My fast mimicking diet journey

I have been experimenting with fasting for a while but I became interested in this diet last year, after listening to a podcast where Dr Longo, the brain behind the product ProLon,  was explaining the benefits of this way of fasting which include fat loss while maintaining muscle mass, antiaging effect,  natural ‘spring cleaning’ of the cells which means a lower level risk factor for many illnesses, stronger mental focus, better blood sugar regulation.  Who could argue with that? I have also been feeling quite sluggish lately so I can do with an overall boost, especially before my holiday in the sunshine!

You don’t need a pre-packaged meal solution to do this diet, but it does make it easier because, in this way, the ratios and percentages of nutrients have already been worked out for you. Getting this balance wrong, could result in the whole fast being ineffective and, according to Dr Longo, potentially dangerous.

ProLon is a nutrient dense, backed by science modified type of fasting. Basically, you don’t completely abstain from food, like in a real fast, but you consume a small amount of food -consisting of plant-based soups, bars, snacks, teas and supplements- which is designed to maximize the beneficial effects of fasting while providing nourishment and minimizing hunger.

Before you scream in excitement -did I just say there is food during a fast?-  let me tell you that this is not the average food you eat daily , it’s more like the food astronauts survive on -or so I think anyway- but if you struggle to do extended fasts, like I do, then eating a little might be easier than not eating at all.

DAY 1 (my food is in the picture above, a total of 1,100 Kcals)

As far as the first day went, all I can say is that it wasn’t plain sailing. I felt quite light headed and tired during most of the day but I wasn’t as hungry as I thought I’d be.

I ate a lovely nut-based bar for breakfast and drank huge amounts of the herbal teas provided during the whole day. The main meals are vegetable-based soups and today the tomato soup tasted ok. There were also some nice herbs crackers and olives to go with it.

 I always have dinner quite early so the evening was dragging on a bit and I decided to have an early night not to focus on my empty stomach.

DAY 2 (800 kcals)

I woke up hungry and I struggled with hunger for the whole day. 

There was less food available for today, but they add in a lovely solution to dilute in water and sip through the day which tasted nice.

I had a busy day running around with my daughter and the thing that strikes me the most about today is that I have been very grumpy. Irritability is a possible side effect of low calorie and low protein diets as well as anxiety, depression, dizziness, fatigue, drowsiness, muscle aches, nausea, headaches and spinal pains. On their list of potential side effects, they also mention constipation, fainting, low blood pressure and low blood sugar. In a nutshell it’s safe to say that this is not for a walk in the park.

My blood sugar levels were quite stable during the day and my keto strips told me that I have entered ketosis. You might have heard about the ketogenic diet and getting into ketosis which is a normal metabolic process which the body does to keep working. When you follow a very low calories or low carbohydrates diet and the body doesn’t have enough glucose to burn for energy, it starts to burn fat instead. Fasting is another way of entering ketosis quickly but it all depends on the individual. My normal diet is low in sugar and carbs -the only carbs I eat regularly are fruits and vegetables- so I am not surprised to be in a state of ketosis already.

Cooking dinner for the rest of the family was a challenge and the lovely tiny, little chocolate bar (picture below) at the end of dinner was the highlight of the day!

I also struggled to fall asleep and felt very cold during the whole evening. Feeling quite cold is unfortunately common during fasting, and the cold weather doesn’t obviously help so I went to bed with a fleece and socks. Good job my husband is away this weekend!

DAY 3 (800 kcals)

I woke up with lots of energy and not feeling hungry at all. Such an improvement from yesterday.

I haven’t felt lightheaded either, but I had a dull back ache which is rather annoying as I needed to spend some time sitting down today catching up with my writing.

It’s interesting to notice how I haven’t been hungry, but I would have liked to eat something extra despite my soups and crackers.  Fasting is very much a mind game, the body adjusts to the lack, or very little food, and hunger pangs tend to fade. It’s the mind which is harder to distract!

My evening meal is just a vegetable soup, no cracker or olives to go with it but I don’t mind. My husband and daughter’s very rich dinner doesn’t bother me at all either.

I am feeling very awake and super energised. I am writing this late in the evening (it’s almost 11 o’clock at night which is late for me) and I am planning on starting my packing as soon as I finish this because I don’t feel sleepy at all. This is very unusual for me because I am usually in bed by now, if not earlier. 

