Updated: March 14, 2016 1:45:16 pm
I was never a diet faddist. As a skinny child and twiggy adult, I was a firm believer in the live-to-eat school of thought. A miraculous metabolism meant that I could stuff my face with upwards of 3,000 calories a day and have nothing to show for it except for a small burp. Until my mid-20s, I weighed a meagre 48kg that sat comfortably on my 5’5″ frame.
Then life, and my body, caught up. And the payback was brutal. My metabolism slowed, and even though I’d begun watching what I eat, my weight ballooned. Out went the snacking and fried food, KFC and McDonald’s, but my waistline didn’t get the memo. By early 2016, I weighed a whopping 70kg, and I began to really feel every gram of that weight. Something had to be done, and, since I’m L-A-Z-Y, that something was not exercise. Instead, I decided that it would be a diet that would save me.
With diets, it’s hard to know where to start. The Internet is chock-full of ideas that range from the batshit – the master cleanse, a 10-day lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper diet – to the downright dangerous, such as death-dealing diet pills. After much research, I found my diet soulmate, thanks to a gif that chronicled a woman’s incredible weight-loss journey. I’d chanced upon the LCHF (low carb, high fat) diet.
At its simplest, in an LCHF diet, you restrict the amount of carbs you eat so your body turns to burning fat for energy, which I had a plentiful supply of. I could eat all the butter, ghee, olive oil, coconut oil, cheese and bacon I wanted. Bacon! On a diet! I could eat pretty large portions of meat. I was sold. What I couldn’t eat was any form of sugar or starch. Bye-bye, rice, potatoes, chapattis, dosas, sandwiches, chips, chocolate cake, biryani, croissants, pizza, colas, beer. I mean, how hard could it be?
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But carbs are insidious buggers. No, really, think of three breakfast dishes (that aren’t egg) that are carb free. Lunch? Dinner? Suddenly, I was thinking of food every waking minute, planning my next meal. The induction days were the worst. As your body uses up all the stored carbs and begins to transition into ketosis, the fat-burning stage, you begin to experience flu-like symptoms — headaches, nausea, the sniffles. They go away soon enough, but then the sugar withdrawal hits. And you turn into a raving monster. Your mood swings between deep depression and homicidal mania. Your colleagues begin to look like cake slices. Your neighbour resembles a macaron.
In those first few days, in desperation, I turned to the Internet for recipes. I tried Bulletproof coffee, a scintillating mix of coffee, butter and coconut oil that’s more automotive lubricant than breakfast. Chia pudding seemed really popular with the Keto crowd. It involved dumping spoonful of chia seeds in coconut milk, adding a bit of cocoa powder and artificial sweetner, and waiting for it to all come together. It’s great, if you enjoy chocolate-flavoured snot. Another recipe for “fat bombs” (Speed up metabolism! Support your thyroid! Boost your energy!) suggested putting peanut butter, coconut oil and cocoa in a muffin tin and freezing it. Now, I’m a Mallu, but there was no way I was going to be nibbling on frozen coconut oil for a snack.
The diet had one thing going for it, though. Proteins and fats are the satiating elements of food, so you were never hungry, which helped stave off cravings. Even so, by week two of ketosis, the diet had invaded my dreams. I’d wake up in a cold sweat from nightmares of being chased by giant slices of pizza. Sometimes the dreams were vivid, like the time I dreamt I ate a ham sandwich, and could actually taste the sandwich when I woke up. Cheat days were impossible, because it kicked my body out of ketosis and it took a good week to get back into the diet. I stopped going out with friends, because it was so hard to find something to eat on a normal restaurant menu. Within a month I was carb-less, friendless…weightless?
The truth, though, was that it completely worth the pain. In a month I’d dropped 3kg, in two, seven. I felt healthier, more mentally active than I had in a decade. Gone were the constant hunger pangs, the need to shovel chips and processed foods into my mouth every evening. I was calmer, happier and more energetic than I could ever remember being. And, for all those who howled “Cholesterol!” and “Heart disease!” at me, turns out my HDL, that’s the good cholesterol, improved dramatically while my LDL fell.
In six months I’ve dropped 13kgs, with two more to go to hit my target weight of 55kg. And in the meantime, I’ve developed recipes to carry me through the dark days, like a spectacular strawberry cheesecake smoothie that’s full of good fats and a guiltless keto cheesecake with a coconut and almond flour base that could take on a real cheesecake any day. Will I be able to sustain this diet forever? Probably not. Will I go back to eating processed crap like I used to? No. I know I won’t be able to help the occasional slip, but it’s nice to know I can go back to ketosis any time, like a good friend I can depend on to look out for me.
STRAWBERRY CHEESECAKE SMOOTHIE
100g – Strawberries, hulled
50g – Cream cheese
250g – Yogurt or kefir
2 tbsp – Stevia
* Add the strawberries, cream cheese, yogurt/kefir and stevia in a blender.
* Blitz until well-combined.
* Serve chilled.
Note: For a lower-cal version, skip the cream cheese.
KETO LEMON CHEESECAKE
1 cup – Coconut flour
1/2 cup – Almond flour
50g – Butter
1 pkg (226g) – Philadelphia cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup – Yogurt
1/2 cup – Double cream
Juice of 1 lemon
1 – Egg
* Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C.
* To make the base, combine the coconut and almond flour.
* Melt the butter, then add it to the flour mix till it’s fully moistened.
* Spread the flour and butter mix on the bottom of a well-greased 7” cake tin.
* Put the tin in the oven to toast the base for about 10 minutes, till it turns golden-brown.
* Take it out and leave to cool.
* For the cheesecake, whisk the cream cheese till smooth.
* Add the egg and whisk until combined.
* Add the yogurt, cream, lemon juice and whisk until you get a smooth mixture.
* Pour mixture into the cake tin and bake till the sides are set but the centre in still jiggly, about 40 minutes.
* Turn off the heat and leave the cheesecake in the oven for about 30 minutes.
* Take it out and chill it for at least four hours before eating.
* Serve topped with fresh strawberries.
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