Naturally Skinny Women are Boknaaiers

Dinner is served.

Please understand that I use the word ‘boknaaier’ to describe Naturally Skinny Women (NSW from here on) with the greatest affection. My very best friend in the world is an NSW. If she wants to lose weight she’ll cut her daily beer consumption down very slightly and be emaciated by the end of the week. If so much as the froth of somebody’s draught is blown my way by the south-easterly wind and it happens to land somewhere near my person it is guaranteed that I will gain 4kgs instantaneously and have to change my pants. This is simply the way of my genes, and it is vexing in the extreme.

It is unfortunately also the way of my genes that I am perpetually starving. If (god forbid) 10am rolls around and by some extremely unusual series of circumstances I have not eaten breakfast, small children standing close to me are in grave danger. Also, I think exercising is very, very poofy. I do it because if I didn’t I would be extremely fat, but I don’t like it one iota and I skive off every opportunity I get. And yet, knowing all of this about myself, I remain in the deepest denial around what I know I can get away with eating (one tomato hold the basil), and even though I really, really do know better, I still to this day manage to convince myself that ludicrous eating plans which insist they have discovered the dieting truth and light continue to lure me with their lies and false promises.

Just last month I was eating eggs with my butter and telling my long-suffering husband how finally I had found the answer. All you need is fat. Even though I have followed this eating plan five times (five, people) without success, hope springs eternal in my damaged little heart. For 6 weeks I fried the chicken in lard, snacked on streaky bacon, and ate cake-sized wedges of cheese and then, heart in throat, tentatively got on my scale. To discover I had gained weight. No problem, Butter Bob on YouTube insisted; you’re retaining water. Wait for the ‘keto whoosh’ (a state where, Keto converts insist, your body ‘lets go’ of the water it’s been retaining and you wee a million times and be thin). I’m still waiting for the whoosh. Aint no whoosh comin’ this girl’s way.

To cut a long and sad story short, cutting carbs didn’t work for me. Nor did filling up on fat ‘so that would become my fuel’. Nor did rawism, veganism, juicism (invented word) or starving. Well, starving might have worked if I could have kept it up for longer than half an hour. And all those theories about not producing insulin and starving your body of carbs so you burn your own fat and and… I don’t deny that they work for some lucky souls, but for me? Not in the slightest. And people say, but did you do it right? Did you follow the rules? YES. For once in my life I really, really did follow the rules. Because I desperately wanted to have found the answer; to eat delicious food and STILL LOSE WEIGHT. Unfortunately, my body doesn’t like all that fat. Or, it likes it so much it stores it for the next fast. Which, now that we have uber eats, unfortunately never comes.

So, I’m back to square one – dry Ryvitas and Marmite and enough chicken breasts to make me start squawking. And finally, slowly, I’m losing a bit of the fat I gained from my bacon bonanza. Is it delicious? Not in the slightest. Would I rather be eating racks of ribs with my hands? Certainly. But best I suck it up because this is the way it is. And I’m vain and want to wear what I want to wear. And it’s a choice I make, and maybe it’s un-PC and if I were a better feminist I wouldn’t care. But I know when I feel my best, and unfortunately it’s not at my heaviest weight. So, onwards and upwards and we’ll get there in the end. Or not. But NSWs are boknaaiers, and that’s my final word on the matter.

Advertisements

The Big Fat Lie of the High Fat Diet

Around six months ago a very highly regarded professor of nutrition from a very highly regarded Cape Town institute came by our place of work to deliver a quite astonishing message. And what he said to the hundred-plus women (mostly young) was that pretty much everything we have ever been taught about food, dieting and weight loss was garbage. All those salads, all those dry crackers and all that low-calorie everything? Throw it in the bin and start all over because (cue: drum roll) fat was the new skinny. Yes, folks, you heard right – FAT was the new SKINNY.

While this wasn’t entirely news to some of us chronic dieters who had the Atkins/Dukan/whatever-that-other-guy’s-name-was T-shirt in a crumpled heap at the bottom of our cupboards, somehow hearing it told again by this passionate, inspiring man whose family history of diabetes was eradicated by replacing all carbs with fats brought the theory to life again in a new and novel way. And what’s more – not only did he assure us that replacing our cos lettuce lunch with crispy bacon would melt away those unwanted kilos, he also said that, contrary to what we had long been led to believe, exercise is not the way to go. Because why? It makes you hungry and then you eat more. That’s what he said.

