Lose weight from your waist
If you have gained weight and dress sizes, it is time for action. Patsy Westcott reveals how she lost weight and inches off her waistline with a 9-rule eating plan.
Before: Height: 5ft 5in; Weight: 74.5kg (11st 7lb); Measurements: 39-35-42
Dress size: 16
After: Height: 5ft 5in; Weight: 68kg (10st 7lb) Measurements: 37-31-38;
Dress size: 12 to 14
Marilyn Glenville is a nutritional therapist whose book Fat Around The Middle enticingly promises to change your body shape permanently within three months. I booked an appointment after finding out I weighed one stone more than when I was nine-month pregnant with my now grown-up daughter. Fat cells produce oestrogen, which is why, like many menopausal women, I’d piled on pounds as my body tried to compensate for diminishing levels of that hormone. At the same time your metabolism – the rate at which your body burns energy – slows, making it harder to shed weight.
The other factor is stress. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol block insulin, which normally sweeps excess blood sugar from the bloodstream, causing it to be stored as fat – a perfect recipe for the dumpling-like tyres that were once my waspish waist.
Marilyn said regaining my waistline was vital for my health. Although doctors don’t know why, a high level of central body fat with a waist of 35in or more is dangerous even if, like me, you’re not much over your ideal weight. My level of visceral fat, as it’s called, upped my risk of heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer. To start, she outlined an eating plan; not so much a diet, she said, as a set of rules to apply. She also told me to think about following the plan for a month to begin with, which helped strengthen my resolve. Next, we talked about exercise. I was very unfit, so I began with walking and progressed to using weights. I bought a pedometer and tried to build more walking into my daily routine, as well as my three times a week sessions.
So did it work? Well, I’ve lost a stone and, according to Marylin's Body Composition Monitor, my fat percentage has reduced to a healthy 32.1 (it was 37.4 which is technically obese) and my muscle mass has increased. Best of all, I have not only (almost) regained my waist, but my youth too. At 43, my metabolic age is now 13 years younger than me!
Follow the 80:20 rule – if you eat well 80 per cent of the time, you can relax the rules for the remaining 20 per cent. This meant that during the first month of my waist-whittling plan, I was allowed a cheat day, during the second month I could have one cheat day a fortnight and, after the third, one cheat day a week. Knowing I was allowed to cheat kept me on the straight and narrow much better than a strict regime. Portion size was vital: a couple of tablespoons of porridge, a palm-sized serving of protein, half that amount of brown rice or corn pasta and a couple of similar sized portions of salad or cooked veg for lunch and the same amounts for supper – minus the carbs.
The 9-rule eating plan
1 Break your fast. Grabbing a coffee on the go sends blood sugar shooting up and insulin begins to pump out, putting your body on starvation alert and telling it to store fat. I switched to eating a bowl of slow energy-releasing porridge with almonds and seeds or a fruity soya smoothie. Try Rye bread with sugar-free jam or pure nut butter, or small pot of plain live yogurt with fruit, a handful of nuts or seeds or a small bowl of muesli.
2 Become a grazer. In addition to breakfast, lunch and supper, train yourself to eat a small protein snack every three hours. This sends your body the message that it’s not under stress, that it can kick your metabolism up a notch and plunder the old fat stores for energy too. Try packets of nuts, which I ate with an apple, or oatcakes spread with hummus or some small pots of plain live yogurt.
3 Curb the carbs. While carbs are the body’s preferred fuel, it’s vital to keep a balance. Not enough cause a blood sugar drop, triggering release of those stress hormones, which lead to midriff weight gain. Too many, especially of the fast-releasing kind such as white bread, white rice, cakes, biscuits, chocolate and potatoes, have the same effect. To help shift midriff fat effectively, Marilyn says there must be absolutely no carbs after 6pm – not even brown rice or wholewheat pasta. Try switching to a favourite veg instead – perhaps asparagus or purple sprouting broccoli – and reinstate brown rice, potatoes and pasta (in sensible amounts) after three months.
4 Prioritise the protein. Protein slows down the rate at which your stomach empties and when you add protein to a carb, it becomes a slow-releasing form. It can be as simple as sprinkling nuts and seeds on your breakfast cereal or over a salad. Protein also encourages production of the fat-burning hormone glucagon. I found that having a small amount at every meal kept me satisfied and helped limit cravings for chocolate bars and biscuits. Try vegetable soup sprinkled with seeds and a slice of rye bread or smoked mackerel and salad for lunch. For dinner, try stir-fried veg with chicken or tofu, or a lentil curry with veg or a portion of grilled meat or fish with cooked veg or salad.
