Georgina Guedes

Weighing in on the low-carb, high-fat diet

2014-06-26 14:52

Georgina Guedes

I'm carrying about 6kg more than I would like to be. At Easter, that excess weight was more like 10kg, and climbing. Over the last five years, I've had two children, developed thyroid disease and given up any form of exercise. Of course I put on weight.

When I gained 1.5kg over the Easter weekend, I decided that enough was enough (and really enough this time, not like all the previous enoughs that had basically seen me do nothing). I'd been reading a lot about the low-carb, high-fat (LCHF), and I decided that this form of deprivation was more palatable to me than any other, so I thought I'd give it a whirl.

If you've been oblivious to this eating revolution, here's the short version. Fat is no longer bad for you, and doesn't really make you fat. Carbs make you fat, so you can't eat those. Fat makes you full, so you replace your carbs with fat and after a week or two you stop feeling hungry and you lose loads of weight.

Which I did, at first.

But then, after about 3kg, my weight loss stalled - and if you read all the literature about what you're supposed to do if you stop losing weight on LCHF, the diet suddenly stops being quite so appealing. Well, to me, anyway.

So I switched to this novel new eating plan called eating less (EL). LCHF cured me of my sweet tooth and starch addiction, so I stayed off the sugar and the white carbs, but I no longer replaced them with broccoli boiled in bacon fat. I just ate smaller portions of whatever else I wanted to at every meal. And now my weight loss is humming along nicely. And I eat the odd biscuit.

Since I've done the experiment for you (you’re welcome), here are my observations about HFLC:

1. They say it's not a high-protein diet. They're lying.
The idea is that you replace your carbs with fat, not protein. Vegetables should still make up the bulk of what you eat. This is great in theory, but in reality, when you’re dashing out to fetch the kids and you can't have a banana or a slice of toast, you'll eat cold meat. When you're cooking, and you can choose between a pile of broccoli in blue cheese dressing or a chicken breast wrapped in bacon, you’re going to choose the bacon.

2. You're cutting out a whole lot of fruit and vegetable options
Because you're trying to keep your carbs under 50g a day, there are a whole lot of fruit and vegetables that you simply cannot eat. A banana gets you up to 50g. That's it. No other carb may pass your lips for the day. You're limited to aubergines, baby marrows, tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflower (there are more, but this is the general idea). It's hard to get your five-a-day from these fairly limited options.

3. They say the fat stops you from getting cravings. They're lying again.
I found it quite easy to give up sugar and starch - no dreams of risotto, no woolly headedness. But I spent most of my days filled with an indefinable desire for something that I couldn't quite put my finger on. A desire which, incidentally, was never sated with chorizo boiled in cream. I craved crunch. I ate piles of lettuce with the odd sliver of apple thrown in, but it didn't help. It might be easier than other diets because you're not always hungry, but you certainly still feel like you're missing out.

4. Carbs are not all bad
Proponents of LCHF will tell you that all carbs are poison, that you shouldn't let your kids have them, that they're the new nicotine and soon we'll all realise that we're killing ourselves slowly. Realistically, there's not a single doctor or dietician in the world who will tell you that white carbs - rice, potatoes, mealie pap, pasta - are good for you. But my qualification from the School of Common Sense tells me that getting a slow energy release from a good carb like a bowl of peas or butternut soup or a lentil curry that has loads of nutrients can’t be a bad thing.

5. Life isn't just about health
For me - a lover of food, a writer about food, a trier of new things - the restrictions of the LCHF diet prevented me from interacting with life in some of the ways that are most important to me. Yes, we could all eat less junk and consume less booze, but sometimes those things add a benefit to our existence that's greater than the health sacrifice we make in their pursuit.

6. The diet works beautifully for some
I have seen people turn their lives around and lose an incredible amount of weight by sticking to LCHF, so I am not saying that it's a terrible thing. But I do think that it's an extreme solution to an extreme condition - and not a perfect lifestyle that we should all be aspiring to. It didn't work for me.

7. When it stops working, it gets mean
If your weight loss stalls, as mine did, you have to cut out all fruit and possibly dairy. Honestly, life stops being worth living.

8. It's costly
You will add about 25% to your food bill. Nuts and biltong are expensive, yo. I felt like a bit of a princess when I was shopping and passing over staple foods that sustain the population of the entire planet in favour of asparagus and fillet steak.

So, the conclusion to my experiment of one is simply this: if I want to lose weight, I must exercise and eat smaller portions. I should avoid the stuff I know is bad, but allow myself the occasional treat, otherwise I freak out. That's how it played out for me. If you want to lose weight, you’ll have to find the method that works for you.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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