Setting New Health Goals

In my work, both consulting and coaching, the topic of health comes up frequently. Whether it’s an executive working on work-life balance, a client trying to develop the stamina to stick at their goals, or a friend who has hit upon some new research… health always promises to divide opinions. Reasons, motivations can vary wildly, from weight loss to fitness, wellness to medical procedure and sometime overcoming disease.

Just before Christmas some workmates were comparing the effectiveness of their pet dieting regimes. It came up because people were complimenting each other on their ‘summer bodies’ and they started comparing their various programs. It occurred to me that their smorgasbord of alternatives offered a decent map to helping clients choose a program suited to their needs. I had a whiteboard near me and started to take notes. I compared the relative ease of sticking with a plan, against the espoused effectiveness of it. Here’s what I wrote down:

Level of ease Type Notes Examples
Introductory Whole foods Eat only whole, unprocessed foods. Nothing from a package. No calorie restriction DASH diet the Daniel fast
1 – easy Meal planning   Use a meal plan. Restrict intake to 7,700kj for 5 days. Weekends off, alcohol allowed. Use an app like Lifesum Healthy Weight Week, 2:5 diet
2 Calorie restriction   Restrict intake to 7,700kj per 5 days and 2,000kj 2 days per week, eat whatever you like. No alcohol at all. 5:2 diet 1,200 calorie diet
3 – moderate Low carb, no carb Now remove the carbs. No bread, pasta or rice. No potato chips. You can have cheese, nuts and eggs Atkins diet CSIRO diet
4 No starch or sugar Now cut out sugar (inc. honey) and starch (potato, peas, corn). You can have berries in moderation Keto diet Paleo diet
5 – difficult Soup fast Try a liquid diet… soups, pho’s, chilli’s, broths – all home made from scratch (+ salads and smoothies) 3S meal plan the Soup cleanse
6 Juice fast Juice only. 7 veg, 2 fruit. Mix and match colours. Include digestive additives like spirulina Juice reboot Juice detox
7 – almost impossible Intermittent fast No food fasting, straight up. Water only. Start at dinner day 1, no eating day 2, miss breakfast day 3. 16/8 fast The Warrior diet
8 Total, water only fasting No food for 3-14 days. 2 down, 2 back and water in between 36 hour fast


Of all the options offered in conversation (and you can see there were over 15 of them), I think the easiest change to access were the punters who simply switched to whole foods. They ate only unprocessed food, the basic rule being – nothing out of a package (#Tim Crowe). Everything should be home-made (and preferably home grown). I have tried the Daniel fast (a Biblical effort at removing ‘kings food’ and eating healthy) and it’s a pretty great way to start.

Up this easy end of changing diet is some form of calorie restriction (CR). The most effective seem to be meal plans (#Jenny Craig). You can eat whatever you like, if you don’t exceed your slightly reduced daily limit. The more adventurous try some version of severe CR which involves restricting intake over certain days. The 5:2 diet (#Kate Harrison) allows you to eat what you want for 5, and restrict for 2… I reckon the 2:5 works better: restrict for 5 and eat whatever you want for 2 (#Tim Ferriss).

Enter “GI” and ketosis

The next level of difficulty involves genuinely giving up a category of food. People with food intolerances have given up wheat, grains, dairy and other substances that harm them. These food types are all high in carbohydrates. Some of my Christmas weight loss and diet junkies also gave up carbs. My first brush with low-carb diet was when a friend of mine got type II diabetes. Those with thyroid issues, epilepsy or Hashimoto’s also change what they eat, usually to a more protein-based diet.

Going low-carb or no-carb introduces us to the confusing world of the Glycaemic Index (GI). What is GI? In simple terms foods contain various substances our bodies use. Sugars, starches and carbohydrates (glycogens) are used or converted directly into energy. GI measures how quickly or easily these are converted into blood sugar. The industry took a stance against sugar which is a ‘simple’ carb, (#Sarah Wilson) which was thought to metabolise quickly. More ‘complex’ carbs in potato and wheat also came under scrutiny. It’s confusing because if you cast your eye down the “table of GI in foods” beetroot (64), pumpkin (73) and carrots (92) are in the forbidden end of town! At the end of this article I’ll clear that up by explaining glycaemic loading.