Two more days to go, I feel like I can definitely do this!

DAY 4 (800 Kcal)

I woke up very early today despite going to bed late and I felt ok all morning.

At breakfast I was a little bit hungry and craved a coffee which I didn’t have. The plan doesn’t include coffee but apparently if you are really struggling you can have one without anything in it. I like my coffee with milk, so I decided to forget about it and have some peppermint tea instead.

I felt ok during the afternoon, the backache is gone and the grumpiness too which is good news but today I felt hungrier than yesterday. Cooking dinner was a real struggle and it was hard not to taste the Bolognese sauce I made for the rest of the family. Cooking while fasting -or semi-fasting- is not my idea of fun. Luckily, I am busy packing tonight – and writing this! – so I am not thinking about food. This is the thing, it’s more to do with the mind again because my stomach is not complaining. I can’t  honestly say that I am hungry right now; I just would like to eat something.

This experiment made me realise that I don’t always eat because I am hungry…. I guess I am human too! We are all emotional eaters at some level, and this is ok because food is not just nutrients. However, if you have difficulties losing weight or maintaining your ideal weight then this needs to be addressed. Even eating healthy food when you don’t really need it can lead to weight gain, tuning in to your hunger clues is important and I guess that fasting greatly helps with this.

The other thing I have noticed is that I have a lot of energy, and I am quite focused too. Usually when people go on very low calories diets, they complain of fatigue and drowsiness but, after a rough Day2, I have been feeling great.

One more day to go!

DAY 5 (800 Kcal)

Finally, the last day of the fast mimicking diet. I say finally because I am bored of the pre-packed soups, except for the tomato soup in the picture above which was my favourite. I am missing fresh vegetables and protein. It turns out that this diet is 45% carbohydrates (all coming from vegetables and a little quinoa), 45% is fat (mainly olives, nuts, and some omega 3 supplements) and only 10% is protein (coming from nuts and vegetables).

My normal diet is much higher in protein than this, and so it doesn’t surprise me that today I have been craving not only fresh foods, but also nuts/seeds/meat and eggs. Dr Longo argues that the special ratio of these nutrients is vital for feeding the microbiome -the bugs that live inside us and especially in our gut- which plays a huge role in our health particularly in the function of the immune system.

Today I haven’t felt particularly hungry -hunger hasn’t been an issue beyond day2- I was just craving and missing real food. Energy bars and pre-packed soups are not ideal if you are used to cooking everything from scratch. I felt great with lots of energy and mental focus again. The only side effects I can report are constipation and a few little red spots on my face which I am sure will go once I start eating normal again.

Have I lost weight? I have lost 1.5 kg and the fat percentage on my scale went down a little which is  good news. Bear in mind that this diet is not aimed at weight loss even if some weight loss is to be expected.

Would I do it again? Dr Longo recommends doing a cycle -the whole 5 days of ProLon- regularly to get the full benefits. If you don’t have specific health issues you could do this twice a year, but if you suffer from an autoimmune condition for instance, you would benefit from doing this more regularly. As for me, I am thinking of repeating the cycle again in 6 months’ time, and this time I would also add some blood tests before and after to check what really happens on a cellular level.

A Day 6 ‘transition diet’, which is not included in the pack, is recommended before you go back to your normal way of eating. The meals suggested are liquids first (soups or juice) followed by some light meals of rice with small amounts of fish/meat/legumes. After any fasting it’s always good practice to ease back into foods slowly so not to give the digestive system a shock and avoid bloating and discomfort.

I am glad I embarked on this journey because I have learnt a lot about my eating habits and, although I can do 5 days of ‘astronauts foods’ in the name of longevity, I also know that pre-packed soups and meal bars are not really up my street! 

A word of caution, this type of diet is not suitable for everyone. Pregnant women, people who are underweight, anyone over the age of 70, people with liver or kidney disease, anyone on medication or suffering from low blood pressure or other pathologies (cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and so on) must not go on this diet. If you are thinking of embarking on a fast or any type of diet, please consult your doctor or a health care professional first.

Top tips on how to save money and eat well for less

Eating food you have cooked or prepared at home is healthier for you. It is also considerably cheaper. The key to this is planning. You’ve probably heard the saying ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’. Without a weekly food plan, it will be pure luck if you end up with the right foods in the fridge or cupboard. And, without planning your time, you won’t always make the time to enjoy breakfast or make that lunch.

