7 Ways to not cheat on your diet and still have an amazing Christmas

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Holidays can be a little fear-inducing for people on a strict diet. All that food, all that temptation… it’s so hard to resist, even when you know it’s bad for you or that it’ll make you feel totally crappy afterwards.

Last year, I prepared a full-on Christmas spread for friends, complete with a lot of food I couldn’t eat – and I managed not to cheat (lord alone knows how). This year, I’ve planned ahead and shouldn’t have trouble sticking to my diet again, even though we’ll be dining at someone else’s house.

From experience, here are my tips for avoiding the festive cheat (and its consequences).

1. Tell yourself that cheating isn’t an option. It’s taken me a good few years to GET THIS, but it’s actually not okay to cheat from time to time. Think about it: Have you ever strayed from your diet and felt okay afterwards? Probably not. More likely, you’ve been doubled over in pain, stuck in the loo or simply feeling yucky and remorseful. Why go through all that? It’s just food.

2. Tell everyone else that cheating isn’t an option. Your family probably knows you’re on a special diet, but just to cover all your bases, remind them that you can’t, under any circumstances, eat dairy/gluten/sugar, etc. It’s much harder (and super awkward) to cheat when you’ve been banging on about the evils of gluten to anyone who’ll listen.

3. Make sure there’s a lot of food you can eat. I’m not talking one or two side dishes added to the menu as an afterthought. I mean properly planned, carefully prepared foods that you’ll enjoy. If you’re eating at home, this is easy because you’re in charge of the menu. If you’re dining at someone else’s house, tell them (don’t ask) that you’ll be bringing a few dishes that you can eat. Make extra, because I guarantee people are going to want to try it.

4. Plan ahead. Always keep snacks on hand, because those dips and bowls of chips are going to start talking to you when lunch is delayed. Also, not being starving when you get to the table means you’re less likely to overindulge and eat foods you shouldn’t be eating.

5. Don’t think of it as a food fest. Most of us on a healing diet have come to realise that a special occasion isn’t a legitimate reason to binge (there’s never really a legitimate reason to binge). But the festive season is admittedly hard – I mean, everyone is eating, as opposed to on your birthday, when it’s only you gorging on chocolate cake and Tumbles and watching Spice World in your PJs while checking out the Mr Delivery menu (No? Just me?). Anyway, push through the urge to binge and think of it Christmas as an opportunity to spend time with your loved ones and enjoy each other’s company. I get that this is a challenge for some people, but even if your family drives you absolutely batshit crazy, don’t let it send you straight to the ice-cream tub (unless you’ve made your own ice-cream).

6. Have dessert. Speaking of ice-cream, one of the surest ways to feel like you’re missing out is by being forced to skip the dessert part of proceedings. It’s sad and depressing… and when everyone else is tucking in and being all like ‘OMG this is the BEST chocolate lava cake I’ve EVER eaten in my ENTIRE life’, you might just cave in and ruin all your good work. Bring your own or prepare something you can eat, but make sure there’s some kind of sweet treat you can enjoy. Pure Ella is a great place to find the most mouth-watering, healthy, all-natural recipes. Again, make extra, because everyone’s going to want a taste.

7. Stop feeling like you’re missing out. Stop rueing the fact that you can’t eat the bread pudding and start being grateful that you’re on a healthy, healing eating plan that treats your body right and ensures you eat only high quality, natural ingredients that make you feel great. That’s something to be ecstatic about! In fact, forcing yourself to think like this every day will make it a habit, and you’ll soon start to feel less hard done-by and more satisfied and happy in your choices.

If you have any other tips to share for sticking to your diet this festive season, please share them! We can all use all the help we can get 🙂

What to eat on a low-carb high-fat (LCHF) diet

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Transitioning into a low-carb, high-fat way of eating (also known as ‘Banting’) can be challenging: for many of us, carbs make up a substantial portion of our daily intake, and figuring out what to replace them with can be tricky and confusing. That’s why it helps to go into it with a plan – or more specifically, an eating plan – so that your attempts aren’t derailed before you’ve even started.

