Mon, Jan-03-22, 02:25
The first rule of dieting: respect your hunger hormones
The first rule of dieting: respect your hunger hormones
Meet the doctors with the ultimate strategy for losing weight — and keeping it off.
Most people can lose weight, says Dr Paul Chell. Trouble is, they usually regain it. “Unless you understand why your fat cells take on fat in the first place, your weight will keep coming back. You can invent the banana and water diet, you can lose weight very easily by doing lots of things, but if you’re calorie restricting, long-term you will fail.”
That success doesn’t rest on depriving ourselves is news to most of us. And our confusion around food (“people feel out of control”) is why he and his wife Dr Monique Hope-Ross — they met as junior doctors, specialising in ophthalmic surgery — wrote their book The Diet Whisperer 12-Week Reset Plan: Supercharge Your Metabolism, Reverse Diabetes and Harmonise Your Brain Clock. “This is about putting people back in control,” he says.
Over the years, they saw increasing numbers of people in their clinics, in Birmingham and Worcestershire, experiencing eye diseases resulting from obesity or metabolic abnormalities. “We’d send them off to the dietitian at the hospital and they’d come back worse and fatter.”
Their mission, says Hope-Ross, 61, became “prevention, prevention, prevention. You need to get to people before they’ve developed diabetes, and encourage healthy lifestyle and diet.” For two decades, they’ve taught the science of nutrition, wellness and weight loss to patients and professionals alike.
Eventually, in their mid-fifties, they both quit high-powered jobs as consultant ophthalmic surgeons to focus on spreading the word on what we’ve got wrong about nutrition and health for so long, and the surprisingly straightforward key to success — taming your fat storage hormones. When and what you eat prompts them to respond one way or another — to either store fat or burn it.
Losing weight by slashing your calorie intake panics your hormones, says Chell, 60. So “they do all sorts of clever things, like increasing your hunger. They say, ‘I don’t like this, he’s lost half a stone, I’m going to turn down his metabolism.’ It puts you into battery-saver mode.” He adds: “You’re in a fight with your hormones and you will not beat them.”
But why fight? We can win them over. The Diet Whisperer shows us how. And once you get your hormones “on side”, says Hope-Ross (think four to six weeks), “you will lose weight, your metabolism will improve, you will become healthy, you can reverse diseases and, once everything is sorted, you can stay there.”
So what does it take? Our biggest issue, says Chell, is “carbohydrate and sugar overload, and food timing”. Grazing all day on toast, cereal, biscuits and junk food — all speedily digested stuff that quickly dumps a load of glucose in our blood, prompting our pancreas to release the hormone insulin — eventually leads to excess insulin in our blood. If insulin is present, we can’t burn fat. So we get fat. It causes other health issues, including high bad cholesterol.
Meanwhile, gloomily pinching ourselves, we think we’re eating too much fat, says Chell. His friends bring him their cholesterol results, fretting. “They’re not eating steaks, they’re not eating eggs, they’re not eating fat.” Yet, he adds: “It’s the liver that makes cholesterol. The reason your bad cholesterol goes up in 299 out of 300 people is because there’s too much sugar hitting your liver. Glucose and fructose are the two main sugars that do it.”
The trick is to temporarily minimise your carb intake — to eat mainly good fats and protein, which don’t raise insulin levels unduly. And to stop snacking — to eat three proper meals a day, or two on occasion, but to ensure you have 12, preferably 14 hours of no food. These adjustments “fat adapt” your body — meaning (with insulin sweetly behaving itself, and hunger hormone ghrelin no longer growling) it starts to use fat as fuel.
Chell was once a carb addict himself, craving a burger, chips and milkshake after a long clinic, then wondering why he felt tired and hungry hours later (as his blood sugar crashed from insulin overworking, and the fructose onslaught suppressed his satiety hormone, leptin).
Not any more. “Our principle is to have as many greens as possible,” he says. “We don’t care about fats — we cook in ghee, for goodness sake — lots of great short-chain fatty acids. I’m not someone who minds saturated fats. I think in a reasonably moderate amount they’re great.” They home cook “a big plate of greens with some protein and fats — fish, meat, chicken, oily fish. Once a month I might have pie and chips.”
Too monkish? Adapt Whisperer principles to suit. If you’re trying to lose 12kg, says Hope-Ross, “that’s a 20 to 30 degree shift” in habits. If you’re just looking for health tips, “it’s only a tiny shift of the bow — and it will make such a big difference to metabolic health”.
