Monday, March 25, 2013

What I really thought of the Six Secrets of Successful Weight Loss

When checking out my blog stats at the weekend, I noticed a lot of traffic coming from a site I didn't recognise, when I looked into it, I discovered that someone had posted a link to one of my posts about the Elimination Diet in a diet forum. It was interesting reading, and somewhat disturbing, as they were writing about me! I guess you have to expect that when you put yourself out there, but still, it was a bit odd.

Most of it was ok, but of course, there were judgements - particularly from one woman who openly stated she hadn't really read what I had written, but had formed an opinion of me anyway. Apparently I am naive enough to have expected magic to happen, what do I expect if I introduce sugar into my diet, and isn't it a shame (poor me) that I didn't do their diet instead. It was funny though, as they are all doing it. The rest of their conversation is about, "I introduced coffee today" and "I gained x amount on milk" .

After reeling slightly at their interpretation of my character, I tried to think about at what point, if any, I gave the impression that I was so naive, or that I expected a miracle. I then realised that I haven't really said what I think about the diet at all. My task was to follow the elimination diet and blog about what happened. That I did. I also gave information from the book on the other 5 secrets, and about why Dr Mansfield believes this. I talked a bit about how this might relate to me, but there was actually very little about what I believe.

There are several reasons that I didn't include my theories. Firstly, that wasn't the task, secondly, I am not a Doctor. I do however have Biology Degree, and a Masters of Science Education, and I did begin to study Nutritional Medicine before I had BB (mainly considering the Science of Nutrition from a Holistic Health perspective - something I hope to go back to in the future). As a result of that I do have a massive interest and fascination in the subject, and some ideas about what I believe. However, I am also aware that I am no expert and that the science and our understanding of it is changing all the time, so it is hard to be conclusive. For those reasons I was hesitant to write my true thoughts.

So here's my disclaimer - I am not a doctor and I am probably wrong!

...but here's a blog post on what I really think.

I think that we are all different. Genetically we are different. Our life experience and medical histories are different. Our daily lives, jobs, families, finances, preferences, stresses, situations and demands are all different too. I think that what works for you may not necessarily work me. I don't think there is a one size fits all solution.

My maternal grandmother for example, is almost 98. She is thin, still living in her own home and has pretty much existed on refined carbohydrates for her whole life. Her current diet consists of toast and marmalade, tea cakes, a notoriously high sugar breakfast cereal, biscuits, cakes and desserts. When we go out to eat, she would rather just have cake, but she can be persuaded to have fish and chips sometimes, or maybe soup and bread. She has always been like this. I remember from when I was a child, rather than have her Yorkshire puddings with a Sunday roast, she would have them with treacle. One of her tales about the rations during the war is about when she got extra sugar. This is a life time habit. Most people would say that this diet would lead you to an early grave, but clearly not in her case.

Despite the fact that I theoretically carry a quarter of her genes, I have pretty much nothing in common with her in this regard. I really have to watch my carbohydrate consumption, even down to the fruit I eat. For example, prior to the Elimination Diet, I hadn't eaten pineapple for years due to it's high sugar content having a negative effect on me and my well being. I think the key to health is understanding your own body, and then comes the hard bit, you have to ACT in a way that nurtures YOUR body. 

We are notoriously bad at this. We know what we have to, but we don't do it. I have a theory as to why this is, which I will share.

There is an insight from E. F. Schumacher which I have been drawn to throughout my education career. He points out that despite the fact that the volume of education and knowledge we have continues to increase, so do the problems we are learning about. He was talking about ecological issues, but I think the same is true for health. We know more and more about how to be thin and healthy, there is information everywhere, diet after diet, regime after regime, program after program. We receive information at school, from the TV, on the radio, in the doctors surgery, yet we are getting fatter and fatter, and there are more and more cases of disease caused by what we eat every week. This is costing the health system a fortune, so there is more and more 'education' thrown at the problem, but it still gets worse!

Educational theorists are familiar with this dilemma. Simply giving people more knowledge is obviously not the answer. We don't just need people to know more, we need them to change their behaviours.  The problem, I believe, is with the style of education we are using. Mostly, education is transmissive (passing on specific information), to change people it needs to be transformative (where the learner participates in the process of asking their own questions and constructing their own meaning). A comparative summary of transmissive and transformative education is available here Table 1- page 38 (Ref. Stephen Sterling).

