‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, what is the best weight-loss diet of them all?’ Patrick Holford, internationally acclaimed nutrition spokesman. In his book, Burn Fat Fast, Patrick Holford asks and answers the question that gnaws away at frustrated dieters who are constantly trying to lose weight but are getting nowhere.
Says Holford, ‘The only diet that I will support is one that everyone can do, in both the short term and the long term, as a way of life, without the pain of hunger or a lack of enjoyment from eating delicious food.’ Welcome words!
The diet Holford is referring to is his own Alternate-Day Low-GL Diet, which, when coupled with specific cardio and strength training, switches on so-called ‘skinny genes’ to bring about effective weight loss and better health.
THE LOW-GL DIET EXPLAINED
GL stands for glycaemic load and is an exact measure of what food does to your blood sugar levels. When you eat fast-releasing, high-GL carbohydrates, such as sugared snacks and bread, your blood sugar levels rise very quickly and insulin is released into the blood to remove the excess glucose, which is then stored as long term fat (initially around the waist). With the removal of this excess glucose your blood sugar levels drop, you lack energy and you feel hungry again – craving those same damaging high-GL carbs.
The secret to successful weight loss and the maintenance of a healthy weight is to keep your blood sugar levels even and the best way to do this, according to Holford, is by following a low- GL diet. When you are on the low-GL diet you consume a restricted amount of slow-releasing, low-GL carbs measured as GLs. The beauty of this diet is that you do not feel hungry!
The three golden rules of the diet include:
- Eat 40GLs a day to lose weight, 60GLs to maintain it
- Eat carbs with protein
- Eat little and often (breakfast, lunch and supper plus a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack), thereby providing your body with a continual food supply.
THE LOW-GL/SKINNY GENE LINK
The low-GL diet, together with alternate day fasting and certain types of exercise, have been shown to be effective in switching on certain genes known as sirtuin (‘skinny’) and foxo (‘sweet sixteen’), which are known as the ‘skinny sweet sixteen’ genes. We all have these genes but depending on each individual, they may be ‘switched on or off’.
In a nutshell: if you eat little and often as advised above, your body produces less insulin and it is this that switches on the skinny genes which interact together to help you maintain the correct weight. There is an added benefit here, as while the skinny genes are activated, genes that trigger ageing and disease are switched off.
The perfect low-GL meal
- A quarter of each main meal should be protein
- A quarter of each meal should be carbohydrate (starchy vegetables or other starchy foods)
- Half of each meal should be non-starchy vegetables
Remember to eat your protein with low-GL starchy carbohydrates and non-starchy vegetables to obtain high energy and even blood sugar levels.
Distribute your GL intake by consuming 10GLs at breakfast, lunch and dinner with a mid-morning and afternoon snack of 5GLs each. A typical low-GL diet daily meal plan could look like this:1
Breakfast: A bowl of oat porridge (30g) (2GLs), with some milk (2GLs), half a grated apple (3 GLs) and a small tub of yoghurt (2GLs)
AM snack: A punnet of strawberries (4GLs)
Lunch: A substantial tuna salad, plus 3 oat- cakes (11GLs)
PM Snack: A pear and a handful of peanuts (4GLs)
Dinner: Tomato soup, then salmon, brown rice and green beans (12GLs)
TOTAL GL score: 40GLs
To build your own menu with appropriate GL scores, visit Patrick Holford’s Ultimate GL Database
For delicious low-GL recipes consider buying Patrick Holford’s books Burn Fat Fast and The Low-GL Diet Bible.
The simple principle of fasting every other day helps to restrict calorie intake. A 2003 in vivo study has shown that fasting on one day and eating normally the next has the same beneficial weight-loss result as following a rigorous and often daunting calorie-restricted diet.2 Once again, there appear to be added health benefits with alternate-day dieting including a reduction in wheezing and shortness of breath in asthma patients,3 and a reduction in inflammation and insulin resistance.4
With Holford’s Alternate-Day Low-GL Diet you eat less three days a week, but you don’t go hungry on these days as you are following the low-GL guidelines. On the remaining four days you have more leeway.
WHEN TO FAST AND WHEN TO FEAST
Fasting: what to eat
Aim to eat 35GLs on fast days by consuming three 10GL meals and one 5GL snack. Ways to help make you feel full include:
- Eat foods with high levels of soluble fibre such as oats, chia seeds and aubergine.
- You can also fill yourself up by taking a highly absorbant plant fibre supplement with a large glass of water.
