'The vomiting was the final straw'- RTE's Philip Boucher Hayes tries a fad gym diet for 28 days
Philip finds out the hard way that sometimes losing weight and getting fit is as simple as - eat less, move more...
It was the second mouthful of protein shake that I realised I wasn’t going to be able to hold down. Not surprising really when you consider I’d already had a breakfast of 400 calories worth of porridge oats, protein powder and blueberries at 5am. Topped up at 6am by a gut busting pre-workout meal of 100g of beef and twice that much sweet potato and cheddar cheese.
The protein shake, not unlike liquefied cardboard to my mind, just wasn’t going to stay in. Not after an hour of lunging, squatting, and pressing my 45-year-old protesting body through one of its first work outs in nearly a quarter of a century.
I made it to the toilet, but judging by the faces of those waiting outside as I emerged nobody was in any doubt what was going on behind the cubicle door.
In the first season of What Are You Eating? the producers thought it would be a merry jape to guinea pig me on a fad diet. And putting me on the Paleo diet for a month was fun for the kind of people who like watching a man so hungry he’s prepared to gnaw off his own arm.
But the results made for those two essential ingredients of TV in 2017 — jeopardy and presenter humiliation. So naturally the exercise had to be repeated in series two. The focus for investigation this time was going to be fad gym diets.
“Give us 28 days and we’ll get you ripped”, “The body you’ve always dreamed of in under a month”. We’ve seen the ads and who among us hasn’t wondered if we really threw everything into it for just four short weeks wouldn’t it be worth it to get results like that.
Shrewd marketing preying on vanity encourages us to believe, in the face of all logic, that we can overcome our genes, ageing, medical science and common sense.
And that’s what I proclaimed loudly at all our production meetings, as I denounced the cynicism of the companies taking money from the gullible. Who were these charlatans guaranteeing people results that could never be realised at nearly €200 a pop.
But in the recesses of my own mind, the part that is devoted to male hubris, I was thinking seditious thoughts. What if this guinea pig could confound everyone and transform himself in to a guinea boar. I would baffle the What Are You Eating producers, my doctor, our resident dietician, a personal trainer and the whole of RTÉ management. I would sculpt myself the body of an Adonis in just a month and put the snigger on the other side of their faces.
And I honestly gave it my all. Driven by a heady mix of pride and delusion I reduced every meal to a nutritional equation. My aim was to consume 1 gramme of protein for every pound of lean body mass every day. But I also had to count my other two macros, carbs and fats. So each day I went to the gym I was taking in 170g of protein, 305g of Carbs, and 63g of fat. The protein alone would be the equivalent of almost 30 boiled eggs.
From pretty much day one my gut must have thought I was waging an unprovoked campaign of “Shock and Awe” against it. It responded with its own form of total war; bloating, indigestion, chronic headaches, whale song from my stomach in the middle of the night and crippling constipation.
By the end of week two my stomach was so enlarged I couldn’t stand up to get off the sofa. I developed a technique of rolling to the side and pushing myself up simultaneously with knee and elbow, while groaning like an aged walrus.
The vomiting was the final straw. I went to the doctor who offered me a medical opinion and non medical opinion.
“What’s the non-medical opinion?”
“You’re a f***ing eejit”
“Oh OK, and the medical opinion?”
“You’re a f***ing eejit”
It turns out that not only was I missing the healthy amount of fibre from my normal diet but the increased amount of protein was also moving very slowly through the small intestine where 95pc of it is broken down. I had taken a perfectly healthy diet and transformed it in to one which was inhibiting peristalsis, the involuntary muscular contractions of the intestine.
It was like the reverse of a swimming swan, above the surface I was all furious activity and gym workouts, but beneath that the gut had gone on a work to rule. Reducing the amount of digesting it was prepared to do at a time when it had never been called upon to do more.
Advice varies on how much protein the body can actually absorb and use for muscle repair in a single sitting. Some bodybuilders say 30g, many dietitians say about 20g, some biochemists say — depending on the person — maybe as little as 9g. Any amount of protein above and beyond this limit, whatever it is, might as well be an unneeded carb deposited directly on to your hips or belly.
A process of demonising fat, then carbohydrates and particularly sugars has left people by a process of elimination seeking refuge in protein rich meals. Huge industries are growing up around this new dietary dogma. Just look at how much space formally reserved for chocolates, crisps and jellies at the checkout is now given over to protein bars.
Sharon Madigan, a sports dietitian working with elite Irish athletes told me these bars can be useful for some athletes to hit their required calorie intake every day, “But only a subset of athletes, certainly not all athletes”. And by extension, certainly not all mere mortals shuffling in and out of petrol stations seduced in to believing a protein bar will somehow have none of the calorific properties of a Mars Bar.
Meanwhile in the gym I could not have been working harder. 5 days a week for an hour I was pushing, pulling and shoving my ever increasing body weight around the various medieval torture devices that have been re-purposed by the fitness industry. I was getting so anxious about my expanding waistline that on the days that I wasn’t going to the gym I was doing 100 press up and five minutes of wall squats.
But guess what? Surprise surprise, if you eat like an O’Donovan brother but don’t go and row in the Olympics you will put on weight. In the first two weeks of the regime I put on 4 kilos. But that’s not what the promoters of the diet said when they saw the pictures I was supposed to send them every week. “Congratulations, we can see from your selfies that you have lost 2pc body fat”.
Amazing! The people who had never met me, assessed my health or underlying physical fitness could accurately measure body fat without a Dexa scanner let alone a callipers. Unfortunately they were badly wrong as my final weigh in proved. In spite of increasing my work rate in the gym and at home, and sneakily dropping some of the mountainous portions of sweet potato, I continued to put on weight. And only a little of it was muscle.
It was the vomiting, that made me change my mind about being the exception to all the rules of human medical science. You’d think it should have been the constipation or the blinding headaches, but hey, there’s none so vain as the forty-something male trying to rewind the clock. No, ultimately it was the vomiting that persuaded me beyond any reasonable doubt that there’s no short cut to the body beautiful.
Since this epiphany there’s no more counting macros, cutting carbs or eating boiled chicken breasts before dawn. I’ve resumed a more balanced — and fibre rich — diet and continued going to the gym about three times a week. I shed the excess weight quickly and a little more besides. I’m still more Shrek than shredded but I feel limber and more supple than I have in years. In other words ... you guessed it ... the trick is to eat a little less, exercise a little more. Now where have you heard that before?
* Philip Boucher-Hayes presents What Are You Eating on RTÉ 1 at 8.30pm, starting on Wednesday 1st of March. Follow Philip on Twitter @boucherhayes
Health & Living