The way my story started out is probably very similar to your current one, but it has a happy ending, and yours can too.
In 2014, I was about 10 kg heavier than I am today. I was doing everything “right”; I was on a highly structured low-fat diet from a nutritionist, eating at least six times a day, and running 70 km a week.
I was constantly watching what I ate, and even though I ate so many times during the day, I was still hungry. And no matter how much I punished myself in the gym and on the road, the roll around my tummy wouldn’t budge.
My life was a constant tug-of-war to try and burn the calories I was consuming and get the body I always wanted to be able to perform in the best way. I was tired, hungry, overweight, stressed, frustrated, and at my wit’s end.
When you’re at your breaking point, that’s usually when you have an epiphany. Mine came at the end of 2014 when I went to watch Dr. Stephen Phinney talk about nutrition.
From that moment on, I had to challenge my beliefs about healthy eating because his talk made me see that I was doing everything wrong, even though I thought I was doing all the right things!
The fact of the matter was that I was insulin-resistant. My body was storing all the excess sugar from the carbs I was eating as fat, and that’s why I couldn’t lose weight.
No amount of exercise was going to help if I didn’t change what I was eating. Prof. Noakes experienced this firsthand and even reversed his stance on eating a high-carb diet to fuel performance. He says, “If you have to exercise to regulate your weight, your diet is wrong!”
My fear of fat was huge because low-fat eating had been drummed into my brain, and I was addicted to all the carbs I had been consuming.
Nevertheless, I decided to conduct an experiment on myself after immersing myself in all the science I had heard at Dr. Stephen Phinney’s talk about the low-carb, healthy-fat lifestyle. So, a few days before Christmas 2014, I dropped all of the carbs I loved so much and focused on real foods and healthy fats.
I had my blood lipid tests done to see what would change after the six-month experiment. The advice I received from my GP was not to do it because, according to him, my cholesterol was too high. When I told him I was following Prof. Noakes’ eating approach, he became even more dismissive. His reaction just made me more determined to give it a shot.
My results after six months were up surprised even me. Not only had I finally lost that stubborn tummy roll, but I could go for a 15 km run and not feel hungry for two or three hours afterward! I had so much energy, and my mental state was stable during the day.
I effortlessly dropped down to eating two meals a day without ever thinking about food, even though I exercised 20 hours a week.
I had a new lease on life, and I had found the inner wisdom to know what to eat and what my body needed. Just look at the results below. My HDL almost doubled, and my triglycerides were down to a much better level.
As a personal trainer and triathlon and endurance coach, I come into contact with about 400 people a month, just in my indoor cycle classes. Through these interactions, I realized that we were all being fed the same information – and it was wrong!
This information was coming from the top and trickling down. I was shocked to read the material that trainers were receiving.
The nutrition courses that I attended were all based on the belief that we had to continue feeding our bodies or our metabolisms would collapse. It was the same in my own triathlon coaching course and personal training course.
The fitness institutes are all pushing the one-size-fits-all approach for clients: a low-fat, high-carb nutrition plan with at least three main meals a day and snacks in between. But where did this even come from when it clearly doesn’t work for many of us?
In the wise words of Dr. Jason Fung, “Nobody makes money when you skip meals.”
I recently attended a group fitness instructor’s module from a world-leading brand, and I was amazed at the number of young people complaining about being dizzy after 45 minutes of exercise and relying on jellybeans and protein shakes to increase their energy when it didn’t seem that they were working all that hard.
One of the girls on the fitness course said to me, “They have no idea that they don’t need all of that sugar. These people, like the majority of the fitness industry, have been conned by the big food companies, soft drink companies, and marketing about needing to refuel before, during, or after a workout on “healthy” sugar-filled foods and drinks.”
Wherever we look, we’re being fed the wrong information, and it’s all driven by greed and profits. Knowing what I knew and how my life had improved from turning standard nutrition on its head, I couldn’t sit back and let my clients believe the wrong stuff. I had to figure out a way to get the message across without stepping on any toes.
