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Low carb, low calorie, low fat… every inveterate dieter has their favourite, and most diets work for a while. But the bitter truth is weight loss rarely lasts.
My work as a specialist in late-stage kidney disease means I am at the sharp end of our out-of-control obesity epidemic. People get fat, they get diabetes, their kidneys fail and they come to me.
After 20 years of worrying about the cause (usually obesity) rather than the symptoms (kidney failure), I am now convinced that the weight-loss industry and everyone involved in it could be missing a trick.
The problem is, just like heart disease or even many cancers, obesity is a deadly disease with many different contributing causes. So just as heart disease has multiple triggers (diet, lifestyle, stress, genetics), your bulging waistline could equally be caused by any number of different factors: sneaky snacking, poor genetics, stress, night shifts, food addiction, sugary drinks, too much booze or imbalanced gut bacteria for instance.
Cutting back on portion sizes, glugging green juices, or banning bread or alcohol can hit only one factor at a time and that’s what inevitably leaves dieters doomed to an endless cycle of failure and blame.
Stubborn, diet-resistant weight gain isn’t about eating too much or exercising too little; it’s not about excess calories or saturated fat. It is, in fact, a complex hormonal issue. Hormones regulate our body fat, they tell us when we’re hungry, when we’re full, they increase our energy levels and slow us down – and the hormone that plays a central role is insulin.
It is insulin which floods the blood after we’ve eaten, transporting excess sugar out into temporary stores in the liver and longer-term fat stores around the body.
However, our modern eating patterns and stressful lifestyles mean many of us have far too much insulin swilling around in our systems, day and night, and this has a series of hormonal knock-on effects that make our attempts to lose weight doomed to fail.
One of the most sinister aspects of long-term weight gain is a condition called ‘insulin resistance’. This commonly occurs when high-sugar diets crash into stressful modern lives to mean you end up with far too much insulin in your system and your cells no longer react properly to its instructions.
If your cells become ‘insulin resistant’ your body’s natural reaction is to pump out yet more insulin to rectify the situation, but this just exacerbates the problem.
If you’re overweight there’s every chance you’ve got insulin resistance and your insulin levels are stuck on a fat-storing high, no matter how much kale you eat.
The only way to break this insulin-resistance cycle is to allow your insulin levels to drop very low – and the snatched six hours of sleep you got between last night’s kebab and this morning’s bowl of Cheerios isn’t going to cut it.
Properly lowering your insulin levels and re-setting your hormone balance means completely abstaining from food. I know it sounds scary, but fasting is, in my opinion, the most important missing piece in the weight loss puzzle.
The trouble is, many of the best-known fasting regimes can sound rather intimidating – involving dramatically reducing your food intake for days on end, week in and week out. This can lead to significant weight loss. But as I’ll show, you don’t have to do it like that if you don’t want to.
Fasting can mean as little as skipping a bedtime snack, or breakfast. You can even do it in your sleep! Read on to find out more.
At my clinics I encourage my patients to fast for days, even weeks with dramatic results. Longer fasting periods produce lower insulin levels and greater weight loss.
But if you’re not hugely overweight things don’t have to be quite so draconian. All you need to do is skip a few meals.
Start off by aiming for a good old-fashioned 12-hour fast. It’s easy. Just eat nothing after your evening meal at 7pm or 8pm (no peanuts, no ice cream, no fruit or milky drink) until your healthy breakfast at 7am or 8am the next day. That’s what everybody used to do in the Sixties before bedtime snacks were invented.
Once that becomes a habit, try boosting the benefit by occasionally extending your ‘fast’ to 16 hours: skip breakfast, enjoy lunch, then just stop eating after dinner at 7pm or 8pm and ‘fast’ right through until breakfast the next morning.
Add in a 24 hour-fast once or twice a week if you really want to see dramatic results.