5 Eat fat. Alas, not the reinstatement of my chocolate addiction. These are “good” essential fatty acids, or EFAs, found in nuts, seeds and oily fish rather than the “bad” kind in red meat, dairy products and chocolate bars. When you add a good fat to a carbohydrate, it too slows the rate at which food enters the gut. Try sardines on rye bread or guacamole (avocados are rich in good fats) with oatcakes. Omega-3 fats found in oily fish, such as salmon, swordfish and tuna, are especially good because they cause blood sugar to be burnt as fuel instead of being stored as fat. If you don’t like fish, take an Omega-3 fish oil supplement of 1,000mg a day.
6 Stop for supper. Eating on the run, which I did too often, triggers the fight or flight mechanism. Your digestive system shuts down, so your body can conserve energy for saving your life rather than digesting dinner. Worse still, it triggers the ever-lurking cortisol to pile on pounds around your waist. Try sitting down, if only for ten minutes, eating slowly and chewing well – this helps you feel full.
7 Eat early. This will give you enough time to digest food before you sleep. My protein-based meal kept me feeling fuller for longer and helped stave off mid-evening munchies. Eating out was a challenge, but I ate nuts and an apple before setting off, so I had the strength to forego the bread basket. Also, Marilyn suggested extra veg or salad instead of pasta, rice or potatoes. Try eating an oatcake an hour before bed to keep blood sugar levels steady overnight.
8 Cut the caffeine. Caffeine prompts cortisol release, which triggers the whole insulin-fat deposit cycle. And that’s not all. Over time the body becomes resistant to insulin and turns blood sugar straight into fat which, of course, heads directly to the waist. I was never a coffee addict, but I couldn’t start the day without a cup of Earl Grey. Try Rooibos tea, which is caffeine-free.
9 Ban the booze. Alcohol is just liquid carbohydrate and it hits your bloodstream straight away, especially if you drink on an empty stomach. Marilyn told me that I’d have to cut out that wind-down glass of chilled white wine after a hard day at work, at least for a month. Try limiting white wine to the weekends if, like me, you can’t quite manage to become teetotal. I must say I found this the hardest rule of all!
o Breakfast Soya fruit smoothie: whizz up 165g (5½oz) berries, 150ml (5fl oz) soya milk, 150ml (5fl oz) water, 1tbsp (heaped) ground almonds and seeds and 1tbsp flaxseed oil.
o Mid-morning snack An apple and four almonds, or carrot or celery sticks to dip in a pot of hummus, or a pot of natural yogurt, or half an avocado or a handful of nuts and dried sour cherries – my favourite.
o Lunch Salad with either a small tin of tuna in olive oil (but with the oil drained off), or a palm-sized portion of fresh tuna, or half a small pot of hummus.
o Mid-afternoon snack As for mid-morning.
o Evening Grilled salmon, chicken or marinated tofu with palm-sized portions of asparagus and broccoli or a salad.
o An hour before bed An oatcake.
Follow this mix of exercise and remember to warm up and cool down at each session.
Aerobics Aim for four 30-minute sessions of aerobic exercise each week – fast walking, dancing, swimming, jogging or an exercise class. The aim is to feel slightly out of breath, but not so much you can’t talk. Vary the intensity with interval training – for example, pick a point between two trees or lampposts and walk fast or jog towards it, then drop back to a slower pace.
Weights Try to do two to three 30-minute sessions of weights per week – Marilyn’s book Fat Around the Middle gives starter exercises. Begin with a light weight and build up. The aim is to lift the weight 12 times (this is a repetition) and do three lots of these (sets). If you find the third set difficult, you’ll know you have the right weight.
To control stress hormones and get blood sugar in balance, Marilyn suggested a three-month course of a daily multivitamin and mineral, 200mcg chromium to stave off cravings, 100mg Siberian ginseng to help balance stress and amino acid to help my cells use insulin better.
Fat Around The Middle by Marilyn Glenville (Kyle Cathie, £9.99). Visit marilynglenville.com to find out more.