- Sip water with your meal, or have soup.
A squeeze of lemon or lime or a dribble of balsamic vinegar to your meals slows down gastric emptying, which lowers the GL.
Feasting: what to eat
On a feast day you are allowed to eat 50GLs a day, so you have the leeway to include a 10GL portion of starchy carbohydrate (such as two regular carrots, 188g of quinoa, 300g of lentils, 84g of brown rice, 106g of boiled potatoes etc.). Alternatively you could choose to have a double snack portion, see how you feel.
What to drink
Water and herbal or green teas, taken black, are the best choices. Avoid coffee if possible (one a day maximum) as, according to Holford, the coffee/carbohydrate snack combination raises blood sugar and insulin levels very high, promoting insulin.
Holford emphasises that the real key to effective weight loss is a three-pronged approach: combine low-GL principles with alternate-day fasting and an alternate-day exercise regimen which includes the correct balance between cardio and strength training.
In the book Burn Fat Fast, former Gladiator and athlete Kate Staples introduces simple exercise routines to help you look leaner.
Staples explains that strength training is the very core of fitness and will help you burn more calories than cardio exercise. The workouts, which last an average of eight minutes, tone and strengthen the chest, upper and lower back, abs and the four major muscle groups in your legs, buttocks, glutes, quads, hamstrings and triceps.
There are three groups of workout to choose from:
- Beginner, which includes: wall sits, modified box presses, plank step-outs, and alternate reverse lunges
- Intermediate, which includes: squat shoulder presses, box presses with alternate leg lifts, plank jacks, and reverse lunge with triceps kick back
- Advanced, which includes: jumping squats, full press-ups, mountain climbers, and pendulum lunges
It is important to alternate three strength training workouts a week with cardio exercise.
When you are doing cardio exercise you really want to increase your heart rate by up to about 50%. If, for example, your resting heart rate is 80 beats per minute you need to increase it to about 120 beats. Choose from any one of the exercise categories below:
- kick boxing
- running stairs
- racket sports
- race walking
- cross-country skiing
- interval training (two minutes walking plus two minutes jogging/running)
A WORD ON SUPPLEMENTS
Research has shown that the mineral chromium improves sensitivity to insulin, reduces appetite and aids weight loss.5 The same can be said of the cinnamon extract, cinnulin.6 Holford recommends a daily dose of 400 mcg of chromium and 150 mg of cinnulin to help shed unwanted kilogrammes. HCA (from tamarind) and 5-HTP (a form of tryptophan) are also recommended. Find a supplement that contains chromium, HCA and 5-HTP.
Holford also recommends a high-strength multivitamin, an additional 1g vitamin C and the essential fatty acid omega-3. Resveratrol, too, may help switch on the skinny genes, although recommended dosages are under debate and range from 20 to 5 000 mg a day.
Of course the big question now is, once you’ve followed the Alternate-Day Low-GL Diet and have reached your weight goal what do you do next? In order to keep those skinny genes switched on simply follow a basic low-GL diet with one fasting day a week if necessary. It is also important to keep up with your exercise routine. This simple approach should ensure that you maintain your ideal weight and enable you to go out and buy all the skinny jeans you want!
Editor's note: Should you try this diet, please do give us feedback. Another article on genetics and weight loss is this one The Genetics of Weight Management by Hannah Kaye. Another option is 10 Simple Rules for Permanent Weight Loss by Jason Vale.
- Holford P. and Staples K. Burn Fat Fast. Piatkus: London. 2013.
- Anson R., et al. Intermittent fasting disassociates beneficial effects of dietary restriction on glucose metabolism and neuronal resistance to injury from calorie intake. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. 2003; 100(10)6216-20.
- Johnson J., et al. Alternate day calorie restriction improves clinical findings and reduces markers of oxidative stress and inflammation in overweight adults with moderate asthma. Free Radical Biology Medicine. 2007; 42(5):665-74.
- Varady K., et al. Improvement in body fat distribution and circulating adiponectin by alternate-day fasting versus calorie restriction. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 2010; 21(3):188-95.
- Anton S., et al. Effects of chromium picolinate on food intake and satiety. Diabetes Technology and Therapeutics. 2008; Oct; 10(5):404-12.
- Ziegenfuss., et al. Effects of a water-soluble cinnamon extract on body composition and features of the metabolic syndrome in pre-diabetic men and women. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2006; 3(2):45-53.