24 July 2009

Trying out a low-GI diet

I had no choice about changing my eating habits. My body had simply stopped working. It was time for a low-GI diet. This is how things have been.

We have all been on diets. We have all failed at sticking to diets. And we have all been depressed about our inability to stick to so-called good resolutions.

But the secret to dieting is doing it for the right reason and in the right way.

Oh, yes, and to call it an eating plan. The word ‘diet’ has the connotation of deprivation, hardship, and something which cannot be maintained for long.

I once had a conversation with a long-time food scientist and microbiologist about diets. His advice to me was, “Remember, these quick diets never work. They do more harm than good. A diet should be more extensive – it should be a lifestyle change. And it must be healthy.”

Why suddenly this new eating plan?
In December 2005 everything suddenly went seriously wrong. I woke up with severe stomach cramps – so bad, that I had to be taken to the doctor immediately. She looked at me, chatted to me and did an examination. Her diagnosis was simple: “Everything stopped working. Your colon is not working, you probably have stomach ulcers, and you are overweight.”

The reasons were two-fold: first, I suffered the loss of two dear friends a year earlier and never took time off to deal with the emotional trauma of the loss. I stopped looking after myself, because I was busy looking after everyone else. I know, I know. Noble, but stupid. Secondly, an unhealthy diet combined with no exercise also took its toll, eventually.

Why I had to change my eating patterns
I was sent for several tests to find out why my body was rebelling. Apart from the stomach problems, I was also constantly ill – with what I thought was flu. The results were interesting:

  1. My cholesterol levels skyrocketed over time
  2. Blood tests revealed very high insulin levels indicative of type 2 diabetes. This explained the unhealthy weight gain around my midriff over the years.
  3. The constant flu symptoms were a result of food allergies – it was never flu, and I was diagnosed with acute and chronic sinusitis.
  4. The sore throat was the biggest surprise: there was no flu infection – because of bad eating habits I suffered from heartburn and the acid reflux caused the inflammation.

The message was clear. I needed a serious change in lifestyle. The alternative was not something I would care to explore, because I am naturally an active person with too many adventures that await me. Well that, and the medical bills that bankrupted me, despite having medical aid.

How I had to change my eating patterns
After I received the news, I went home, and I had a chat with my family and with my partner. They all agreed that I needed help. And they all promised to support me. So this is what I did:

  1. I went to my doctor again and chatted to her about alternatives.
  2. I went to see a dietician.
  3. The dietician did a comprehensive analysis and worked out an eating plan for me. She also explained to me why I had to cut out certain foods.
  4. I hate gyms. I really do. So I invested in a boxing bag, a bench press, and some weights. I downloaded a Health24 exercising programme. And I bought a book on boxing.

My eating patterns changed radically in the following ways:

  1. I now eat six times a day, instead of once or twice.
  2. I don’t eat junk food anymore.
  3. I eat less carbohydrates, because of insulin resistance.
  4. I don't eat bread or drink beer, because of wheat and yeast intolerance.
  5. I have cut out pastries and refined sugar.
  6. The only red meat I eat is ostrich or venison.
  7. I don’t drink sodas or fruit juice. I now drink water, tea, iced tea (light) and the occasional glass of wine.

Here is an outline of my daily routine: I get up earlier and exercise for 30 – 45 minutes, depending on my energy levels. Then I drink supplements including evening primrose oil, a calcium supplement, a multi-vitamin and an immune booster. For breakfast, I eat two small low-fat yoghurts with two tablespoons of muesli. I cannot eat more, because of the wheat intolerance.

Mid-morning, I snack on a fruit. A small bunch of grapes does the trick.

Lunch usually consists of protein, such as nuts or chicken/ostrich from the night before, and a salad. Use your imagination here, because it can become boring very easily.

Mid-afternoon it is snack time again – limited to a small portion of fruit.

Dinner includes vegetables – preferably of the green variety – salad, and a protein portion, such as chicken, fish or ostrich.

After dinner, I eat half a fruit if I am still hungry.

What I found easy
Well, honestly, nothing was easy. Everything changed for me. But the pluses are many. These include increased energy, no more moody tantrums, weight loss (I have lost 10kg initially and I am now close to my ideal weight and maintaining it), better skin and hair (this surprised me), easier movement (I am still clumsy, but I move much more easily now), no more cravings for sweets, and the best of all: I am not hungry all the time.

What I found difficult
I got bored. I got bored, especially with salads. I am truly sick of leaves. I miss pies, and I get cravings for pizza. But now that I have written this down, I notice that the good outweighs the bad by far. Oh, and I dislike exercise, but it keeps me sane.

10 tips for others

  • Go see a dietician. It is really worth it and they give you advice that is unique to what you need.
  • Think about what you eat and eat regularly. Starving yourself doesn't help.
  • Get a good multi-vitamin and an immune booster. Speak to your doctor about other supplements you might need.
  • Exercise – I hate it too, but it really helps. It is important to find something you like and do it regularly.
  • If you get bored with food, chat to others for ideas. A friend of mine made a lovely salad one night with some different ingredients and she added some pesto. My boredom was cured. I am eternally grateful.
  • Explore new foods that are healthy. I don't like rye bread, so I replaced it with rye crisp bread.
  • Get support, even get a fan club. It helps when people praise your perseverance. You will also be surprised how many of your friends start doing this.
  • Treat yourself once a week. My doctor might not agree, but I need a day where I eat what I want – a diet shouldn’t be a punishment.
  • Stop feeling guilty when you give in to having a chocolate every now and then. Start worrying when this happens every day.
  • When you need time off, take it. You'll probably be missed, but the business won't collapse without you.

To summarise: eat regularly, drink water, exercise and sleep enough. Good luck!

- (André Britz, Health24, updated July 2009)


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