Petronella Ravenshear: My Health Rules
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The Human Being Diet will reset your attitude towards food. I live by the principles of my signature method, The Human Being Diet, which is not so much a diet in that it gives you a blueprint for a new way of eating for life. It will put an end to yo-yo dieting and help you keep the weight off for good. The first 16 days of the programme are very strict: no grains, no oil, no sugar and no cardio. What’s unique about the programme is that weight loss occurs as a side-effect alongside better energy, improved digestion and skin, deeper sleep and fewer hormonal troubles. It’s a question of bringing blood sugar and insulin levels back under control and reducing inflammation. Excess weight often goes hand in hand with our modern inflammatory diseases, including heart disease, depression, acne and eczema. As you lose weight, you become less inflamed, cheerier and more energetic.
Fasting is an integral part of my life. I am now in phase four of the Human Being Diet – aka the Forever Phase – of which intermittent fasting plays a crucial role. As long as you don’t need to lose weight, skipping breakfast is not just fine, it’s positively good for you. However, if you do want to lose weight, breakfast is vital to control blood sugar and should always contain a good source of protein, ideally in the form of eggs, smoked salmon, seeds or walnuts and some vegetables. I start my day at 7am with two black coffees and drink plenty of still water until 1:30pm, when I have my first meal of the day. This tends to be a piece of fish with vegetables or fish soup. My husband, Riccardo, owns Riccardo’s restaurant on the Fulham Road, and I am lucky in that I often have lunch there. We almost always finish the meal with a slither of gluten-free chocolate and almond cake, and two espressos.
Try to leave five hours between meals. If you feel hungry between meals, drink a large glass of water and nothing else. This will allow your insulin levels to reduce, which triggers your fat burning hormone, glucagon, to come into play. If I finish lunch at 2:30pm, supper will be at 7:30pm. If I’m lucky, I will head to Riccardo’s again – dinner could be lamb chops with vegetables, or ribollita with cannellini beans. My favourite dish at the moment is zucchini linguine (spiralised courgette) with venison ragout with a glass of red wine. When I get home, I often have a Pukka tea – Cleanse and Three Ginger are personal favourites. I then fast through to lunch the following day – a 16-hour fast works well for weight maintenance.
Occasionally, I will fast for 24 hours. This is a challenge, but it’s also incredibly energising. Of course, food gives us energy, but it also takes energy to digest and absorb food. Fasting is fantastic for your gut microbes and one in particular that’s associated with a lean body type and less inflammation.
You should finish eating by 9pm. This is another key principle of the programme and will further enable fat burning. Your insulin levels should be at their lowest overnight, when the body is in repair mode. In fact, you burn the most amount of fat while you sleep. If your body is still dealing with food there’s less time for repairing and less time for fat burning.
Ensure every mouthful you eat is as nutrient-dense as possible. You don’t need empty calories at this stage in life. When you are younger, you can get away with a lot more junk but, as we age, we need less food, and if we eat too many carbs and sugar, they are much more likely to be stored as fat.
Apple cider vinegar and sparkling water is a great substitute for wine. I do drink alcohol but abstain completely for three months every year. It’s easy to get into destructive habits with alcohol and while a glass of wine with food in the evening is relaxing, much more than that isn’t great. In phase three of the Human Being Diet, you can have a glass of wine with dinner, but only if you’re the kind of person who can have just one glass. A few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and sparkling water in a wine glass is the perfect substitute.
Eat an apple a day. Apples contain pectin, a detoxing and microbe-feeding fibre and studies show they can help with weight management. To mix things up, you can poach your apple in some water with a few shakes of cinnamon.
Make space in your week for a treat meal. It’s vital to take your body by surprise with lots of extra calories once a week to prevent your metabolic rate from dropping. Pleasure is also good for you. Having said that, try to avoid eating too much sugar. Other than the odd slice of Riccardo’s chocolate cake, I rarely eat sugar. I find that if I do have sugar too often, it can restart the cravings. It can be helpful to think of your sweet tooth as a sugar monster – when you feed it, it grows and demands more and more sugar.
