When I told people I was trialling the Optifast program, many looked at me with horror followed by the words “but you don’t need to lose weight!”. And yes, that was true. However in order to truly understand what my clients go through, I thought I’d walk in my client’s shoes and see how tough sticking to a very low calorie diet (VLCD) is.
The truth is, I’ve never dieted before in my life - like, seriously committed to a diet AND stuck with it for more than 2 meals. I’m also a huge carb fan (that’s the Italian in me) and a strong believer that we need wholesome sources, in small amounts throughout the day. So not only was I embarking on learning to ‘stick’ with the rules, but this was also going to challenge my beliefs and judge for myself whether the testimonials of going low carb provided the “amazing clarity and lightness” that so many say.
Disclaimer: I only recommend Optifast products to my clients who meet the guidelines for a VLCD program, and in no way do I get any kickbacks from using this product or writing this article.
Goal: To complete 5 days of Optifast Transition Phase
NB: Usually the program suggests starting in the intensive phase (3 meal replacements per day) however I tend to start my clients on the Transition Phase as it’s more achievable. I also felt that because I’m within a healthy weight range, it would be more appropriate to start here too.
I had bought the coffee flavoured Optifast shakes as I felt this would be more palatable than a sweeter option like chocolate or strawberry. I hadn’t given it much thought prior to this experiment and suddenly Sunday night I was dreading the shake the following morning. How pleasantly surprised I was! It tasted delicious except the texture was a bit strange and I found that you had to drink it down fairly quickly as the longer it sat, the thicker it got. Boom - first shake done and dusted. Off to work.
The satisfaction didn’t last long and by 11am, I was feeling flat as a tack. I decided to have my piece of fruit then which picked me up until lunchtime. Except I had forgotten that it was a colleagues farewell lunch and I was suddenly faced with my first challenge. I had to sit there with my bowl of carrot, celery, capsicum and lettuce and coffee flavoured shake whilst everyone else lunched on hot cheese scones, fruit scones, chocolate sponge cake, blue cheese and crackers, frankfurts, date cacao balls and greek salad. That killed me there and then… but I held strong and it was in that moment that I decide it was on like Donkey Kong - no turning back now.
On my 45 minute drive home, the headache and fatigue set in and I was so hungry that all I could think of was the meal I was going to cook for dinner; 150g eye fillet and vegetable ratatouille. To prove how hungry I was, I forgot to take a photograph!!! Despite my veggie packed dinner, it didn’t help that Tom, my partner pulled out the cheese and biscuits and a Connoisseur ice cream and so I went to bed feeling really unsatisfied and still hungry. I woke up at 3:33am with a growling stomach, and after several glasses of water and salivating thoughts of toast and scones, I fell back to sleep 2 hours later (withdrawals symptoms much?!?). That feeling of emptiness is probably the lowest point I’ve felt provided a good glimpse into how strong it drives your thought to food, and only food. It also made me realise that there are many people out there that feel like this daily; a bleak moment.
Reflection: The realisations of:1. I’m stronger than I thought when it comes to making a food commitment and 2. Understanding the true feeling of physical hunger (as opposed to emotional hunger) and 3. The devastating fact that so many people go through this agony and distraction on a daily basis.
I woke up on Tuesday hankering for my morning shake - they say anything tastes good when you’re hungry.
It was a cray-cray day full of meetings and I thought that being busy would help distract the hunger. Turns out it doesn’t and the headaches worsened. During a handover I had a colleague of mine tell me I looked ‘overwhelmed’ with information… Hmmm no, I thought, I’m was just completely carb-deprived and struggling to stay focused. No doubt I looked like a Whitewalker from Game of Thrones
Dinner was a repeat of the night before (steak and ratatouille) but I could only eat ⅓ of what I usually would have. The stomach shrinking had begun! The headache still lingered and drained me so bad, I didn’t make it to Pilates that night. Instead I crawled in bed super early and called it a night.
Reflection: No matter how busy you are, starvation still wins.
The shake was starting to haunt me so Wednesday morning I bypassed it and opted for my fruit and yoghurt for breakfast. Knowing lunch was going to be late, I panicked and drank it anyway. The last thing I wanted to be doing was driving past a golden arch and losing your mind over your next meal. The other amazing thing was the headache had gone! I felt normal, clearer (hello!) and happier that the numbing pressure across my hairline had disappeared. They say that it takes three days before the side effects of ketosis subsides and the experts were spot on. Except the hunger still persisted and never really went away.
It was this day that really opened my eyes to those pesky habits you do, without knowing you do it. Those subconscious, throw away actions you barely register you’re doing but ultimately can make all the difference when its comes to health. And I’m talking about non-hungry eating. At my private practice, after I finish my clients I always go down and see the receptionists who always has a stash of cakes/biscuits/slice/crackers sitting in their office. Like clockwork, I would always walk in and head straight to the desk, pinch a chocolate cupcake and catch up on the weekly news. Except for this day when it hit me like a two tonne brick. How often do I do this in a week? Probably a lot - and it took the power of mindfulness (and Optifast) to become aware of this type of sneaky behaviours. Debriefing to Deb the receptionist, she stated that they’re faced with that situation day after day and needing to overcome the umpteenth reasons we blindlessly eat; to make the day go faster, bad mood, cold weather - because it’s there.
Reflection: Most people resent having restrictions put on them when it comes to food, however for me it highlighted how much extra crap I had been consuming just for the sake of it. Pow - mindfulness wins again!
Day 4 & 5:
These couple of days were definitely more manageable. The routine was set and physically I was feeling alright. There was, however one occasional that showed me how important it is to keep your guard up. I was at the local pub after work for a colleagues farewell drinks and hadn’t expected to stay as late as I did. I hadn’t made time for my afternoon snack which meant I then sat and stared at a bowl of hot chips and garlic bread for two and a half hours, drinking my soda water and feeling very very hungry. The drive home was again almost unbearable and I actually ended up buying a quarter charcoal chicken (no skin of course) and whipping up a very basic salad - not the best choice but that’s what happens when you’re not prepared as you should be.
By Friday night I was ready to move back to my old patterns of eating and was quite glad to wake up to my usual two slices of toast for breakfast on Saturday morning.
Reflection: Be prepared. Be always prepared.
I know I really only experienced a tiny glimpse of what it’s like to implement a VLCD, I do feel I gained an insight into what it takes to commit and ‘stick’ to a prescribed diet.
Dieting principles has never been my line of intervention and as my mission statement reflects, I truly believe “its about eating well and not necessarily less.” Put unprocessed, whole foods into your body and you’ll not only give it everything it needs but also satisfy the social and emotional side we crave so much. In regards to the low carb theory, it didn’t work for me and that awful, nagging feeling of emptiness was just not worth it when I want to pack so much into my day. I can see how it may work for some people and if they feel that amazing reducing their carbs, then I wholeheartedly support it. But if it eats you up (excuse the pun) like it did to me, then I think it’s not worth it in the long run. Life’s too short and we have too much good food to put yourself through that. Dish up a smaller amount on your plate and then everyone’s happy.
The way to Carla's heart is all things food. Follow her thoughts and opinions on the latest food news and myths.