40 days and 40 nights

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

– Isaiah 58:6-7

I’ve got a bit of a secret for you. No, I haven’t become religious, although I realise that the title of this post and the above quote would indicate otherwise. Just over 40 days and 40 nights ago, March 5th to be precise, was the start of lent. If you’re familiar with it, you’ll know that those who are observing lent will commit to fasting or giving up certain luxuries as a form of penitence, (feeling or showing sorrow or regret for having done wrong). About ten years ago, during my heavy Pepsi drinking days, I decided to give up the sugary, empty calorie drink as a challenge to myself. Despite not being a practising Catholic (but the granddaughter of faithful ones),  I abstained from Pepsi for 40 days and 40 nights. In the process, I lost 5 pounds in that time, and clearly the lower amounts of sugar in my diet at the time had a positive impact. Unfortunately, it didn’t become a habit, and I broke the Pepsi fast on Easter that year. This year, despite going from 1-2 cans of Pepsi a day ten years ago to 1-2 on the weekend, I still wasn’t happy with this ongoing habit. I’m 34 for goodness sake, I’m not a teenager! Or at least, that’s how I feel. I wanted to be able to kick the habit for good, and decided to try the whole abstaining thing again. Little did I know that giving up Pepsi for lent would turn into so much more.

In my post about the places I will go in 2014, I mentioned that I wanted ‘to learn more about nutrition and what food can do for us’. When I wrote that, I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to do that, where I would start, or what precisely I wanted to learn. I turned to a source I knew would help: Lindsay Cotter, author of Cotter Crunch, the wife of a professional triathlete, and nutrition manager. After faithfully following Lindsay’s very healthy blog, I knew she’d be a good start. So I tweeted her.

twitter conversation

Apologies for the poor image quality, but you get the message

I immediately followed Maria Emmerich on Twitter, then email subscribed to  her blog Maria Mind Body and Health. At first, I thought I’d just be an observer at her incredibly healthy, very different ingredient blog. Each post has both testimonies from clients who have lost weight, but more importantly, their myriad of health issues, some incredibly serious, have cleared up with the ‘Maria way’ of eating: high fat, moderate protein and low carbohydrate. Weight loss for them was secondary. After reading her blog for about a month, something just clicked with me, and I ordered her book.


I devoured it and had many Aha! moments where I said “That’s me!” I learned that carbohydrates, whether they’re refined or complex, come from chemicals or nature, fruit or veg, are all processed by our bodies on a molecular level exactly the same: as chains of sugar. There is no differentiation. Substituting honey for granulated sugar doesn’t make a difference to our bodies. Eating wheat bread as opposed to white makes no difference. Switching to complex carbs from refined white ones couldn’t fool our digestive systems.

I also learned that I was  sugar burner: my body relied on burning carbs (aka sugar) as fuel, which explained the physical need to eat every three hours, intense cravings, feelings of withdrawal from needing more sugar, the late afternoon blahs, and tension headaches at the end of every work day. While I didn’t have any major health issues, I did have a horrible case of eczema, which, in the book, suggests that there is some kind of inflammation taking place elsewhere in my body, but it’s only manifesting itself on my skin (my right middle finger to be exact). ‘Inflammation’ isn’t the traditional anatomical inflammation, or swelling of joints, us athlete’s know; it refers to inflammation of blood vessels, internal organs – the physiological side of it. I also learned that despite my diet of healthy complex carbs, fruit, vegetables and moderate protein, I was in fact actively contributing to the reason my weight continued to increase. At 76kg, almost the heaviest I’d ever been, my diet, following to the low-fat, hight-carb dogma, wasn’t doing what it was supposed to be doing. I wasn’t losing weight at all; I was continuing to slowly gain weight. But why?

Didn’t you know it’s calories in vs. calories out, and many small meals throughout the day?

That last bit is what keeps our metabolism going, right? Did you ever wonder where it came from and question the science behind it? I certainly didn’t, I just knew, based on some abstract notion, that it was apparently healthy. I’m not mentioning this because I was eating too much food, I’m mentioning this because of the effect continuous eating does to our body’s insulin levels. The only thing I knew about insulin was that it was what Type 1 diabetics needed…. I think. When eat, our blood sugar levels rise, which is toxic. Our body releases insulin to bring it back down to normal levels – about 1 tsp. If we are frequently eating, therefore in a fed state that we aren’t actually adapted to, and a result of a high carb diet, we are continually raising our blood sugar and thus releasing insulin to bring it back down to normal levels. Why is insulin important to weight gain and weight loss? Our bodies can naturally burn fat but we do a good job of transforming it into a sugar burning machine with all the carbs and sugar we eat. Once we start burning sugar, we really can’t stop. The below video, along with Maria’s book, explains why.

And yes, I have Gary Taubes’ book and I’m reading it right now.

