In the balance tried every fad diet going?

 Sunday Times, 30th November 2014

Blonde Woman(Laurel Ives) drinking a glass of water.Laurel Ives: ‘A big glass of water between meals kills my snack craving’

I first heard about the Metabolic Balance diet from Style’s fitness and
food guru, Calgary Avansino. “You have to weigh everything, it’s a bit of
a faff, but friends have lost so much weight,” she said. I didn’t need to be
told twice.

Boy George lost a ton of weight on the program, Jemma Kidd is a fan,
and the online testimonials are glowing. Founded in Germany by Dr.
Wolf Funfack, the diet is a big hit there, but is only now reaching critical
mass in the UK, spreading fast among the Chelsea tractor set. And so I
find myself in the glossy Chelsea consulting rooms of the nutritionist
Petronella Ravenshear, who explains that Metabolic Balance is all about
insulin control and resetting my metabolism, which, post kids, seems to
have slowed to the speed of a tortoise. I’ve tried exercising like a demon
and fad diets, but although the short-term results are good, the weight
dial always seems to creep back up.

Once your insulin is under control and your hormones balanced, you
can, says Ravenshear, start to cheat occasionally. Well, that’s a relief. But
wait, the first phase of the diet involves a two-day cleanse, eating just
salad. Then a blood test is taken that determines what foods I will eat
during phase two, which is rather Germanically called the Strict
Adjustment phase.

Strict means no oil, alcohol, sugar or snacks, and, horrors, no milk in
coffee or tea. In other words, you can’t really socialise for two weeks,
unless it’s a trip to the cinema with a bottle of water. Ravenshear is
upbeat: “It’s going to be great. You are going to look and feel fantastic.” I
feel terrible already. Once the blood test is done, I receive my list of
allowed foods. This a slightly random collection of vegetables, eggs, fruit
(just apple, mango, papaya and watermelon), certain varieties of fish and
meat, poultry, feta cheese and cottage cheese. There are no grains except
a slice of rye bread.

Everything has to be precisely weighed. There are three meals a day and
there must be five hours between them. Snacks are not allowed, but
there is a silver lining — intense exercise isn’t allowed either. Every day I
must drink three litres of water. Exactly how the blood test reveals what
you should eat is unclear, and the Metabolic Balance team won’t reveal
their trade secrets. Yet, what most people find — and it’s certainly true
for me — is that the diet seems to pick food you don’t normally eat.

The nutritionist Gloria Parfitt, the UK director of Metabolic Balance,
says: “It forces you to have a more varied diet. The blood test reveals any
issues with the liver, kidneys, hormones and enzymes, and certain foods
are recommended. For example, if your immune system is
compromised, you won’t find any dairy in your plan. Over time
inflammation in your body decreases, you learn how much protein and
carbohydrate to eat, and your digestion improves.”

The weighing of limited ingredients is time-consuming, though, so I’m
grateful that Ravenshear has initially signed me up for food deliveries.
These arrive early in the morning from Total Diet Food, in a little cooler
bag. I come to look forward to my daily delivery, and for the first two
weeks I hunker down, eating nothing except the food (which is
surprisingly tasty) that arrives from TDF, and drinking sparkling water
when I feel hungry. After a few days, even a black coffee seems like a

As a regular snacker, my biggest worry was how I would cope without
my 11am and 4pm fixes. Not snacking also goes against most current
nutritional advice, which claims blood sugar is kept stable by eating
healthy food at regular intervals. Yet Ravenshear is a convert: “As a
nutritionist, I was horrified when Dr. Funfack told me there was to be no
snacking, as I’d been taught the opposite. Yet every time we eat or drink,
our blood sugar goes up and so does insulin. This program is all about
keeping insulin low, because insulin is the fat-storage hormone, and
when it is high we no longer access our fat stores for energy. I used to
dread people coming to me for weight loss, now with Metabolic Balance
it’s thrilling because I know it’s going to work.”

It turns out that a big glass of water and a decaf coffee (not strictly
allowed between meals, but rules are made to be broken) effectively kills
my snack craving. Two weeks in, I go for my first weigh-in. Ravenshear
has a super-sophisticated scale called a Tanita Body Composition
Analyser, which lists weight, fat percentage, muscle, water and metabolic
age. In two weeks I had lost 7lb, of which nearly 7lb was fat. Result!
Things then start looking up on the food front, too. In phase three, my
list of foods expands (buffalo mozzarella is happily on the list), I can
cook with oil and, even better, I can have one cheat meal a week. At the
end of week three, I go out for a delicious dinner and finish it with
chocolate mousse — pudding has never tasted so good.

Wheat, however, is off the menu, even when I’m cheating, after dire
warnings of its evil effects from Ravenshear. “Wheat protein contains
gluten [so does rye, but it is much easier to digest], which makes the gut
leaky. This means that little fragments of proteins can get into the
bloodstream and the immune system is activated, which can result in
fatigue and hunger. Wheat gluten can also attach to receptors in the
brain, which messes with brain chemistry, making people hungrier and
making wheat addictive.” This is a controversial area and many experts
disagree, but Ravenshear cites the work of the pioneering Italian
scientist Dr. Alessio Fasano as evidence. She also advises monitoring my
body’s reaction. After a few weeks of abstinence, I eat a piece of bread
and the subsequent bloating proves it’s not for me.

As the weeks pass, I settle into an easy routine. In reality, this is not a
hard diet to follow long term. It’s effectively protein and vegetables, with
fruit and the odd drink. I’m full of energy and I feel great. When I do fall
off the wagon, I confess to Ravenshear, and we come up with a plan to
get me back on track. At one point I go to New York, but even after living
and the compliments are flooding in, boosting my motivation. “You look
well” is the most common remark; it’s true that if you cut out processed
food and sugar, your skin very quickly thanks you.

My girlfriends are amazed and some sign up. A few weeks in and I dig
out a pair of Joseph trousers from the 1990s that I had consigned to the
pile of “vintage fashion for my daughter”. After 12 weeks, I’ve lost just
over a stone, and have only two pounds to go to reach my target weight.
There is no denying this is an expensive diet. You have to do it with a
coach, which involves paying for a blood test (a thorough analysis of
your health) and three months of coaching (from £700). Yet, if you add
it all up, it doesn’t seem like such a bad deal. Ravenshear prescribed
numerous supplements, as well as supporting and motivating me. If you
cannot afford it, which, let’s face it, is most people, then the principles
are surprisingly easy to follow (see below).

As for the million-dollar question: will this diet work for life? Well, if
wine is out and black coffee is in, then anything is possible.

Diet the metabolic balance way

Eat three meals a day — no more, no less.
Each meal should contain a lot of protein and a good portion of
vegetables. Cut out sugar and wheat.
Leave at least five hours between meals.
Don’t mix proteins in one meal and don’t repeat proteins in a day
(eg, if you have chicken for lunch, have fish for dinner).
Finish your evening meal by 9pm.
Drink lots of water, at least three litres a day.
Eat one apple a day and, if you like, one type of fruit after each
Get moving — climb stairs (don’t use lifts and escalators). Take
walks outside. Cycle rather than drive. Yoga and meditation are
excellent for calm and peace of mind.

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