Many of us know that losing weight on the PKU diet can be a real challenge. Of all the PKU people I know, a lot of us fight a constant war with weight issues. Some PKUers struggle to gain weight, but the majority of people with PKU I know struggle with weight gain, being overweight and obesity.
Despite what our dieticians tell us there is no easy solution to losing weight with PKU. I struggle a LOT with weight. I have 30 – 40kg to lose to be at my ideal weight, and my dietician has always told me just to focus on the diet and the weight will fall off. But you know what? It never has. I have been absolutely perfect on the diet for all of 2010 so far, maintaining levels below 500, and mostly around 200. That should mean, according to my dietician, that I would be losing weight but I’m most certainly not. If anything at all I have continued to gain weight, despite the fact that my lifestyle this year has been so much more active.
Something I read recently (I will try to find it) explained how the low phe diet actually counteracts weight loss. That isn’t much help to those of us with a bit – or a lot – of weight to lose, especially if like me you’re determined to stick to your low protein diet while losing it.
Recently I was talking to a couple of friends in the US and asking what they do to lose weight on the PKU diet. They all said that they go onto LNAA treatments for a while and follow a diet of lean meats, grilled chicken, grilled and steamed fish and plenty of fresh salad, fruits and veggies. Well, we in Australia can’t do that, but you know what? I’m not so worried about it because if I was on LNAAs I think I would probably be worried about the effect of all the phe in my blood doing permanent damage to my internal organs, even if it wasn’t affecting my brain.
But still, where does that leave us? Well, we can do exercise and we can reduce sugars and fats in our diets, though given that a lot of what we can eat is based on sugars and fats that isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Cutting out soft drinks will help a lot with this – if you’re like me and this is something you find exceptionally difficult, Golden Circle does a range of sugar free fruit flavoured soft drinks that are diet and sweetened with Splenda.
I think perhaps exercise is the most important element to weight loss with PKU, as well as attitude. I recently signed up to a website called No Excuses Workouts and I get a motivational email every day with a fitness challenge in it. Now admittedly I haven’t done the challenges but I’m going to be making a concerted effort to do them when I get home from my break in Queensland.
So lets talk a bit more about exercise. Firstly, I would like to dispell one HUGE myth. Weight training WILL NOT make women bulk up. So many women avoid weights because they truly believe that they will end up looking big and buff if they do weights when in actual fact, weight training is an absolutely essential component to fat loss.
It is absolutely essential when trying to lose weight to do a combination of both cardio-vascular exercise and weight training. Cardio exercise fires up your heart rate, gets you sweating and gives your metabolism a boost – helping you to burn fat. Cardio exercise is anything that raises your heart rate – walking, dancing, swimming, cycling, running etc. Basically you want to be able to be puffed but still able to hold a conversation, and contrary to popular belief you don’t need to run your little legs off. If it gets your heart rate up it’s doing its job. One of the best cardio exercises you can do for fat burning is intervals. That means you get your heart rate up and then you have a short rest before doing it all over again. Rinse and repeat. So, as an example you could do a five minute gentle warm up walk, then walk at a good place for one to two minutes, then jog for three. Do that for half an hour, including a cool down at the end.
If you have an iPhone or an iPod Touch you can download free interval applications that will help you with timing. I have downloaded the GymBoss application and programmed in an interval workout from the No Excuses Workouts website and it’s great. Only thing is, I pushed myself too hard and haven’t done it again, but more on that later.
The metabolic boost you get from cardio is short but sweet. It’s FABULOUS for fat burning, but within 7 – 8 hours your resting metabolic rate (the rate at which your body burns energy at rest) will drop back down again.
Weight training, as I said, is just as essential, if not moreso, for weight loss. Weight training build muscle, the more muscle you have the more energy your body burns. When you do a weight training session your resting metabolic rate will stay raised for the next 24 hours or so, and when it drops down it will stay just that bit higher than it was before you worked out due to the fact that you will have gained muscle.
I should point out right about now that just because I say weights it doesn’t mean you have to do weights. Anything that provides you with resistance will give you similar results AND incorporate a cardio element at the same time. Some examples of this are swimming, walking with wrist weights, water aerobics and Zumba (as long as you use the toning sticks!).
Of course, if you want to you can join up with your nearest gym and ask them to design a weights program for you. Many gyms also offer classes that will help you on your way including spinning/cycling, body pump (a weights class to set to music), yoga, pilates, aerobics and even dance classes.
You want to be trying to exercise 3 – 5 times per week for at least half an hour to start seeing results, but bear in mind these things don’t happen overnight and attitude is key. You need to ensure you have manageable realistic goals (if you have a big goal like me then break it down into more manageable, ‘bite-sized’ goals so its not so overwhelming). Don’t beat yourself up about messing up with food or missing a day of exercise – just get back on the wagon the next day. According to personal trainer Jonathan Roche, 90% of failure when it comes to weight loss is because people quit before they start to see results.
Click here to check out the No Excuses Workouts site – you can even download a free interval workout and a weight/resistance workout that you can do at home without any special equipment (just your own body weight), and I keep hearing about people getting really good results after they’ve been incorporating these workouts 3-5 times per week into their lives.
There has been some speculation that doing ‘hard’ cardio (for example a spin class) can actually raise our phe levels because it burns so many calories that it can send our bodies into a catabolic state. I’m not sure about this – personally I believe that if you eat a small, healthy snack before hand and have some formula after this shouldn’t happen (especially given that formula is full of protein). I’d be interested to see what everyone else thinks of this.
Obviously with weight loss diet is very important too, but this is a huge stumbling block for we PKUers, especially if you are very restricted. For obvious reasons we can’t do ‘traditional’ weight loss diets like Lite n Easy or Jenny Craig, however I should point out that some PKUers have done Weight Watchers with some success (if you’re one of them I’d love it if you could comment about your experiences below!).
Over the coming weeks I’m going to try to dig up lots of healthy PKU recipes that might help us on our respective weight loss journeys and I’ll post them as I find them. I’m contemplating going and buying a slow cooker and I will see what sorts of concoctions I can come up with.
Okay, that’s me done for now. Please feel free to add anything you feel is relevant to this discussion as well as any hints or tips you might have. I’d also recommend you check out PKU and Healthy Too if you haven’t already – the author, Hunter, is a PKU adult and a registered dietician, and she makes some great posts about these sorts of things. She told me just the other day she was going to write a bit about PKU and weight loss and I can’t wait to see what she has to say!