Now, when you tell a bunch of weight-conscious women that the answer to their lifelong battle with muffin tops lies in skipping the gym and lolling about on the couch with a bowl of lamb chops fried in butter, you can practically hear the chorus of angels singing their symphony of hallelujas. It’s a beautiful sound. We stared at each other in incredulity and shock. Where had this man been all our lives? How was it possible we had gotten it so wrong? Because, as the theory goes, it is not, in fact, fat that makes us fat, it is carbs and the way our body converts them to sugar. It’s not the T-bone steak that’s the baddie, it’s the spud you eat with it; it’s not the brie cheese we need to get rid of, but the ciabatta it melts over. That old calorie-in, calorie-out thing we’d been honouring since time immemorial? Not so, friends. Not so at all. Because, contrary to age-old wisdom, all calories are not, in fact, created equal.

So, armed with this incredible, breakthrough advice, we all hastened to the nearest supermarket where, instead of our normal, sad selection of All Bran Flakes and fat-free cottage cheese, we joyfully filled our baskets with all the things we’d been denying ourselves – blocks of Irish butter (grass fed cattle, you see); full fat Greek yoghurt; salmon-flavoured cream cheese; thick, fatty hunks of meat. Oh, in the space of 45 minutes the world had become a marvelous place. And off we went to be happy and get skinny.

At first, it was quite mind-blowing eating all that stuff – Greek yoghurt tasted very, very creamy, and while fat is deliciousness itself, it’s still pretty fatty when you’ve spent the last twenty years of your life avoiding it like it’s poison. But, I soldiered on, adding butter to my already buttery scrambled egg, buying the streakiest streaky bacon and even making myself what was apparently the number one breakfast of choice, ‘bullet proof coffee’ (a mixture of melted butter – really – coconut oil and coffee). It tasted oily and odd, but hey, getting skinny can’t be all fun. And at least I was having pork rind for lunch.

Except I wasn’t really getting skinny like I expected. In fact, my skinny jeans were feeling rather tight around the thigh. But never mind, I told myself – it just hadn’t kicked in yet. Let me have a few more helpings of deep-fried chicken to get my weight loss on its way. Okay, not really, but the man said eat until you’re full, so I did. After three weeks, I noticed my face was looking rather moony so I thought it might be time to weigh myself – just to make sure it was actually working. Honestly, I wasn’t that surprised to learn I had not lost a jot but, in fact, gained a hefty 4kgs. Which was really rather a bummer because eating that way is fabulous.

So I gave the yoghurt and the cream cheese to my kids, sadly fished out my lycra pants and took myself off to the gym. I went back onto salad and being hungry until the weight slowly and painfully came off. And here’s the thing: I’m not saying this way of eating won’t work for everybody. I’m sure the diet worked brilliantly for the dude in question whose health improved radically and blood sugar went back to normal. But it didn’t work for me, and it didn’t work for a number of my friends who ended up fatter than they’d ever been. And mad as snakes as a result. And we all followed it exactly like he said.

Which leads me to believe that this one-size-fits-all solution to eating right isn’t all it’s cut out to be. I mean, for fifty years, after countless studies and huge amounts of money being spent on telling us how and what to eat, we were still taught that a diet of mostly carbs was the way to go. And now we have to shirk them entirely. How is that possible? How unreliable were the studies that were conducted? Or, was there something more sinister going on? I get that this diet about-turn is probably a move in the right direction, and we do eat too many refined carbohydrates and that probably is the reason why people are obese, but telling people to replace with carbs with limitless amounts of fat isn’t the answer either.

An announcement came out a few days ago that Sweden is the first country in the world which will officially be changing the old ‘healthy eating’ pyramid from high carbs to low carbs and high fat, and I’m not sure it’s the wisest move. By all means replace your morning muffin with a boiled egg, up the good oils and skip the French fries, but that’s not (ask me) how people tend to interpret eating plans. We’re silly and greedy and given half the chance we’ll start adding cream cheese to our tea. Fat people the world over are testimony to the fact that moderation is not our strongest point. We like to not exercise, and we like to eat a lot of tasty food.

