Confessions Of A Serial Dieter (A Culinary Journey of Every Diet I Have Ever Tried)
Learn what worked, what didn't and why.
This article is not going to be in my usual style of writing. Witty, intelligent, sarcastic, insightful, laced with more than a touch of narcissism. Actually, who am I trying to kid?!
So that this doesn’t turn into War and Peace, I will keep the storytelling to a minimum unless it ads context.
I am going to review nearly every diet or nutrition style that I’ve tried out over the years (decades). Sometimes in an attempt to lose weight, other times to experiment with something new. In short, you will find out what worked, what didn’t, and why.
Let’s take a step back in time to my earliest diet memory:
Low Fat - High Carb Diet
The Diet: Low fat – high carb
Phase of life: Still living at home. Surf obsessed.
Background: I was now the proud owner of a Ford Escort Panel Van. I didn’t realise at the time, but that blue bucket of bolts was making me fat. Before its arrival, my primary mode of transport was a pushbike. When you rode to the beach with a surfboard under your arm, it almost always ended in a surf.
Driving to the beach often resulted in checking multiple locations, never paddling out and a trip to McDonald’s (I’ll have a Big Mac and Fries (hold the waves please).
It was a gradual slide that I didn’t notice. One day, my younger brother called me out. He said something compassionate like “you’ve got a gut”, pointing at my gut and laughing.
I don’t remember my exact response? Probably something witty like “get fucked.” He was right, my waistline had expanded, so I decided to go on a diet.
I didn’t know what protein, carbs and fats were at that time. I just decided to cut my meat portion sizes down and stop frying things (in hindsight not a terrible idea.)
Diet Protocol: I made it up as I went, so there was no specific protocol. I did things like reducing the amount of bolognaise mince on my spaghetti. I remember putting my schnitzel under the grill instead of frying them in the pan.
Exercise Protocol: I was surfing a lot, but that was it. The bike continued to gather dust.
The Result: I lost all of the weight that I gained in a short amount of time eating nearly 95% carbs.
Why did/didn’t it work? I reduced my overall calories by restricting my food choices. I can’t help but think being 17 years old and relatively active helped a little as well.
Fit for Life
Phase of life: I’ve met my future wife while working at Sydney airport. Life revolves around working, surfing and partying.
The Diet: Fit for Life
Background: Do you remember Fit for Life? I’d forgotten all about it until I started writing this article.The diet was controversial because some of its claims were not backed by science. Some examples follow:
- You should never eat fruit with other foods as it causes them to ferment in your gut.
- You should never combine protein and starches in the one meal due to the different levels of acidity required to digest each.
- You should never drink water at meals because it dilutes digestive juices.
- I believe the authors brought out a supplement line to support the diet, which further added to the controversy.
I didn’t follow it because my weight was under control at the time. I don’t think that I even bought the book? But I remember that it made perfect sense to me, so much so, I’d tell people about it if they mentioned they were trying to lose weight.
I was a person that loved reading sensational headlines more than the actual text, which in hindsight is a trait that would stick with me for years to come.
The Result: This started me on the path to looking for diet short cuts.
Slimfast Diet Shakes
Location: London Init
Phase of life: “I’m Jip Travolta, the Peter Popper.”
I’d been living large in London for a year. The tanned, fit, blonde-haired, surfer that had arrived in February had been replaced by a pasty, podgy, clubber who had a penchant for Hard House, PFC (Perfect Fried Chicken), pints of lager, and family-sized bags of Smarties.
The Diet: Slimfast
Background: For the first time in my life, I had a desk job. It was in Piccadilly Circus, and on Friday’s after work, we’d visit the Red Lion across the road for pints. On Saturday’s we’d go clubbing and this usually flowed over until Sunday afternoon most weeks.
Monday to Thursday was typically a blur of fast food, vending machine snacks and cans of coke to feel human. Thursday afternoon I’d usually send an intra-office message to my mate Ian that read: “Where are we going out this Saturday?” and the cycle continued.
About 10-months into this life, a near-drowning incident while surfing in the Spanish seaside town of San Sebastian rattled me into action. The action didn’t take place immediately mind you; It took another 9-months and a planned surfing trip to Portugal to get me motivated, get fit, and lose some weight.
Diet Protocol: Slimfast meal replacement shakes? I’m still scratching my head about this one. I’ll tell you something for free though; Those shakes look a hell of a lot better than they taste.
Each day, I whipped up one of those shakes and glugged it down instead of my usual breakfast and lunch. I didn’t make any other changes to my diet.
Exercise Protocol: I added in some slow jogging around a local park a couple of times per week. On alternate days I’d do laps at the local indoor pool.
