Today's menu was roast chicken with broccoli and cauliflower.
"Do you eat from the buffet here everyday? I don't like the food there really, but at least the soup and bread rolls are nice." Albert was a new work colleague, recently arrived from France. We aren't on the same team, but we do work the same department.
"The bread rolls are nice, or at least they were when I used to eat them," I shrugged. "But I do the buffet for lunch every day now, as that's where the low carb options are, and that's what I have to be eating to stay healthy."
This puzzled Albert. "But why? You look perfectly normal," he said as he began his soup. It was only then that I suddenly realised: he could never have known why. He hadn't known me long enough to know my history, how I used to be.
My father insists I wasn't always fat, but I have no memory of not being so. What I do remember is being bullied all throughout primary school for my size, and the teachers soon running out of sympathy. I distinctly remember a line from one of my school reports from my second or third year: "needs to do something about his weight problem". Well, nobody was going to disagree with that. But nobody could figure out what that something needed to be, since nothing anybody suggested would work.
At 9 I was 47kg and easily the heaviest in my year. At 12 I was seeing dieticians at the local hospital regularly. I learned all about the Healthy Food Pyramid, I was told to eat less fat, I was told to eat less everything. I was put on appetite-suppressing shakes. I was once put on a diet of nothing but crackers and cottage cheese for an entire month; when my rate of weight gain actually increased as a result of that one, I was outright accused of cheating. Of course it had to be my fault; these were the experts in their field, after all. My parents were at a loss, and I was hungry and miserable.
Even worse than the dieticians were the PE teachers. At middle school I was routinely taken out of class in the afternoons and made to run around the block with the other fatties. Annual sports days and cross-country running events were an annual embarrassment. Swimming and gymnastics classes were a weekly embarrassment. Yet the weight continued to pile on unabated. By the time I finished high school at 17 I weighed 120kg, my life seemingly destined for a lonely and premature end.
A few years after I'd left home - somewhere around 2002 or so - I remember reading about some craze doing the rounds in the States called the Atkins diet. Eat bacon and eggs, they said. Eat steak and butter, they said. Well, mainstream media would have none of that. Out came all the usual responses, decrying Atkins as a ridiculous, even dangerous fad. All that fat will clog your arteries and give you a heart attack! And of course I listened; these were the experts in their field, after all. So I cast the idea aside, and normal service resumed.
By 2010 I was 135kg. One day after beginning to hear more and more about how unhealthy sugary soft drinks were, I decided to try an experiment and replaced all soft drinks with water. That one change caused me to lose 7kg from May to September of that year. Very exciting! But things stalled as I looked for other sources of sugar to cut out of my diet; there was sugar in fruit juice, but that comes from fruit so that has to be good for me, right? And I was still doing everything else the Healthy Food Pyramid was telling me to do, eating lots of bread and potatoes like a good boy.
By January 2015 I had peaked at 137kg, or 302lb. I was suffering from chronic chest pains, but could never get a firm diagnosis on it. Perhaps it was pericarditis, or costochondritis? It sure felt like somethingitis, anyway. My doctor wanted to refer me to a dietician. HAHAHA, no. Scans at the hospital meanwhile suggested my heart was fine, my BP was fine, my total cholesterol was only slightly elevated. Aside from being really fat, there was apparently nothing wrong with me. Well, I sure felt pretty wrong, but OK then. These were the experts in their field, after all.
In the continuing search for a solution and despite my discomfort, I resumed walking to work in the short week following Easter of 2015. A 5km round trip, every day that it didn't rain, which took me around 45 minutes in each direction. And it was hell, but over the course of the next 6 months, I managed to lose all of 5kg. Not bad I suppose, but it hardly seemed worth that amount of effort.
Still, it got me thinking. Since the walking seemed to be working - however barely - perhaps I could just exercise my way out of this? I mean, people say it's all about diet and exercise, but dieting had never worked for me at all, so maybe I just needed to go hard out on the exercise alone? That, despite no small amount of suffering recalled from my school days, finally led me to make an appointment at Body Synergy gym in Dunedin (http://www.bodysynergy.co.nz
) and a meeting with the manager there, Rowan Ellis.
I gave him the same story I've written here to this point, and his response was the last thing I expected. He told me there was no point in him signing me up, that whatever losses I might make there wouldn't last. I needed a long term, more sustainable solution. Apparently, despite my insistence that diets don't work and all my years of experience that proved it... I needed a diet. He referred me to his website of choice - the Real Meal Revolution, it was called - and after a short stare-off and some grumbling, I stormed home in a seething rage.
