We’re All Looking For That One Diet Plan Which Actually Works.
Whether it’s losing weight, feeling healthier or having more energy, the diet industry had made billions from people looking for a magic pill.
Go on Instagram and it’s full of people claiming that chowing down on chocolate proats (protein oats) or bone broth is the main reason that they’re a size 6 bikini model.
Obviously, that’s bunkum but it can be tempting to buy into these solutions – particularly if you are struggling with intolerances, inflammation or you’re generally feeling run down. It’s not as easy as simply looking to slim down.
I keep meeting women who have turned to ketosis – a sort of Paleo diet – in a bid to feel better, look better and train better.
Now, as a plant-based eater, I’m always sceptical about these diets which rely on ‘caveman’ eating patterns. I mean…we’ve evolved a bit since the stone age. We live longer, we’re probably fitter, we know more about nutrition.
So why bother?
Lucy Denver is a CrossFit PT, nutrition expert and Reebok ambassador – and a keto devotee.
I spent a weekend training with Lucy at Be:FIT Weekender and I can tell you, she’s about as fit and lean as it’s possible to be. In fact, she recently completed the Ragner Relay (170 miles of running split between 10 people, with each person running three times within 24 hours) as part of the Team Reebok squad. So yeah, quite fit.
As a regular exerciser and someone who suffers from chronic bloating (which can be so bad that I can barely walk home from the tube station), I was keen to find out exactly why Lucy was so convinced that keto was the key to good gut health and a slim bod.
‘So many women must share my story: a long history of disordered eating through my teens and early twenties; a dawning realisation triggered by an incredibly stressful event that I needed to start looking after my body and mind; and a steady fall, head over heels, in love with fitness and nursing my body back to health.
‘This included huge changes in my diet. I no longer survived on crumpets, apples and pick ‘n’ mix but brought in chicken and veg for breakfast protein porridge for lunch, and oily fish with more veggies for dinner.
Lucy says that the brain and gut are ‘so interlinked’ – which is why we can often tell how stressed we are via certain physical symptoms.
‘I would know I was stressed from the way my body reacted: I’d feel nauseous, get headaches and mouth ulcers, and look so bloated I could’ve had a bowling ball in my stomach,’ she says. Yep, sounds very familiar.
‘I tried so many different diets: low-FODMAP, no dairy, no gluten, no alcohol…no success. In times of stress – and my body seemed more susceptible to it than most – a healthy diet just wasn’t sufficient to keep my body happy. I had stress-induced IBS and nothing I had learned in my nutrition qualifications seemed to solve it.’
Sound familiar? So many of us struggle with more digestion and grim gut health and yet don’t know what to do it about it because GPs and health gurus seem at a loss themselves.
So Lucy took matters into her own hands by creating her own anti-inflammatory diet loosely based on something called Whole30, with lots of modifications to remove inflammatory foods and encourage ketosis.
‘What I ended up creating – the Total Body Reset – got me into ketosis within a week, and within another week I was lifting heavier, running faster and feeling better than I had done for years.’
But What Exactly Is Ketosis?
‘”The Keto Diet” refers to a state called ketosis, which you get into by removing the majority of carbohydrates from your diet, forcing your body to use fat to fuel itself instead,’ Lucy explains.
‘Think of it like fuelling a car: you can run a Golf GTE on its petrol engine by filling the tank, or you can run it on internally stored electricity, recharging it when you need to.
‘This is the engineering equivalent of filling your body with carbohydrates to burn through versus using stored and dietary body fats to fuel your day-to-day activities. Our bodies will always opt for the easiest option – if carbohydrates are present, they will always get used up before body fat starts to be burned.
Keto, at first glance, seems really restrictive – and Lucy admits that. On the plan, your carbohydrate intake needs to be limited to around 50g per day.
‘To put that into context, most people following a typical diet will eat over 200g per day, so it’s a significant drop.’
How do you know you’re in a state of ketosis? Well, you can do blood or urine tests but the main signs are losing body fat, feeling less bloated and satisfied without sugar or carbs.
‘Your body honestly feels so different when it’s in this state – you feel a bit like superwoman – so if you’re really in tune with your body, you will know when you’re in keto.’
It’s worth saying that someone like Lucy probably would know when they were in keto because they’ve been doing it for so long and they actually have a background in fitness and nutrition – but for beginners, it might take a while to get so intuned.
‘If you’re doing a keto diet for fat loss or performance, remove all alcohol (sorry) and coffee other than black unsweetened coffee,’ says Lucy.
