Photo of Trica Cusden Baking Cooking

 Reporting this week from Planet Diet. Not somewhere I have visited for more than thirty-five years and not a place I ever wanted to go back to, but needs must when the devil drives, and the devil in this instance was the confirmation via a recent scan that I have Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. Which makes me sound like a goose about to be turned into Foie Gras, but which is actually potentially dangerous if left unchecked. After a serious health scare for ovarian cancer from which I got the all-clear, I was still left with stomach discomfort, bloating and grotesque indigestion. I also tried on a pair of black trousers I’d not worn for a while and was horrified that I couldn’t get the zip up, let alone fasten the waistband.


Weight loss diets are a kind of kryptonite to me. They induce a fear and dread of going back to a time lasting from my late teens to my mid-thirties when my mood and state of mind were entirely dictated by what I weighed that morning on my bathroom scales.


To break that neurotic cycle I threw the scales away and have managed by using what I think of as ‘barometer’ clothes ever since. By which I mean that as long as certain jackets or trousers fitted me then I was ok, and if they got a bit tight I’d cut back on the obvious culprits for a couple of weeks and all would be well. So what has gone wrong in the past two or three years? I think that I’d started to see my burgeoning middle section, thicker waist and rounded arms as an inevitable consequence of advancing age. I put the changes in my shape from a pear with a narrow torso, slim waist and curvaceous hips, to something more akin to two plump apples on top of each other to being in my mid-seventies. 


The next shock was trying on lots of clothes in my wardrobe that I could remember wearing to specific events maybe two or three years ago. And, unless I’d bought them in the past eighteen months, they were all too tight to wear comfortably. The weight has obviously been slowly creeping up during that time and I have been ignoring the signs, partly because I considered that my largely Mediterranean diet of fish, vegetables, salad and fruit felt super-healthy and I was also getting a reasonable amount of exercise. Now that I have taken quite drastic action, I can see precisely where I had been going wrong.


My health scare and that pair of black trousers were just the wake-up call that I needed. But this time I had to find a way to shift the extra weight and lose the visceral internal fat which wouldn’t trigger me into the binge-starve cycle of my early years. Believe it or not, that prospect terrified me because it’s a horrible way to live and I’d honestly rather be a couple of stone overweight and happy, than slim and miserably weighing myself several times a day (I kid you not!) 


Naturally, I turned to my health and wellness guru, Dr. Michael Mosley, and quickly read his excellent book ‘The 800 Fast Diet’* from cover to cover before I started. The good news was he could guarantee that If I followed his suggestions, the fatty liver would go, my blood pressure would come down and my waist would shrink dramatically, and the bad news was that I’d have to stick to 800 calories a day for a few weeks. As you read this today I am just completing 4 weeks on that regime and I haven’t cheated once.


First I had to get rid of some dieting shibboleths from the 1970s and 1980s. Every Tuesday evening, from 1974-’86, I ran ‘Tricia’s Slimming Club’ in Hemel Hempstead. I’d been dieting in some way, shape or form for about eight years when I decided to write a diet booklet, buy some proper industrial scales, book a hall in my local community centre and create a supportive group for women who were (like me) struggling to get and stay slim.


The diet I devised was based on 1000 calories a day and followed all the current thinking about how to successfully lose weight. These were:


All Calories Are Equal. 

If you want a couple of 70 calorie digestive biscuits or a small Kit Kat, by all means eat them and just count as part of your daily total.


Fat Makes You Fat.

 Low-fat is the way to go, so substitute cottage cheese for cheddar, and low-fat spreads for butter.  Eat low-fat yoghurt, never Greek full-fat, and always have skimmed milk in tea or coffee.


Eat Little and Often

Better to have 6 small meals a day than 2 or 3 larger ones. Why? Because your metabolic rate goes up after eating (especially if you also drink black coffee), so you get 6 little boosts every day.


Lose Weight Fast and Regain it Even Faster.

Crash diets are dangerous and set up a kind of ‘starvation’ mentality, so avoid at all cost because your body will just crave extra food until you have eaten back all the weight you have lost.