Here’s a list of things you should be eating on a LCHF diet, as well as some suggestions for each meal.

Eat a lot of: healthy fat. This includes avocados and avocado oil, coconut oil, olive oil, animal fat (choose organic, additive-free cuts of meat including chicken, beef and bacon), oily fish and fish oil.

Eat some: protein. You need to include fat and protein in every meal, but remember that LCHF is a HIGH fat, MEDIUM protein, LOW carb way of eating. Overdoing it on the protein can impede your weight-loss efforts and also result in nausea. Remember to include eggs too.

Eat few: carbs. Even on a low-carb diet, it’s still essential to include some carbs in your daily intake. Choose lower-carb fruits and veggies like leafy greens, salad greens, cauliflower, berries, melons, cherries, oranges, tomatoes and avocados. You want to exclude starchy vegetables (all of those that grow under the soil, as well as peas) and high-carb fruits like bananas, plantains and raisins.

What about dairy? The right kind of dairy is an important part of a LCHF diet. Choose hard cheeses, cream, butter, full-fat yoghurt and so forth. You want to avoid any ‘low-fat’ items, and opt instead for those with greater amounts of fat and fewer carbs/no added sugar. Learn to read food labels.

The food lists at Originaleating.org are extremely useful if you need a little guidance. View them here.

LCHF meal ideas

Breakfast
  • Boiled/scrambled eggs on seed toast
  • Avocado on grain-free bread
  • Bacon and eggs with sliced tomato and fresh basil
  • Poached eggs with ham and asparagus
  • Cheese and mushroom omelette
Lunch
  • Meat or egg salad drizzled with olive oil
  • Chicken breast with cream cheese and side salad
  • Cold meat roll-ups (slices of meat filled with cheddar and tomato and wrapped in lettuce)
  • Bacon, avocado and seed salad
  • Minute steak wraps made with chopped cucumber, tomato and cheese, all wrapped in lettuce
Supper
  • Chicken fried ‘rice’, substituting cauliflower for rice and adding your low-carb veggies of choice
  • Steak, veggies and slices of fresh avocado
  • Roast chicken breasts stuffed with feta and drizzled with olive oil, served with salad or vegetables
  • Pan-fried salmon with asparagus and cauliflower rice
  • Roast lamb chops with cauliflower mash and veggies
  • Shepherd’s pie with cauliflower mash
Snacks
  • Nuts (especially almonds, macadamias and walnuts – avoid peanuts as these aren’t actually nuts, but legumes)
  • Biltong
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Mini meatballs (make ahead and keep in the fridge/freezer)
  • Leftover chicken breasts (always cook in bulk when you can)

Here are some more great meal ideas and recipes from Authority Nutrition. The list also includes dressings and sauces to spice up your meals.

Don’t start the eating plan without being fully prepared, or you could become frustrated, bored or under-nourished. Know what you’ll be eating and more importantly, where you’ll be buying your food, so that you’ll never be left hungry. Also, keep snacks in your car, handbag/briefcase, etc so that you never find yourself ravenous and resorting to shop-bought carbs to fill the void.

It’s easy once you’re in the swing of things and you’re bound to feel – and notice – a difference.

Pros and cons of a low carb high fat (LCHF) diet

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Tons of people are following a low carb, high fat (LCHF) lifestyle at the moment and raving about it – and I can see why. Having followed the diet myself for several weeks, I can tell you that I’m really happy on it – but, like every eating plan, it’s not for everyone. In my completely non-expert opinion, and in the spirit of experimentation, here are my top pros and cons.