You could be saving a LOT of money each week by following these tips.

HOW MUCH ARE YOU REALLY (OVER)SPENDING?

Be honest with yourself about your spending and shopping habits. That starts with looking into how much you spend each week on take-out coffee, croissants and other breakfasts; lunchtime salads, soups and sandwiches; snacks and other food treats; and ready meals, takeaways or last-minute meals out. Make a note every time you buy something (not the main food shop) to eat out of the house. Do this for a week, then multiply by 4 to give you an approximate monthly total.

Log into your banking app (or go online) and make a note of how much you spent over the last month on food.

Add the two figures together. This gives you your total for how much you are spending on food each month. I suspect you will be shocked. Most people are.

Commit to saving a certain amount each week or month. Decide what that is. Commit to it and write it down. What will you do with that extra money? Where can you economise?

PLAN YOUR PLANNING

Become a planning ninja. The thing about planning is that you need to plan to plan. It’s easy to get derailed by events, situations, relationships and tasks that insert themselves into our already busy lives.

Choose a time when you know you will be free every week to plan your meals – breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Ideally plan midweek for the following week. Put a reminder alarm on your phone. If this planning job doesn’t get done, you will have no choice but to shop on a day-to-day basis, which is much more expensive.

SHOP YOUR PLAN

As an experiment, spend at least one week only allowing yourself to buy what is on your shopping list. No extras! The planning and shopping discipline may take a little time to get used to, but it is worth persevering.

Off-list shopping and impulse buys are the biggest enemy for anyone wanting to keep to a budget. Do not go to the supermarket hungry. You are more likely to shop off-list when you do.

BUY IN SEASON

When fruit and vegetables hit peak production, they are usually cheaper. Buying food in season means you are saving money and eating better tasting food which has not travelled for miles.

BATCH COOK AND GET CREATIVE

Batch cook whenever possible, this will not only save you time but also money. A huge amount of food is thrown away, because we’re not sure what to do with leftovers. Make a commitment to using yours and prepare to save money. There is a bank of resources online to help you find easy recipe suggestions for pretty much anything you may have lurking in the fridge.

GOLDEN RULES OF HEALTHY EATING ON A BUDGET

  • INCLUDE PROTEIN AT EVERY MEAL AND SNACK

Protein keeps energy levels stable and is essential for the body’s growth and repair, and healthy skin and nails. Protein is found in meat and poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, lentils, beans, pulses (like chickpeas), quinoa, nuts and seeds. Protein should make up a quarter of your meal (about the size of a clenched fist). Many people do not have protein-based breakfasts. How can you change yours?

MONEY-SAVING TIP: the cheapest sources of protein are vegetarian sources, like beans and lentils. Consider going meat-free one or two days a week. Eggs sold as ‘mixed sizes’ are cheaper than buying all M or L.

  • EAT PLENTY OF FIBRE

That means lots of vegetables – likely more than you are currently eating. The recommendation is 5 portions of vegetables and 2 portions of fruit (ideally low sugar fruit like berries, apples, pears, plums – anything grown in the UK) a day. Fibre keeps energy levels constant, balances your hormones, fills you up, keeps you regular and those fruit and veg contain many immune-boosting plant chemicals. Aim to eat a rainbow of colours over the course of the week.

MONEY-SAVING TIP: Greengrocers are often the cheapest places to buy your veg. Also consider basing meals around special supermarket deals (example Aldi’s Super 6), and don’t rule out the basics and essentials ranges of veg (usually just means they are not regular shapes and sizes). Don’t rule out frozen vegetables either. They are cheap, often frozen soon after picking so they are very fresh and offer the ultimate convenience. And you are likely to waste less.

  • CHOOSE HEALTHY FATS

Eating fat doesn’t make you gain fat or otherwise put on weight, but some fats are healthier than others. The body loves omega 3 fats, which boost mood and support the stress response, and reduce inflammation. They are found in oily fish (salmon, trout, halibut, cod, fresh tuna, mackerel, sardines), flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts. Other healthy sources of fat are avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts and seeds.

MONEY-SAVING TIP: Frozen fish is a far cheaper option than refrigerated. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s inferior. Often supermarket ‘fishmonger’ counter fish has been frozen.

