Changing your petrol engine to a diesel
Back to work after a fantastic Summer holiday, but it feels like one of those opportunities like New Year to make changes.
As in previous years my summer reading had an educational background to it and this year’s choice was no exception. A relatively quick read based on the WWII history of Crete. The meat of the story is a historical novel about the resistance in Crete during the attempted German occupation, but the background story was about endurance training and nutrition.
The Cretan resistance was made up of shepherds and locals who disappeared into the mountains and were able to cover vast distances in short amounts of time, fuelled primarily on what the land could provide. The author Chris McDougall, suggests the famed “Mediterranean Diet” is probably at its purest in Crete due to its cut off nature, the diet there will have been unchanged for several hundred years.
Reading “Natural Born Heroes” has stimulated me to take on a challenge that I have avoided for several years – to clean up my eating habits and retrain my body to rely on my fat stores for energy rather than sugar. Changing from a petrol engine to a diesel.
I have read and discussed with colleagues previously the pros and cons of low carb diets. The theory makes good sense and if we take a short look back in history the correlation is irresistable to see that following WWII a ‘food industry’ developed in order to feed the people. Food started to be manufactured, packaged and transported where before food would have travelled little more than 20 miles from the farm to the local town. Food was simple; meat from the butchers, fruit and veg from the greengrocers, butter and milk from the farm shop. Bacon and eggs for breakfast, cheese and bread for lunch, meat and 2 veg for dinner.
A food industry rapidly developed based around grains and cereal, which was quick and cheap to produce, and was quickly the average diet and shopping habits changed. The 50’s saw the growth of supermarkets which offered a huge new variety to the average shopping basket but also a need for food to be transported longer distances and sit on the shelves for longer. Gradually food needed to be modified to last unnaturally long shelf lives and have taste enhanced, and a whole food science developed. Not to be a conspiracy theorist, I believe this was done with good and honourable intentions to feed the people, give them variety and choice and make the shopping experience convenient and fit people’s increasingly busy lives.
Unfortunately, the evidence shows that the food industry has actually fuelled a modern epidemic of obesity, diabetes and possibly more sinister illnesses of cancer and Alzheimers disease – unproven maybe, but tempting to include on the list.
So I am now back from my holiday and my reading, and I have decided to stop talking about it and do it. I am following the plan outlined in the book. 2 weeks of ‘no sugar’, it is called the 2 week test and is designed by Dr Phil Maffetone. That means no added sugar, no bread, potatoes, pasta or rice and no alcohol. Over 2 weeks my fuelling system should change as my drive to use sugar reduces and I begin to use my own fat stores as my primary fuel.
The idea is that the 2 week test is precisely that. A test of my system to see how carbohydrate intolerant I am. If I make these changes to my food, and nothing changes in my energy levels, mood or waist line then I am probably carb tolerant. However, if I see changes in energy, mood and waist line then I am quite carb intolerant.
It is a test, not the long term eating plan. After 2 weeks I am able to re-introduce some unprocessed carbohydrate to alternate meals and see how I feel. If I react to any food with bloating or sluggishness then they don’t suit me and will be cut out of my list.
So far so good. I am 10 days in and have actually found the transition fairly straight forward:-
Breakfast: Bacon & eggs – Easy
Lunch: Omelette or salad & meat – Tricky (requires some will power)
Dinner: Normal dinner minus the carb part – Fairly easy
In the afternoon, I occasionally require some nuts to graze on, but as the theory would suggest I have been much less aware of that afternoon dip in energy.
After 2 weeks I will be able to re-introduce small portions of carbohydrate but my fuel system should maintain a preference for using my own stored energy rather than spiking up and down on sugar.
My real interest in the whole process is more about the practicalities of changing my eating habits. So far I have noticed how much sugar based food is in my house. Toast or cereal for breakfast would be easy, a sandwich for lunch and a big bowl of pasta in the evening would be normal. On the surface that looked quite healthy to me and that is how I always justified my eating. But once I look a bit deeper at the baic physiology of how that converts into energy I can see where I was going wrong.
The weekly shop is critical. Having more meat, fish, salad & cheese available makes it the easy go-to option. The less cake, biscuits and crisps that are around, the less my brain will choose them as a food choice.
Lunchtime is a bit tricky if I don’t go home. Meat and salad is quick and easy but not the easiest to transport to work and definitely difficult if you get lunch when you fill up with petrol, which I have done for many years until recently.
Another sticking point is the mid afternoon cup of tea and you need something with it. A handful of nuts doesn’t cut it and fruit seems a bit wrong – I will need to work on this bit.
Fruit also presents something of a challenge. My research suggests there is a hierarchy of fruit which release sugar at different rates. Strawberries, raspberries, bluberries are good. Peach, mango, papaya and bananas are not so good. I will have to work on those also, but they do fall into my category of natural, unprocessed food and the Cretan resistance heroes must have relied on them – so they can’t be all bad.
I will continue this eating adventure and comment further as I discover the pit falls along the way. Maybe a trip to Crete is in order – in the name of research!