And the joy is, says Chell: “This isn’t a for ever low-carb diet. Quite the opposite.” It gives you the tools — time-restricted eating, the ability to cut carbs — which you mix as needed. “Otherwise lead a normal life. If you want roast potatoes on a Sunday, have them, just not every day.”
Psst! The secret to a healthy diet
by Dr Paul Chell and Dr Monique Hope-Ross
Most of us don’t know why we’re fat — why we can’t lose the weight and keep it off, even if we eat sparingly. Or why our blood pressure is raised. Or why we are pre-diabetic. Or why we find it impossible to stick to our latest diet. And we’re harsh on ourselves, blaming it on greed, laziness or a lack of willpower. None of this is true. The fact is, we’re fighting our hormones — and they are beating us.
Our supposedly “healthy” diet and lifestyle habits, such as restricting calories, are causing hormone imbalances and turning us into fat-storing machines. Excess body fat is a symptom, not a cause, of a struggling metabolism. Our metabolism is the foundation of all we do — it’s the chemical reactions that break down food and drink for energy, then use this energy to support, build and repair our body.
If we imagine our metabolism as a car engine, obesity is the smoking exhaust, a sign that the engine is broken. If we don’t repair it we are puttering towards more serious problems: metabolic syndrome, typified by visceral belly fat, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides and high bad cholesterol. These are associated with chronic conditions such as arthritis, cancer and dementia.
It all starts with insulin (known as the fat storage hormone when we were at medical school) and what’s called insulin resistance. If insulin is in our blood, we can’t burn fat. All food causes insulin to be released into the bloodstream — and carbohydrates prompt the biggest release.
The more refined and/or processed they are (think toast, cereal, biscuits, cake), the more insulin is required. These foods numb our satiety hormone too, so hours later we’re hungry again. So we snack. But if we’re grazing all day and into the evening, our insulin is raised almost constantly and excess energy is stored as fat.
Let’s jump ahead to the good news. Once we correct our faulty metabolism, in particular insulin resistance, the weight drops off. We will show you how to whisper to those fat storage hormones and bring them back into line. People can see a difference in a month. If you eat according to The Diet Whisperer principles you will regain control — of your hormones, your health and your waistline. You will boost your immunity too.
Why you’re not burning fat
On a cold January morning you decide to go out and you put on your coat. You come back home, you take off your coat. You can’t do both at once. Our bodies are similar. They’re either burning fat or storing it. They can’t do both at once. And what they are doing depends on your hormones. To reiterate — if you have insulin circulating in your blood, you can’t break down fat for fuel. Only when insulin is absent can the hormone glucagon start melting away your body fat.
After eating, insulin is raised for two to three hours in healthy individuals. If you’re overweight and have insulin resistance, it will be raised for about six hours. All foods increase insulin. Fat causes the lowest insulin release, followed by protein. The highest rise is caused by carbohydrates. It’s insulin’s job to open our cell “doors” — to escort glucose out of our bloodstream and enter fat and muscle cells for energy or to be stored as body fat. Insulin was designed for the sparing amounts of sugar in slowly digested carbs such as carrots and greens.
The more refined, quickly digested (unnatural amounts of sugar-containing) carbs we eat, the more insulin is required to open the cell doors. Our pancreas, which produces insulin, can barely keep up with demand. Eventually, as sugar backs up in the blood, our glucose levels remain raised, as well as our blood insulin levels, even overnight or in fasting periods. That’s type 2 diabetes. It can take months, or years, of increasing insulin resistance for this to happen. So it’s not obesity causing the problem; insulin resistance leads to obesity. Happily, it can be reversed.
Why we’re carb addicts
Don’t be alarmed, not all carbs are bad for us. Slowly digested unrefined carbs, or fibre (vegetables, whole fruits, lentils, beans) lower blood glucose and insulin and are essential for health. They cause a lower and slower rise in blood glucose.
The middle band is refined carbs. Refined carbs include potatoes, rice, flour, pasta and bread. When consumed slowly and in moderation, if your hormones are in balance, they may not cause a problem. For example, I don’t get a challenging insulin rise if I have potatoes a few times a week. There are variables here because individuals react differently — for Monique beer is a problem, and for me it’s rice.
