Tired of being tired, Victoria Woodhall tried a radical ten-day eating plan to boost her energy levels. But could this really be possible without a single carb?
Ditching bread and potatoes, she dined-out on salmon, tuna, eggs, chicken, leaf spinach, rocket, cucumber, sugar snap peas, mushrooms, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, parmesan and pine nuts, mozzarella, halloumi, cream cheese, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, coconut cream, raw cacao, basil, mint and coriander.
Here are the 32 things she discovered along the way, as written for Get The Gloss…
1. You’re in a calorie vortex
It’s best not to count them. You can easily be eating 2,500 calories a day on the High Fat Diet and still not gain weight. Why exactly is still a mystery; one theory is that, because it takes more energy to create fuel from protein and fat than from glucose, you burn more in the process. Also, you are keeping insulin, the fat storage hormone out of play. In fat-burning mode, you are busy burning up your body’s excess fat stores and shedding the weight you don’t want. I’m pretty sure I ate more than 2,500 calories as I had three meals a day (some people feel full on just two) and a snack. Zana explained that because I was already quite lean, I didn’t have much body fat to burn, so it was important to eat enough fuel.
You can easily be eating 2,500 calories a day on the High Fat Diet and still not gain weight
2. Not all calories are equal
Macros have very different metabolic effects. Combining fats and carbs is a weight gain hazard (think moreish Dairy Milk). Combining fats and proteins (think not-so-moreish cheese omelette) can help you lose weight and the difference is that the first unleashes the fat-storage hormone insulin, the second doesn’t. “Protein breaks down into amino acids and sugars – so lean protein (think cod) does, as it digests quickly and there is a sugar hit to the bloodstream; however salmon – due to the fat – releases less. Salmon with avocado, even less. Fat slows down the breakdown digestion of the protein so there’s less of an insulin ‘surge’,” Zana tells me.
3. You feel full in a different way
I didn’t get that usual heavy feeling after a meal, despite consuming vats of cream cheese, or that post-meal slump, which would ordinarily have had me reaching for the cake. I simply felt the absence of hunger and could power on without a sweet snack (although simply out of habit I missed my sugar fix).
4. Your wee is clearer
Even first thing in the morning, it’s less cloudy and (TMI alert) less yeasty-smelling. Why? I am guessing that as urine is used to measure the sugar in your system (as anyone who’s ever peed in a pot at their GP will know) less sugar will change what comes out. I was starting to feel cleaner on the inside as if my body was working more efficiently. I also was more able to tell when I was thirsty and drank more water.
5. Eating is an event
No grabbed food al-desko. Because I wasn’t picking or snacking I looked forward to my prepared meals and they became an event to be savoured without a screen.
6. ‘Brown food’ Atkins-style keto meals are a thing of the past
My keto plate was mostly green thanks to daily avocado, pumpkin seeds, sugar snap peas, green beans and salad. These ‘above ground veg’ contain traces or carbs, so you still have to make sure to stick to your 40g, which is a lot of salad but only a small handful of cooked broccoli.
7. Eating out is a doddle
Everywhere (unless you’re going vegan, in which case this plan is not for you) does eggs, chicken, steak or fish, olive oil and a side of avocado or high-fat cheese. I was caught out by a set menu at a birthday party. I skipped the cheese course because it didn’t arrive until 11pm and I wanted to be able to sleep. But it meant I hadn’t had my fat quota and therefore my fuel. The next day I could barely get out of bed and felt like someone had taken my batteries out. It took the entire morning to feel normal again because fat takes longer to convert to glucose than sugar.
8. You learn the difference between genuine hunger and cravings
Real hunger, as I discovered is pretty unpleasant and your body lets you know you need to eat.
Don’t go near the carbs! The minute you eat a carb, fat-storing insulin can be triggered
9. You poo less
Although the diet had more fibre than I expected with the green veg and nuts, I did get constipated. I took Pukka’s Ayurvedic Triphala tablets in the morning, to shove things along. Zana advised that calcium from all that dairy and eggs can bung you up and gave me magnesium to relax my muscles, which helped. But she also said that you are simply burning up much of what you eat and there’s less fibre, so there’s less to come out the other end.