Insulin inhibits the Human Growth Hormone, our fat-burning hormone, thus preventing us from burning fat and rather continuing to store it while we continue to burn sugar, I mean carbs. Because I was eating a frequent and carb-heavy diet – because I’m a runner, I needed it! (or so I thought) – I was actively and blindly contributing to my creeping increase in weight, and continuously messing with my insulin levels on a daily basis, no matter how hard or how far I ran. The ‘healthy eating’ recommendation of eating several times throughout the day, as well as that other old adage of ‘calories in vs. calories out’ didn’t make any difference. And this was with me not baking or eating baked goods for months before learning this information.

So what’s a girl to do?

The more I read Maria’s book, now books, and the more I educated myself through other blogs, videos and more books, I learned that basically everything we’ve ever been told about what is healthy eating, and is now mainstream thinking, is a myth. I find this statement quite interesting, because despite following the prescribed low-fat, complex carb way of eating, I always had a gut feeling that something just wasn’t right. I couldn’t help but still feel continuously guilty about what I was eating, despite how healthy it was supposed to be: sweet potatoes, brown rice, brown pasta, potatoes, beets, quinoa, baking made with vegetable oil and honey instead, etc.. But after discovering everything I did, I know have an answer. What was I going to do about it?

But Danielle, low-carb and being a runner? You can’t do that! Where will you get your energy?

Oh yes I can. By switching to a low-carb high-fat diet (LCHF or #lchf as you’ve seen me hashtag on instagram), I can effectively turn my body into a fat-burning machine. By switching from one macronutrient to another, I can improve my body’s ability to burn fat and enhance the way the cells in body work. I don’t have to eat continuously, I can even do intermittent fasting (if I want), and I can eat a plethora of healthy fats: coconut oil, butter, ghee, animal fat, BACON, cream cheese, avocado, fatty seafood.

Carbohydrates are an endurance athlete’s #1 source of energy; it is so ingrained in our thinking that it’s just second nature. Have you ever thought about carbs from a logical point of view? Our bodies can only store a limited amount of carbohydrates and when they are depleted, we hit the wall or bonk, like what happens to marathoners and the staggering or crawling Ironman triathletes. To prevent this, we need to keep fueling the fire with more and more sugar. And if we don’t do this, our bodies begin to eat our muscles to keep going. When you think about that, carbs don’t sound that good.

Fat, on the other hand, is a far better and more efficient source of energy. We store much more and can tap into it if we break the sugar addiction and train our bodies to do so.

Isn’t that Atkins? Or Paleo?

No, but I’m going to research Paleo diets next. From what I know from my friend who follows a Paleo diet, you can’t have dairy or peanuts, but can have potatoes and sweet potatoes. A ketogenic diet allows dairy (besides milk) and peanuts, but prohibits potatoes of any kind. Ketogenic can also be referred to as keto-adapted. By eating very little carbs, less than 50g a day, your body enters ketosis and begins to burn fat rather than sugar. It also becomes so much more healthy in the process. For more information on a ketogenic diet, (and because this post is long already!), click here.

Isn’t ketosis bad for you?

If I was a type 1 diabetic, yes keto acidosis is bad for you. But I’m not going into keto acidosis, I’m working towards being in a state of ketosis, or keto-adapted. I’m working towards becoming a fat burner.

A ketogenic has remarkable benefits to your overall health, as demonstrated by the many testimonies on Maria’s blog and in her book. It can drastically improve the health of people with autoimmune diseases, diabetes, gastrointestinal issues (Crohns and Collitis), skin disorders, depression, fertility in women, thyroid issues, etc. With this way of eating, weight loss (without exercising) is truly secondary. As for my eczema, I haven’t had a flare-up since I’ve started this new way of eating.

Wait, what does this have to do with 40 days and 40 nights?

Well, besides giving up Pepsi for lent, I’ve given up sugars (both refined and natural, even Paleo-friendly honey and maple syrup), flour and gluten. Although I don’t have a gluten-intolerance, nor do I have issues with grains, I do know that I’ve suffered some serious bloating in the past. Keep in mind that when I write sugar, I mean mainly carbs; I wasn’t eating sugary foods like candy or chocolate at all. After a few days of withdrawal from my sugar addiction, (yes, I was physically addicted to it), I started to feel like I had more energy and the late afternoon blahs and headaches went away. I also wasn’t hungry all damn day!

Since changing the way I eat, based on my own research, I feel so much better! After reading the things I’ve read and watching the videos I’ve seen, both of which I will share over time, I feel more in charge of what I eat and my body’s wellbeing. I’ve started looking at nutrition from a common sense approach rather than plucking ideas from obscurity. I’ve started questioning where information comes from, and are there clinical studies to support it? I think we owe it to ourselves to really find out the truth, and not just be fed information from a magazine, or because it’s just the way it is. We need to be more active.

