Here is a day’s food diary that one of my clients sent to me prior to our first meeting (don’t worry she was more than happy for me to use her case for this purpose!).
This client came to me because she had low energy and trouble losing weight despite her best efforts in the gym and ‘watching what she ate’.
For the purpose of this blog let’s call this client Laura. Laura is 33. She works in the city 5 days a week, and is currently single and has no children. She is a member of a gym to which she goes about 3 times a week, usually taking part in a spin class. Laura wants to lose a stone, and tone up. She has been going to the gym for almost 2 years, before that she used to go for jogs outside here and there. She has been struggling to lose her excess weight for the last year and it was her main motivation for joining the gym. She is frustrated that she hasn’t managed to shift any weight, although she does say she feels good and quite energised for going to the gym regularly.
Here is Laura’s food diary which she filled in just before we met for your session together:
Breakfast – 1 bowl of bran flakes with skimmed milk 1 banana 1 glass of fresh orange juice 1 black coffee (Nescafe) with 1 sweetener.
Lunch – Jacket potato with cheese and coleslaw 1 can diet Coke Snack Flapjack (Starbucks)
Dinner – Usually 1 chicken breast with roast potatoes and cabbage.
Following a diet like this Laura would certainly have trouble losing weight despite any exercise she might be doing, and her energy would no doubt be low.
Although Laura believes she is doing the right thing, here’s why this way of eating won’t help her to reach her goals.
Most of Laura’s food shown here is made up of simple carbs, which means they break down to sugar as soon as they’re swallowed, and this sugar is rapidly absorbed into the blood stream. There is little protein, very little good fats, and it’s low in fibre.
Insulin and fat storage
the more simple carbs we include in our diet and the less protein, the more of a job insulin has to do. Insulin is a hormone that’s released by then pancreas in response to sugar that we eat and send into the blood stream. Insulin moves this sugar from the blood stream into the cells to be used as energy and any leftover sugar gets stored in the fat cells. The trouble is if we are constantly eating sugar and simple carbs, we are constantly left with excess sugar to be stored in the fat cells. This is when we start to gain extra weight (usually around the middle, and hips and thighs for women) that’s hard to shift no matter how much exercise you do or how many calories you count. A diet high in sugar and these simple carbs will also have you energy levels fluctuating all day long – leading to hunger and cravings you can’t control!
Let’s look at Laura’s diet meal by meal:
Breakfast – bran flakes are marketed to us as a nutritious source of fibre, but in reality any of these commercial cereals break down into sugar quickly in our body, plus they have extra sugar added to them as well, whether they are plain bran flakes or with added things like honey or dried fruit (even worse). Per 30g serving of Laura’s breakfast (but I’d assume she would have more like 50g) there is 6g of sugar which is 1 and a ½ teaspoons.
Laura uses skimmed milk, this is whole milk with all the fat (and nutrients) stripped out of it and per 200ml (roughly the amount she may use) there is just over 2 teaspoons of sugar. Full fat milk would be a much better choice (natural fat is good for us and the fat also slows down the body’s absorption of the natural sugars in milk).
The glass of orange juice (if a small glass) contains about 5 teaspoons of sugar, and little fibre due to the fact it is not the whole fruit. So the sugar total here is about 10 teaspoons, before the day has even begun.
Protein really helps to balance our blood sugar level and keep it from spiking too high (which is what causes insulin to be released and fat storage). As Laura has very little protein its likely that her blood sugar level is constantly too high or too low, and either scenario will mess with energy levels and lead to fat storage on the body.
The coffee would be better if it was freshly ground rather than processed simple because processed coffee is difficult for the liver to process whereas ground coffee beans come with some health benefits! But! Having caffeine on an empty stomach can stimulate the release of sugar into the blood stream in the same way that eating sugar and refined carbs do. So its best to have your fresh coffee with some protein to prevent this from happening.
Artificial sweeteners have been linked to obesity and some studies suggest that although its not sugar, the artificial sweetness may still trigger an insulin response , and then lead to fat storage. Plus the liver struggles to process artificial sweetness and we really don’t want to be burdening our precious liver.
Snacks – Laura leaves 6 hour gaps between meals which, would be fine for someone with a healthy diet with enough protein, healthy fats and fibre, but it’s not great for someone who eats mostly refined carbs, sugar and little protein and fat. Her blood sugar level will likely drop too low in-between meals causing cravings, hunger, irritability, mood swings, and fatigue. In Laura’s case she would benefit from putting a snack in between her meals that contain some protein and fat, such as a couple of oatcakes with a tablespoon of olive oil hummus.
Lunch – White jacket potatoes will break down quite quickly into sugar once eaten, which is fine if you’re doing intensive cardio training e.g. training for a half or full marathon, but for the regular person who works in an office and goes to the gym a few times a week its probably too much simple carbs. She would be better off with a small sweet baked potato instead which is much lower in glucose and higher in fibre. Shop bought coleslaw will most likely contain a fair amount of sugar, just adding to the load. Laura will feel sleepy after lunch and probably crave something sweet a couple of hours later.
Mid Afternoon snack – Flapjacks are usually laden with syrups and sugar so this will just raise her blood sugar again, cause fat storage and a drop in energy shortly after.
Dinner – her dinner finally see’s her having some quality protein! But by now the blood sugar rollercoaster damage has been done and Laura will have felt pretty rough all day and have stored new fat on her body. Chicken breast is high in lean protein which will keep Laura fuller for longer, the cabbage is a good source of fibre and nutrients (as long as it’s not overcooked!), all she needs to do to improve on this is replace the potato with either lots of extra green veggies or a small sweet potato, handful of brown rice or quinoa.
To learn more about constructing an ideal food plan for you and your needs give me a call today on 07860 573 901