LCHF diets and sugar cravings: Exactly why you shouldn’t cheat

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I decided to try a low carb, high fat diet last year after a particularly bad sugar binge, and the results blew me away.

But let’s go back a minute, to the binge. It started with a single small slice of red velvet cake at work one November morning last year. By the end of the day, I’d devoured something like five slices of cake, a packet of chocolate biscuits, whatever random old chocolate I could find at home (I don’t really keep chocolate in the house) and most of a jar of hot chocolate powder. Yes, hot chocolate powder. Straight out the jar. My nemesis.

In fact, I decided to write this blog post now as a distraction from that self-same powder currently winking at me from our kitchen at work – a large jar that someone has lovingly donated to the office. I can’t stop thinking about ladling several heaped spoons directly into my mouth, which would probably be frowned upon by my colleagues and also extremely embarrassing because I usually inhale half the powder and end up choking.

But that’s besides the point. Or, not really.

Because as I lay on the couch that night in November regretting every morsel I’d binged on – and it really was a binge – I realised that things needed to change. I’d read a lot about LCHF diets and since it was one of the few I’d never tried, having always been terrified of the idea of eating FAT, I decided I had nothing to lose.

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Within one week of strict LCHF eating, I’d not only lost 2kgs, but I’d also almost lost my sugar cravings. It was INCREDIBLE. I think I’ll always struggle to resist sugar, but I wasn’t having hourly – okay okay, ‘minutely’ – thoughts of chocolate and cake and chocolate cake. I felt so good, and I was eating right: meat, vegetables, eggs, salad, coconut and olive oils, avocado, almonds. I was satiated all the time and didn’t feel any need to snack or cheat.

Then about a month later, my birthday rolled around, and I decided to treat myself – and for me, treating myself ALWAYS means food, never shoes or handbags or teacup pigs. For  several days, I gorged myself on chocolate, cake, wine, bubbly and all the carbs that were within arm’s reach.

I tried to get back on the wagon, and it felt like I had one foot on and one foot off. Through December, January and early February, I kept trying to claw my way back onto the eating plan but kept slipping. I added dairy (which some people can do) but it didn’t help with the extra kilo or two that had crept back. I drank diet drinks, which isn’t advised, and once or twice I dipped into the remnants of the hot chocolate powder. I started drinking lite beer, because it’s just so damn boring to drink water at a bar, and when I found a months-old Lindt chocolate in my girlfriend’s car, I devoured it greedily before my brain had a chance to talk some sense into me. It was the day before Valentine’s Day, I rationalised, and tomorrow I’d be indulging. So that day was a write-off (I think I remember some chocolate powder too) and the next day there was dessert… and then K’s mom arrived for a 10-day holiday from Malaysia, so it was all about the pina coladas and French fries.

Things were not good.

They came to a head this past weekend, when I clocked four slabs of chocolate in a single day. K’s mom’s here, we’re eating out anyway, I’m just gonna go balls-to-the-wall and then get back on it when she leaves was how I made it okay. But my clothes aren’t fitting anymore, and this has NEVER happened to me before. I feel gross, and parts of me jiggle when I drive on bumpy roads. I HATE it.

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What I’d been struggling to understand was why this diet had worked so well the first time, and not when I tried to get back onto it in Jan. Obviously, it’s because the first time, there was NO cheating. Not a grain of sugar, not a drop of booze. The second time round, I got a bit more slack. Lots of dairy, the odd drink here and there – and of course a day or two of cheating every few weeks.

Not only was my body completely confused – high carb? high fat? what’s going on? – but I also wasn’t allowing it to overcome its sugar cravings. If you cut the stuff out completely, it sucks for a couple of days but you get over it. If you keep having tiny bits here and there, you never stop craving it. Basically, it’s like a drug – we all know that – but I needed to come to that realisation physically, if that makes sense.

“Maybe you just shouldn’t keep chocolate in the house.” – my sister. Very wise, she is.

I must point out that K is also on this diet, and she has lost 10kgs! She’s been amazing and so much more committed than I. Her willpower and reserve is just phenomenal, and pretty damn inspiring, given her own sugar cravings.

So what now?

Now I’m back on the wagon, albeit shakily, and doing my utmost to get this right. I loved how I felt when I was doing LCHF properly, and I loved the results. I especially loved not craving sugar. It’s hard at first but it’s an investment well worth making.

I’m not quite sure why I wanted to write this – I think that unlike many of my other posts, it was more for me than anything else. Perhaps to remind myself why I’m doing this and why it’s so worth it. And maybe, if you’ve also fallen off the wagon, it might help you too 🙂

Every time, it's a victory. Strive for these victories!

It’s a victory every time. Strive for these victories!

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 🙂

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.

How your body feels after eating healthy food vs unhealthy food: A comparison of physical & psychological symptoms

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This morning as I arrived at work, our new boss placed a fresh, warm, just-out-of-the-oven croissant on each of our desks. My resistance didn’t crumble. It crashed in a single almighty explosion at my feet, sending shards of flaky, buttery pastry everywhere. The croissant didn’t make it (any further than my mouth).

The guilt was immediate – but what surprised me was that the physical symptoms set in almost as quickly. I don’t usually react so quickly to refined carbs and dairy, but today I did – and it got me thinking about how (great) I feel when I eat healthily, and how (bad) I feel when I don’t. I also immediately wanted – no, CRAVED – more. MOOOOOOORE!!! In fact I could easily have swallowed another three or four pastries without blinking. Possibly five. Definitely five.

After switching to a clean or healing diet, it’s easy to forget just how bad those ‘bad’ foods can make you feel. Which isn’t exactly helpful, because it makes it all too easy to go back down that sparkling, sugar-paved road. So, for my edification (and yours, if you need it), here’s a comparison of today’s croissant breakfast versus what I usually eat, and how my body feels after consuming each.

Cheat breakfast: Butter croissant

How I feel/physical symptoms after eating:

  • Instant headache that lasted several hours
  • Immediate craving for more junk food/sugar
  • Not satisfied/satiated
  • ‘Popping’ eyes, like my eyes were really wide open and everything was very bright (this usually happens when I have too much sugar)
  • Gurgling stomach (probably a reaction to lactose)
  • Hungry soon after
  • Guilty

Regular breakfast: Boiled egg on gluten-free seed toast 

How I feel/physical symptoms after eating

  • Immediately satisfied after eating
  • No cravings afterwards
  • Full/satiated
  • Not hungry for 3 to 4 hours afterwards
  • Not guilty

While the differences are vast, they’re probably not going to surprise you. But in the same way that keeping a food journal can alert you to issues that you may not have been aware of, writing down these differences is a great way to remind myself of just how bad bad food can make me feel.

If I’m 100% honest, every day is a battle between the foods that I should eat and those I shouldn’t. I find it really, really hard to stay on track, and that little ‘just eat it – go on, it’s not going to hurt you’ voice never, ever stops. Ever. At least, by writing out this list, I can show that little voice that YES, it is going to hurt me – here’s the proof! (I guarantee that won’t shut it up though. It’ll probably pause for moment, regroup its thoughts and then say, ‘Yeeees, but how bad will it really be? What’s a little headache between friends? A little bloating? You own a baggy shirt, don’t you?’).

I shouldn’t have cheated today but at least I gained something from the experience apart from just a headache, a sugar rush and a large serving of guilt. A little insight never hurts, after all.