Anyway, I think that's enough about educational theory to explain how my interest in the book began. Of course, there were personal reasons for my interest too, I had just had a miscarriage, something else to focus on was welcome, and I had gained 5kg in the failed pregnancy, but I was also interested from both the educational and nutritional perspectives.  The Six Secrets of Successful Weight Loss (also on kindle) was described as a book that it is about identifying what works for you. It takes the reader step by step through a process in which you construct your own knowledge about your own body. As you gather more information, you can reframe the question, or ask a new question and explore. It is an open ended inquiry. The subject is yourself - a topic everyone is interested in. Perhaps this book offered a transformative approach to weight loss education that could actually work.

To some extent, I think it actually does. Once you start the process of the elimination diet it does consume you. You are constantly questioning your response to different foods and making observations about yourself. I was definitely engaged in the process. There were times though when I wanted to pursue a different line of enquiry. The book is very prescriptive about what you do next. There were also lots of things I didn't really want to test (and several that I didn't - like aspartame and monosodium glutamate). It certainly is an open ended inquiry. I am still asking questions now. In some ways I wish that would stop, but at the same time it is good thing.

I know the book is about weight loss, but to me, the focus on weight alone was quite distracting. There were so many more things that could be observed with regard to your response to a particular food. I wish I had done more of this. Like how foods made me feel. If I did it again, I would do that. I am however doing that a bit now- though obviously in a less controlled environment - it has made me more aware.

Apparently 70-80% of people that have tried the diet find at least one thing to which they are sensitive, and eliminating this solves their weight problem forever. That is an attractive proposition. When I googled diet before accepting the assignment, one journalist had written about cool it would be to find that carrots made her fat (I love carrots so I wouldn't have been so impressed). When I did the diet a few things raised questions, but when retested there was nothing. I am apparently one of the 20-30% for whom it doesn't work. I can't say that this came as much of a surprise, but it was worth the try. It was difficult to know what was normal daily fluctuations in weight and what might be a reaction. I am still not sure I believe that it works, but perhaps if I had had a serious reaction to something I would have a different opinion.

What did work was I lost weight. The exact amount that I had recently gained in my short pregnancy. This was a pleasing result. Dr Mansfield thinks that this was due to a sensitivity that I haven't yet identified, but I am not sure I agree. I think it was due to eating a restricted diet which did not contain any cereals or refined carbs. As soon as I started eating those again the weight loss stopped.

I did however feel brilliant when I wasn't eating those foods. Readers who know me will be aware that I am a big fan of fasting, not for weight loss (though that is an added bonus) but for health and vitality reasons. This was the closest I have come to the benefits of fasting while still eating (if that makes any sense!). It was also a very powerful lesson in how much better I feel on a low carb diet, and is something that will hopefully stay with me and be the transformative learning that I needed.

Having said that, in some ways the elimination diet made my eating habits worse. I already knew that pineapple contained too much sugar  for me, but I ate heaps in stage 1 (and lost weight), and have continued to buy it (until this week) having been given a somewhat false impression that it is OK. I  was expecting to find some problems with the cereals and refined carbs too, but didn't, and again, I think the OK'ing of these items has made me eat more of them since the diet than I did before (again, until this last week when I had a little word with myself). However, I also think I would be less likely to be aware of this about myself had I not followed the diet.

The things I regret about doing the diet are bombarding my body with an overload of various carbs in stage 3 - I don't think that did me any good at all, though it did remind me that my body really doesn't like that. I also regret stopping taking my Vital Greens supplement. However, both were necessary as part of the process, and short term.

With regard to my opinion on the other secrets...

The first secret is to avoid extremely low calorie diets. I agree with this. Dr Mansfield says that you 'stabilise' at a lower calorie consumption, and then gain weight when you return to normal. There are lots of theories out there about the starvation effect making your body more efficient so that it can survive on fewer calories. I also think that a lot of the problems here can be explained by transformative learning too. People are not transforming their eating habits for life - they are following a quick fix, which will be a 'quick break' as soon as they stop and go back to their old ways. Also, many of these very low calorie diets don't actually involve food, which has to be an issue. I am also very cynical about the 'diet industry', and I avoid diet foods. In my opinion, they are too high in sugar, and therefore make you fatter. That's great news for the people who make them though, as then, as you get fatter, you need to buy more!

My opinion? Cook real food, with natural (where possible organic) ingredients and enjoy. This is one thing that the elimination diet forces you to do, you can't eat processed food, you have to eat natural food, with only one ingredient!

