My LCHF story
This is my story that was published in the May 2015 issue of the Lose It magazine. I have adapted it slightly for this blog post.
My early child hood:
For as long as I can remember, I have been trying to lose weight. Even though I was very sporty as a child, I was chubby. My mom prepared home-cooked meals, and we consumed very little sugary junk. Back then I could never understand why I was overweight. I remember feeling like I was perpetually aware of eating healthy food and trying to lose weight – but never getting anywhere with my attempts. The problem was that I was carbohydrate intolerant, yet consuming a diet full of “healthy” whole grains, starchy veggies, fruit, and sweetened fat-free dairy. Everything someone with an intolerance to carbs should NOT be eating.
The teenage years:
So I transitioned from a chubby kid to a plump teenager. All my friends were thin, and I wanted to be able to wear all the hip clothes they were able to wear. But I just looked like a lumpy marshmallow in anything that was remotely figure hugging. In high school, I remember starving myself and losing quite a bit of weight. But I was hungry all the time. I started eating again, and put all the weight back on. Being “HANGRY” was not cool for a hormonal teenager who was already moody at the best of times.
In my late twenties I got very into running. I was about 12 kilos overweight then, and was hopeful that the extra exercise would help me shed them. I trained for half marathons, ran them, and yet didn’t lose a single kilogram. The more I ran, the hungrier I got. No one can endure constant hunger, so I ate more to feel satisfied. For me running was not an effective weight loss tool at all.
When I was in my early thirties, we decided to start a family. That didn’t happen as easily as we expected. We had to resort to numerous fertility treatments to conceive. Even though my body took a serious beating from all the hormones over the years, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat if I had to. After two pregnancies, I was 30 kilos overweight, and desperate. I looked and felt awful. I had no energy, and struggled to get through the day with two small children. Even though I was trying so hard to lose the weight – it stubbornly wouldn’t budge. In fact my weight was slowly creeping upwards each year that went by. I knew I had to find a solution, so that I could be the mom and wife I wanted to be. I hit my all time low after seeing photos of myself on a family holiday in 2010. That marked the beginning of my journey into low carb eating.
I had some success with Atkins, but ate too much protein, which stalled my weight loss soon after starting. I was also still including low carb shakes and bars (full of soya and artificial sweeteners), and there was still some grains left in my diet. I then read the Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson. His ancestral eating principles just made so much sense to me. Interestingly enough, when I adopted a cleaner ‘primal diet’, I didn’t really lose much more weight, but I felt fantastic. My energy levels, skin and mood all improved, and my chronic hay fever disappeared.
I knew that a real food, low carb diet was the right one for me, but I also knew I didn’t have all the answers yet. Despite 2 years of primal/paleo eating, I wasn’t losing any more weight, and I was getting frustrated. By that time Prof. Noakes had became vocal about his experience with LCHF in the media. I saw LCHF as a little tweak to my already very healthy diet. I did however have to increase the fat slowly, as I have had my gallbladder removed. Supplementing with digestive enzymes (containing lipase), helped me to transition to a higher fat diet without feeling nauseous. I lost a little more weight, and then plateaued again.
Never one to give up, I started to explore the very low carb ketogenic diet, after reading The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living by Steve Phinney and Jeff Volek. I wanted to give ketosis a try. I purchased a ketone blood metre, and got going with dropping my carbs to around 25 grams per day. The weight started coming off again. My weight loss is still excruciatingly slow, and I find that I cycle in and out of ketosis, i.e., my body struggles to maintain a consistent ketogenic state. Any little cheat, or just 1 glass of wine on the weekend kicks me out of ketosis. I am sure it doesn’t help that I have PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), a hormonal disorder which brings with it poor glucose control, insulin resistance, and difficulty losing weight. I still want to lose another 15 kilos, and I have accepted that it is going to be a slow process. The good thing is that the food is delicious, I don’t feel hungry or deprived, and I have never felt healthier or more energetic. Those are all excellent reasons to persevere and keep going.