Sometimes I want a beer, potato or rice, so I’ll go for a run — that’s my carb cheat. Insulin opens the gate to transfer glucose to your muscles, but for two hours after exercise you don’t need insulin for this. So once you are not insulin-resistant, these are foods you can enjoy in moderation. If you want certainty, you can buy a FreeStyle Libre glucose monitor to see which foods have the biggest effect on your glucose.
Far, far worse and universally damaging to our health are super-refined carbs — sweets, fruit juices, fizzy drinks, muffins, breakfast cereals. Energy-dense, nutrient-poor and with a high glycaemic index (GI), these carbs raise our blood glucose rapidly and significantly. They whack your blood sugar up. It’s their high consumption that causes raised insulin, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Overload on them and our bodies lose their shape. Arms lose their definition (lovely arms aren’t built on carbs), as do our legs, neck, belly, face and bottom.
No wonder. Super-refined carbs often contain vast amounts of added sucrose (table sugar, which contains 50 per cent glucose and 50 per cent fructose). There’s an orange-flavoured fizzy drink that comes in two-litre bottles and contains the equivalent of 50 sugar cubes. Fructose is only metabolised in the liver (it often shows up as high fructose corn syrup in burger buns, for instance) and in big doses puts the liver under stress, eventually creating fatty liver disease. Excess fructose also damages glucose metabolism, causes insulin resistance and increases hunger by directly causing leptin resistance. If you do one thing to help your hormones, avoid fructose (unless you’re eating a whole fruit because the fibre radically reduces its absorption).
Are you a carb addict? 12 tell-tale signs of fat fuel inhibition (FFI)
1. Food doesn’t fill you up.
2. After meals you often feel tired.
3. You often feel sluggish, especially after lunch, and long for a nap.
4. Your snack of choice is a carb — pastry, biscuit, chocolate or cake.
5. You lose weight . . . then put it back on.
6. You have mood swings and feel irritable and anxious.
7. You’re often hungry and snacking brings relief.
8. When hungry, you get shaky, sweaty, even headachy.
9. You find it hard to sleep on an empty stomach.
10. You wake in the night feeling hungry.
11. A snack makes you feel normal again.
12. You get brain fog if you don’t snack.
Why you’re always hungry
Ever eat a burger and chips at your desk — or, indeed, granola and honey — and then wonder why two hours later you feel tired and starving again? The sugar spike caused by fast-digested carbs is brief (the insulin moves it rapidly into the cells; if you’re exercising it may go into muscle, but if you’re sedentary it will be converted into fat). But the insulin hangs around for longer. And because now there’s no excess glucose, our blood sugar falls to below normal. (That tired, shaky, I must eat now sensation.) Low blood sugar is dangerous, so our body releases our hunger hormone ghrelin, prompting us to feel ravenous again.
That sugar spike doesn’t just lead to insulin resistance. It also leads to leptin resistance. Leptin is our satiety hormone — and if it’s not telling us when we’ve had enough, we just keep eating. High fructose corn syrup (in fast food and fizzy drinks) directly inhibits leptin and stimulates ghrelin. Read the label. (But know too that if it has a label, it’s not really food.)
Get off that low-calorie diet
Our ancestors could survive harsh periods of food deprivation and could evade a sabre-toothed tiger on an empty stomach. We descend from men and women whose hormones knew how to keep them alive in times of food scarcity. And this is why your low-calorie diet is doomed to fail. By eating sparingly, you have started a war with your survival system. When you are in calorie deficit, your hormones slow down your metabolism to preserve energy — that’s right, they’ll put you in power-saving mode — and make you cold, tired and miserable. This is called hormonal homeostasis, which means “keeping you the same”.
In this battle you are doomed to lose — your body pulls out the big guns. Ghrelin increases to boost your appetite. This powerful hormone will drive you bananas (they have a GI of 51, by the way — not bad). You will be constantly hungry and agitated. This is why you soon stop losing weight on a calorie-restricted diet. Yo-yo dieting is the worst. After the age of 35 we naturally lose muscle (between 3 and 5 per cent of our lean tissue per decade, unless we do resistance exercise) and yo-yo dieting increases that loss as we lose fat and muscle, then put it back on as fat.