My new job emptying bins while chasing a garbage truck (that’s a story for another day) was also more active.
The Result: I lost most of the bodyfat I’d accumulated over the past year or so within six weeks.
Why did/didn’t it work? I reduced calories by restricting my food choices and increased energy expenditure.
Phase of life: We are back home in Sydney. One of my first purchases on return is a set of turntables and a mixer. DJ Pedro was born! He liked his music hard, but unfortunately, his body was a little soft.
The Diet: Atkins Diet
Background: A guy I worked with (I can’t remember his name? Let’s call him Jack) was on the Atkins Diet. He seemed to be doing well on it, so I probed him for more information.
Me: You mean all I have to do is skip the carbs and eat meat?
Me: And if I do, I’ll be back to my bikini body in no time?
Me: Sign me up and pass over that Kransky, it’s so slimming!
Diet Protocol: Fairly simple, I avoided carbs and loaded up on protein and fat.
Exercise Protocol: No exercise added.
The Result: The fat melted off me! I lost fat, almost effortlessly and stayed quite lean in that period.
Why did/didn’t it work? I reduced calories by restricting my food choices.
Phase of life: All of a sudden, all of my friends are getting married. Next thing you know they’ll be having children!
The Diet: Jenny Craig
Background: For some reason, I still get a bit embarrassed when I admit to signing up for Jenny Craig. I’m not sure why? It helps a lot of people; it’s just I never imagined I’d be one of them.
It was a few weeks out from my best mates wedding, and although Atkins still worked, I was sick of it and was becoming less compliant.
- Order a box of food
- Eat the food contained within the box at the prescribed times.
- Don’t eat anything else you greedy bastard!
Initially, I opted for the pre-selected menu. Within a short time, I’d figured out I hated 95% of it.
There were some exceptions though; I did like pies for lunch and lasagne for dinner. So for the next few weeks, my customised Jenny Craig food boxes were filled with them. Eggs for breakfast, pies for lunch and pizza for dinner. Heaven!
Exercise Protocol: From memory, I was doing the standard 3 x 10 reps on the machines at the local Fitness First, followed by some treadmill action.
The Result: I lost a lot of weight. So much weight, I had to get new pants before the wedding because the ones I had tried on during the fitting wouldn’t stay up.
Unexpected side effects: My wife nearly threatened to leave me if I put another frozen lasagne in the microwave. They smelled pretty bad.
Why did/didn’t it work? I reduced calories by restricting my food choices. The portion sizes were tiny, and I do remember being very hungry a lot of the time.
Adding exercise and increasing energy expenditure while eating such a large deficit helped speed things along.
NB: I managed to lose all of this weight, eating only pies and lasagne. I bring this up because, in a small way, it puts to rest the idea that slipping on your diet and having a “bad food” will immediately sabotage your progress. It won’t!
XFLD (Xtreme Fat Loss Diet)
Because moderation is for sissies
Phase of life: I’m living in Newcastle now and am the proud owner of a new baby human girl called Lili. I’m also very unfit and quite overweight.
The Diet: XFLD (Xtreme Fat Loss Diet)
Background: I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been. My job has me tethered to a desk and involves 12-hour shifts from 7 until 7 (either side of the clock).
My coping mechanisms at the time were 3-am trips to the vending machine. I was also eating a lot of junk food because I felt too tired to cook.
One night, while surfing the interweb I stumbled across the XFLD. They used language like:
“lose 25 lbs in 25 days”, “synergistic diet and exercise programming”, “strategic cheat days.”
Sensational headlines that had me yelling “shut up and take my money!”
A thinner me was on the way. When my poor wife found out what I was embarking on, she just shook her head, thinking here we go again.
The XFLD worked on a 5-day cycle. Diet and workouts were designed to complement each other as follows:
- Day 1: Cheat Day paired with Density Training
- Day 2: Fast Day (36-hour fast) paired with Morning Lactic Acid Training + Afternoon HIIT session and steady-state cardio session
- Day 3: Shake Day paired with Morning Strength Training + Afternoon steady-state cardio
- Day 4: Moderate Carb Day paired with Metabolic Resistance Training + Afternoon HIIT session
- Day 5: Protein Only Depletion Day paired with Lactic Acid Training + Afternoon steady-state cardio
Now repeat that for 25-days.
You can see how the diet got its name. For an overweight non-exercising individual such as myself, it was crazy.
I vividly remember my first 36-hour fast. It was 11-am (only 14-hours into the fast), I was sitting on the bed feeling so hungry I thought I was going to die.
It makes me laugh to think about that now because I never really eat until 11-am or later these days but back then the world was crumbling around me.