So what are you eating then?

Beef, chicken, vegetables, some fruit, cheese of ALL kinds, coconut milk, coconut oil, BUTTER, BACON, almond milk, dark chocolate, Ranch dressing. I’m baking with coconut flour or almond flour, and use xylitol, a natural sugar extract, rather than refined sugar. Although I’ve given up many things, I don’t feel deprived at all, and I’ve lost 4kg in a month and a half!

A few more delicious dishes:

Huevos Rancheros with Beef Chilli on protein ‘tortillas’


Chicken wings with blue cheese dip, and ‘steak frites’ – Portobello mushrooms baked in parmesan cheese


Omelette with the entire egg, bacon, cheese, chives, flat leaf parsley, basil and tomatoes. And the best side ever: avocado.


Healthified Pampered Chef chicken and brocoli braid using almond flour bread instead


Moussaka with lots of cheese and ground beef. And Ranch dressing on the veg.


Cookie Dough cupcakes


Holy fat bomb peanut butter cups


“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

– Isaiah 58:6-7

In this case, the’ bonds of wickedness’ could be my relationship with sugar. I’ve undone the straps of my reliance on carbs and sugar, which lead to perpetual guilt, and I’ve become free from the healthy-but-not ideas that are so ingrained in the Western world.

I encourage you to check out Maria Emmerich’s blog, as well as Caveman Keto, for information, but also recipes. Heck, even check out Nom Nom Paleo because she’s just awesome. I was once skeptical of this way of eating, thinking no one did it, but through #lchf, I’ve found a huge community of both Keto and Paleo eaters, which seems to be thriving. Although I’m not keto-adapted yet, I’m getting there.

Have you seen Keto or Paleo diets or food?

Do you think you’re a sugar burner? Or fat-burner?

(I’ll post a mini-quiz tomorrow)

What’s your favourite fatty food?

What carb can’t you live without?

21 thoughts on “40 days and 40 nights

  1. Great and informative post! We primarily follow a lower carb, high fat diet, too – butter and bacon and coconut oil, YES! – though there are always still sweet potatoes and the occasional coconut rice and quinoa (and gelato). When I think back to when I used to eat high carb, low fat… oof, I rarely felt good, and there was so much bloat!

    Have your read Wheat Belly? Excellent read. I also am in just re-starting Good Calories, Bad Calories… we should compare notes!

    Glad to hear you’re feeling better and nice work on the 4kg loss!

    • I wondered whether you were of the lchf persuasion! Especially after reading about espresso and coconut milk, and eggs, bacon and avocado. I guess you kind follow a paleo way of eating then?

      I haven’t read Wheat Belly yet, but it’s on my list; that and The Paleo Solution. I’ve also got Gary Taubes’ ‘Why we get fat’ which I’ll read after ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories.’ I actually really enjoy that book, despite all the science in it. I think Taubes’ writes as though it’s still a story and makes it very interesting. It’s like I’m in university again with it: I highlight passages!

      Thanks friend!

  2. I am reading today’s post with a big smile on my face.
    I have been eating “The Maria way” for several months and also love it.
    Running is going great too. I am so happy this is making sence for you. Can’t say enough good things about this whole way of life. Great information.
    Thank you for sharing with everyone. The word needs to get out there.

    • I so agree people need to be more informed. I’m just trying, little by little.

      Today was my first totally keto day. Usually, breakfast was a fruit, muesli and yogurt smoothie, with a keto lunch then finner, but then I found keto smoothie recipes and tried one.

      I’m glad this post made you happy, and I’m glad your running is going well. Hopefully, once I’m in ketosis completely, mine will be awesome. Tonight, I had heavy legs!

  3. Interesting post. I do fuel with carbs when I’m putting in high mileage (although I also eat a lot of protein), but I also regularly run shorter, “fasted” sessions to encourage my body to be more efficient at burning fat as fuel. This works for me and the way I eat now I’m leaner, healthier and have better skin and hair than ever before. I agree it may not work for everyone though.
    Your recipes look yummy. I rather fancy the cookie dough cupcakes and peanut butter cups!

      • Just a lot more food made with “real” ingredients rather than jars of sauces, brown rice/pasta/bread instead of white, more fruit and veg, more fish, etc. I guess that combined with all the training I do has had an impact.

      • I think what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. If you feel good and have plenty of energy, then you’re probably eating right. Marathon training certainly does make a difference though 😉

      • I do feel much better than before and have a lot of energy. Days at work that were once classified as ‘shit’ have since become ‘not bad,’ and I know my energy levels have something to do with it.

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  5. Wow- fascinating stuff! There is so much information out there that just boggles my mind. Thanks for explaining this!
    I personally don’t know if I could live without my bread- so fluffy and delicious 🙂

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