The second secret is to avoid low fat diets. I agree with this too. Dr Mansfield however says that it doesn't matter if its saturated or unsaturated fat and I quite get my head around that, even though I know there is other research out there that suggests the same. I hope he's right as I love butter (having a strong preference for natural fats over chemically manipulated margarines).  I got through loads of olive oil on the diet and have noticed I am using much less again now, perhaps I should increase it again. Dr Mansfield's theory on this, which I agree with, is that fat fills you up, and without enough fat you eat more carbs and get fat. There is lots of compelling evidence for this, both from a biochemical perspective and a social one - since our transmissive diet advice started saying we should eat less fat, and the diet industry has made more low fat foods, we have got fatter and fatter and fatter!

Regarding the fourth secret, I don't feel I know enough about candida to comment really. The same for thyroidism, secret six.

The fifth though is insulin resistance, which I do know about. I overcame this problem myself through diet in 2003, and think that really this is where my attention should be focussed right now. This is where the low carb thing comes in for me, and the fasting. If you are someone with signs of insulin resistance you need to do something about it. If, like my Nan, you are not, don't worry! I recommend a low carb diet, paying particular attention to the GI of foods.  If I had to recommend a particular 'diet' for people in this situation, The Fast Diet  (also available for Kindle) looks to be giving promising results and to be mainatainble long term, which is what it's all about.

In summary, I do think that this book is a step towards a transformative approach to weight loss. It did enable me to lose weight, and it has given me more understanding of how my body responds to certain foods, and it has continued to engage me in this observational approach to my own nutrition since the diet itself ended. I am not convinced by the idea that it is as simple as cutting out a food that you are sensitive to, but if I had found a food that I was sensitive to that might have been different. Would I recommend it to others, yes I think I would.

As I said before, I thought it was a shame that the only real measure of the effect of a food was weight. It could have looked at so much more. What might be even better (or next) would be a book that concentrated solely on the elimination diet, but looked at many other indicators of health, not just weight.

OK - that's it!  You did well if you got this far.  If you are new here and want to know more about my experiences on the diet here's the link- Elimination Diet. I would like to think that this is my last post on this topic, but as I said, the enquiry has grabbed me, (to some extent against my will!)  so I suspect I will continue to question and explore. Currently the subject of enquiry is wheat...


  1. It must have been really interesting to read what people had written, since the internet is anonymous and breeds a lot of knee-jerk reactions. I think it's awesome that you took it all in stride. And I'm sure people also and great things to say too! And I completely agree. We are all genetically different.

  2. Hi Blissful,
    I'd like to thank you for all your posts, particular this one.
    I started the thread on the Harcombe forum (although I didn't post the link to your blog & I hope I didn't say anything to offend you) so I apologise for any problems that caused.

    Your original blogs were one of the things that encouraged me to try the Elimination Diet part of the Six Secrets & I found them very helpful.

    1. Ha ha - no worries at all Kate, nothing really offended me, it was just odd to see myself being talked about.

      It was good really, as it made me post this, which I probably should have had the guts to do in the first place but didn't. I did find it funny when I read on that you we all doing the elimination diet too. I'd love to hear how you got on.

      I do think there might be something in the wheat thing for me, though it didn't show up as weight loss... As I have said in a few posts I think recording other s'symptoms' as well as weight gain would be valuable, and I wish I had done that better. I think it is perhaps a never ending process!

      Good luck with it, and thanks for your comment too!

    2. I lost 5 pounds doing the first 2 stages - I'd been doing a real food lowish carb diet beforehand so I was quite impressed.

      Good luck with going wheat free.

  3. Dear Blissful,
    I am sorry that you have misgivings about the diet because I believe that the ones you have expressed in this post are due to your not reading the book as thoroughly as you could have and/or not looking into Dr. Mansfield's background.

    For example, you write "I know the book is about weight loss, but to me, the focus on weight alone was quite distracting. There were so many more things that could be observed with regard to your response to a particular food. I wish I had done more of this. Like how foods made me feel. If I did it again, I would do that."

    Dr. Mansfield mentions other signs of sensitivities in several parts of his book--e.g., 'When testing a food, the most important thing to watch for is a sudden increase in weight. However, if headache, fatigue, or other symptoms occur, it is still sensible to regard this as a reaction and drop the food from your diet, at least for the time being" (p. 62).