  • THINK CAREFULLY ABOUT STARCHY ‘CARBS’

Many diets rely heavily on white, pasta, bread, rice and potatoes, but these (especially when eaten without protein) can unbalance your blood sugar levels and cause you to store fat. Swap to healthier wholegrain alternatives; brown rice, wholemeal pasta and bread, and sweet potatoes, and ensure this element takes up no more than a quarter of your meal.

MONEY-SAVING TIP: Many people bulk up meals with starch, especially on a budget. Your body will love you for bulking meals up with veg instead. Eating large portions of starchy foods will have you craving more food than if you had more modest portions. 

  • CUT SUGAR

Most people have an understanding that sugar is not good for them. Eating sugary food is like a treadmill, with one biscuit creating the need for the next. Sugar creates a blood sugar or energy imbalance, fuels inflammation in the body, and makes you put on weight.

MONEY-SAVING TIP: Consider that the more sugar you eat, the more you need to eat. Sugary ‘treats’ soon become three times a day habit. Depending what you’re snacking on, cutting it out (or cutting down) could save several ££ each day.

USEFUL RESOURCES

Economy Gastronomy by Allegra McEvedy & Paul Merrett.

Save with Jamie by Jamie Oliver.

Eat, Shop, Save by Dale Pinnock.

Eat Well for Less (various books) by Greg Wallace & Chris Bavin.

If you need any help with your meals planning, food preparation or tips on how to spend less money on your food shopping get in touch to arrange a free 30 minutes session. Call me on 07772491975 or email info@stellanutrition.com .

Should you ditch the scale?

The short answer is maybe, and the reason might surprise you.

I am not totally against scales and I do use one in my practice but only with clients who feel comfortable with this, and only once every four or five weeks. My scale is a body composition monitor which also measures fat and muscle percentages, visceral fat rating, metabolic age and muscle mass which tell a bigger picture than just weight. This scale is part of a set of tools which can be useful for some, but not all, people.

Studies have shown that weighing yourself regularly can help you maintain long-term weight loss. However, I don’t believe that people trying to lose weight should be constantly checking in with the scale and become obsessed with it. Weight can fluctuate incredibly from one day to the next for a variety of reasons, but when the number goes up or stays the same, despite exercising and eating well, people can end up feeling defeated and demoralised. That number can trigger a lot of emotions like guilt, fear, shame, frustration and anger which can lead to poor body image and negative self-talk. A slippery slope that can push you into bingeing or overeating.

But guess what? That number is just a number, it’s not you, it does not define who you are. You are not a number; your happiness and self-worth are not dictated by a number.

The truth is that while for some people the scale is an important and useful tool for maintaining weight loss, for others, it can stand in the way of success.

As a nutritionist and health coach offering personalised advice, I need to adjust what I do according to the specific client I have in front of me, and although most of my client’s goals are about weight loss, I never directly focus on this.

This might surprise you, but for me weight is just another sign showing that something in the body is out of balance. This could be because of hormonal issues, food sensitivities, inflammation, chronic stress, lack of sleep, or some other health problem. When we focus on regaining health and balance, on a physical and mental level, then the weight loss happens as a nice side benefit.

The way you feel, how your digestion is working, how well you sleep, how your body fight infections and how you deal with stress are all important markers of health, more important than any number on the scale.

The scale won’t tell you your overall health, or if you have more energy, or less pain and bloating.  It won’t tell you if your clothes are fitting better or if you are feeling more confident. It won’t tell you if your skin is glowing.  It won’t even tell you if are able to sleep better, run faster or exercise for longer. These are the important things you can rely on to keep you motivated.

If you really want some numbers, then a better way is to measure your waist, hip, -as well as your waist to hip ratio- chest, arms and thighs.

You can also keep track of how your clothes fit, because sometimes the number on the scale might be staying the same but you need to go shop for smaller clothes. This can happen if you switch your exercise routine, for instance, and you start to lose fat and gain muscle which is exactly what you want.

Focus on healing your relationship with food, improving your everyday eating habits, getting healthier, fitter, and more active. This can take the pressure off, allowing you to lead a healthier life and flourish.

If you want to find out how nutrition and coaching can help you reach your ideal weight and regain your health, call me on 07772491975 or email me at info@stellanutrition.comand book a complementary 30 minutes session and start your journey to better health.