I’m not a nutritionist, but I’m a lifelong dieter who’s read every book and study going and who’s been researching and writing articles on food and eating for fifteen years, and what I understand after trying countless fad diets in an attempt to fool my genes is that there are no shortcuts or tricks or schemes. Wanna be thin? Take in fewer calories and get into that spinning class. It’s immensely, mind-numbingly boring, but it’s the conclusion I’ve had no choice but to reach. And it just doesn’t make sense, this high fat thing. That old saying about when something seems too good to be true it more than likely is? It doesn’t sound right to me that eating a bunch of animal fat can be good for you. When, in evolutionary terms, did we ever eat that way? We know the cave dudes had a diet which consisted predominantly of lean protein and whatever greens and fruits they could scavenge.

So my question is this: if the researchers got it so wrong for so many years, how are we to know they’re not getting it just as wrong now? I suspect the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Eating some carbs and eating some fats, but being moderate with both. As Sweden has started what will no doubt be a world wide trend it will be interesting to see what happens to global obesity rates. I, for one, will be surprised if they improve.

Hello hunger, my new friend

A few weeks ago a girlfriend of mine went to see her GP because she had gained a crazy six kilograms in a few short months and she thought something must surely be wrong with her. Happily, after a series of tests her health was given the all clear; less happy was the verdict: it was the chips and pepperdew dip wot done it. Like a lot of us, she’d simply been eating too much. For someone who’s enjoyed a lifelong love affair with food, these words aren’t fun to hear – after all, life without wonderful food would be an intolerable business. But we eat too much wonderful food and we get fat and that’s not fun, either.

What her GP pointed out is that every four hours or so our bodies send a message to our brains that we are low on energy and need to refuel. And, as evolutionary beings, we don’t like the feeling of hunger so we go looking for a toasted cheese sandwich post haste. Except, for most people who lead relatively sedentary lives, this signal is a bit of a porky. Yes, your tummy might be empty, but unless you recently ran the Comrades, you actually have loads of glucose stored in your liver and fat cells, and circulating in your bloodstream. In fact, if someone locked you up with no food (unless you had an illness like diabetes) you could survive on water for quite a long time.

As Mr GP insists, while hunger doesn’t feel pleasant and eating a toasted sarmie does, there is no physiological reason why we need to respond to that signal right away. So, when we feel a bit hungry, we should try having an apple and a glass of water, and then wait a bit, and those pangs will more than likely go away or, at least, diminish. This is not to say we should stop eating or replace all meals with apples and water, but rather be mindful of the fact that the sensation of hunger is not always an accurate indication that our bodies require food. You know how when you have a huge dinner you wake up starving? Case in point. Your brain is a big, fat liar, but your skinny jeans know the truth.

So, as someone with the appetite of a hard labourer who has been known to out-eat large men even though I do nothing more strenuous than carry my iPad from room to room, I decided to try not to respond to the hunger signal instantly. And I cultivated this inner dialogue that went something like this: (stomach rumbles) ‘oh, really? You’re peckish? So, the two million calories in last night’s Bloody Marvellous Mushroom Risotto weren’t quite enough to fuel all this hard typing you’re doing this morning? Well, tough titties for you, greedy guts! You can have one cherry tomato, exactly. So, put that in your fat little pipe and smoke it!’

And, to my astonishment, I didn’t faint or expire during the course of the morning. When my tummy did the rumble lie, I gave it a cup of green tea. It wasn’t happy, but really, what was it going to do about it? For lunch I had salad with avo and seeds, and for supper, I reduced my normal portion by a third. It’s a challenge, not shoving stuff in your mouth the second you feel snacky. Or bored, or meh. But I got kind of used to it – the sensation of being slightly hungry and not doing anything about it.

