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!

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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.