Balance is the key to a healthy lifestyle

Lifestyle writer Sharon Morrison

Lifestyle writer Sharon Morrison - Credit: Contributed

I was going to call this article ‘My 26-year diet’ but thought it would put you off rather than invite you in, so ‘Holy Grail’ it is. 

No hyperbole was used in the creation of this headline because it’s true and I’ve got proof. Me. 

Over a quarter of a century ago I began following an eating regime that has helped me keep the weight off ever since, even with the odd lapse. 

What attracted me instantly wasn’t just the absence of portion sizes or the promise you’d always feel full, but the killer claim that you could continue to drink wine.

My road to eating redemption was triggered by a chance remark made by a friend of my husband’s: ‘When’s it due?’ he asked nodding at my stomach.

I was gobsmacked. Oh, the shame... did I look delivery-room ready? 

‘I’m not pregnant,’ I replied effecting nonchalance, as I switched my eyes to flamethrower mode.

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I’d never dieted or counted calories because I’d never associated them with long term success.

Sharon Morrison

Sharon looked at her diet when someone asked when her baby was due - she wasn't pregnant - Credit: Contibuted

Nor did I like the idea of food and alcohol deprivation.

But I was already more than uncomfortable with my weight, which meant I never wanted to buy new clothes because I’d have to get a larger size than I thought I should, yet I was totally fed up with my wardrobe full of clothes that always felt too snug. 

I also hated the feeling of my flesh overflowing waistbands, knicker elastic and bra straps and yet there was this growing realisation that I was getting out of puff a little too regularly. 

Fat, frumpy and unfit summed me up, but I had thought my regulation camouflage of leggings and an over-sized top was fooling everyone.

Obviously not anymore and, now that I’d been embarrassed into taking action, I had to find something in which I could place my trust. 

Luckily for me, I discovered The Montignac Method.

This wasn’t the result of a good Google search, as Google didn’t exist in 1995, but of a trip to a bookshop where, hidden on a shelf was Dine Out and Lose Weight, written by personnel-manager-turned-diet-developer, Michel Montignac.

He didn’t believe in diets either; he advocated a change in eating habits, so we don’t eat less, but better by making wiser food choices.

His book, which was first published in 1986, was based on food combining and aimed at executives like Montignac, who had to wine and dine clients regularly but wanted to lose or keep their weight under control.

For me, this book appeared to open the door to a wardrobe full of slightly baggy clothes.

What’s so special about food combining?

In its very simplest form, food combining means only eating one food group at a time, for example all protein for breakfast, all carbs for lunch (don’t worry, there’s a whole range of vegetables and salad ingredients which are classed as ‘neutral’ and can be eaten with protein and carb meals), which aids digestion and supports weight loss. 

In addition, and this was important I believe to my weight loss, you have to cut out processed snacks (crisps, salted peanuts etc), sugary food and takeaways and avoid or reduce intake of carbs that have a high glycaemic index (GI) like potatoes, white rice, white bread and pasta. 

High GI food can cause a spike in blood sugar levels, then a sharp fall resulting in lethargy and hunger. 

Food with a low GI, like salad, vegetables, most fruit, fish and meat, helps you feel fuller for longer. (If any of this sounds familiar, it may be because you’ve heard of the Hay Diet, named after Dr William Howard Hay, who successfully treated his high blood pressure, kidney disease, dilated heart and weight problem through food combining.)

Now food combining doesn’t find favour with everyone, and there are many who think the whole idea of it is a hoax and not based on any scientific evidence. 

But Dr Hay published his diet in 1911, and some form of food combining has always been associated with successful, long term weight loss and maintenance ever since. 

In truth I found it hard to stick to food combining initially, because although I could enjoy a wonderful protein breakfast of scrambled eggs, tomatoes and mushrooms, I couldn’t have toast as that was a carb, and I really missed toast. 

Then, if I had a sandwich as part of my carbohydrate meal, I couldn’t put cheese, chicken or fish with it, because they’re all protein. I could have added a neutral food, which is essentially veg or salad, but where’s the fun in that? 