When you restrict carbohydrates, starch and sugar (sources for glycolysis) you switch the body away from using blood sugar into a different process called ketosis. To get the energy it needs for cellular process the body metabolises fat (hopefully our body fat), fatty acids, protein and alcohol instead (ketone bodies).

The most popular low GI, low carb diets right now are the ‘Keto’ diets (#Amy Ramos, #Craig Emmerich). A few years back the Atkins was in vogue (#Robert Atkins). One of my Christmas party workplace diet buddies swore by the Paleo diet, which is basically meat and veg… (#Walter Voegtlin, #Loren Cordain). GI management is used in high performance sports as well, especially in endurance events. Athletes often need to sustain energy across an event (like a triathlon). Australia’s CSIRO developed a special plan for sports dieticians too (#TotalWellbeingDiet).

From here on down, I’d call the dieting efforts hard-core or dangerous. The ‘difficult’ level of commitment comes from those who are having heart surgery, spending four weeks on a ‘soup, salad and smoothie’ diet (#Michelle Bridges, #Michelle Carlson). Slightly more hard-core is the Soup Cleanse (#Angela Blatteis), or the soup fast being done by a cancer suffering workmate (#SacredHeartDiet).

Right at the end of my list, beside ‘almost impossible’ and requiring a very strong level of commitment (and faith?) are the two final contenders. Going to ‘detox’ camp, doing liver cleansing and bowel voiding certainly require commitment to the goal. I’ve tried juice fasting (#Joe Cross) and even bought a high end cold press juicer. Some religious adherents practise ritual fasting (dawn to dusk) and longer term fasting (up to 40 days without food). Secular versions include the intermittent fast (#Sam Woods) and the 36 hour fast (#Josh Axe). I have done the Paul Blackburn diet (#BeyondSuccess) and found it incredibly good. Many doctors recommend doing longer fasts under medical supervision (#Jason Fung, #Stephanie Estima).

Staying sane by keeping it simple

In my own Christmas-to-new year journey, I was happily surprised by the lack of weight gain over Christmas. The usual famine and feast cycle of Chrissy break, with gorging on ham and turkey, too much alcohol and lots of sleeping in followed by lashings of guilt and shame, didn’t produce adverse effects this year. I must have let my guard down, because then over a period of five weeks I stacked some new kilos and got myself a new shape in profile.

So, back to the treadmill. Squeezing in a walk, run or cycle before work (not so easy in 40-45 degree C days), drinking more water and keeping an eye on my Kj intake using an app called #LifeSum. Five weeks later… no change. Well now, I had to change something, do something. This was embarrassing! So, I hauled out the chart from December – the nine levels of weight loss diet programs, and picked a place to start.

Starting on my own version of Paleo, and progressing to a soup, salad and smoothie (juicing) diet I started looking at various charts of low-carb foods to guide me on what to eat and what to avoid. Most people have come to terms with where the calories lie, what foods have sugar and can even tell you what basic food groups are full of carbohydrates, but few understand GI and hardly anyone knows about GL.

So, back to my struggle with cutting out the carrots. Recall the GI index I mentioned, with the evil beetroot and sweet potato. Even though these vegetables are high GI (and so are lychees and dates), they contain relatively small quantities of carbohydrate. The glycaemic loading (GL) factor takes its GI (a measure of the quality of the carb) and measures its actual net effect on blood sugar (determined in part by quantity present). GL is a much better way to stratify foods.

To stay sane, I prepared a one-page visual guide on low carb, low GI loading food, and laid it out according to GL rating (a scale from 1-25). It shows you what to stay away from. Please keep in mind, this chart is based on the low-carb, no-carb, fasting and ketosis end of dieting. That invariably means that your consumption of fat, fruit-based sugar and meat usually goes up – which brings with it a variety of other challenges. The only way around that is to go vegetarian or vegan and that… is a whole different story.