I lost 10lbs without trying when I stopped eating one thing

Steffan Rhys
-Credit: (Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

A man dropped almost a stone just by cutting out one type of food - a decision he made after being "grossed out" by what he saw in the mirror.

Steffan Rhys, an editor for the ECHO's sister title WalesOnline, said he changed his eating habits earlier this year, making "simple changes". He said they were so simple, in fact, that he is continuing to keep up the new lifestyle way beyond his initial one-month goal.

Steffan stopped eating ultra-processed foods and began to feel better almost immediately.

READ MORE: Nasty warning signs as cases of medieval disease surge across England

READ MORE: Latest Foreign Office advice warns against Turkey, Mexico, Thailand and Egypt travel

He wrote: "The way we buy food, our busy lives, plus considerations around cost and convenience all heavily influence the nature of the food on sale and the food we eat. So do the profit margins of the multi-national companies that make it.

"Supermarket shelves are absolutely packed with ultra-processed food, so much so that it can feel hard to avoid. But it's actually not that hard at all, and it doesn't involve eating nothing but fresh fruit and vegetables".

He adds that some of the most common ultra-processed foods (or UPFs) are:

  • supermarket packaged bread

  • breakfast cereals and granola

  • flavoured yoghurt

  • chocolate, biscuits and crisps

  • energy and granola bars

  • fizzy drinks

  • microwave ready meals

Steffan said the big shocks, for him, were granola and flavoured yoghurt. He added: "Before this year, granola was what I ate for breakfast every single day, assuming it was healthy.

"Because I ate it with fruit and, you've guessed it, flavoured yoghurt, I thought I was starting the day healthily. In fact, I was having a breakfast massively high in sugar and ultra-processed ingredients."

It's important to remember, Steffan continues, that not all variations of everything named above are ultra-processed. You may find a ready meal or a certain brand of granola that isn't ultra-processed.

It's also important to remember that humans have been processing food for thousands of years. Bread, butter, cheese and (healthier) yoghurt are all processed foods. But ultra-processed food is a step further.

Professor Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London says: "Plain yoghurt, nothing added, nothing changed, is processed because you are mixing a basic ingredient, milk, with microbes. You are creating something, that is processing. It is when you take it to the next stage... [adding] various starches, emulsifiers, concentrates, artificial sweeteners and flavourings... that same yoghurt becomes ultra-processed.

"It is that extra step that is the main problem. It is when chemicals that you don't find in your kitchen are being added to foods that have been stripped of all their goodness... to make it look like food again."

Dr Chris Van Tulleken, an infectious diseases doctor at University College London, BBC science presenter and author of bestseller Ultra Processed People, gave this simple one-sentence definition on ultra-processed food on the Zoe podcast: "If it's wrapped in plastic and it contains at least one ingredient that you don't typically find in a domestic kitchen, then it's ultra-processed food."

Steffan said he finds it helpful to 'eat the rainbow', so a variety of different coloured foods
Steffan said he finds it helpful to 'eat the rainbow', so a variety of different coloured foods -Credit:WalesOnline/Rob Browne

Dr Van Tulleken also undertook an experiment where he ate 80% UPFs for a month. At the end of the experiment he said he "felt ten years older", had gained a stone in weight, and said he "found [himself] craving food much more often".

Steffan says that UPF is sneaky. He considered himself to be fairly healthy, exercising most days, eating a "decent amount of fruit and vegetables", and avoiding ready meals.

But he would also consume things like sandwiches made with supermarket bread, or BBQ sauce or mayonnaise, without a second thought.

After removing UPF from his diet, Steffan felt much better, and had lost 10lbs. He said: "I can run a 10K marginally more comfortably, though that could also just be down to the gradual process of doing a bit more exercise. I also find myself being less hungry less often.

"Don't get me wrong, by midday I'm starving. But that's better than being starving at 10am... I still have two young kids and a stressful job so my sleep is poor and I still regularly feel pretty tired.

"I have no expertise in science or nutrition and it's been far too short a period to determine any sort of long-term benefits but the Zoe website says 'whatever your age, if you switch from an unhealthy to a healthy eating pattern, you’ll likely see improvements in your cholesterol levels, blood sugar, inflammation, and weight (Prof Spector gives two foods to reduce inflammation and improve joint pain here)'".

Here are Steffan's top tips for eating fewer UPFs:

  • cut out pre-made sauces and make them from scratch instead (you can make mayo with four ingredients, and the same goes for pesto and hummus, which are delicious and go great with carrots, celery or fresh sourdough bread)

  • beans are tastier than anyone has ever given them credit for — stock up on tins and cook them with herbs (black beans and fresh coriander and lime are a great side dish)

  • nuts are great: they're filling, healthy and taste delicious raw but even nicer cooked (fry them dry in a pan until they're golden brown and add them to chopped chicken or a fried/sautéed veg dish)

  • listen to the Zoe podcast — it makes food and nutrition so much easier to understand

  • eggs go with most things and can be made into so many different meals

  • eat the rainbow: this just means mixing and matching plant foods with different colours. Food variety is important and different colours mean different compounds and good chemicals which help your health

  • you don't need to make meat the centrepiece of a meal. I have not given up meat, in my house I wouldn't be allowed to anyway, but there has been a gradual shift away from big meaty centrepieces towards a greater variety of filling and satisfying vegetables dishes

  • fat is fine: nuts, avocado, olive oil, yoghurt are all full of healthy fats. It's the unhealthy fats and sugar in UPFs and meat that you need to try to limit

  • you don't have to completely cut out anything at all — even moderate improvements will have corresponding benefits (I know there's bound to be a Friday night where I just want to nail some Tony's Chocolonely).

Receive newsletters with the latest news, sport and what's on updates from the Liverpool ECHO by signing up here