This is the final story in our week-long series on dieting in 2020. Read the rest of the series at thestar.com/life.
After a lifetime of dieting and problems with binge-eating, Bobby Umar is down 35 pounds.
The weight loss began in June, when the 48-year-old motivational speaker decided to finally give the keto diet a 30-day trial run. Umar had resisted that low-carb, high-fat diet for years, since he didn’t think he’d ever be willing to give up pasta, rice and bread permanently. A 30-day challenge, though, seemed like a reasonable amount of time to try something new, so he gave it a shot.
“The first two weeks were really hard but, once I got past that, things really took off,” recalls Umar. “If you can get to that point, that’s when the hunger goes down significantly. I would say my appetite dropped by about 70 per cent and that’s when the weight really started coming down.”
More important, he says, was his change in mindset. After radically reducing both carbs and sugar, he found himself re-defining his idea of a “treat.” Instead of rewarding himself with an occasional dessert or sweet, Umar started thinking of a piece of good bread as an indulgence. Best of all, the binge-eating just stopped, something he attributed to both the keto and the fact that he started skipping breakfast.
“Breakfast is where all the sugar comes from like the bread and jam and things like that that I love, so avoiding breakfast works really well for me,” he says. “And I was worried that I’d eat too much at lunch, which is one of my triggers but, after two weeks, I wasn’t even binging at lunch for the first time in my life.”
As someone deeply immersed in diet culture, though, Umar was keenly aware that a lot of people who lose weight on deprivation diets can’t maintain the regimen and wind up putting the weight back on a year or two later. So Umar figured out ways to make it more sustainable for his lifestyle and preferences by tweaking it and combining it with other diets, including intermittent fasting, which touts the virtues of skipping or postponing breakfast. He says he sometimes gets comments from people who complain he’s not authentically keto, thanks to his modifications to the diet, which include less fat, more vegetables, and a stubborn refusal to give up popcorn.
He’s not alone. A lot of people try to get the best out of super-diets like keto, vegan and intermittent fasting by cherry-picking the things they like. There’s even one that’s trending these days, the “pegan” diet, a paleo/vegan hybrid that encourages people to cut out all sugar, legumes, alcohol and grains and, instead, eat mainly plants. One version of the pegan diet does allow for a tiny bit of meat (think along the lines of bacon on a salad), but it’s pretty restrictive.
“It kind of sounds like two worlds colliding,” explains Lianne Phillipson, a Toronto area registered nutritionist, consultant and author. “Because those on the paleo diet are really eating a lot of fish and meat, and then add in veganism to it, which restricts people to just plants. Combining the two seems really restrictive and I’m not really sure how anyone would be able to follow it for any period of time.”
Unlike peganism, most people’s Franken-diet plans aim to be less restrictive, not more, says Phillipson, who says it’s really common to see people modifying low-carbohydrate diets, in part, because it’s hard to stay on them for a long time, but there are some aspects of them that are good for our bodies and help us lose weight. “Those diets work for a lot of people because you get rid of a lot of the grains, like that morning sugary muffin or croissant or donut or whatever,” she says. “That’s really quite a good boundary to put up.”
Instead, fill that hole with a little inspiration from the vegan diet—fresh fruit and nuts, refried black beans with guacamole or, perhaps, a breakfast salad—which all help on the overall nutrition front, since Phillipson says almost everyone she’s ever worked with needs more fruits and vegetables. Although Phillipson thinks the pegan diet doesn’t offer enough variety to be sustainable for most people, a good vegan diet is nutrient-rich and low-fat—so long as you’re steering clear of processed faux-meat.
Although there’s a lot of variation when it comes to the philosophy, the elements that seem to work in a lot of diets, be they vegan, keto or (as Phillipson points out) Mediterranean, are remarkably similar, namely, avoiding processed food and excessive sugar and trying to eat as much “real food” as possible, especially fruits and vegetables.
All of that fits in perfectly with intermittent fasting, too, since these foods make it easier to feel full for a longer time than refined carbs and ultra-processed foods. Dr. Jason Fung, the Toronto doctor who wrote the book (several books actually) on fasting, calls fasting a “powerful addition to any diet,” since, he says, no matter how good the diet is, if you’re snacking all the time, it’s not going to work.
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Bobby Umar would surely agree. “All my life, I never felt in control of myself and for the first time, I actually felt in control,” he says. “I was resigned to the idea that maybe I was going to have binge-eating as part of my life but I never binged once.”
He adds: “It’s hard to explain but, as someone who struggled with weight for 35 years, having control is extremely empowering.”
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