 Pros

  • Quick initial weight loss. Within one week of starting the diet, I dropped 2kgs, with what felt like very little effort.
  • Never/seldom hungry. I’ve never lost weight this effectively without feeling ravenous all the time. I hardly ever feel hungry and I certainly don’t feel like I’m on diet.
  • You don’t eat ‘diet foods’. If you love meat, nuts, seeds, eggs and dairy, LCHF is perfect for you. No rice cakes or diet shakes or grapefruit.
  • It helps manage my IBD symptoms. It took a few weeks for my BMs to regulate, but from the start I had almost no digestive discomfort, and very little bloating. My belly seems to love LCHF.
  • No sugar cravings. Possibly one of the biggest benefits for me, a self-confessed sugar addict, is the fact that including more fat in my diet seems to have combatted my sugar cravings, and even reduced my taste for the stuff.
  • Feeling better. When I eat sugary and gluten-based foods, I often wake up the next day feeling groggy, ‘stuffy’ and just generally under the weather. Sometimes, if I really overindulge in these foods, I get terrible cramps and my body even feels sore to the touch. I always feel good and healthy when eating LCHF.
  • Easier food prep. Steak and salad is quicker and simpler to prepare than, say, a curry. Grabbing a handful of almonds is an easier snack than whipping up a smoothie. But this depends on what you like to cook and eat.

Cons

  • Expense. LCHF foods aren’t necessarily ‘cheap’ foods, especially now that this style of eating is so trendy. The price of meat, nuts and cheese all adds up – to a lot. You may find it balances out if you were previously buying lots of packaged or processed food, but then again, it might not.
  • Less butternut and banana. I had to cut out two of my staples, which made me sad. But pumpkin is fine, and once I combatted my sugar cravings (which only took a day or two), I didn’t miss bananas at all.
  • Limited choices. Particularly when it comes to snacking, it can be hard to find LCHF foods that aren’t pricy (nuts), unrealistic to eat on their own (a piece of meat or a block of cheese) or simply difficult to get on the run (have you ever tried to find a ready-to-eat, ripe avo at your local corner shop? Yup, exactly).
  • Very rich foods. High-fat foods can be very rich, and about three weeks into the diet, I became quite nauseated – a feeling that lasted a number of days. I’m not sure if it was too much fat or protein, or just being completely and utterly sick of eating eggs, but it wasn’t pleasant. Nothing really helped – I just had to wait for it to subside (which it did).
  • Lactose intolerance. If you’re lactose intolerant, like me, your options are even more limited. I have been including a bit of cheese in my diet as a test, and it seems mostly fine.
  • Snacking is HARD. I know I’ve covered this already, but it bears repeating. Every snack is supposed to include some fat and protein – this means that you shouldn’t really be snacking on fruit or yoghurt, especially if you’re trying to avoid fruit. I graze on biltong, nuts, grain-free toast and cheese, but again, these are not cheap snacks and they’re not easy to grab on the run.
  • Weight loss can plateau quickly. If you’re following the diet for weight-loss purposes, you might find your weight loss comes to an abrupt halt. This could be due to eating too much fat and protein – after all, it’s not a free-for-all. Nuts, butter, cream, etc are calorie bombs and even if they’re allowed on the diet, they’ll hinder your weight-loss efforts if you overindulge. Remember that it’s HIGH fat, MEDIUM protein and LOW carb.

So as you can see, there are benefits and drawbacks to LCHF eating – as there are to any other kind of diet. The only way to find out whether or not it’ll work for you is to try it. And if you have, please share your thoughts and experiences – I’d love to hear your feedback 🙂

My experience on a low carb, high fat (LCHF) diet so far

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Anyone else been struggling to find a diet that works for them?

Since being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis about a year ago, I’ve embarked on various diets to try to ease my symptoms and heal my body (hence this blog). In fact, I started this blog to document my experiences on the SCD diet (see a summary here), which has helped many, many people to heal after the ravaging effects of inflammatory bowel disease.

But it’s been really tough to find a diet that stuck.

SCD wasn’t the answer for me, so I moved on to autoimmune paleo after consulting a nutritionalist. I followed it mostly strictly for a month or two (AIP is not a long-term diet), and then switched to paleo. By this time, my various diets had exhausted me psychologically, and subconsciously I think I felt imprisoned by them. I was either restricting or bingeing, and I constantly felt guilty about my slip-ups. How could I care so little about my health that I couldn’t find the willpower to avoid gluten or dairy or all the other things that were so bad for me? Restrict, binge. Restrict, binge. Guilt guilt guilt. I was trapped.