    I have been doing the diet for about 3 weeks now and have not had a reliable weight gain/loss that can be counted on to measure a sensitivity. That said, I have had other (quite extreme) reactions to some foods--mouth sores, joint pain, congestion, itching, headache, flatulence, incontinence... I have also lost 11 pounds.

    If you google "John Mansfield, M.D.", you will see that he has not only written about weight loss, but that he has also been a voice for the impact of food sensitivities on rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions. So...while this book is centered on weight loss, weight loss is not his only area of interest.

    I think that your comment “I then realised that I haven't really said what I think about the diet at all” is a bit disingenuous. You expressed you views of the diet several times. For example, on 1-8 you wrote “As the title says, I am rapidly becoming a non-believer. I don't think it is going to be as simple as avoiding a few foods forever and being thin. Well at least not in my case. In fairness, the book does say that this food sensitivity secret only works for 70-80% of people. So, it would appear I am in the 20-30% of the others. My weights have been all over the place, and steadily rising since I reintroduced sugar and other carbs.” But on 2-18, you wrote “In summary I am pleased I did it, but there was no magic answer that made my fat go away. It has been an interesting journey, and I have learned a lot about how different foods affect my body and the way that I feel. It has proven to me without a doubt that I should reduce my carb intake once again, and has reminded me how much better I feel when I do this. I have lost 5kg which is more than 5% of my body weight, and so will have a positive effect on my fertility, as well as many other aspects of my health.”

    I have been lurking on the Harcombe diet forum for some time and find the ladies' posts very helpful to me. (I don't do the Harcombe diet so I don't feel like I ought to join the forum.) As for your comment, "It was interesting reading, and somewhat disturbing, as they were writing about me! I guess you have to expect that when you put yourself out there, but still, it was a bit odd," you are correct--"you have to expect that when you put yourself out there."

    I appreciate your having taken on the assignment of blogging about the diet. It was interesting to read about your experiences with it. And I think if you look closely at your current comments about the diet in context of the book, that there is not much that’s different.

    1. Hi Unknown,

      Thank for your comments. I don't really think if it is fair to say that I have misgivings as such (though you are right, I did have a day when I was really down and the weight loss stopped). I have read the book (several times in parts!), and am aware of Dr Mansfield's experience and even benefited from his feedback. He said that there is likely a sensitivity in there somewhere due to my rapid weight loss in the beginning and suggested it may be milk, which I retested to no avail.

      My comments about the focus on weight we really to alert other people to keep notes of their other symptoms, not just weight. I am aware that the book says there might be others, and I did make some notes and observations, but nothing was recorded with such diligence as weight, which I think it is fair to say is what the book states is the most important thing to look for (see your own quote from p62 above).

      While we are on the subject of what I would record if doing it again (for the benefit of people doing it in the future ) is exactly what I was eating each day. Ie, once you have introduced foods and you think them safe, still make a note of the fact that you are eating them as there may be a pattern which reveals something you missed earlier. I think if I had done this I would have perhaps spotted something with wheat. I am now fairly certain that wheat is an issue for me - I have shrunk in the 5 days since eliminating it completely - 5 cm from my waist in 5 days! Still not much in weight though (about half a kilo)

      My comments re reading about myself, I wasn't offended. As I tried to explain above, it simply made me think about how I had (mis)represented myself. And I agree there is not much difference between my thoughts and the book, but I had never really put my personal thoughts out there before, other than in occasional ramblings as I was doing the diet. Also accepting the fact that I am putting myself out there and should expect it - but that doesn't change the fact that it is still a slightly odd experience to read others comments. It is all part of the online age, but in a way, it was a bit like they read my diary and I heard them talking about it in the changing rooms - it was a new experience for me and I was simply sharing that with my readers.

      I am pleased that you found my blog posts useful, and very pleased for you that you lost 11lbs already. Do come back and let us know how you get on with the rest of the diet.

    2. Also @ Unknown, your experiences when you reintorduce the grains and sugars would be great to hear about. With regard to your weight loss you are pretty much at the same point I was at 3 weeks (5kg or 11lb) - the thing for me was that although it did go down a few more grams, i ended the whole diet at that same weight loss - in other words the reintroduction of carbs was the end of weight loss for me. I would love to hear how it turns out with you.