The Result: It worked! The Diet lived up to its sensational claims, and I lost about 12 kilos in 25 days.
Why did/didn’t it work? Sensational claims aside, the reason it worked was that it reduced calories by restricting my food choices and increased energy expenditure.
CYWT (Cheat Your Way Thin)
Year: 2009 – 2010
Phase of life: I’ve got my fitness mojo back. In the not too distant future, it would set me on a path to become a personal trainer. My cheat days were crazy at that time and became a thing of legend in my workplace.
The Diet: CYWT (Cheat Your Way Thin)
Background: After the XFLD, I wanted to make sure I didn’t fall back into old habits. I transitioned onto the CYWT diet, which was a less extreme lifestyle version of XFLD. I also signed up to an exercise system called Turbulence Training (TT).
Diet Protocol: CYWT introduced me to the idea of carb cycling.
For example, a week might look something like this:
- Monday/Tuesday: Low carb days (less than 50 g)
- Wednesday/Thursday: Moderate carb days (between 50-100 g)
- Friday/Saturday: Normal carb day (between 100-150 g)
- Sunday: Cheat Day!
I chose to keep my Monday – Saturday carb intake low rather than ramp up through the week.
Cheat days became things of legend at work. If one fell on a weekend day shift (7am-7pm), my food intake would look something like this.
- 7 am – A entire box of fruit loops (not family size)
- 8 am – Two bacon and egg rolls washed down with a coke (probably Diet)
- 8.30 am – Breakfast dessert: 1 or 2 full rolls of mentos
- 10 am – more mentos or perhaps chocolate. Maybe a green apple
- 12 pm – Oporto Bondi Burger (upsized) with chips and coke
- 2 pm – Bag of Starburst, Packet of Cheezels
- 3 pm – Chocolate, More chips
- 7.30 pm – Family sized pizza, wine
- 8 pm – Litre tub of icecream
- 10 pm – bed
If you’re thinking holy shit that’s disgusting, you’re right. But I did that for a couple of years and lost weight while doing so.
I no longer participate in this type of binge day as the resultant digestive distress was not pleasant.
Exercise Protocol: I trained 3-4 times per week using TT workouts. TT came up with the phrase Metabolic Resistance Training before it was a thing. It works great for fat loss if your diet is in order.
The Result: Not only did I keep off the weight I lost on XFLD, but I also continued to lose weight and get stronger at the same time.
NB: My compliance with perfect diet during the week was very high. A cheat day like I was having could undo everything otherwise.
Why did/didn’t it work? I reduced calories by restricting my food choices and increased energy expenditure.
Slow Carb Diet
Phase of life: Getting close to making a move to personal training. Eating beans in the name of science.
The Diet: Slow Carb
Background: “The Four Hour Body” is a book by Tim Ferris. He conducts a bunch of experiments on himself to hack the system and achieve results faster than was thought possible.
Tim made incredible progress in areas such as muscle gain, fat loss, sex drive, and becoming superhuman (healing wounds as quickly as Wolverine).
Although I was quite lean, I was interested in the fat loss diet, so I gave it a go.
Diet Protocol: Slow-carb was very much like CYWT. Limit certain foods during the week and then finish the week with a cheat day. A typical day of food would look something like this:
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs, can of lentils, baby spinach
- Lunch: Mexican style chicken and black bean salad bowl
- Dinner: Steak, white beans and broccoli.
White carbs and fruit were not allowed (except on cheat days). Every meal was built around legumes. So many beans.
Cheat days fell once per week and were identical to my CYWT cheats except for the following differences.
- The first meal of the day adhered to slow-carb guidelines
- Before each cheat meal you would do some type of exercise like bodyweight squats. This was to encourage energy to be stored as muscle glycogen instead of fat.
Exercise Protocol: I was still exercising 3-4 days per week, using Turbulence Training.
The Result: I got leaner than ever, and was closing in on my old high school weight.
Why did/didn’t it work: I reduced calories by restricting my food choices and increased energy expenditure.
Year: 2011 – 2015
Phase of life: Full-time PT, part-time Daddy Day Care.
The Diet (s): Eat Stop Eat (ESE), Lean Gains (16/8).
Background: Intermittent fasting (IF) was becoming the new cool thing. I was still a bit scared of it. Primarily due to how poorly I coped with the fasts during the XFLD.
I started fasting by accident while looking after my 2-year old. I discovered that it gave me more time to ensure Lili was fed, watered and put to bed for daytime sleeps. I didn’t plan them initially, they just occurred.
Regular fasts improved my ability to cope without eating for extended periods. Those panicked feelings of starvation came far later and were less pronounced.