It took me a few days to calm down after that, but through it all I couldn't help but wonder: why would he turn down an easy membership fee, unless there really was something behind what he'd said? Eventually I reasoned that the only way I could prove him wrong was to give it a shot. So I signed up for the free first week of the beginner Banting course on the Real Meal Revolution website (http://realmealrevolution.com
), with no expectations whatsoever. No way could this possibly be the answer.
But by the end of only the second video, my mind was blown. I finally had an explanation for my situation that I'd never heard before, but seemed completely feasible: I could be insulin resistant. And if I was, then a Low Carb, High Fat diet could conceivably work. All those experts from yesteryear would undoubtedly be horrified, but the science here seemed to make sense, and I was running out of options. So one otherwise unremarkable day in October 2015, I decided to commit, to go all in. One way or another, somebody here was going down.
That somebody would turn out to be me.
Over the course of the following 6 months, I lost 26kg. I lost an average of a kilo a week for 8 months straight. After a year I'd lost 46kg. And now in January 2017, 15 months after I began lowcarbing, here I sit at 82kg/180lb, a full 50kg down on where I was back then, and 55kg down on my peak from 21 months ago. I am literally 60% of the man I used to be.
Other measurements have improved as well. I've lost 40cm from my waist; I no longer fill other plane passengers with dread when I sit down next to them. My HbA1c is perfectly normal (31 by the new scale, 5.0 by the old), my HDL cholesterol is nice and high, my triglycerides are nice and low. I've even dropped a shoe size.
Rowan was right all along, and I went back to see him 10 months later to tell him so. We've kept in touch by email, but I haven't gone back there again; I haven't really felt the need to. The only exercise I've been doing is... walking to work and back. It's much easier now of course. But by the numbers, LCHF has been roughly four times more effective for me anyway. Seems a lot easier to just focus my efforts there. People say diet and exercise? I say diet, THEN exercise. You can't outrun the fork.
As for what finds the end of my own fork these days? Sausages, eggs and cheese for BREAKfast. Whatever meat and veg makes the grade at the cafeteria for lunch. Navigating the kitchen for dinner has been a challenge, but in true geek style, I stuck to the numbers. Working only with food containing no more than 5g net carbs per 100g, I've been able to cobble together such options as:
* bunless burgers, wrapped in lettuce
* mince and tomatoes on spiralised courgettes with sour cream
* salmon and spinach, fried in butter, served with aioli
* stir fry veges with diced chicken, fried in butter
* steak and mushrooms with mashed cauliflower
* vege soup with added chopped spam
I also get KFC most weekends, but only the original recipe chicken, no sides. Snacking is rare these days, but when needed, macadamia nuts are perfect. Water to drink, sometimes flavoured with cranberry juice, the low sugar varieties of course. And critically, unlike the past, I can always eat to satiety. I'll never need to go hungry again.
So, about that Healthy Food Pyramid? I figure it has a lot to answer for. I've come to learn that its originating guidelines were first published in the US in 1977, and I've come to believe that an entire generation has suffered under its shadow ever since. Ever wondered why obesity rates suddenly skyrocketed since the turn of the 80s? Those guidelines are my pick for the answer. We're not uneducated; on the contrary, we listened only too well. I did what I was told for 30 years and it nearly killed me, yet this low fat, high carb dogma continues to masquerade as indisputable fact today.
The New Zealand Government really needs to take a good hard look at its current national health guidelines, as any of the rest of us can (http://www.health.govt.nz/system/fi...lts-oct15_0.pdf
). The contents page alone sums up the issues nicely: "enjoy" plenty of grains, and keep your fat intake low and unsaturated. And check out the first three references cited as evidence for these guidelines in Appendix 2: the very same corresponding guidelines for the United States, Norway and Australia. Everyone else is doing it, so it has to be right! Never mind the outcomes! Yeah, nah. To you I say: sort it out guys, chop chop.
To those on the other hand who do know better - from Tim Noakes to Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney, from Aseem Malhotra to Grant Schofield and Caryn Zinn - and to everyone else for their support along the way, including my friends at lowcarber.org: my sincerest thanks.
Albert blinked, his mouth hung open in amazement. "Fifty kilos? Fifty?" he repeated, as if expecting to be corrected with fifteen.
"Five zero," I confirmed.
"That's amazing. I would never have known!" His soup almost finished, he reached for the bread roll.
I smiled and nodded. Here before me sat the first person I knew who had no memory of my ever having been a fat ginger nerd. To him I was just a regular sized, plain old ginger nerd.
Good times, I thought. Good times.