      And just to clarify, the bit where I said I would like to see a book which focuses on the elimination diet, and looking at all aspects of health around it, is in response to the fact that (to my knowledge) all of Dr Mansfield's publications so far are focused on a particular problem eg weight, migraine, arthritis etc. Perhaps it's down to publisher issues - maybe there is a demand or marketing issue which has driven this decision to embed the elimination process within a particular issue. I believe it would be really valuable to have a book that has the elimination diet as the central focus, with the potential for a whole range of benefits to participants. In keeping with my thoughts on transformative learning processes, this would be one which takes you a journey of discovery of your own body looking at all a wide range of issues and indicators, and with a number of routes to take depending on what your journey uncovers.

    3. @Unknown,
      Glad the Harcombe thread has been useful for you.
      Introduce yourself sometime !

    4. Hi there, Blissful. Sorry about the "unknown." I'd assumed that my information would be posted. My name is Ali. I have tested wheat and sugar now. The sugar was ok. I measured my blood sugar 1 hour after eating 3/4 cup of whole wheat pasta and the blood sugar reading was 144 mg/dl (= 8 mmol/l = too high), so wheat is out for me. Maybe I'll test it again someday...I wasn't planning on testing anything that evening, but by mistake, I had a chile powder mix that contained cumin (which has caused me problems for years). The next day I was sick as can be and spent the day either sleeping or whimpering. So it was either the wheat or the cumin (or both). Doesn't matter which, because I don't expect I should be eating either. And as for sugar...well, I might have some sugar once in a while, but it's awfully bad for you, so I try to stay away from it anyway (use stevia, instead). I've done low-carb for several years now and feel better when I keep the carbs low. Weight loss has always been minimal even after < 20 carbs/day (after the first 15 pounds or so). It will be interesting to me to see how things go now--I reacted poorly to some of my low carb staples (chicken, turkey, tea, tap water). :-) Ali

      Hello, Kate. I will introduce myself to the thread as soon as I have a minute (maybe tonight--maybe next week...). Thanks for the invitation! Ali

  4. Hi, Blissful! Sorry about the “unknown” thing. I had assumed that my information would be included in the post. My name is Ali. I have tested both wheat and sugar now. Sugar was ok. Wheat was not. An hour after eating ¾ cups of whole wheat pasta, I tested my blood sugar (at risk of diabetes) and it was 144 mg/l ( = 8 mmol/l = too high). So I decide that whole wheat is not something I want to keep eating. I had not planned on testing anything else that day, but I mistakenly had some chili power with cumin that night. (Cumin has given me problems for years.) The next day, I was really sick and spent the day either sleeping or whimpering! I don’t know if it was the cumin or the wheat or both. It doesn’t really matter though, because I’ll be keeping away from them as much as I can. And sugar…well, it’s not too good for you anyway, so I’ll continue to stay away from it (I use stevia, instead).
    I will be very interested to see if the Elimination Diet makes a difference for my weight loss. I have been on a low carb diet for several years (generally <20 grams carb/day) an have not lost more than 15 pounds. Now, however, I’ve determined that I have sensitivities to some of my low carb staples (chicken, turkey, tea, tap water), so that might make a difference! We’ll see…Ali
    Kate, thank you for the invitation to the Harcombe list. I will be signing up an introducing myself as soon as I can (maybe tonight, maybe later…). Ali

    1. Hi Ali, thanks for commenting again and letting us know how you are going. It's a great idea to be measuring your blood sugar too. I would really recommend the wheat belly book and the cookbook. Loads of great ideas for making wheat free meals without using the usual high GI alternatives. I am amazed more and more each day about how much better I feel without wheat - I can't anticipate any temptation to eat it ever again!
      Did you eat organic chicken and turkey? If so I hope eliminating them makes the difference for you, even if it is a bit annoying. There is a quote in the front of the wheat belly cookbook that says "The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off!" - I hope you get to the free part of that soon!
      I haven't actually lost any weight since giving up wheat, but I don't care so much anymore as it is about how I am feeling. I am also more active due to having more energy so I would imagine in tim the weight will gradually go... hopefully.

      It would be great to hear what happens when you eliminate the problem things if you fancy checking in again. Good luck with it.

  5. In case you ladies didn't see the other posts, I am now posting all diet related stuff on a different blog. Having two such radically different topics in one place wasn't working for me. The new blog is I am about to start the Whole 30 elimination diet. I know - I think I am now an elimination diet addict lol! Feel free to take a look and to comment over there


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