Cravings, weight gain and other un-fun things

Compounding all of these negative feelings towards myself and my diet was the fact that my clothes were getting tighter and the number on the scale was steadily rising. Having faced some weight demons for many, many years, this just made everything so much worse. I was constantly going back onto my restrictive diets simply to lose weight, even though I said it was because of my IBD. They didn’t work, so I’d binge some more.

Perhaps most ironic of all was that, apart from one or two isolated incidents, my UC symptoms were completely under control and, thanks to my Asacol, I was never aware of any issues.

Coming round to ‘high fat’ way of thinking

Several weeks ago, spurred on by yet another attempt to trim down, I decided to give the high-fat, low-carb diet a bash (also known as a ketogenic diet). Although I’ve been hearing about it for months, it’s taken me ages to come around to the idea. Eat fat? No, surely not. I’d spent the past decade avoiding anything with fat, oil or even a single additional calorie. And fat has the most calories of all! Plus, everyone was doing the diet (especially here in SA, where Tim Noakes has become something of a ketogenic legend), and that made me not want to do it even more. Ugh, fads.

But I was also desperate to kick my sugar habit (which by this point I had labelled an ‘addiction’ – read about my binges and attempts to overcome them here), and I thought that severely limiting carbs, at least at first, might help.

I read up about the Atkins diet, which is essentially a ketogenic diet (at least in the early phases), and thanks to the guidelines provided, I figured I’d be able to give it a shot.

That was several weeks ago, and I hate to say it (because it still feels like such a fad), but it is actually working.

How I feel on a high fat diet

This is the first eating plan I’ve followed where I haven’t felt hungry, haven’t had many cravings (I’ve had perhaps two or three bad sugar cravings in total, as opposed to several every day) and have actually felt completely satisfied at all times. Plus… the weight has started to melt off. I can’t understand it because I’ve been eating fat – and a lot of it (for me). I eat handfuls of almonds every day, I add oil to my food (olive or coconut) and I’m consuming plenty of avocado. I eat several eggs each day (my nutritionalist has assured me that four a day is fine, but I usually consume about three), and lean red meat a few times a week.

Making the switch: a bit of a mind-fudge

What has been strange for me, as someone who grew up in a household that was 50% vegetarian, has been cutting down on the amount of fruit and veggies I eat. Fruit I can understand – it’s healthy, but not in the quantities I was consuming it. I could eat 10 bananas in a day, or five pears in the space of several hours. Unnecessary, and probably feeding my sugar addiction. I decided to cut out fruit altogether for the first few weeks, to break the sugar cycle, as well as starchy veg, just as the Atkins diet advises. Eating less veg has been weird for me (I never realised how many carbs there are in vegetables, especially when you’re trying to limit your carb intake to 20g per day!).

That said, the way that ketogenic and Banting diets work is by getting your body to stop using carbs as your primary energy source, and to use fat instead. It takes a few days to ‘switch over’ to this way of burning calories, and – for me anyway – it seems that once it kicks in, it’s EFFECTIVE!

What I eat each day

For breakfast, I either have a boiled egg or avocado on grain-free seed toast. For lunch I’ll have two boiled eggs with salad, and as a late afternoon snack, I’ll have almonds. Supper is usually lean steak or chicken, or if I don’t feel like cooking, biltong. I serve it with cauli-rice or a portion or two of other low-carb veg (broccoli, zucchini, etc) and avocado. In between, when I’m hungry, I snack on raw almonds or biltong.

In fact, the one area where I slip up is when it comes to snacking. I’m a notoriously big snacker, but on this diet, I don’t really get hungry between meals, and sometimes I’m not even hungry at meal times (I always eat though). Not being hungry has never been a reason for me to not eat – but I simply am not craving food the way I used to. This means I don’t have a mid-morning snack, but I do tend to have something small in the late afternoon/early evening in the hours before dinner.

Dairy and high-fat diets when you’re lactose intolerant

On a high fat diet, one of the primary building blocks is full-fat dairy, and being lactose intolerant, the majority of dairy is off-limits to me. I can have small amounts of hard cheese (ie, parmesan), but soft cheese does weird things to my belly… and I can’t even look at cream! However, this might also be why I’m losing more weight: Some people have complained that they haven’t lost the amount of weight they were expecting on the ‘Tim Noakes diet’, which the professor attributes to too much dairy. After all, while butter and cream contain healthy fat, they’re also LOADED with calories.