The gym won’t make you slim
You don’t need us to tell you that exercise is fantastic for health and fitness. We do a mix of resistance training, running, cycling and swimming. However, exercise isn’t the way to lose weight. If your resting metabolic rate is 2,000 calories a day, and you do a one-hour run, burning 500 calories, it doesn’t buy you a free chicken vindaloo and naan. This is because your ever-vigilant hormones will slow your metabolism for the rest of the day by about 90 per cent of the exercise value.
We’re also told that building muscle will boost our metabolism. And muscle is three times as metabolically active as fat. Annoyingly, even if a 70kg man increases his muscle mass by an impressive 10 per cent, his new muscle will burn about an extra measly 30 calories a day. As for the famous “afterburn” from resistance training? From a 40-minute session you might buy yourself a piffling 80-calorie increase over 24 hours.
Orange juice is as fattening as a fizzy drink
Orange juice is marketed as a healthy breakfast drink full of vitamin C, but it can send insulin levels rocketing. Never juice fruit. Fruit is designed to be eaten whole — when its natural fibre slows absorption, and much of its glucose and fructose content passes to the large bowel, feeding your gut bugs rather than you. But when fruit is juiced, its effect on your body and hormones changes drastically. It’s stripped of fibre, its glucose hits the bloodstream fast and its fructose goes straight to the liver. For these reasons fruit juice is associated with insulin resistance, weight gain, liver and pancreatic stress, and metabolic syndrome. Drink water instead.
Yes, you can drink and diet
It is possible to drink and diet. Of course, it’s best to cut the booze until you reach your target weight. This is because most alcohol contains carbs and inhibits fat-burning. (It also turns off the no-I-won’t-order-a-pizza-at-10pm part of your brain.) If being teetotal is too much, minimising it for just four weeks will boost your fat-burning. My favourite drink is a carb-free long vodka, with sparkling water, ice, a lime or cucumber slice, and five drops of Angostura bitters. Red wine, dry white wine, champagne and gin are also allowed (in moderation). Use diet mixers — the sweeteners aren’t great for your gut bugs, but fine on occasion. Beer should be a rare treat — it contains too many carbs.
Know your food’s GI and GL
The glycaemic index of a food is how quickly it raises glucose — that is, how quickly it is digested and absorbed into the blood. A GI of below 55 is low, a GI from 56 to 69 is medium, and anything above 70 is high. Unsurprisingly, raw sugar has a GI of 100.
Some low GI surprises include plain full-fat yoghurt (14, what a hero), lentils (32) and full-fat milk (40). Steel-cut porridge oats are not quite as low, but still squeeze in there (51). Wild rice is medium (57), as is couscous (65). Boiled rice, however, is high (73) — as is brown bread (also 73) — higher than chips, in fact (70). (Frankly, most bread we buy these days has so much added sugar it’s practically cake.) Instant porridge is a shocker (79), but not as bad as cornflakes (85).
But GI isn’t everything. Glycaemic load (GL) is how much actual carbohydrate a portion of that food contains. For example, watermelon and a doughnut both have a high GI of 76. Clearly, there’s a lot more glucose in a doughnut (its GL is 17) than in a slice of watermelon (its GL is 3).
How to fat-adapt your body — and turn on the burn
by Dr Paul Chell and Dr Monique Hope-Ross
If your metabolism is a law unto itself and you’re addicted to carbs, fat adaptation is your key to wellness and weight control. Fat adaptation is how we change from burning carbs to burning fat. You’ll exit the vicious cycle of eating carbs, blood glucose increases, insulin released into blood, fat-burn stops, blood glucose decreases, feeling hungry, eating carbs.
The body is like a hybrid car: it can fuel itself from carbs or from fat. Going back 200,000 years to your sabre-toothed tiger evading ancestors, with no access to petrol stations, corner shops and fast-digested carbs, they used their body fat as fuel on those long food-free periods. But here we are in the snack-filled 21st century, refuelling on cake or toast every few hours. Consequently our body enzymes necessary for fat-burning are few and weak. But we can quickly build them up so we run smoothly on either fuel.
Incidentally, we’ve worked with elite athletes who want to fat-adapt — it makes sense because if we’re running on carbs we don’t run for very long. Energy from carbs (stored as glycogen) only lasts about 60 to 90 minutes if we’re exercising vigorously. Our fat stores, meanwhile, amount to 135,000 calories meaning if you’re running an ultra-marathon you don’t need a glucose gel every 60 minutes — you refuel on water and electrolytes and keep going. But you don’t need to be an elite athlete — anyone can fat-adapt.