That's what I taught people, because that was what the science of successful weight control was saying at that time and I had no reason to believe otherwise. The trouble with this approach was that for me (and very many others) it was extremely difficult to follow for any length of time because food without fat is bland and often full of sugar to compensate for its tastelessness. My blood sugar levels were often haywire, so I’d have weird periods of becoming very shaky and know that the only solution was to eat something quickly. I’d often reach for those ‘allowed’ digestive biscuits, or more likely, golden syrup sandwiches. Perhaps you now understand why I was so reluctant to do the 800 Fast Diet, because I really didn’t want such ‘deprivation’ to trigger that old starve/binge cycle. 


However, I shouldn’t have worried because, as ever, Mosley’s approach is backed by studies, research and evidence and it stands everything I thought I knew on its head:


All Calories Are By No Means Equal.


Mosley insists that on a calorie restricted diet it's very important not to waste calories by eating something nutritionally deficient like a biscuit. Every single calorie needs to support health and wellbeing, so you choose protein, non-starchy vegetables, salad foods, and low sugar fruits like berries, apples and pears all of which can be cooked, dressed or eaten with olive oil and full-fat Greek yoghurt.


Eating Fat is Essential to Losing Weight Fast.


This is the most profound change to my thinking and the one that is making the Fast 800 diet relatively easy to follow. In 1957, the very influential American Heart Association mounted a campaign to reduce fat consumption. They believed that saturated fat was the cause of heart disease, so it was out with steak, butter and cheese and in with pasta, rice, potatoes and veg. The campaign worked, and over the next few decades consumption of animal fats fell by 20% in the USA. However, instead, Americans consumed more and more processed food promoted as ‘low fat’ or ‘fat-free’. This apparently ‘healthy food’ was in fact packed with processed vegetable oils (like margarine) and cheap, sugary carbs. And obesity rates started to soar. On the Fast 800, there’s lots of cooking with and adding olive oil to food so it tastes delicious and reduces hunger pangs. It has also stabilised my blood sugar levels.


Only Eat Two or Three Meals a Day Preferably Within A Ten Hour Window.


We have become a nation of snackers - mid-morning, mid-afternoon and just before bed, we now expect our three ‘proper’ meals to be supplemented with sweet or savoury treats like crisps, biscuits, cake, milky sweetened drinks and smoothies. Often we don’t count these extras as food, yet they significantly add to our calorie intake every day. I think this was my own downfall and the main reason my weight slowly crept up. Also, Mosley is keen on TRE or Time Restricted Eating, so that you rest your entire digestive system for 12-14 hours a night by completing all your eating every day during a 10-hour window.


Lose Weight as Fast as You Can.


 I intend to move from the 800 Fast Diet to the 5:2 programme (5 days of normal eating on a Mediterranean diet with any two days a week on 800 calories) after a few weeks. I’ve chosen this faster route because, according to Mosley, this is the best way to get rid of the visceral fat on my liver. He also recommends the fast route for those with several stones to lose and those who are pre-diabetic. 


Happy to report that it's having a rapid effect on my waistline, which in 4 weeks has reduced by a whopping 4” and, because I am eating lots of olive oil, my skin looks great and I don’t look in the least haggard (see the recent photo above). The bloating is all but gone, the pains have subsided and the indigestion is better. As to the liver - who knows -  but at least it won’t be getting any worse and may gradually be ridding itself of all that dangerous fat. Another bonus is that I can now zip up those black trousers very easily. In fact all my clothes are much more comfortable to wear once more.


I’m sure that there are those reading this who will be quietly (or loudly) horrified. You’ll tell me that I’m risking my health and wellbeing on such a draconian regime and that, at 76, I have to choose as Barbara Cartland said ‘between my face and my body’. However, for me the key criterion was that I’d not trigger some terrible ‘binge-starve’ cycle and so far, so good. I can honestly say that it's the first reducing diet that I’ve followed which has such delicious food* - albeit in modest portions. 


I just have this one body which, hopefully, will last me for a good few more years. Recently it’s been decidedly upset and unhappy, so maybe it’ll be better now that I have decided to lighten the load on my internal organs, joints and muscles. 


I’m happy to report that life on Planet Diet is proving to be much easier and enjoyable than I feared.


Tricia x


*The Fast 800 Diet (How to combine rapid weight loss and intermittent fasting for long-term health) by Dr. Michael Mosley

*The Fast 800 Recipe Book by Dr. Clare Bailey (aka Mrs Michael Mosley) and Justine Pattison


* If you’d like to lose weight but would prefer a more personalised programme I can thoroughly recommend a friend of this blog, nutritionist,  Leonie Wright who has also written some excellent recipe books:

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