I have had anorexia. For years I was obsessed with weight loss, doing whatever I could to prevent myself from gaining weight and to suppress my appetite. Then, in recovery, I tried the opposite and went counter-culture to deliberately gain weight. I followed doctors’ advice and ate more calories and exercised less. This should have made me gain weight. Only it didn’t. My diet gave me sustained vitality, so much so that people thought I had ADHD and I struggled to sleep at night, always buzzing. My diet made me not crave sugary things, almost be repulsed by them and crave vegetables instead. What was going on?
In recovery, I had to deliberately eat foods that gave me LESS ENERGY. I was deliberately gaining weight when everyone else was trying to lose weight and deliberately losing energy when everyone else was trying to get more energy. However, just like an obese person saying they eat nothing and have a slow metabolism, a recovering anorexic saying they eat loads and have a fast metabolism often falls on deaf ears, people simply do not believe you. So I started photographing myself eating every meal and keeping a food journal to see what I was eating. This (mildly obsessive-compulsive self-research) in the end went on for over ten years. I learned exactly what foods I ate made me have loads of energy, and what caused energy crashes which made me hungry, irritable, unable to think straight, emotionally low and unable to remember things and learn.
My years of guesswork and self-experimentation (using myself as a lab rat) showed me the answer I learned lay in my Fabulous F’s to fuelling focus, food freedom, feeling full and fighting fatigue.
Food (always eat- never let yourself get too hungry)
Facts (only listen to nutritional advice from scientific research- no fad dieting)
Fibre (fills you up and feeds the gut microbe)
Fresh air (gives you energy)
Fat (very filling and increases glycemic index of foods- but avoid trans fats)
Fresh (processed and refined foods full of additives and simple carbs cause blood sugar spikes)
Firefighters (unprocessed, omega3/6/9 and gut microbiota boosting, polyphenol-containing foods such as a diverse range of prebiotic fruit and vegetables and herbs and spices and probiotics that help prevent inflammation)
Flavour (add herbs and spices, not sugar, condiments or salt and eat what brings you pleasure),
Fortification (B vitamins and iron increase the release of energy from food so you get more nutritional mileage and vitality from what you eat)
Freedom (if you want a one-off celebratory treat, allow yourself it),
Fatigue (don’t eat when too tired, rest instead)
Fermentation (gut microbiota boosting foods)
Feelings (make sure you are feeding genuine hunger, not emotions such as happiness, excitement, anger, loneliness or sadness)
Fish (high in protein and omega 3s are a great energy source)
Fizzy water (staying hydrated gave me energy and fizzy water is very filling).
So what was I eating?
I always had breakfast as I found skipping meals made me hungry and when you get too hungry, you eat more than you should. People didn’t believe me when, at very low weight, I said “I eat loads and never skip meals.” This was the truth. It was never skipping meals and letting myself get too hungry, that kept me thin.
- Low-sugar granola with pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts and 300ml unsweetened almond milk with cinnamon powder for flavour. With half a cucumber and salt and a mug of hot herbal tea. The granola was my complex carb, the seeds and nuts and nut milk my protein and fat and the cucumber, seeds, nuts and oats in my granola my fibre. No simple sugars, processed food or trans fats which cause energy highs, blood sugar peaks and then energy dives, blood sugar troughs from insulin hormone which make you tired and unable to focus. This kept me full (of food and of vitality) till lunch. My milk was also fortified with B12 which increased my metabolism and the walnuts are high in omega 3 for the brain and the cinnamon is an anti-oxidant and helps decrease the glycaemic index of the carbohydrates, so it spreads out the energy you get from the carbohydrates, having more energy for a longer period of time.
- Bran-flakes or wheatabbix with unsweetened soya milk and a spoon of peanut butter and salt and some raw courgette or broccoli. The bran flakes and wheatabbix were fortified with B1 (thiamine) and B12 and the milk B12, vit D, calcium and protein, again increasing metabolism and the vegetables were high in magnesium which also increases energy release from food. The peanut butter tastes lush so I felt my appetite satisfied and felt full of energy, creative, focused and mentally sharp, for hours.
- Unprocessed, no-added-sugar peanut butter on soya and linseed wholegrain bread with a glass of unsweetened almond milk. The peanut butter on toast felt positively indulgent (as it is super high calories and fat) but contrary to popular belief, it did not make me gain weight. Instead, it was an excellent source of monounsaturated fats and protein which, when added to the wholegrain complex carbohydrate toast, kept me full for hours. I’d also add some fibre (some cucumber or other low-sugar veg) to boost my gut microbiota and increase the glycaemic index of the food and be careful not to have any high-sugar fruit (like apples or watermelon) which would cause the energy dives which would increase my appetite and make me tired. The almond milk was also fortified with B12, calcium, vit E and D and B2. The B vitamins helped increase the release of energy from foods, and the calcium (consumed to help my bones) helped suppress my appetite and produced overcompensation of subsequent energy intake. This made me full of energy so I was super active and so lost weight.