10. Unexpected things start to taste sweet
Pine nuts -who knew? And coconut cream is practically pudding. A spoonful of two after lunch can satisfy that sweet craving – ditto Yogi chocolate tea, liquorice tea, a shake of cinnamon in my morning cacao. Your taste buds become sharpened.
11. Necessity (or desperation) is the mother of invention
I improvised a dessert of mint chocolate mousse from coconut cream, a scoop of Library Gym chocolate protein powder (not so sweet that it takes you out of ketosis) and mint leaves and on a hot day, I put it in the ice cream maker. I was so pleased with myself, I could have sent it to Blue Peter.
12. It sculpts your belly – and your face
Although I didn’t lose any weight, I lost inches of bloating and had a much trimmer stomach. Abs are definitely made in the kitchen. Zana reports that a well-known actress does the diet twice a year before a new stage show because she says it ‘sucks everything in’ especially on her face. Zana believes this is because carbs can also give some people puffiness.
13. You can’t eat the rainbow
We all know that different coloured fruit and veg contain different antioxidants as well as feeding your gut bacteria and on this diet, you only eat greens and whites and so you forgo that variety, as well as the nutrients and fibre from grains and pulses. It’s a brief blitz, not an eating plan to live by.
14. There’s that awful post-meal pang
That’s you done for another few hours. No picking, no milk in your tea. Violins, please…
15. You gain time
There’s no point deliberating whether to neaten off the corners of that cake or quiche yet again. You are not constantly idling in front of the open fridge because there’s nothing in it for you til mealtimes. You realise how much of your day you spend thinking about food when insulin and ghrelin are constantly needling you. You have more energy generally, you’re clear-headed and more productive.
You are what you eat: If you don’t feel hungry, it’s because you’re using your own fat stores
16. You sleep better
Because nothing passes your lips after an evening meal, you’re not digesting that 10pm snack or feeling the sugar crash in the early hours after that last glass of wine – insulin can cause you to wake up after a few hours, says Zana. You put yourself to bed earlier because life without treats can get a bit dull.
17. You don’t have to be teetotal
White spirits (vodka and gin) are allowed occasionally with soda and fresh lime. While not exactly delicious, it made feel less of a party pooper at my friend’s birthday. Seedlip non-alcoholic spirits are allowed as they don’t take you out of ketosis.
18. Your PMT isn’t as severe
That’s what happened to me. In fact, you feel more on an even keel generally. Excess insulin can cause an imbalance in the body generally, says Zana.
19. There’s a massive disincentive to cheat
The minute you eat a carb, fat-storing insulin can be triggered. And remember how much fat you are eating? You really don’t want to put all that on. However, eating enough fat with a carb can slow down the insulin release dramatically, says Zana, but there’s a fine line. A sneaky glass of wine on an empty stomach can undo all your hard work but a square of dark chocolate after a meal may not. But in my experience, there no such thing as just one square. It’s just not worth it.
20. Your breath doesn’t smell
A complaint of old-style keto diets that may have been high in processed meats. Or maybe people were just too polite to say. I find tongue scraping helps. The presence of the greens, which do contain small amounts of carbs helps, says Zana, as you don’t go into the highest level of ketosis. This is when ‘keto breath’ can strike.
21. You eat according to your hunger
That can be a novelty! If you don’t feel hungry, it’s because you’re using your own fat stores. Many people, especially those with one to 14 pounds to lose, feel full on just two meals a day, Zana tells me, and those with more to lose might feel full on just one. I had the opposite problem. I had to remember to eat enough (at least three meals and snack) otherwise I’d be ravenous, as I had fewer fat reserves.
22. You can’t pick and choose your food groups
If you want to halve a meal you have to keep the proportion of fats to proteins, not just eat the chicken, say. Likewise, a snack should be a mini meal, not just one food group.