I try to avoid wheat, too. As part of my initial training as a nutritionist, our homework one week was to strictly avoid wheat for two weeks and then eat two Weetabix on an empty stomach, noting how we felt over the next three days. Every single person I was studying with had an adverse reaction when they reintroduced wheat – some of us got spots, some had joint pain, others had gut issues and others were struck by fatigue. Before that experiment, I had no idea wheat could be so bad for you.
Variety is important. Most of us don’t eat a wide enough variety of fruit and vegetables – we tend to get stuck on the same three or four. For example, I was brought up on carrots and peas and green beans in the summer. But studies into gut health are increasingly proving that vegetables, and a variety of them, are the best food for your gut microbes. Be sure to include seaweed, too, which contains an incredible array of minerals to support your health.
Don’t make the common diet mistakes. The biggest mistakes I see women in their fifties and sixties making are skipping meals and over-exercising – both can lead to weight gain, rather than loss. This can also become a problem as soon as your forties in your perimenopausal years when hormones start to shift. It may sound mad but eating breakfast and avoiding long fasts will help get your body back into sync and turn you into a fat – rather than sugar – burner. At the same time, excessive cardio is regarded by the body as a stressor, raising your cortisol levels which encourages weight gain, particularly around your middle.
The right supplements can do the world of good. I would never take the supplements you see advertised on the backs of buses – they tend to use the cheapest forms of vitamins and minerals, which our bodies have trouble using and absorbing – but the right kind can give your body a helping hand, even if your diet is perfect. My favourites include vitamin C for energy and the immune system; magnesium for energy, sleep and relaxation; and betaine HCI for digestion and absorption of food, especially protein. HCI may be my number one because if you aren’t digesting nutrients properly from the food you eat, you may as well not bother eating it. We naturally produce less HCI (stomach acid) as we age, too. I also love astaxanthin – it’s a powerful antioxidant and works wonders for the skin.
My experience of menopause wasn’t great. I had dreadful hot flushes, which were very intense and occurred several times a day. I also put on weight. However, both of these were a valuable lesson. Prior to the menopause, I used to struggle to empathise with women who told me they were putting on weight but eating less, but I understand it now. Menopausal symptoms can also include stress and anxiety, as well as inflammation – the Human Being Diet addresses both of these problems, lessening their severity and helping your body burn fat.
A personal trainer is my non-negotiable. I broke both sides of my ankle bone two years ago and ended up having three operations. When I broke it, I considered myself pretty fit – I did three EMS sessions a week and loved trampolining, power-plating and going for long walks. EMS – electrical muscle stimulation – sounds scary but is seriously effective. You wear a full-body suit containing electrodes, which emit a low-frequency current to stimulate muscles. EMS training can feel more challenging than normal exercise, but it’s also less time-consuming as it’s so effective – a session can be done in 20 minutes. But I had to stop all that for nearly seven months and it takes a while to build fitness back up. I have a personal trainer who comes to the house once a week and puts me through my paces with Lotte Berk exercises. I dread it when she rings the doorbell, but I always feel so much better by the end of it.
Sleep should be a priority. Getting enough good quality sleep is absolutely vital. Soaking in an Epsom salt bath (use half a kilo per bath) before bed is magic – your body absorbs the magnesium, which can aid deep sleep and relaxation. Turn off your phone at least an hour before bed and consider taking a supplement if you struggle with your sleep – Melissa Dream, which contains chamomile, lemon balm and magnesium, is my go-to. I often listen to Joe Dispenza’s Evening Meditation, which never fails to send me off into a deep sleep.
Make time for self-care. Wellness doesn’t have to be complicated – even taking a few minutes to body brush each morning can energise you and stimulate your lymph flow. I also couldn’t be without my Health-Mate infrared sauna, which I use to detox at least three times a week.
For more information visit TheHumanBeingDiet.com
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