Fortunately I have the support of my family who also enjoy eating this way. Greg is a long-distance trail runner, and he has found that his performance has improved significantly since going LCHF. Last month he ran the Lavaredo Ultra Trail in Cortina D’Ampezzo , Italy. This involved running 120 km over the Dolomites with 6 km of elevation. He ran for 24.5 hours in a keto-adapted state, and never “hit the wall” once. He fuelled his body with real food. No sports drinks or energy gels. The next day he was walking normally, indicating that he had almost no inflammation in his body from such a gruelling race.
Our 2 girls eat the same way we do, and they have also benefitted greatly. They are strong, lean and rarely get sick. Their favourite breakfast is a high fat chocolate shake or an omelette with cheese. Lunch boxes consist of salad veggies, a little fruit, some form of protein such as tuna/chicken mayo, ham and cheese roll-ups, boiled eggs, biltong, pork sausages or bacon. Now that the weather is colder, I am making big pots of bone broth for them to have as an after school snack. We eat supper together as a family and they eat whatever Banting meal I have prepared. I buy pastured, grass-fed meat as much as possible, as well as free-range eggs and chicken direct from a farm. Even our little dog has been changed over to a raw meat diet and is thriving.
What I have learned over the years of changing our family’s eating habits is that it is a process, and not something that happens overnight. Take baby steps, and before you know it, you will be eating better and feeling healthier. I started with eliminating fruit juice from our home. I replaced it with flavoured rooibos iced tea, sweetened with xylitol. I then stopped buying breakfast cereals, bread, pasta, and found substitutes that the kids were happy to eat – like zoodles (noodles made from zucchinni). I purged the pantry of all junk and we only keep good quality dark chocolate in the house. Removing temptation really helps. When it comes to birthday parties, I fill the children up with healthy food before they go. I then let them decide what they are going to eat. I have taught them about healthy food, and why sugar is bad for them, and I leave them to hopefully make good choices. They don’t always get it right, but at least the foundations are being laid.
Now that I am in my forties, I know that I am finally on the road to success. Having lost around 18 kilos thus far, I am half way to my goal and feel confident of achieving it one day. Ketosis works for me, so I try my best to maintain that state. My struggles have taught me so much about myself, my body, and about nutrition. I have been liberated from my sugar cravings. I am in control of what goes into my mouth, and I don’t feel deprived at all. Being a busy working mom, I cope by keeping meals simple, planning ahead and being organised. I have also recently started CrossFit. The strength training, and high intensity interval training aspect of CrossFit is improving my blood glucose control, and staying in ketosis is becoming a little bit easier. It is also getting me fit and strong .. and it feels fantastic. Moving from a place of desperation a few short years ago, to a place of power and strength, has been completely life-changing for me. If you were to ask me what the key to my success has been, its one word – PERSEVERANCE. If you want something badly enough, you will make the changes required to get it.
I have decided to follow my passion, and am studying to be a Nutritional Therapist. I started my www.primalperks.com blog 2 years ago, which provides a platform to share what I have learned with others. I have also had the incredible opportunity to start a business called Banting Buddies with Sally-Ann Creed, which offers personal and group coaching to people who want to lose weight the LCHF way. We currently have coaches all over South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and even Dubai. LCHF has not only given me my health back, and helped me lose weight – it has given me a fulfilling career.
My top 10 tips to anyone struggling to lose weight is:
- Give LCHF a good and honest try.
- Don’t give up too soon.
- Experiment to find what works for you.
- Be wary of dairy, especially if you are a woman.
- Alcohol is best avoided or kept to a minimum.
- Only eat when hungry, and stop snacking.
- Eat enough fat, but not too much.
- Make it a lifestyle and get your whole family on board.
- Be patient with your body.
- Keep focused on your goal and believe that you can do it.