Back in high school, a friend of mine, who was a bit bulky due to gymnastics, tried a weird diet. She used to eat only meat and fish. After losing a great amount of weight, she gained every kilo back. Years later, I understood that she had tried a high-protein diet which was very popular at that time.
What is a high-protein diet?
I usually recommend my patients that they never exceed a total amount of 15% of their total calorie intake as proteins. A high-protein diet such as Atkins for example, recommends around 30%, which is double the normal recommendation.
What can you eat?
Eat fish, poultry, meat and eggs, which are the best sources of proteins. You have to limit your carb intake by eating non-starchy veggies (asparagus, spinach, broccoli, tomato, mushroom). Usually fruits are not allowed because they are high on carbs. But, fats like dairy, oil, and cheese are acceptable. A high-protein diet is often associated with a low-carb diet to decrease calorie intake and make the weight loss more effective.
Why has this diet become so popular?
The promise of a high-protein and low-carb diet is a fast and spectacular loss of weight. If you follow the diet, I can assure you that you will lose weight, BUT you will gain it back faster than you think. Also, if you stick to the diet for too long, you will end up physically and mentally weak, and inevitably sick.
Why is reducing carbs in a diet a problem?
Carbohydrates are macronutrients like proteins and fat. Fructose, glucose and lactose are carbs. Some cells such as neurons and red blood cells can only function on glucose and for this reason they are called glucose-dependent. While muscles, for example, can use lipids to function, but your neurons cannot. This explains why when your blood sugar level is low you feel light headed and weak. Luckily, our bodies can use other macronutrients to provide neurons and red blood cells with glucose. This process is performed by your liver.
In other words, when you don’t eat enough carbs, your body is going to use what you provide it to maintain a steady blood sugar level. The liver can transform excess proteins into carbs or fat, if needed. Our bodies don’t usually use protein as an energy source (this will occur only during extreme starvation). During this intense work the liver produces a toxic molecule: ammoniac.
Ammoniac must be evacuated via the kidney; otherwise you could end up being poisoned by it. Elevated amounts of ammonia in the blood (hyperammonemia), can cause encephalopathy (brain dysfunction) and death.
The liver and the kidney have to work intensely during this kind of diet. After several years, you run the risk of kidney and liver failure. These diets are not meant to last or to be repeated often. But, we all know that this advice is never followed. Some of my patients follow this diet for months instead of days, sometimes for a year and sometimes for decades, and end up exhausted.
Loosing 5 kilos in two weeks, but regaining everything and even more two months later … it’s a vicious circle.
Getting healthy is a gradual process
If you have been gradually gaining weight over the years, it is because you are obviously doing something wrong and need to change your lifestyle. This can be difficult for some people because it’s never easy to change. Nutrition is a science and any diet that advocates removal of a whole type of food group is questionable. Balance is always the key.
If you want to lose weight, do it the right way by eating more veggies, fruits and exercise (also an important part of being healthy). Don’t make yourself miserable and be proud of the little changes you are able to achieve.
Scientists say that it takes 3 weeks to fully make a new habit. Start small and build up from there to bigger and lasting changes.
Find a little something to start with and stick to it!
Here is a little list of ideas to try every day for three weeks –
- Walk up the stairs
- Avoid soda/ aerated drinks during week days
- Eat two pieces of fruit per day
- Eat meat only once a day
- Walk for at least half an hour every day