Either way, you do need certain vitamins and minerals that come from dairy. If you don’t eat the stuff, make sure you’re taking supplements or getting what you need from other food, which you should continue to include in your diet.

How’s my belly?

As always, it comes down to this, as it should. My belly has been fine, and I haven’t noticed any major differences in its activity since starting this diet. But that’s probably also because Asacol does a powerful job of keeping everything under control. Plus, the right kind of fat is extremely healing: avocado and coconut oil especially are very beneficial to the gut and should always be included in a healing diet.

I do have to be careful with almonds, because if I eat too many, they can give me cramps. And I also have to be sure that I include my five portions of fruit/veg in my diet every day – something I never used to struggle with, but which I now have to actually make a concerted effort to do. My stomach is perhaps not as active as usual (normally I have daily BMs, but sometimes now I skip a day). That said, I haven’t experienced any bloating, constipation or discomfort, so I’m not concerned about it.

In summary

Overall, I’m loving how I’m feeling on this diet. I LOVE not having cravings, I LOVE that I never feel too hungry, and I’m enjoying the actual food itself (steak, avocado, nuts, caul-rice – what’s not to relish?!). I’m aware of the potential pitfalls (too much fat, too little veggies/fruit), and I’m being careful to avoid them. So far, so good, and out of all the diets I’ve tried in the past year (SCD, paleo, autoimmune paleo), this has been the most enjoyable, the easiest to follow, and the one that has made me feel the best.

Have you tried a high fat, low carb diet/banting? Would love to hear your feedback 🙂

Guilt: the worst thing you can eat on your diet

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I saw this quote today and it almost made me cry with relief. Not because I didn’t know this – I suppose somewhere deep down, buried beneath the constant guilt and occasional self-loathing and hidden behind the ‘how could you’s, I did – but because sometimes, you need to hear it from someone else.

For me, cheating is a highly charged, highly emotional issue that can either cause a horrible domino effect (more and more cheating until I’m nauseous or in pain) or a quick, instantly regretted decision that I beat myself up about for hours or even days afterwards.

It’s okay to cheat. It really is. Especially when you’re trying so hard most of the time, and particularly if you learn from it. Endlessly berating yourself for it is far more damaging.

Cheating shouldn’t be a regular thing, though I can’t tell you how much or how little to cheat. Only you know what your body can handle. What I am pretty sure of, even though I’m not a doctor or psychologist or any kind of medical professional, is that the constant guilt and self-castigation must surely be more harmful to your body. You know how guilt is often described as ‘eating away’ at a person? I just imagine that guilt in my gut, eating away at the healthy lining I’ve worked so hard to build up, and I realise that it’s probably far more damaging to my health than the few blocks of chocolate I just ate.

Try your best with your diet and know your cheating ‘limits’. You’ll break them sometimes, but you need to forgive yourself. A healthy mind is SUCH a big part of a healthy body, and without it your body will constantly be fighting for health.

What to drink on SCD, paleo and AIP

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Don’t these look delicious?

It’s important to remember that what you drink on a healing diet can have as much effect on your body as the foods you eat, so you need to make wise choices.

On all of these diets, it’s highly recommended that you avoid alcohol, especially if you’re flaring. If you’ve been in remission for a while or you feel that your body can tolerate limited amounts of alcohol, there are specific types that you should stick to – these are discussed below.

Hot drinks

Coffee

Coffee is not allowed on strict AIP, though once you transition to paleo and your colon has started to heal, you may be able to tolerate it. During the early phases of SCD, it’s better to avoid coffee, but once you introduce it, make sure it’s weak, and made from pure coffee beans rather than processed (instant) grounds that could contain additives and preservatives. Also avoid decaf coffee, as you don’t know what chemicals have been used to remove the caffeine. Bear in mind that caffeine can irritate the gut, which is why it’s not recommended during the early phases of a healing diet.

