Grain of truth in wheat-free diet: I lost four stone
Having tried all kinds of weight-loss regimes, Lucinda O'Sullivan found giving up her morning toast worked
Isuppose you could say these are the last days of the feasting and indulging and this weekend many of us will be waking up saying: "I'm going to shift a few kilos."
Diets are a multi-million euro industry with new magic formulas coming on stream every month. I am no dietician or food nutritionist but over the years I have probably been on every diet known to man. Many have been successful for a period, most have been miserable, but I have finally come to the conclusion that all diet programmes preach about a change of eating habits.
This philosophy has never appealed to me, particularly in the past as that always meant in my mind 3 oz chicken, a few lettuce leafs and a grapefruit if I was lucky. I have looked at all of these size 10 diet proponents and known straight away that they starve themselves and you can see it on their faces.
But I've made a great discovery over the past few months and it has made a huge change to my life. I have finally found my own personal regimen that seems to suit my metabolism -- it is very simple: cutting out wheat altogether. Over a period of four months I lost four stone -- while enjoying the best of other luxurious foods.
I didn't embark on any particular diet as such this time -- I just resolved to cut out the morning toast which was in fact "healthy" wholegrain and the convenient lunchtime sandwiches or rolls. I am an all or nothing person so it was easier for me to cut out wheat altogether.
Within 10 days the effect was enormous, my feet, wrists, hands and face all lost puffiness, and the weight started to fall off. I actually couldn't call it a diet, more a regimen, because I was still eating loads, and of course, being a restaurant critic, visiting restaurants left, right and centre, eating prawns and mayonnaise, olive oil, curries, and cheese and chocolate in smaller proportions.
Back in the Eighties I did the high-protein Dr Atkins diet with great success but a considerable amount of misery. Dr Atkins was the instigator of the high-protein diet. There were questions raised about concentrating on so much protein but Atkins was a cardiologist. It certainly worked and people loved the fact that you could have bacon and eggs for breakfast, lunch and dinner if they wished.
Critics pointed out Dr Atkins himself had a heart attack in his early 70s but then many people have heart attacks due to being overweight -- and it was a fall on ice the following year that killed him.
The next medical doctor's diet was the Scarsdale diet, not quite as austere as the Atkins diet. It was devised by Dr Herman Tarnower, another cardiologist, with an eye for the ladies (which eventually did him in, as he was shot dead by his mistress Jean Harris when she caught him playing away with his new receptionist).
I embarked on the Scarsdale diet with a girlfriend for two weeks. It too was mainly protein but you were allowed a couple of slices of "protein bread" or gluten-free toast. My friend lost 10lbs in the two weeks and I didn't lose an ounce -- I knew in my heart it was the bread allowance.
I have joined diet classes which are great for many but just don't suit me. I have sat and listened as Mary or Jane confessed their weaknesses for the extra biscuit or chocolate cake. No one ever stands up and says: "I got smashed on a bottle of wine/five G&Ts and then stuffed my face with chicken chow mein."
For many who don't work full-time these meetings are somewhat of a social gathering in the mornings. One of my friends, who like myself, needed to lose a bit of weight, has been going for years, paying her few bob, weighing in, and then adjourning upstairs to a cafe for coffee and buns.
I had two experiences which turned me off these clubs. Once I was walking through the supermarket when I met an old dear, whose social life revolved around these "mornings", coming towards me saying at the top of her voice: "How much did you lose this week dear?"
On the second occasion I was at a fashion show where the organisation had a stand. I was with a gay friend who was great fun but thin as a whippet and bitchy as hell. As we sat there, me in my finery, and he casting a weary eye over the ensemble, an area manager for the organisation, who used be a group leader, came over to us and said: "Don't I know you? You used to come to our meetings."
I know it's vanity, but when you are very overweight you are also very vulnerable -- and he was grinning like a Cheshire Cat! It was total betrayal and indiscretion on her part and I never crossed the doorstep again.
The French then started getting involved in the diet industry in the Nineties when a Dr Michel Montignac wrote a book called The Montignac Method which is also low-carb. Another French diet book is all the rage these days, the Dukan diet, which has a huge number of celebrities and fatties in the western world who are followers. The principle of this diet is again low-carb set out in four phases described as:
1. "A brief and headlong ATTACK phase with immediate results". During this phase the diet is made up of 72 high-protein foods enabling quick weight loss.
2. A CRUISE phase leading to "true weight". During this phase, diet alternates pure protein days (PP phases) and proteins with 28 recommended vegetables (PV phases).
3. The CONSOLIDATION phase of 10 days per kg lost which prepares for the return to a balanced diet. Monitored freedom with a target of establishing this freshly conquered and still vulnerable ideal weight.
4. A definite STABILISATION phase to maintain weight.
As I say, I embarked on my regime without recourse to any books, instead keeping a strict record on an iPhone app. Once I got over the first week or so without bread, I suddenly found I wasn't as hungry any more, and now I know I will never look at wheat again. I invariably start the day with juice, eggs and maybe bacon. I buy full-fat prawn cocktails for lunch and whack in some hot, hot harissa, sometimes I have these on their own or with an avocado, or I may have smoked salmon rolled with pickled ginger and wasabi.
Dinner is whatever meat, chicken or fish we fancy on the day, with stirfried green vegetables, or what I call "above the ground" vegetable -- even lovely cauliflower cheese.
I now also buy the small individual portions of cheese which I find very handy rather than chopping off a wedge of cheese, and Brendan makes a flour-free almond and orange cake for indulgences.
I have long also forgotten about rice purely because I feel it is too easy to switch from one white carb to another. When we go to an Indian restaurant I order aubergine as a side vegetable, or if at home I will have a curry with a cabbage base -- yes I know it probably sounds funny but it gives you a harmless base and good green nutrition.
Whilst looking at the effects of white carbs, I came across a book on the internet, published in the US by the Rodale Corporation (www.rodalebooks.com) who publish a lot of health and fitness magazines, called Wheat Belly by yet another cardiologist Dr William Davis. According to him, "eating two slices of whole wheat bread can raise blood sugar more than two tablespoons of sugar can".
He maintains that "since the introduction of dietary guidelines in the Seventies calling for reduced fat intake, a strange phenomenon has occurred: Americans have steadily become heavier, less healthy and more prone to diabetes".
After putting 2,000 of his "at-risk" patients on a wheat-free regimen and seeing extraordinary results, Dr Davis has come to the disturbing conclusion that it is not fat, or sugar, or sedentary lifestyles that has caused the obesity epidemic -- it is wheat.
In Wheat Belly, Dr Davis maintains that modern-day wheat is no longer the sturdy staple our forebears ground into their daily bread. "Today's wheat has been genetically altered to provide processed-food manufacturers the greatest yield at the lowest cost; consequently this once benign grain has been transformed into a nutritionally bankrupt yet ubiquitous ingredient that causes blood sugar to spike more rapidly than eating pure table sugar and has addictive properties that cause us to ride a rollercoaster of hunger, overeating and fatigue." He also attributes cutting out wheat to the alleviation of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, reduction of inflammation and rheumatoid arthritis pain, and various skin problems.
Wheat Belly is a fascinating read and I now think cutting out wheat totally has made a huge improvement to my life. I'm not a whippet and never will be, but hopefully by summer I will have shifted another couple of stone.
It is not for everyone and before embarking on any diet you should be checked out medically first.