How I Dropped Two and Half Stone (it wasn’t exercise)

IMG_2920

My name is Alex and for the past 6 years I have worked in Documentary TV, researching and producing science documentaries for the BBC, National Geographic and Discovery channel.  I now run my own Holiday Company Wine Rides Ltd that offers cycling trips that stay on Vineyards in the south of England. I want to share my experience of losing weight through the appliance of science and some revelations I have recently had about the importance of good food in maintaining healthy stable weight.

Until September 2012 I was just shy of 17 stone. Then I started the 5:2 Diet Promoted by Michael Mosley and my weight dropped precipitously. If you haven’t come across this, then the 5:2 diet is when for two non-consecutive days a week you cut down to 600 calories a day for men or 500 calories for women. It works because you only have to maintain concentration and motivation for a day at a time. So the psychological load is smaller than being good all the time.

On the 5:2 diet I lost a pound or 2 a week until 16 stone and then my weight just stuck there for weeks and weeks and weeks. This was upsetting, as I had hoped to get to 15 stone.  At 16 stone I felt I was still fat, so it was on a knife edge. Would I keep going or stop and go back to eating as I had before?

For once I decided to apply my TV researching skills to my own health to see if I could fix the problem. I found the Bitter truth about sugar.

My background is in Biology, and I have always worked on science shows for TV, including Jimmy’s food factory for BBC 2. So for some time I have been aware of the problems sugar can course. After watching the lecture and checking the facts out I became convinced that I should try adding these suggestions to my regime. As soon as I did the weight started dropping again and has been ever since. I now weigh 14st .7 stones. I totally smashed my target and have been comfortably under my goal weight for months.

In addition to losing more weight two other truly amazing things started to happen after I cut sugar out. My long standing enormous appetite went away and I stopped craving sweets and chocolate.

People now ask me what I have “cut out” of my diet. But the truth is that I have added much more to the list of things I eat than I have taken away and I am much, much happier with my new selection of foods.

Basically I have ended up with a Real food diet.

I now only eat one sweet thing a week. I tend to go for something I really like, like an apple strudel. I don’t eat chocolate, biscuits, drink coke or fruit juice and I don’t miss any of it. On the other hand I do eat butter, lots of cheese, nuts, and cured meat. It feels like I have a much more decadent diet now than I did before. I certainly have a better tasting one.

I’m not special. I don’t have good will power. The problem I was facing and the majority of the population are constantly battling with was: an addiction to sugar and the onset of metabolic syndrome.

The average person now producers twice as much insulin as the average in the 1970s, this means the hormonal environment inside our bodies is under a huge amount of strain. One of the early warning signs I was able to pick up was a very small amount of Acanthosis nigricans. This is dark skin, where your skin folds. I found this starting under my left armpit and it was a terrifying wake up call. Both my brother and my father are diabetics and the dark skin starts in the folds because excess insulin is accumulates there first.

It is very likely that my famous ability to keep eating was due to excessive insulin levels desensitising me to the hormonal signals that tell me I have had enough food. It is likely that I was well on my way to becoming diabetic. When I was fat I was doing about 10 hours exercise a week so my activity level was not the problem. The 5:2 diet and this book Fat Chance: bitter truth about sugar have been a revelation to me.

If you want to lose weight exercise is not likely to be the most effective strategy. Of the 2000 calories you should eat every day 1800 are used by your critical organs. 200 are used by your skeletal muscles in movement. Therefore the percentage increase in work you need to do from exercise is enormous compared to the increase you need to do, to have the same effect through dietary control.  The other problem I have always found was that if I start doing more running I would find I was eating more. By fasting I am using my internal organs to do the work of losing weight, and it is harder to miss a fast than a session at the gym.

So is it hard? Yes, but it is manageable.  

To get into the 5:2 diets was tough. Now it is absolutely fine (As I write this I am on a fast day). I did what Michael Mosley did in the horizon documentary. I committed to fast for five weeks. That equates to 10 fasts. The results for those first ten fast were so good I decided to go for another ten. Somewhere in the second ten I lost count. But they were working so I carried on.

My recommendations is, no matter how unhappy you are, don’t start out with the intention of fasting and cutting sugar out. Don’t try both interventions at once. This will make life very hard for you and you are more likely to fail. One major change in diet is more than enough.

For me at some point though it stopped working and I hit a plateau. My next stage was to cut out all added sugar. This sounds horrendously difficult. It isn’t. It is much easier than 5:2. It is basically just a matter of eating “real food”. However I was amazed by how much stuff has additional sugar in it!

It took me 2 weeks for the sugar cravings to go away, and I haven’t looked back since. I now fast and am very suspicious of any food with and ingredients label. If it is in a packet and can sit on a shelf for weeks at room temperature then I need to have a good look at the label before I eat it. If there is any sugar in it or trans-fats I tend to give it a miss.

Should you do this?

I am not evangelical, about 5:2. I can only say it worked well for me, and how I find myself now. The health benefits of fasting look promising, and I certainly think I will be healthier as a result of being able to control my weight for the first time in my life. However I do think everyone should cut down on the amount of sugar they eat. Added sugar has to be bad for you and it should be avoided. We truly didn’t evolve to eat food that has added sucrose or High fructose corn syrup.

Cost

In total I spent 8 quid on the book above. So it is cheap to do what I did. But if you want to do this, I suspect that success is more likely if you get the support of those around you. Tell people to stop offering you things with sugar. And don’t listen to anyone who talks about diets and say “the body” while telling you some “fact”. In my experience the words “the Body” are almost always followed my completely unsubstantiated rubbish.

What have I learned? What will I do?   

We are sadly living in a healthy-food desert. Only the edge of the supermarket is safe. If you find yourself in the aisles there is a good chance you will be tempted by something bad for you. Our environment is Obesogenic. I went to the pub the other day and was told my chips were triple fried! It was said as though that was a good thing, but who asked for that?

This whole process of investigating weight loss has lead me to one inescapable conclusion. My company, Wine Rides can’t be one more organisation that makes money by feeding people hidden sugar. Well-meaning food providers are all trying to please us by offering more and more decadent and indulgent foods. But at some point we have to say. “No Thank you- please can I just have something normal?”

Wine Rides now only do one thing with sugar and it is a desert. Everything else we serve is free from added sugar. I hope that when people look at our food they will understand what they are eating because I have personally checked it is what we say it is. For myself, my employees and my clients I want our weekend to be free from damaging hidden sugar.