23. You can’t under-eat or lose more weight than you need
If your body needs fuel, it tells you in no uncertain terms – you simply can’t function, as I found when I didn’t eat enough fat (see point 7). In my experience, it helps you find your natural weight. I neither gained nor lost, although my shape changed, because I lost bloating.
Hunger games: A complaint of old-style keto diets is that it was high in processed meats
24. Brazil nuts are not as fatty as you think
Even though they are held up as extremely fattening, they are not allowed on the HFD because they have too high a carb content. Same goes for cashews, almonds and all other nuts apart from macadamia nuts, pine nuts and walnuts. Not on the HFD? Enjoy!
25. You develop an eye for portion sizes
On day three I stopped needing to weigh things and used handfuls and cups. The formula is very simple and you quickly become used to what 85g of high-fat food or 120g of protein looks like. If you get bored, there are recipes in Zana’s book. But I actually enjoyed the simplicity of it – it took the thinking out of meal prep.
26. High-fat meals are not cheap
You’re eating one or even two salmon fillets a day, organic chicken, pine nuts, none of them cheap. But think of what you are saving on lattes and booze.
27. It removes the emotion from food
Because there are no highs and lows, you start to appreciate food as fuel rather than reward or pick-me-up. On the flipside, mealtimes can become a bit functional and you’re not the easiest dinner guest. However, I was able to taste my food better and this stopped the diet from becoming dull. I loved the big portions.
28. Family meals are doable
Because the diet is based on food cooked from scratch – essentially veg, protein and fat, you can easily make your own tweaks to a roast chicken dinner en famille. I was careful how I talked about the diet around my children, though, as I didn’t want them to think that anything they were eating was unhealthy, even if I was skipping it. I referred to the HFD not as a diet but as an eating plan ‘for work’.
29. Coming off the diet can be a flashpoint
You need to be mindful not to eat anything like as much fat as you have been doing or you’ll put on weight.
Because there are no highs and lows, you appreciate food as fuel rather than reward
30. Sugar is downright manipulative
Going back, with glee to proper ice cream and my daughter’s homemade brownies, I realised just how clever sugar is at drawing you in – no wonder they say it’s as addictive as cocaine. Being wiser to its ways helped me to resist that second portion. I now try to keep my carbs mainly to the evening when I don’t mind feeling a bit more tired (in fact I welcome it) and have added more protein to my lunch to keep me feeling full.
31. It’s an education
Doing the High Fat Diet has given me a new appreciation of how our bodies function when we return to ‘factory settings’ – the way we were designed to fuel ourselves through famine and feast. It makes you realise too just how easy it is to mess that up and at a cost to our health. I’ve become better at eating in a way that keeps insulin stable (I eat higher fat at breakfast and lunch) which is both better for my energy and my health overall. I feel more alert and less of a carb slave. I’m not about to give up my glass of wine, mind you, but I know that a Pinot on an empty stomach will create an insulin surge – one with a meal, the French way, less so.
So would I do it again? Yes, a couple of times a year, as a reset, but I’m not about to embrace it as a lifestyle choice like Halle Berry – for one thing, I’m not organised enough. Plus, there is too rich a variety of good food out there and we know that the microbiome thrives on a rainbow and fibre-rich diet, which is vital for physical and mental balance. However, I do always now have insulin stability in mind when I eat.
32. This is not the sort of diet to embark on lightly or freestyle on
Your food shop needs careful prepping and you need to stick to the plan religiously. I would not have done it without Zana’s careful supervision – there’s always someone at The Library to call for advice. The book also gives chapter and verse on how to follow the plan and find out whether it’s for you. It’s not recommended if you have Type 1 Diabetes, are pregnant or breastfeeding. If you have heart disease, high cholesterol or high triglycerides you must consult your doctor first – good advice for anyone embarking on a drastic change in diet.
This article originally appeared on and has been reproduced with the permission of Get The Gloss.