Dr Saira Hameed specialises in obesity medicine at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington and has recently published ‘The Full Diet, the revolutionary new way to achieve lasting weight loss'(Michael Joseph).
Dr Hameed works with patients struggling with their weight in preparation for bariatric surgery. She hosts bi-weekly video discussions with slide shows and a daily email with motivational support.
‘Why obesity? Why has that become your speciality?’ I asked, looking at her slim elegant frame which belies her 43 years and four children.
‘I had the good fortune to be supported in doing a PhD in endocrinology at a lab in Hammersmith, part of Imperial college, headed up by Professor Sir Steve Bloom, he’s the absolute pioneer of studying the hormones that talk between the gut and the brain. That’s the science that lit the touch paper for what’s in the book. Hormones like ‘ghrelin’ which control our hunger levels.
‘I feel we are totally controlled by hormones’
‘We are, our feelings, our energy, our mood, our growth, bone health or heart health. It turns out that people with weight issues, with diabetes, that all this science was not being shared with them. One of the key aims of my book is that it shouldn’t be a secret, it should just be in (medical)journals, behind paywalls, at specialist conferences.’
‘One of the chapter I like is when you said ‘fat people are survivors. If you put on weight that means you are a survivor’ which is a much more positive way of looking at it. It’s an evolutionary advantage’.
‘For all of human history it’s been a great advantage. Your genes meant you survived, which meant you reproduced and passed your genes on. You’d done your life’s work. It’s only recently that these genes have become a disadvantage because we never had this overabundance of food and this particular food which our biology cannot manage.’
The weekend before I interviewed her, Saira had been on call in the emergency department at St Mary’s. Shockingly she says ‘I would say, back of the envelope calculation, probably a third of the people who came in had diabetes, type two. If you have pneumonia (or any other medical problem) your blood sugar will go up. Today, in terms of patient care, it’s safer to presume somebody has diabetes’
There is a lot of blame placed on diabetic patients, particularly those with Type 2.
‘Yes, but 70% of your tendency to be diabetic, even type 2, is genetic. We know that berating people and telling people off doesn’t work.’ states Dr Hameed. ‘When you meet people and you hear their stories, there’s so much blame, so much loss of self esteem, the deserving and the undeserving ill ‘
The title of The Full Diet book refers to this is a diet where you will feel full and that you are allowed to eat fat. Fat, previously demonised, doesn’t make you fat and promotes satiety, the feeling of being full.
The basic steps:
The black bag: put all the carbs and sugar, diet foods, junk food, into a black bag and chuck it.
Tune in to your gut: to your hunger ‘ghrelin’ signals. Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.
Certain food rules: Eat no or low carbs, high protein, good fats (such as butter and olive oil), full fat dairy, no sugar. The Michael Pollan dictat of ‘only eat things your grandmother would recognise as food’. No Ultra Processed food. No artificial sweeteners. Try to avoid alcohol (it’s basically sugar).
The eating window: have an ‘eating window’ of 8 hours and close it for 16. For example: if you have a late breakfast at 11 am, you must have finished dinner by 7pm. Then your digestive system can rest.
Batch cooking to help you control yourself throughout the week. Have a personal takeaway box, a bento box, with healthy meals and snacks. This will not only help you save money at work but also minimise temptation to eat junk.
Eat the rainbow: feed your gut microbiome by eating a variety of foods, of different colours, high fibre and fermented foods. ‘Have vegetables at every eating opportunity, even breakfast’ says Saira.
High fibre: look at labels to see how much fibre is in what you are eating. We should be eating 30g of fibre (inulin) a day. This is more difficult than it sounds, for instance, 200g of Brussels sprouts is 10g of fibre. Two teaspoons of linseeds contains 1.4g of fibre. ‘For many people their fibre intake could be close to zero,’ says Dr Hameed.
Other rules: avoid smoothies as these are effectively ‘sugar solutions’. Eat fruit rather than drink juice because the fruit contains fibre. Choose low sugar fruit such as berries rather than pineapples and mangos. In terms of sugar, it makes no difference if the sugar comes from honey or maple syrup or coconut sugar, it’s all sugar. Avoid.
Why did you write this book? I ask Dr Hameed.
‘Even if I worked seven days a week, I couldn’t see enough people to change their lifestyle. This book will spread my methods to a wider audience. I like eating.’ says Dr Saira with a smile, ‘I hope it comes across in the book that food should be delicious and joyful.’