I Lost Half a Stone in a Month - Here's How
What I Did
This article is not trying to sell you anything. I am not promoting diet pills, creams or gadgets of any kind. I just thought some people might like to know how I lost two inches on my waist in four weeks.
I never thought I would have to go on a diet - I was one of those people whose lives are so active that for years I seemed to be able to eat whatever I liked without getting fat.
Then one day I looked at some recent photographs, and wondered what that barrel was standing next to my daughter. Barrel? It was me! My sedentary lifestyle as a writer sitting in front of a computer had finally beaten my inborne metabolism and I had to admit I was getting tubby. I had no waist at all! My wardrobe was full of clothes that I could no longer get into and I had been kidding myself by wearing things with an elasticated waist.
I set myself a gaol - to lose some inches by the time I was due to go on a holiday. I had four weeks.
Years ago I lived with a flat mate who followed a low-carb diet. She explained to me that if you don't eat carbohydrates, your body HAS to draw on its stores of fat to provide energy for daily life. It just cannot get that immediate energy from eating pure protein which is much harder to metabolise.
I went to the local library and got down a pile of books about dieting. What is now called the "Atkins diet" was not invented by Dr Atkins and it goes back much longer than that. In the 1960s a man called Yudkin wrote several books about it, and he took his ideas from diets followed in Victorian times. At first it looked crazy to me - why avoid milk but still eat cheese, which is made out of milk? But there is a logic to this. When milk turns into hard cheese, all the carbohydrates are converted into protein. You still get the calcium and vitamins.
I realised that I was living almost entirely on carbohydrates. Muesli, pasta, bread and rice dominated my store cupboard. I thought I was eating healthily because I selected wholemeal cereals and included a lot of fruit and veg. I even had a standing joke with my partner that you need a glass of wine or two to ensure you get your Five Portions of Fruit and Veg per day.
It was time to stop joking...
For four weeks I followed this ultra-simple plan of eating:-
Breakfast. Black coffee and a soft-boiled egg. No milk (not even skimmed), no sugar, no bread, no cereal, no fruit juice. At weekends when I had more time I would cook myself poached or scrambled eggs with mushrooms, and ham or bacon. It was filling and I didn't feel hungry. I avoided sausages as most of them contain carbohydrate.
Mid-morning. Black coffee. Just that. Nothing with it. It starts to taste OK after the first few days. Honestly, you miss the milk less and less.
Lunch. I would make myself a salad with 2 oz of any hard cheese OR 4 oz of meat (usually ham as it's convenient) and a big bowlful of salad. The salad could contain tomatoes, lettuce, rocket, cucumber, pimentos, olives, up to half of an avocado and an oily dressing without vinegar or sugar. To this I would add a good sprinkling of herbs, fresh or dried, to make sure it was tasty. I chopped the tomatoes and cucumber into chunks rather than slicing them, so the result would feel more substantial. It is a good idea to use Cos, Romaine, or iceberg lettuce, and cut them small, so that it feels as if you are eating something substantial. Big floppy leaves are not as satisfying.
By varying the herbs, and the cheese, you can transform the whole character of the salad. Basil with tomatoes and mozarella will taste Italian, whereas oregano and olives, with feta or halloumi, will taste like a Greek horiatiki. Adding freshly-chopped chives to a green salad will turn it into something different again.
I did not include carrots or beet as they both contain a surprising amount of carbs.
If making a salad without tomatoes, you can put in a few drops of lemon juice just to add tang to the dressing.
Drink - water.
Mid-afternoon. One cup of tea without sugar or sweetener. I allowed myself a little semi-skimmed milk in this. No biscuits, cakes or cookies!!!!
Dinner. My rules for dinner were very simple. One normal-sized portion of meat or fish e.g. a quarter-chicken or 6 oz of red meat, and then any amount of non-starchy vegetables. No bread, rice or pasta!
It's very important at this point to select fish and meat that are not pre-prepared. If fish is coated with breadcrumbs or batter it is loaded with carbohydrate. Do you realise that usually there is as much crumb or batter as there is fish?
It is exactly the same with meat - if you buy the type of so-called "fried chicken" that is coated with something bright yellow, the coating is pure carbs. When you take away the bones, there is hardly any meat in this at all!!!! Pre-prepared meatballs can be up to half bread and the same is true with sausages. If you buy a pre-roasted chicken with barbeque sauce, the sauce is full of sugar - pure carbs! So always starting cooking with a portion of raw, uncluttered meat or fish just as nature left it.
I realised it had become a habit for me to pour in wine or cider with every meat dish to make a gravy.... I had been doing this for years. A great idea if you want all your protein to be loaded with carbs. But there are other ways to enjoy meat.
The good news is that garlic butter is completely carb free! Made with chopped fresh parsley it will go with virtually any sort of meat or fish ever invented.
Then I looked through my herb and spice cupboard. I realized that like most people I was using the same ones all the time. Bay leaves, thyme, marjoram...There were some packets of curry powder faded at the back as they were so rarely used.
To make a change I started to used bold spices from the Turkish shop or bold herbal mixtures from Provence. The flavours of paprika, cumin and coriander and freshly-ground black pepper are great for meat-balls. Chicken with cardomums is yummy. The flavours of savoury, oregano, rosemary and lavender will really add zing to white fish.
One of my favourites starters is beetroot in a dressing made of natural yoghurt and fresh basil. Mmmmm! Beetroot can be cooked without any vinegar by just putting in the microwave on a small dish. And I did allow myself this treat quite often while on my diet. Sometimes I allowed myself a small amount of carrot too, or even couple of small new potatoes, but the vegetables I ate most of were onions, courgettes, tomatoes, aubergines (a boon) and cabbage.
Yes, although I am a cabbage hater, I started to eat cabbage because it is low-carb and filling. You take a dark green cabbage, or part of it, sliced it very finely, and put it with some finely-sliced onions and garlic in a big saute-pan. Stir-fry in olive oil for about ten minutes then add some finely-diced bacon and a few spoons of water. Leave it with the lid on for another ten minutes, then serve. Even cabbage-haters have to admit this is good!
The toughest thing at dinner is going without that glass of wine. If you are eating no other carbs at all, you can allow yourself one small glass of dry white or rosé wine. If you drink fruit juice, dilute it 50% with ice cubes and water. Or just drink water...
For a pudding, I allowed myself to have some sort of berries, fresh not cooked or tinned, with single cream. And I admit I did enjoy this quite often.
You may notice that there is hardly any fruit in this diet. It's true, I left out fruit almost completely because most fruit is high-carb. I didn't eat oranges, apples, pears, grapes or bananas and I didn't get ill from vitamin deficiency. I felt fine - actually I felt more and more healthy every week I stayed on the diet and less and less hungry.
One of the things I discovered in my month of dieting was that if you do go out for a drink, a fizzy water with a slice of lemon and plenty of ice cubes tastes surprisingly good. It sounds very self-denying but it's not really that bad and you get used to it. It tastes like a very light lemonade ...and it's carb-free.
In that four weeks, I lost a clear seven pounds in weight and two inches on my waistline. I was surprised. I went around thinking, well what d'you know, it actually works!
Without me doing any more exercise than usual, I had used up half a stone's worth of body-fat just by ensuring that my blood-stream was permanently short of carbohydrates. The cheese, meat, eggs and fish I had eaten had not made me fatter. All that body-chemistry stuff is not a myth, it is a fact.
People started looking at me and saying "You're looking trim". I now have a shape again, and I can throw away some of the looser baggier clothes I was wearing. Who knows, I may even decide to lose another half-stone, since I have found that it's not really all that difficult.