The ketogenic springboard
Good levels of fat adaptation can be achieved in two to four weeks. It’s uncomplicated, but it isn’t easy. As a springboard into efficient fat-burning you need to adopt a low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet. (Ketones are alternative fuel for the body when glucose is in short supply — they are produced by the liver from fats).
The important thing is to keep to a maximum of 25-50g of carbs a day. Carbs should be 5 per cent of your diet, fat 70 per cent and protein 25 per cent. Eat three meals a day (sensible for the first month) and don’t snack. You might breakfast on poached eggs, smoked salmon and spinach, a full English, or full-fat Greek yoghurt with berries and macadamia nuts. Lunch might be Greek salad or a cheese omelette. Dinner might be chicken, or cod and chorizo with buttery leeks, or steak with roasted vegetables and cauliflower mash. Carb withdrawal is tough — make sure you’re supported as you prime your body to be a fat-burning machine.
The Diet Whisperer is specifically a plan that resets your metabolism in 12 weeks, and we wrote it to help those who were struggling — but if your hormones are generally behaving with a little room for improvement, you can adopt whichever of its principles suit to improve wellness.
So if your hormones require a significant amount of whispering, we advise minimising starchy carbs for three months before reintroducing them into your diet, but otherwise continue to eat whole, nutritious varied foods, including legumes, beans, lentils, root vegetables and wholegrains such as quinoa and buckwheat throughout. (We can’t overemphasise the importance of enough fibre.)
However, once you hit your target weight, refined carbs such as potatoes and rice can also be a measured part of your diet. Long-term restrictive diets can lead to nutritional deficiencies, so it’s important to eat mindfully and find your own equilibrium — and you can always adjust as necessary. Eat well, be well.
11 signs of being fat-adapted
1. You feel clear-headed, with better cognition and memory.
2. You’re far less hungry.
3. After a meal you’re full and satiated.
4. You no longer suffer carb and junk-food cravings.
5. You don’t feel tired after lunch.
6. Your endurance in exercise has shot up.
7. You have much more energy.
8. Your blood pressure is lower than it was.
9. Your resting heart rate is lower.
10. Your sleep has improved.
11. You weigh less.
What to eat while fat-adapting
● Fish, shellfish, beef, lamb, pork, poultry, venison, cream, butter, Greek yoghurt, eggs, cheese: brie, cheddar, Comté, Gruyère, parmesan, feta, halloumi, mascarpone, mozzarella.
● Leafy greens, spinach, kale, salad greens, watercress, herbs, mushrooms, avocado, green beans, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, asparagus, tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, green peppers, aubergines, olives, onions, garlic, chillies, potato skins, beansprouts.
● Cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, goose fat, lard, butter, ghee, nut oil, walnut oil, avocado oil.
● Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries.
● Pecans, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, pine nuts.
● Chia, flax, sesame, sunflower seeds.
● Tea, coffee (with milk or cream, but watch your carb allowance), water.
Foods to avoid while fat-adapting (and in most cases, for ever)
● Low-fat foods (such as low-fat yoghurt — the fat has usually been replaced with sugar).
● Vegetable and seed oils.
● Fruit juices, fizzy drinks.
● Sauces — tomato ketchup, chilli, brown, barbecue.
● Processed foods, fast foods, crisps, chips, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, ice cream, bread, alcohol, sugar, starchy vegetables, potatoes, beetroot, parsnip, peas.
Eating fat makes you fat? It’s a myth
For more than 40 years we’ve been told that fat is bad. Actually, fat is our friend. It’s a great macronutrient. Our bodies need fat — 60 per cent of our brain is fat, cell walls contain fat, for example. The only bad body fat is visceral fat — and high-risk factors for visceral fat include drinking alcohol, consumption of fast-digested carbs, and high-frequency meals.
But eating good fat (within a limited time period each day) promotes health and helps us to lose weight. And fat adaptation — reteaching our body how to burn fat for fuel — is a Whisperer fundamental. It’s just knowing when to eat and what fat to eat.
Good fats fall into four groups — saturated fat (yes indeed), monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat and cholesterol (you read that right too.) The only bad fat — to be avoided — is trans fat, found in processed food, and a killer.
Saturated fat Found in meat, dairy, whole milk, butter, cheese, dark chicken meat, chicken breast skin, lard, and oils such as coconut. These fats do not cause heart disease.
