This article is for all of you who struggle to lose weight or have become eternal yo-yo dieters.
In 2005 I conducted a small ‘diet trial’ in which I asked people to rotate their food intake and finish off with a ‘Liquid fast day’. At the time the 5:2 diet and intermittent fasting had not even entered the mainstream. But I had always thought it sensible to rotate food and add fasting to the mix. But such a program had to be easy to follow and take little time and no fuss.
After some research, I came up with a food rotation program inspired by the Biodynamic calendar. I figured, so many civilizations had used this before and I wanted to find out if this method was still effective.
The trial run went well and afterwards I gave everybody a simple questionnaire and debriefed them by phone. All participants reported feeling more aware of the food they were eating, most of them slept better and everybody reported much better energy levels. Which you would of course expect when you eat healthily.
But what stood out the most was how easy many of my tester found it to keep to the varied diet. Many reported it eliminated the eternal question of – what shall I eat/cook today and it was easy to plan ahead.
This step is really important as in order to keep a healthy weight you need to find a way to progressively change your dietary habits. A week of calorie counting will not work.
When you look up and down the internet the advice is simple: Eat a healthy diet, exercise, and if you want to lose weight restrict your portion size and the frequency of food intake. But despite all this sensible advice, we see obesity levels rise and rise. What is going so wrong for so many? Surely, this can’t just be a lack of willpower?
In my view, the way we approach ‘weight loss’, is completely wrong. It is always linked with pain and never associated with good quality food. The first advice is to do something about your weight, but not stress about it. Stay relaxed and initially only concentrate on eating seasonal, good-quality produce that is organically grown. Food should be freshly prepared and eaten in good company.
Looking around I noticed people who don’t care too much about their actual weight but do care a lot about eating good quality, preferably home-made food, are on average much slimmer than people who fuss about calories and permanently seem to be on some kind of ‘diet’. Fortunately, science has very recently found a way to back up this observation.
Remember – You are what you eat. That is totally correct. But as we are all different, it follows that we all also need to eat differently.
What makes us so different from each other?
Inside us live millions of little microbes, mainly situated in the large intestine. They can weigh up to 2kg and are responsible for what kind of food we crave, how easy or hard we find it to lose weight, and even influence our mindset and mood swings.
An embryo develops in a largely sterile womb. But as soon as the baby is born, microbes start to populate the baby. It is therefore really important to expose your children to all kinds of foods and let them play in non-sterile environments, dig in fresh soil, play with animals, and experience all kinds of different environments. This will help build a strong and healthy gut.
Children digging with bare hands in the vegetable garden don’t die. But children growing up in overly bleached homes who are given antibiotics for every little ailment end up with a largely compromised gut flora. This can eventually lead to all kinds of allergies and health problems. Add a sedentary lifestyle and a diet of overly processed food and you have the perfect storm. Once the microbiome has completely changed, it can be really hard to lose weight and a cycle of eternal fruitless diet attempts is the result.
The Biodynamic way of life always stresses the interconnectedness between the soil and the food we eat. We need these healthy gut microbes to come into our gut with organic fruit and vegetables. Believe it or not, it is these microbes that dictate what we crave. I for example, really crave fresh salads as these have always been part of my diet and my gut microbes ask for more and more of what they are used to.
Artificial fertilizers and pest control get rid of the healthy microbes in the soil. Therefore the food harvested from this kind of soil lacks any beneficial microbes and has very few nutrients. Although we seem to eat a lot of ‘good stuff’, the gut is still a ‘microbial wasteland’ and can easily be colonized by strains of the sugar-craving ‘bad bacteria’. Once these take over your gut – guess what you crave? Sugar – and so the vicious circle continues.
Next time you think about ‘going on a diet’, the first step is to sort out your cupboard and stock up with fresh, seasonal vegetables. But – and that is very important- don’t change your diet in one sweeping step. This will never work. Your gut flora needs time to get used to your new diet. This can only happen very slowly and over time. So it is not a swooping step, rather a gentle nudge in the right direction and then a persistent plan to follow through and make it a permanent change.
If your current diet consists of mostly ready-made meals, please don’t stop eating them! Just introduce 1 freshly cooked, healthy meal per week. That’s all. Once this feels effortless, make it 2 and slowly 3. And over time you will have cleaned up your diet, but more importantly, you will have given your gut microbiome time to adapt and endorse your new way of eating. Write down which food you crave. If these are all of the salty, heavily processed kind, make an effort to cut out just one of these foods and replace it with your favorite healthy snack. Then slowly move on and replace another item with another healthy snack. You will see that your taste buds change.
Believe it or not, once you live with freshly cooked, healthy meals you will struggle to eat greasy ready-made meals as your gut flora has now changed, and will now crave this ‘new diet’ (meaning here the food we eat and not a term for losing weight).
Finally, try to add in some fasting days. This can be very hard at first, but please do persevere. Again this habit needs to be built up slowly. If you have never done this before, please follow a good program.
Once you have listened to your body and have found your own individual food program, you will be able to keep your weight forever- with no stress and drama.
If you have never heard of ‘microbiome’ here are 2 useful videos from Kings College, London where Prof Tim Spector led much of its research program.