suggest you go on a vegetable soup detox. Three days of green vegetable soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can have up to 6 bowls a day if you are an average woman.
I have done this a couple of times over the years. For me the worst part wasn’t the soup for three days, but the bowl of soup for breakfast. I just can’t face a bowl of vegetable soup so early in the morning. You don’t have to be so strict. You can fast from carbohydrates in a different way. You can remove all the above foods and have meals from the allowed foods list. This type of sugar detox is advised by a famous American doctor who has even written a book outlining this detox diet. Here is a list of what you will be eating during these three days:
- Slow carbohydrates such as beans and legumes every day, including lentils and chickpeas:
- Cooked vegetables (especially green vegetables), especially vegetable soups;
- Green salad at every main meal (as well as the cooked vegetables);
- Nuts and seeds (a handful or two every day), unsalted;
- Fresh seafood (no canned foods);
- Small portions of lean (white) meats;
- Nothing processed (if it comes in a can, a jar or is pre-prepared it’s not allowed);
- No fast carbs (fruit juice, white bread and pasta, biscuits or anything made with flour);
- No dairy (cheese, milk, or even yoghurt);
- Stay away from fizzy drinks and sugar, including fresh fruit for the first 3 days.
However, there is an advantage to the soup. It’s easier to eliminate all excess sugar and not end up eating too much, or the wrong foods. Plus a soup goes through your body faster and helps you also with water retention (think cellulite). Depending on how much sugar was in your bloodstream when you started, you may find yourself spending a lot of time rushing to the toilet where seemingly endless litres of water will pass out of your body. As a friend of mine put it, it’s a bit like being diabetic. You could lose anything between 1 and 4 kg just in this phase.
(Note: you may experience something akin to withdrawal symptoms during this time with headaches. Don’t worry, it’s normal. Afterwards though you will have increased energy, no more sugar cravings and no more headaches caused by sugar “addiction”).
What happens after the 3 –day sugar detox?
This depends on a few factors. If all you need is to lose the excess sugar to help boost your metabolism, then you can start introducing fruit again into your diet. If you follow a healthy plant-based diet including some wholegrains that might be enough.
If, on the other hand, your goal is to lose weight, not just detox, you may need to stay off the fruit and most carbohydrates for a couple of weeks or more, until you reach your target weight. Your metabolism should be working better now, so it should not be hard as long as you eat healthy (no chips, sweets etc), like you would on any weight-loss diet.
Can I have a cheat day?
There are more good news. Once you are back to optimal healthy weight, you can indeed indulge in moderation. It’s all about the balance, remember? It’s not so much a question of cheat days, as much as having a clear understanding of your metabolic type and what triggers a weight gain.
Let me explain. When I initially tried this metabolic diet I would have been happy losing 6kg. I had reached a plateau and even though I was eating very healthy meals and almost no carbs, the weight was just not coming off. Blood tests had come back normal for anaemia and thyroid function, both of which can affect weight management. There was no medical reason why I shouldn’t be losing weight, even when I exercised regularly. So what was happening?
This new diet was the last resort. I ended up losing 13kg without even trying! After barely a month I had already reached my initial target and then I got to a certain point when even though I was eating everything again (and I admit I re-introduced fruit after only two weeks despite the doctor’s recommendation), my metabolism was so revved up it was on a roll. Then it reached its own balance. Unlike most other diets, I was not going hungry. Quite the opposite. I was also ordered to eat more than I normally would.
Balance and food-centred festivities (aka Christmas and the like)
So what went wrong last year? Mea culpa. I over indulged over the holidays. My sugar intake went up, which in itself would not have been that bad, after all, who can resist a Christmas without a mince pie, a few slices of Panettone and Pandoro, and a few bits of turrón? (I can’t help it if I’m international!) The problem is I forgot to apply the golden rule: balance.
So how do you keep it all on track? Every time you have the pizza, the plate of pasta, the extra slice of panettone (not at the same sitting!) you should balance this out at the following meal. Green vegetables are your friends here. Cooler weather naturally lends itself for a nice warm vegetable soup. Liquids give a sense of being full much faster than solid food. Also, warm foods (at least room temperature, but preferably hot) give you a greater feeling of satiety and this feeling comes about more quickly than when you eat cold foods. The soup will then do its job and help you immediately eliminate the excess sugar so that you do not have to start again from day one of a long sugar detox. It’s all about balance.
Plus, an important take away, the same amount of whole fresh green vegetables are going to make you feel full much faster than the equal amount of a chicken breast, and they have less calories (if you really must count the calories). Also, you should remember the fibre in whole green vegetables and whole fruits (not so for juices) helps slow down the uptake of sugars into your body and eliminate them faster.
All this is soup-at-the-next-meal talk is not meant to be an excuse. I am not suggesting that you over indulge every day for weeks and just have a detox soup every evening, but bear in mind this is a useful tool to have to keep that weight under control, regardless of what time of year it is. For, despite what they might tell you, kcalories are not everything (I never counted a single calorie during the entire diet). Don’t count calories, instead focus on portion sizes and the Eatwell plate. It’s all about what and how you eat based on your body type. That will do more for you than any gym.
Now that I’m back on track I can consider indulging a bit over the Christmas period and enjoy some festive food.
Merry Christmas everyone!