Cholesterol Bad cholesterol comes from a liver damaged by high-sugar diets and fructose. Healthy cholesterol-rich foods include avocados, nuts, eggs, liver, shellfish, oily fish and grass-finished meat such as beef, lamb and venison. As part of the Whisperer lifestyle enjoy a steak, cooked on a cast-iron skillet, dressed with butter, plus buttered greens and mushrooms. (And occasionally have the chips too.)
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) Avocados, olives and extra virgin olive oil are rich in these fatty acids. Extra virgin olive oil contains oleic acid, a high intake of which has been linked with reduced insulin resistance. People on the MUFA-rich Mediterranean diet have shown reduced “bad” cholesterol. These fats are also associated with reduced inflammation.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) These include omega-6, and omega-3. Both are essential and our body can’t make them. But omega-6s are pro-inflammatory, while omega-3s are anti-inflammatory, so it’s vital to consume the right amount of each. Our omega-6 to omega-3 ratio should be four to one or below. Alarmingly, in the average western diet the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is 50 to one. Combined with speedily digested carbs, this is associated with increased inflammation, increased insulin resistance and increased obesity, to name a few. To improve your 6:3 ratio, eat at least two portions of oily fish a week, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and anchovies.
Crab has a 6:3 ratio of 1:60. Tinned tuna in water has a 6:3 ratio of 1:30. But in sunflower oil its 6:3 ratio is 13:1. Shellfish are also a good source of omega-3. If you don’t eat fish, take fish oil daily (4-5g for men; 3-4g for women.) For vegetarians there are algae sources such as spirulina and chlorella. Grass-fed meats such as venison have a good 6:3 ratio (grain-fattened meat not so much).
Look after your gut
Our gut bugs are powerful. They directly influence our immune system, mental health and function, hormone production and metabolism. The more diverse our gut-bug community, the greater its resilience (and the healthier we are), although some species are more important than others because they keep other potentially harmful species in check. To tame our fat storage hormones, eating a high-fibre diet that enables our gut microbiome to flourish is key. Treat them badly and we pay, with metabolic disease, obesity and poor health. However, if we look after them, they look after us.
Fibre increases large gut fermentation, enabling our friendly gut bugs to produce chemicals that make us happy. Recent research has shown that subjects who ate a healthy diet (aim for 30 types of plant a week and probiotics such as fermented vegetables, kefir and live yoghurt) had high levels of good gut bugs and a low risk of metabolic disease. Those who ate an unhealthy diet (high in sugar, processed food, burgers, sweets, muffins, anything containing preservatives, additives, emulsifiers and sweeteners) had high levels of bad bugs, associated with insulin resistance, abnormal metabolism and obesity.
If our microbiome isn’t healthy, neither are we. And our friendly gut bugs’ favourite food is fibre, from the indigestible part of a carb. Carbohydrate fibre is a nutritional gem — it’s the must-have carb. It means the carb is slowly digested. It reduces blood glucose, blood insulin, constipation and so-called bad cholesterol. Ideally we’d eat more than 30g a day. Think greens, not grains. How do you know if you’re not getting enough? If you’re not farting, that’s how. Wind may be unacceptable at dinner, but it’s a sign of a healthy diet and well-fed gut bugs happily fermenting fibre, with gas as a by-product.
Examples of fibrous must-have carbs are whole fruits, beans, lentils, potato skins, cabbage, carrots, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, beans, kale and so on. It can be hard to eat enough fibre if you’re minimising carbs, so go big on vegetables — celeriac mash with lashings of butter, garlic mushrooms with herbs fried in extra virgin olive oil, roasted peppers and cherry tomatoes, buttered leeks, homemade tomato sauce (slosh in half a glass of dry white wine) and chimichurri (superb with fish or meat.)
Food to boost your mood
Serotonin is well known to be a mood-boosting hormone, and people with depression may take Prozac, which increases serotonin. But because it must be produced every day — for which we need daily tryptophan — we can help ourselves by what we eat. Chicken, cheese, nuts, seeds and pineapple are great sources. And as our friendly species of gut bacteria also help to control its production, we should keep them happy too. That means avoiding processed food with high amounts of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup — that junk overwhelms them.
Why the timing of your food matters
Fasting works wonders. By fasting you’re mimicking what humans have done for millennia. Our ancestors had times of going without and our bodies evolved to cope. Fasting doesn’t panic our hormones, it galvanises them. When you fast, there’s no reduction in your metabolic rate or increase in appetite (it does the opposite, in fact).