So, without trying too hard, bread began to disappear from mealtimes. This, plus cutting right down on other high GI food, helped me lose weight. What was most rewarding about this way of eating was that I never, ever felt hungry, but I did feel more energetic so started going to aerobics classes twice a week, and that seemed to give my weight loss rocket propulsion. 

Now I had the confidence to ditch the leggings and over-sized shirt combo and go for more adventurous designs, and it’s all because I was eating differently, but definitely not eating less.

I did drink red wine and G&Ts, even though you’re not supposed to for the first few weeks, but that made me feel better about carb denial. 

l began to love eating better, not relying on quick-fix fast food or sugar and salt-laden snacks anymore.

Over the years I’ve adapted how I eat, and while cake and takeaways are a feature, they’re considered a treat, not a staple.

Except for Mondays. They’re called Maccy D Mondays in our house and I’ll have a lunchtime quarter pounder every week without fail. I don’t eat the bun, though.

Remember the 80:20 rule and exercise forever!
Food combining my way isn’t the panacea for weight loss, just part of the process. You need to combine it with regular exercise.

I was taught the 80:20 ‘rule’ by one of my sisters some time ago, but it’s one I have a great deal of respect for: 80% of how your body looks is down to the food you put into it and 20% down to exercise. 

I gain weight now and then, but additional exercise has always brought it back under control, because I have the food basics (the 80%) right for me.

Food is THAT important.

Although I’ve been working out regularly since 1995, my kids (now all in their 20s) noticed that I was looking smaller (‘shrinking’ might have been mentioned, but I ignored that one), and my son actually said he was frightened I’d break!

That sounded alarm bells, if ‘slender’ to me was ‘frail’ to them, I needed to sort it out.

And what was happening to me was wholly natural, but totally avoidable IF I’d seen it coming.

I was losing muscle mass.

In fact, from as early as our 30s we start losing between 3-5% of our muscle mass every 10 years, and this loss can help us on our way to osteoporosis and make us more vulnerable to injury.

But this situation can be reversed or stopped from getting worse by adding weight or resistance training to your workout routine.

And that’s exactly what I’ve done.

Now, six days a week, usually at 7am, I follow an exercise plan developed by my nephew that includes a mix of cardio and weights.

The weights are getting heavier, but very gradually so there’s less chance of injury and I’m developing more muscle tone.

Any kind of exercise involving weights builds bone density too, and that’s especially important for older people like me as we naturally lose bone density with age – just how much depends on your own body and level of fitness, although hereditary factors come into play too. 

Immediately following the workout I drink a protein shake, which helps the body repair and build muscle.

One unexpected (for me) benefit of building muscle is that it helps to boost your metabolic rate, and you burn calories even at rest. 

Now this is great news for all of us as another age-related change is a slower metabolism, which is why you might notice the pounds creeping on even though you’ve been doing everything right to avoid it. 

If you don’t want to continually reduce your food intake to combat the weight gain, weight or resistance training is a brilliant antidote. Think of it this way, cardio burns calories in the short term, weights in the long term, so you need to do both; they will deliver different physical benefits but contribute to your overall health and feeling of wellbeing.

Sharon Morrison

Sharon Morrison has discovered the combination of diet and exercise which works for her - Credit: Contributed

So, the Holy Grail of diets really is an amalgam of everything you know, have 
read about, agree or disagree with. It’s neither new or revolutionary, but it’s part of 
my every day and I’m more than happy to do it all, because I want to feel healthy, strong and vigorous as I get older, and I don’t want my kids to see their mum as The Incredible Shrinking Woman.

The actual Holy Grail is an unlikely deliverable, but Wonder Woman status is a distinct possibility.

Please note, I’m not a clinician or a dietitian, but everything I’ve written here about my approach to losing weight is based entirely on my own experience.

We’re all different and, if you’re in any doubt about how to tackle your weight safely, or you have other underlying health issues, please check with your GP first.

We’re all getting older and want to enjoy our lives to the full, so it helps to be both proactive and reactive and it’s never too late to start. If you’d like to see and hear more about the good, the bad and the unmentionable side of ageing, check out Sharon’s Age Inappropriate YouTube channel, and join the discussion.