- Porridge oats with unsweetened natural yoghurt, cinnamon and raspberries (or overnight oats as hipsters call it) and a mug of hot water. The oats are a complex carbohydrate and the yoghurt’s a great source of protein and calcium and the raspberries added flavour.
- Poached eggs on wholegrain or sourdough toast (no butter) with peashoots or spinach or raw courgette/ celery/ cauliflower/ cucumber/ Brussel sprouts and a glass of unsweetened almond milk and mug of hot water. The vegetables added fibre and magnesium (and some omega 3 if I ate Brussel sprouts), the eggs vitamin D and protein, the toast complex carbs. I sometimes added olive oil to the salad too. This added monounsaturated fats and flavour and was done to gain weight, but actually lowered my cholesterol and helped increase the glycaemic index of the toast.
- Croissant with unsweetened milk, a glass of hot water and some vegetables. The croissant pastry should have by logic made me gain weight by logic as it is high carb and made of white flour (which causes energy dips which increase appetite) and fat (as it contains lots of butter), however, it did not. The fibre I had with it (any raw vegetables or low sugar fruit such as raspberries, blueberries, lemon, blackberries, kiwi or some nuts) lowered the glycaemic index of the carb so my croissant kept me going for hours. The vegetables and milk and hot water were very filling. Avoid high sugar pastries like cinnamon swirls or almond croissants (unless as one-off treat) as
- Pancake or crepe with almond butter or flaked almonds or almond powder and lemon juice and blueberries or raspberries. Or crepe with natural yoghurt and raspberries. Avoid nutella, honey, syrups or other high refined sugars, as these cause energy dips that make you tired. Also, avoid fruit smoothies or juices or sweetened milkshakes. The smoothies and fruit juice are not healthy. They are fruit, yes, but they have been pulverised to remove all fibre and are super high in sugar, so cause energy dips that make you crave sugary things and hungry and fatigued. Instead eat fruit whole, with skins on ideally.
Unprocessed wholegrain or sourdough bread/wholemeal flour pancake/ savoury crepe/ toast/wrap/pitta/flatbread or jacket potato/new potatoes/sweet potato with can anchovies in olive oil, hummus, sardines or mackerel. Or with eggs or tuna or chicken or smoked salmon or turkey or parma ham or beef or almond or peanut butter or lactofree (to reduce the carb content) of cheese protein and some salad and veg. The complex carb with the protein and fats and fibre make a very balanced lunch that keeps you full of energy and your appetite satisfied for hours. This means you can stay focused all afternoon, without the energy dips at 3pm which make you reach for biscuits and chocolate or need a nap.
+always have a desert of natural or greek yoghurt (with some veg or low sugar fruit) for extra energy-sustaining protein.
- A portion (fist-sized) of any type of potato/wholegrain or brown rice/quinoa/wheatberries/bulgar wheat/ sweetcorn/ bread/ egg noodles with fish/meat and vegetables. Add malt vinegar/balsamic vinegar/cider or red wine vinegar or olive oil to your fibre as it increases the glycaemic index of the meal.
+always have a desert of natural or greek yoghurt (with some veg or low sugar fruit) for extra energy-sustaining protein and to prevent sugar cravings and balance energy levels so you do not have a late-night binge on high-sugar foods.
Never demonise any foods, but have high-carb foods like noodles (unless containing protein like egg noodles), pasta, couscous (made of the same refined flour as pasta which causes energy highs and dives and makes you hungry and tired), chips, white bread, white rice (including sushi rice- sushi is very high carb but is healthy because it is served often with lots of high fibre veg and raw fish), cakes, pizza, sweets, baguettes, chocolate, crisps (unless the carb part of the meal) and other simple carbs as treats. Sugary things actually change your tastebuds (Overberg, 2012), so the more you have the less tasty more bitter vegetables taste and the more sugar you crave. I definitely found this. When I ate lots of sugary things at Christmas, spinach and celery tasted disgusting after. When I ate lots of vegetables over a sustained period, the vegetables tasted better to me.
Overall I found foods high in B1/2/9/12, Iron, Magnesium, calcium, protein, complex carbs, fibre and vitamin C (which helps you absorb iron) increased my energy. Fight the fatigue by feeding yourself the fabulous fatigue-fighting F’s!
Copyright Laurentia Laura Campbell 10/06/2022
- Gonzalez, J. T., Green, B. P., Brown, M. A., Rumbold, P. L., Turner, L. A., & Stevenson, E. J. (2015). Calcium ingestion suppresses appetite and produces acute overcompensation of energy intake independent of protein in healthy adults. The Journal of nutrition, 145(3), 476–482. https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.114.205708
- Overberg, J., Hummel, T., Krude, H. and Wiegand, S., 2012. Differences in taste sensitivity between obese and non-obese children and adolescents. Archives of disease in childhood, 97(12), pp.1048–1052.
- Finlay, E., 2021. Sugar Taxes: Why They are Needed and Where are They?.