Tea

Herbal tea is allowed, and if you don’t like the taste of them on their own, you can add honey, ginger, lemon, mint, berries, etc. Just make sure the tea you use is pure and free from additives. In summer, use it to make refreshing iced tea.

Using milk and sugar

On healing diets, added sugar is generally not allowed, so don’t put it in your hot drinks – use honey instead. Nut milks can be used, though for some people, myself included, this is quite an acquired taste!

Cold drinks

Carbonated drinks

Both regular and diet drinks MUST be avoided. These tend to irritate the gut, and they can also exacerbate bloating and discomfort. Plus, fizzy drinks contain a whole whack of unhealthy ingredients that are best avoided altogether.

Sparkling water

If you really struggle to kick the cola habit, as I did, try transitioning to soda water/sparkling water. I say ‘transitioning’, because I find that ALL fizzy drinks, sparkling water included, really cause me a lot of bloating and GI irritation, so it’s best I avoid them. However, I sometimes find that pure, carbonated water really hits the spot when I’m wanting something fizzy. Add lemon, berries or other fresh fruit for fun but totally healthy cocktail vibe.

Fruit juice

Fruit juice is okay if it’s completely natural/pure, and free of any preservatives and added sugar. Believe it or not, this can be VERY hard to find! Most fruit juices are marketed as being healthy, but they’re actually loaded with a whole bunch of crazy additives, never mind a ton of sugar. Be on the look out for organic, additive-free juice, or make your own at home. Apples and pears can be boiled until really soft and then strained, or you can use a juicer to make super healthy varieties like carrot, beetroot, apple, etc. The options are almost endless.

Smoothies

From here on out, you can pretty much assume that all store-bought/pre-packaged smoothies are going to be a no-no. Most contain things you won’t be able to eat on your diet, like dairy, sugar, additives/preservatives, etc. However, it’s really easy to make your own healthy, filling and totally ‘legal’ smoothies at home. Use bananas and any other fruit you can handle, and combine it with homemade yoghurt, a dash of honey and a scoop of protein powder. Here’s a great smoothie recipe packed with vitamin C. Smoothies also work brilliantly as meal replacements when you’re on the go.

Homemade drinks

If drink boredom starts to set in – and it probably will – get inventive! Make your own ginger ale, lemonade or ‘sodas’ at home using sparkling water and natural flavourants, like lemon, fresh fruits and herbs, and honey.

Alcohol

According to Theultimatepaleoguide.com, alcohol is considered a ‘processed’ food and a toxin – two things that we’re supposed to avoid on a healing diet. Plus, it’s well known that alcohol irritates the lining of the gut and can worsen the symptoms of IBD, especially if you’re flaring.

This is not a club you should be hanging out at

This is not a club you should be hanging out at

That said, I know how hard it is to go out and socialise like you did before – when all you want is to feel normal – and you have to order a glass of water, because even cooldrinks and juice are off-limits. And let’s face it, no one wants to be that guy in the bar ordering coffee.

If you’re NOT flaring and your doctor/nutritionalist thinks it’s okay for you to have a bit of alcohol, then there are options – just don’t overdo it! Try to choose those with as little sugar as possible (all alcohol contains sugar), and definitely avoid those considered grains (ie, beer).

Alcohol that is okay:

  • Dry red and white wine
  • Apple ciders (make sure they’re gluten free)
  • Certain spirits (like vodka, whiskey and gin. Because they’ve been distilled, they are mostly free of gluten. However, if you’re very sensitive to gluten, avoid them.)

Alcohol to avoid:

  • Any booze containing grains, yeast and/or high amounts of sugar
  • Sweet wine
  • Passover wine
  • Brandy
  • Beer
  • Cordials

Important note about water

Apart from whatever else you drink, try to consume at least 2l of water every day. If you aren’t used to doing this, it is difficult at first, but it gets easier. I drink 500ml every morning before I leave for work, and I keep a 1.5l bottle of water on my desk at work, which I always make sure I finish. That means by the time I get home, I’ve already had my 2l for the day, and any extra is just a ‘bonus’. This also means I don’t find myself drinking water until late into the evening – and getting up all through the night to pee!