The story of Anne and Eric

It’s Valentine’s Day as I write this, so I thought I would tell you about two good friends of mine, Anne and Eric. Very much in love with each other, they’ve also been just a little bit too much in love with fattening foods over recent years.

Five months ago, they jointly decided to do something about this. 50 year old Eric, at 5 feet 10 inches, weighed in at 260lb (118kg), and had just received a health warning from his doctor. The medic had noticed increasing levels of bodyfat in Eric over the years, and had just seen the LDL cholesterol, blood sugar and triglyceride numbers all outside the recommended levels. Blood sugar indications had put Eric as pre-diabetic.

Anne had recieved no such warning, but at 203lb (92kg) for her 51-year, 5 feet 9 inch frame, she also knew that she had some weight to lose. By both having the same weight loss objectives, and following similar programmes, they knew they could be mutually supportive and increase their chances of success.

So they took on the services of a dietician, and followed the prescribed diet carefully for those five months. Weekly meetings with the dietician ensured they continues to progress, and as Eric now says, they didn’t want to let the dietician down as well as themselves by having unsuccessful weeks.

Their diets were pretty extreme. In summary, they eliminated sugar and other simple carbs from their diets, and kept fats to a low level too. Protein was kept relatively high – but only high relative to the levels of carbs and fats, not high in absolute terms.

The key principle behind the diet uses a body process called ketosis, and here’s a simplified version of the theory. The body employs energy from three reserves created from the food eaten: carbohydrate – stored in the form of glycogen – protein and fats. In activity, first the body uses its glycogen reserves as fuel. Once this supply is exhausted, It turns to using fat and some protein as the fuel source following on from the depleted glycogen. Looked at another way, once there’s no fuel in the normal tank, the body turns to the backup full source to keep the engine running.

If simple carbs, sugar, are consumed again, then all fat burning stops – because you’ve put fuel back in the glycogen tank, and the emergency back-up supply (mainly bodyfat) is no longer needed. This state of depleted glycogen reserves, in order to compel the body into consuming its fat and some protein reserve to provide calories, is known as ketosis.

The majority of people rarely enter this ketogenic state – they eat sufficient simple carbs and sugar so that the body doesn’t need to turn to the fat reserve for fuel. In fact, they usually eat more than sufficient sugar and simple carbs so that their weight increases.

Following ketogenic diets requires a big change in mind-set. You have to start thinking of ketosis not as being the emergency, carb-depleted, short-term back-up plan, but as being the regular and normal state of bodily function. This wouldn’t have been a huge shift for the humans of between 10,000 and 200,000 years ago (who hadn’t discovered sugar), but it is for those of today. This idea that ketosis is the correct state to be in, rather than an emergency back-up, is – as I said – a massive mind-shift.

Away from the glance at science, and back to my chums Anne and Eric. Their prescribed ketogenic diets provided 800 calories per day on average. This was a protein-supplement based breakfast, a small protein bar at mid-morning, then a lunch consisting of green salad items, and a single portion of grilled meat or fish, with green vegetables, for dinner. Most green veg and salad items are high in nutrients, low in calories and zero in sugar – so they could be consumed in big quantities on this diet, including the substantial 7 ounces of lettuce they each had for lunch.

It may not sound wonderful, but it did the trick for them. He is down to 180lb (82kg), and Anne is 158lb (72kg) – a substantial weight loss which has pleased Eric’s doctor and has moved all Eric’s parameters back to the normal zone. Both are massively happy with the results, Eric has now reached his target weight and Anne wants to lose a further 13lb to take her to 145lb (66kg).

And they achieved this without exercise. That’s right, Anne and Eric didn’t do any exercise during the last five months. They discussed it with their dietician, who said any exercise beyond the normal activities in daily living was not part of the plan. Anne even cut down the activity of her twice weekly spinning session, in order to comply. The reason for this given by the dietician is that the low caloric input didn’t allow them enough energy for exercise, so therefore they shouldn’t do any.

What do I think? Well, in a perfect world, I would have made some changes. Both Eric and Anne say they have lost strength on this diet, which doesn’t surprise me – for they have lost weight (being fat and muscle), rather than fat alone. If I’d been advising, I’d have added some exercise, a daily session of light cardio and a progressive weight training programme to add back at least some part of the muscle lost, just a few sets of the key compound weight movements with regular, incremental increases in resistance based in improving performance. To fuel this, I would have upped the calories by adding more protein and introducing good fats, increasing the daily calorific value to probably somewhere around double the amount they consumed, changing the exact amounts over the months depending on progress, and with perhaps more food for Eric than Anne.

Away from my thoughts, and back to reality. Eric and Anne are now committed to maintaining their new slimline selves for the future. Eric is happy at a weight of 180lb, and Anne wants to lose a further 13lb to take her down to 145lb. And seeing the results first hand, I’m not going to criticise Anne and Eric’s resolve, commitment and health gains. They’ve done massively well. And, for this Valentine’s Day, they have just as much love for each other as before but less body mass on each of them, resulting in more love per cubic inch, and that has to be a good thing – as well as a corny way to end this week’s blog.

Have a loving, healthy and fit Valentine’s weekend!