The anti-diet way

Almost two thirds of Brits are on a diet, most of the time, research has revealed!

Most weight loss programmes require you to cut back on calories through calorie restriction or by removing or reducing a macronutrient for example – low fat or low carb.

After a few weeks you begin to feel hungry, deprived and stressed. These feelings consuming your motivation and willpower and you hit breaking point, you give in and the weight comes back.

You’re left questioning yourself, feeling like you have failed when in reality the problem wasn’t you, it was the diet depriving the body of key nutrients it needs to function and to feel nourished.

These diets are based on the notion that all calories are equal – it doesn’t matter what you eat, just eat less and move more. This myth argues that all calories are converted into chemical energy in the human body the same way, this is not true, all calories are not alike – there is a big difference between eating a handful of nuts and a cake even if the calories were equal.

What matters is the quality of our food and not calories.

Eat real! Food that is as close to its natural state as possible. Food that hasn’t been messed with, or added to, or enhanced. True honest food leaving flavour up to nature.

In our modern day we are more than ever exposed to factory made food that is nutrient depleted chemically altered replacing foods that serve to nourish. It’s clear these foods drive the development of many modern-day diseases, rob the body and mind of key nutrients and energy.

A large scale study published in the British Medical Journal 2019 found a higher consumption of ultra-processed foods (>4 servings daily) was independently associated with a 62% relatively increased hazard for all cause mortality.

A study in The Lancet stated that globally, one in five deaths in 2017 across 195 countries was associated with poor diet.

Removing processed foods, foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates where the fibre has been ripped out (the part that provides the nutrition!) – bread, breakfast cereal, crisps, crackers, sweets, cookies, ready-meals, fast food and sugary drinks.

These foods disrupt our gut microbiome, brain, hunger hormones and blood sugar. Leading to inflammation and increasing the risk of modern day diseases – diabetes, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases.

The anti-diet way of eating is focused on supporting metabolic health which aims to keep blood sugar low and therefore insulin low. Eating to support our biology by choosing foods that the body needs to build, repair and to function.  

Highly processed foods and simple carbohydrates raise blood sugar rapidly, raising insulin levels excessively. This excess load triggers the bodily systems to convert the surplus glucose into fat.  The more insulin you produce the more you programme your body to store energy.

So, where should you to start?

Remove the word diet, so many of us associate this with deprivation, suffering and willpower, I believe this sets us up for failure. We feel defeated before we have even started. Let’s refer to fuelling nutrition – nourishing, sustaining and doable.

How to balance your blood sugar?

Fill up on fibre – fibre slows down the digestion and the absorption of sugar, keeps us fuller for longer. Fibre also feeds gut bacteria – when we look after our microbes they look after us. Fibre is indigestible. Our bacteria in our gut thrive on fibre, we can’t digest it but our gut bugs can and in doing so they produce chemical compounds know as short chain fatty acids that circulate our entire body and even to our brains to support our immune health, mental health and play an important role in regulating metabolism and appetite.

Good sources of fibre include minimally processed wholegrains and legumes, nuts, seeds and vegetables; eating the rainbow, fruits and vegetables offer nutritional benefits depending on their colour.

Proteins and healthy fats also play a role.

Protein is what we are made of providing the building blocks that enables the immune system to amount an appropriate response, as well as being essential for repair and growth of our bodies tissues and the building of neurotransmitters.

Protein helps balance blood sugar, helps keep us feeling full and regulates our appetite. Adding protein to every meal is a simple way to improve blood sugar.

The quality is important. The marketplace is flooded with protein substitutes including protein bars, protein powders and protein shakes, many of which contain added unwanted nutrients. We want protein that resembles its natural state – eggs, beans, legumes, fish, poultry and lean meat and the aim is to include protein at each meal.

Consume healthy fats as they help to balance blood sugar as well as keeping you fuller for longer. Unsaturated fats have been linked to improved insulin and glycaemic control.

Fats also play a vital role in our health, the subject of fats is controversial in nutrition. We need essential fatty acids the body cannot make, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as these have positive benefits for the brain and hormones as well as being an essential mediator to resolve inflammation.

Not all fats are equal – there are many different types, some more healthy than others. Best to choose fats that are higher in poly and monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, olives, oily fish, nuts and seeds and avocados.

Olive oil is one we should be including daily. Often credited as one of the main drivers behind the Mediterranean diet’s health benefits. Known as “the greater healer” in Ancient Greece and has been used for centuries. Olive oil is made up of at least 30 phenolic compounds, these compounds are strong antioxidants and anti-inflammatoy properties that contribute to olive oil’s vast health benefit.

Research has shown that olive oils high phenolic compounds can be used for the management of diabetes, helping to reduce inflammation, reducing carbohydrate absorption and increasing insulin sensitivity.  Including 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil daily is an easy and great way to improve your total health as well as support insulin sensitivity and has been shown to improve glucose levels and cholesterol levels when added to a meal.

As well as olive oil, cold pressed oils, such as cold pressed sunflower oil, the oil used in Real Olive Co products are also good as they are not chemically refined which makes it easier for our bodies to digest.

Aim to reduce saturated fat which tend to be found in fatty or processed meats, butter and coconut oil and to avoid trans fats that come from processing oils at high temperatures and processed oils like sunflower oil they can have a pro-inflammatory properties.

Research shows an association between dietary patterns that are rich in fruits and vegetables and lower in processed foods with improved mood and well-being ratings.

Food is powerful and a tool we can use to change ourselves and our health. Choosing to eat minimally processed, whole foods is good for the body and brain. When you forget about calories and focus on quality, you feed the body well and it knows what to do.

Take a look at your food and review what you’re eating. We so often choose foods unconsciously and therefore are unaware of the decisions we make. Take some time to bring consciousness around your decisions, a great way to do this is to simply record what you eat over a few days, you may be surprised about the choices you make or how often you are eating. This is a great way to understand your habits around food and can provide valuable insight into how you feel when you are making decisions.

I believe that making the unconscious conscious is the cornerstone to behaviour change, and the simplest way to do this is to track your day, your habits and choices and you can then work out which ones you want to change and how best to do that. Someone once said to me ‘if we don’t inspect, we cannot expect’ and this has stuck with me ever since.

One small habit change over time is huge. Just focus on one thing, do it well consistently and if you miss it once don’t worry, just try not to miss it twice.

Food is one part of the equation when it comes to metabolic health, there are other factors that impact blood sugar including sleep, stress, digestion, hormonal shits and activity. But, let’s start with food!


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Written by Sarah Bayliss, Registered Nutritional Therpaist, Dp (NT), BA (hons) mBANT, CNHC