Here is an example of what I was dealing with.
As quoted from the article: “Carbohydrate is a key fuel source for exercise, especially during prolonged continuous or high-intensity exercise.”
This may be true if you’re not insulin-resistant, but from talking to all the people I train, it seems the majority of us fit into the insulin-resistant category. If you cannot lose your tummy, or your “insulin roll” as Prof. Noakes calls it, no matter how hard you exercise, then you fall into that category too. Not only will you struggle with your weight, but eating a high-carb diet for a prolonged period can have serious adverse implications for your health.
This paper written by Dr. Stephen Phinney and Prof. Noakes sums up the reasons why you can’t outrun a bad diet.
Last year, after my first triathlon season, I was struck by the number of overweight people racing. I overheard a husband telling his wife that he needed to eat a certain number of carbs for his body weight – otherwise, he wouldn’t run as fast. I was horrified.
He was very overweight and eating a huge bowl of pasta. From my own results, I knew this food was not doing him any favors, and I was tempted to go up to him and tell him so. By losing 10 kg, I was running my best, recovering better, getting fewer injuries, and enjoying life more. So many people were missing out on this quality of life.
I wanted to get my message out there, so I approached my mentor Peter Defty to co-author an article on the beliefs of challenging conventional wisdom for endurance athletes, and it was published in the USA Triathlon Coaching newsletter, with a hugely positive response.
An amazing talk by Prof. Tim Noakes on challenging beliefs has always stayed with me. I was so passionate about this topic that I even read the book with the same title three times. As a coach, I have a role to guide my clients and get them to ask questions so that they can challenge their own beliefs.
Along with the thoughts I often shared on health (hydration, digestion, gut health, and the myths about why we get fat), in the two-minute interval breaks of my spinning classes, I also started to share my story.
Eating two meals a day and being able to train 20 hours a week was met with great intrigue. I challenged my students to match what I ate for breakfast – just an omelet filled with bacon/salmon, spinach, cabbage, zucchini, capsicum, feta, and tomato. And while they were at it, I told them to avoid the sugar in their coffee, as well as bread, potatoes, rice, and pasta, and to see what happened.
The following week, Gemma (not her real name) came to class raving about how great she was feeling. Five weeks later, Gemma showed me a before and after photo of herself; her body shape had changed.
Not only that, but her mental clarity had also improved. According to her, those simple changes were the best thing she had ever done for her health.
Another member of my class was John (also not his real name). He worked out at the gym five times a week but still seemed to put on weight. He asked me how I stayed so lean, so I told him. “Really?” he questioned. “How do you eat eggs without toast?”
I gave him my number and asked him to ring me that afternoon to let me know how he was doing.
He phoned me at 3 pm telling me that he hadn’t eaten since his healthy breakfast at 8am and that he wanted to meet to find out more.
Just eight weeks later, John was still smashing himself at the gym but had now added smashed avocado to his day instead of toast or pasta. He has lost 9.2 kg and was feeling great. Even better was that his constant hunger had disappeared, although he was only eating a maximum of three meals a day.
He had challenged the advice he had received from the fitness industry and had forged his own way forward to better health and performance. That sounds like a happy ending to me!
If you want to optimize your health too (mental, physical, and emotional), consider taking the below steps:
Andre Obradovic is an ICF Leadership PPC Level Coach, A Primal Health Coach, a Certified Low Carb Healthy Fat Coach, & a Certified Personal Trainer. Andre is also a Founding member of the Dr. Phil Maffetone MAF certified Coach. He is an Ambassador for the Noakes Foundation, and a regular subject matter expert lecturer for the Nutrition Network (a part of the Noakes Foundation) Andre has completed 16 x 70.3 Ironmans and in 2017 he competed in the 70.3 Ironman World Championships. He has completed 18 Marathons and over 30 Half Marathons. Andre currently focuses his athletic competition on Track and Field with the occasional Marathon.