And I actually felt pretty light and energized. Because we do weigh our bodies down and tax them with the sheer volume of food we put away every day. Google how to live longer, and a lot of studies will tell you simply to eat less. There’s a marked correlation between frugal eating and longevity. The process of consistently digesting rich, protein-heavy food takes its toll on the human body, and eating, for us, is at least as much about recreation as it is about nourishment. Doing away with all lovely food and always eating leaves would make (my) life not worth living, but there is an argument for not turning every meal into a feast. Choose your feasting times, eat like a crazed Roman, but the rest of the time (more or less) it just makes sense that we’d all be better off with small portions of simple, easily digestible food.

So, after five days of eating air with a side of nothing we went out for a fancy dinner (hooray! A feast, at last!). Normally I would easily put away three courses, but after my starter thimble of cauliflower soup I was so full I had to take my entire main course home. And while it’s boring as hell being one of ‘those’ girls and my husband’s eyes were rolling to the ceiling, at the same time it did tell me that I’ve been eating hopelessly too much forever, and that it’s not by some tragic fluke that my muffin tops spilleth over. Whether I’ll be able to change a lifetime’s bad habits is another question, of course. Once the novelty of being hungry and smug wears off, there’s a good chance I’ll be right back on the mayo samoosas*. But I’m going to try to try. Really.

*(I discovered a sad thing when I was fifteen and my boyfriend’s mom used to buy a box of frozen samoosas which we would proceed to deep fry and devour: a hot samoosa goes very, very nicely with Helman’s mayo. As if the fat content of the thing is not enough. Don’t try this at home, you’ll never eat them any other way.)

Why I’ll Never Get On Another Scale Ever In My Life

My new happy weight - nought.
My new happy weight – nought.

So finally, at the age of 42, after being a slave to my scale for as long as I can remember, I have stopped weighing myself. It’s been about six months since last I voluntarily made myself feel crap first thing in the morning, post-wee, pre-coffee. And it’s not because at last I reached a level of self-acceptance and understanding that I am more than that what those numbers say, it’s because my scale takes those little round batteries like you used to get in Nintendo games and I have no idea where you buy them. And while at first the site of that blank screen filled me with panic (how would I know how fat I was? How would I measure yesterday’s level of gluttony or – less commonly – denial if I didn’t know my exact weight, down to the comma whatever?).

And then an interesting thing happened – nothing. At first it was weird not starting my day with the rush of oh-yay-I’m-down-300-grams-since-yesterday-I’m-not-gonna-touch-a-carb-all-day OR the crash of oh-fuck-why-did-I-have-those-three-glasses-of-wine-now-look-I-might-as-well-have-ciabatta. I missed the smug (albeit hollow, short-lived) feeling of victory when I had gone hungry and the scale was my best friend, but I didn’t miss the other feeling which happened rather more often – the dismay and the quiet self-loathing. Because it’s really quite difficult to feel okay about yourself as a woman if you’re not pretty thin. And somehow, achieving that goal can feel like the most important thing in the world. Which is seriously fucked up.

Three years ago, roughly (I remember this moment well) I got on the scale at midday (midday, nogal!) and it read 57kgs. That’s low for me as I’m not a naturally skinny person. The reason I weighed 57 (as opposed to 62, my body’s happy weight) was because I had recently moved countries with two small children, had no job or home, my husband was working overseas, I had chronic insomnia and our marriage was taking strain. I have never been so stressed and on edge in all of my life but, by god, I was thin! And that made up for all the other stuff. Needless to say, my delight was short-lived. We bought a house, I got a job, we settled in and found the love, and with happiness, (for me) comes food. We cook and we eat and drink wine and talk into the night because we’re friends and we’re alive and days are hard enough without living on grilled chicken.

I don’t weigh 57 anymore, and – barring a terminal illness or my head falling off – I never will again. I have no idea what I weigh, and I don’t really care. Okay, that’s not true. I do care, but not enough to make me go buy those batteries. My really skinny jeans are too tight on me, but luckily I have others. I exercise a few times a week without being mental about it, and instead of imposing crazy rules on myself, I try to listen to what my body is asking for. Sometimes it’s an enormous salad; other times it’s Kettle Fried chips. I have days when I eat too much and days when I eat just right. Sometimes I clutch at my muffin tops and hate the way I look naked; other times I think, hell, you’re not doing not too bad, lady. I think the biggest challenge we women face is being nice to ourselves. And without that mofo scale to torment me, I’m finding this a little bit easier.