As time went by I started to experiment more with different protocols.
ESE is a 24 hour fast once or twice per week and Lean Gains involved daily 16-hour fast with an 8-hour eating window.
Diet Protocol: The fasting/diet protocol that I favoured the majority of the time was a combination of low/slow-carb, 16/8 fasting along with a cheat day.
Exercise Protocol: I was still doing 3 or 4 workouts per week using TT workouts as well as other strength routines from gurus like Jason Ferruggia.
The Result: The combination of fasting, low carb eating and cheat day were powerful.
In 2013, I entered a TT transformation contest and placed 3rd (under 40 years men). I added steady-state cardio a few times per week as well.
What did/didn’t it work? I reduced calories by restricting my food choices and increased energy expenditure.
Year: 2015 – 2016
Phase of life: Full-time PT. Part-time idiot.
Prelude: This one only gets an honourable mention because I didn’t follow the Bulletproof Diet. I just drank butter coffee.
The Diet: Bulletproof Fasting
Background: Biohacking had become very popular around that time. At the top of the biohacking shit-list was Dave Asprey and his Bulletproof Coffee. The diet was as close to keto that you can get without calling it keto. I was already following a low-carb diet and just added the coffee.
Diet Protocol: Almost identical to my intermittent fasting (16/8), except my morning fast was replaced with a bulletproof fast.
A bulletproof fast is where you drink a cup of bulletproof coffee instead of skipping breakfast. You then continue as usual and break your fast with a whole food meal later in the day.
If you’re not familiar with bulletproof coffee, here’s the formula.
- Double Shot of Espresso
- 40g of butter
- 40g of MCT oil
Throw ingredients in a Nutribullet and blend until creamy.
Drink that oily cup of goodness down instead of your regular breakfast.
Exercise protocol: I was preparing for a kettlebell certification around that time. The training was quite intense, averaging five sessions per week.
The Result: I got fatter
Why did/didn’t it work? If you need proof that you can’t out-train a bad diet, you now have it. Let’s look at the math, shall we?
- 40g of butter = 287 calories.
- 40g of MCT oil = 325 calories.
- Total calories 612.
- Over a week that adds up to 4284 calories.
- In a month 17 136 calories.
You see, when I started this “diet”, I was eating to maintain weight. Fasting in the morning, eating from lunchtime and indulging in a cheat day was already achieving that goal.
Sensationalist marketing convinced me drinking at least 600 calories of fat in a coffee each day would speed my fat loss up.
I was foolish. It is what it is.
A bit of this and a bit of that.
Year: 2016 to present
Phase of life: Eh, fuck it. I’ve relaxed. It all works. Life’s too short.
It’s taken me a while to wake up when it comes to dieting. The way I eat today is a hybrid of many of the diets I’ve listed. I no longer call myself a slow-carb guy, nor do I religiously fast every day or try and hack my way to a leaner body.
That’s not to say I don’t tighten things up occasionally when I want to expedite fat loss. I’m no puritan, and from time to time, I’ve been known to live a little large for a little too long.
A framework like Slow-Carb or Atkins or Intermittent Fasting is an excellent way to increase compliance for short term goals. I think though that looking longer-term any diet that restricts something forever is doomed to fail.
The takeaways here are these:
- All diets work if you can stick to them.
- Compliance is an important element of any diet. But you don’t have to be perfect to see results.
- Ignore the hype. All successful diets use the same mechanisms to create a caloric deficit. They limit food choices, thereby restricting your ability to overeat.
- There are no magical fat loss foods or macronutrients. I lost weight eating low fat/high carb, low carb/high fat, eating pies and lasagne and mentos for breakfast.
- Exercise helps. Adding extra movement is a great idea, but you can achieve weight loss without it. But I don’t recommend that you use it as your primary tool for fat loss.
- There are no magic bullets. If there were a pill or supplement, or diet that magically melted fat off your body, we would know about it. Beware of short cuts and persuasive false marketing in an unregulated industry preying on desperate people.
- No-one is immune to marketing trickery. If I can be convinced drinking up a cup of hot fat each day will magically make me slim, so can you.
That's all folks
So there you have it; Nearly 30 years of my diet adventures.I’ll leave you with something to ponder regarding the diet industry and the false logic pedal.
The problem is that the diet industry cannot make a profit by telling you to eat less. Fasting is free and buying fewer groceries won’t line their pockets either.
Deceitful marketing is used to convince people they need special diets and supplements that promote fat loss. It’s an easy sell in a world where everyone is looking for a quick fix.
The irony is that you are now consuming calories (from supplements and meal replacements) to burn off the calories you over-ate in the first place.
Thanks for reading 🙏