And when we say “fast”, it doesn’t have to be anything scary. It can be intermittent or periodic (after 12 hours or more our hormones switch us into fat-burning mode.) You might stop eating at 7pm or 8pm one day, and eat a late breakfast the next day. Or you might drink a black coffee but hold off consuming anything more substantial until noon, then feast on bacon, eggs and mushrooms for lunch.
This takes getting used to, and if you’re minimising carbs for the first time we advise sticking to three meals a day for a month before increasing your FastSpan. But your hormones understand fasting and support it. Fasting subdues our hunger hormone ghrelin (unlike low-calorie diets, which cause it to go berserk.)
Fasting allows rest and regeneration. It increases stress resistance, suppresses inflammation and improves blood glucose regulation. (To prevent blood sugar falling, when the liver’s glucose stores run out we start to produce glucose from fats and proteins.) It leads to reduced visceral fat and reduced insulin levels. It also increases growth hormone (GH), which peaks when we’re asleep, meaning you retain muscle. (In a calorie-restricted diet GH goes down and you lose muscle.) Low meal frequency and reducing your EatSpan (to less than ten hours if possible) is a fundamental part of whispering your hormones into obedience.
Why eating at night is bad for your health and waistline
Our master body clock is set every day by early morning light, and this master clock resets all body clocks so every cell clock in our body chimes in unison. But these different body clocks are also set by what we eat and when we eat. Our body clocks thrive on routine and order — it enables them to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm. They’re surprisingly vulnerable to disruption. If certain clocks receive conflicting cues — say, a meal at midnight — they go out of sync with the master clock. Your master clock says “it’s night” and your liver clock says “it’s day”.
Late-night eating works against your hormones. This is because our metabolism is co-ordinated by our circadian rhythm. Our old friend insulin, plus cortisol and growth hormone (at its peak when you’re asleep to allow the body’s maintenance and repair) have rhythmical diurnal patterns, to help us to respond to the demands of the day.
For instance, our levels of cortisol, a steroid hormone, peak in the morning to make us alert. Cortisol also affects sugar metabolism and its being persistently raised because we’re chronically stressed is associated with increased obesity and visceral fat, insulin resistance and diabetes. This is why learning to manage our stress in a healthy way can be powerful enough to prevent heart attacks.
Insulin also has a circadian rhythm, and insulin resistance increases as the day progresses. So the later you eat, the more insulin is needed. Which means late-night eating increases insulin resistance and can cause weight gain. Plus digestion and sleep are supposed to happen at different times. Hormones are produced to cope with both — but not simultaneously. (Which is why, after that late-night meal, you sleep badly.) In an ideal world, no food or drink bar water would pass our lips after 6pm. But in the real one, aim to finish eating three to four hours before bedtime, two if you absolutely must.
Meanwhile, if you eat at midnight, gut bugs are asleep — your digestion machinery is switched off. With a midnight feast, emergency digestion and absorption is switched on, with all consumed going straight to our fat stores. Bad food timing is the ultimate disruptor to clock synchrony, and if you can quit this habit, it’s a hormone-whispering win.
Three ways to mix and match your food to please your hormones
1. It’s worth noting that carb absorption is slightly lessened when eaten with fats, proteins or fibre. (If you eat a potato, containing 20g of carb, you’ll absorb 17.5g of carb if you eat it with chicken and vegetables.) Fibre reduces carbohydrate bioavailability and is protective against insulin spikes.
2. If you eat a protein-rich meal with fats, and slowly digested high-fibre vegetables, it’s possible to double the amount of protein you absorb. So if we eat protein alone, we can only absorb 30g in one meal (one chicken breast). If we eat it with fibre we can absorb up to 60g. Protein does suppress the appetite more than other foods.
3. If you eat nutrient-poor foods, it bungs a whole load of calories into you with no benefits. But nutrient-dense foods give you micronutrients and satiety with fewer calories. For maximum nutrient absorption, certain foods are best eaten together, for instance tomatoes and broccoli, unpeeled tomatoes and olive oil, turmeric and black pepper, apples and their peel, garlic and fish.
Extracted from The Diet Whisperer by Paul Barrington Chell and Monique Hope-Ross, to be published (in the UK) by Hodder & Stoughton on January 13