‘Sustained keto diets can cope with some alcohol like dry red wine and some spirits, but for a beginner, it’s far too tempting to go off the deep end and wind up having jaegerbombs at 3am, so it’s a no alcohol rule at the start.
‘The other main categories to remove are those high in quick-release carbs, chemicals, or sugars/proteins known to cause inflammation. Because your carb intake needs to be so low to stay in ketosis, you’ll need those precious grams for fibre and resistant starches such as plantains and sweet potato or nuts and seeds so there just won’t be room in your diet for bread, pasta or cakes.’
The Benefits Of Being Keto
Although ketosis is known to induce fat loss (and it will), it’s about so much more than that,’ Lucy insists.
‘As a culture, we have become hooked on sugar. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a sugary cereal, toast and jam, coffee and cake or a gluten-free, dairy-free, ‘sin-free’ snack bar: the body processes all of these sugars in the same way, and stores any excess glycogen (sugar) it can’t use straight away.
‘Why do our bodies do this? Because we don’t want sugar in our bloodstream. It’s a toxin, and our bodies are hard-wired to get rid of it as quickly as possible.
‘Ketosis is a bit like a Priory visit for a coke addict – for the first few days, you’ll have headaches and you’ll probably feel hangry most of the time. As your body readjusts, this will pass and your body will breathe a sigh of relief as it’s no longer having to battle against a toxin every time you eat.
‘Your digestive system – a proprietary system in the body due to its importance – gets a real break, so you can focus on other things like skin, hair and nails, energy levels, sleep and muscle growth and recovery.
‘If you’re training, you’ll get faster (because you have more energy and are carrying around less weight), you’ll be able to lift heavier as long as you keep up your strength training and protein intake – plus your recovery times will have improved.’
How keto can help manage IBS and other chronic conditions
Let’s get one thing straight: many conditions cannot be cured via diet but some can be managed by changing the way we eat.
Lucy says: ‘The core principles of ketosis lend themselves to reversing the symptoms of inflammatory conditions such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) and even arthritis because they rid the body of excess sugar which is a key cause of inflammation in our modern diet.’
However, it would be possible to follow a keto diet and still suffer from inflammation simply because your body is reacting to more than just sugar: it could be a lactose intolerance or an aversion to lectins. That’s why it’s important to work with a professional to tailor your keto diet to you and your needs, and not just pull something off the internet!’
Remember: bloggers are often paid to tout quackery and when it comes to treating existing illnesses, they aren’t the best people to turn to. You’re so much better off finding a proper programme to follow which has been put together by professionals with actual qualifications like Lucy.
Lucy found that by following her Total Body Reset plan, she managed to ‘completely eradicate’ her symptoms of IBS – and that they reappeared when she reintroduced sugars and grains back into her diet.
‘When I work with clients on their nutrition, I begin by teaching a Nutrition Foundation Course which goes through the basics we’re never really taught as children or adults: energy/calorie balance (e.g. being in a deficit to lose body fat), macronutrient ratios for different body types, and the dangers of a high sugar diet.
This is so important to go through first because launching into ketosis from the average Western diet is likely to lead to “keto-flu” (the body’s way of basically saying to you “wtf”) and withdrawal symptoms that will discourage the individual from sticking to the plan.
‘Something we often forget with nutrition is that it’s not a two, four or even twelve-week process. Food is something we’re stuck with for life – so where’s the harm in slowing down, learning a little and taking our time to get it right as a lifestyle, not just as a pre-Christmas party diet aid?’
So how exactly does it work?
Essentially it’s six days on, one day off. You follow a low-carb diet most of the time and then have a day of ‘carb refuelling’. And Lucy says it only takes a week on the plan to start noticing changes in body composition.
‘The next step is to build a weekly carb refuelling day into the process. Ketosis is biologically sustainable – it’s how we used to eat as cavemen – but it’s psychologically tough when you’re surrounded by people who don’t understand it, social events that are based around food and drink, and supermarkets who just want to sell you cheap, sugar-laden food with a big markup,’ she says.
The refuel day will make an anti-inflammatory diet possible as a lifestyle tool, not just as a body reset – and that’s an exciting prospect for anyone suffering from stress, inflammation, a lifestyle that is edging them towards type 2 diabetes; or an athlete who is looking for that extra edge on the competition floor.’
And that’s really the difference between keto and other diet plans – the understanding that they’re supposed to be longterm changes, not quick solutions. By having a day to refuel, a cheat day if you like, you’re giving yourself a better chance of sticking with it. Until there are more options out there for those of us struggling with digestive complaints, this at least offers us a holistic, accessible option.