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When Adele posted a photo of herself on her 32nd birthday, the world wished her a happy birthday and couldn’t help but notice: how did she lose a hundred pounds?
While Adele has always looked amazing, the transformation was downright motivating. So, how did she do it? Well, the Sirtfood Diet is how. The diet—which famously encourages those who are following it to have red wine and chocolate—purports that you can lose seven pounds in seven days. And it’s not only popular with Adele. David Haye and Pippa Middleton are reportedly fans, too.
To understand Sirtfood, you have to understand intermittent fasting. It has been shown to help people lose about thirteen to fourteen pounds in six months. However, if not done properly, it can lead to hunger, irritability, fatigue, and loss of muscle. That brings us to Sirtfoods. These are a group of foods that are changing the idea of healthy eating. Sirtfoods are rich in nutrients that help activate the same “skinny genes” that fasting triggers.
We spoke with Aidan Goggins and Glen Matten, the nutritionists behind the diet and authors of The SirtFood Diet Recipe Book, to explain it to us and help us understand how losing weight, improving resistance to disease, and gaining energy is easier than it sounds.
First off, what is a Sirtfood?
Sirtfoods are a group of foods particularly rich in specific plant nutrients, called polyphenols, which turn on a powerful recycling process in the body. This process is called autophagy and it involves clearing out cellular waste and burning fat. Sirtfoods do this by activating our sirtuin genes – also known as our “skinny” genes. These are the same genes that are activated by fasting and exercise.
In the book we identify 20 standout Sirtfoods, which include everyday foods such as kale, arugula, parsley, red onions, strawberries, walnuts, extra virgin olive oil, cocoa, curry spices, green tea, and coffee.
How did this diet come to be?
As experts in nutritional medicine and pharmacy, we have long been fascinated by the natural compounds found in plant foods, known as polyphenols, and how they can be harnessed to improve health and even treat disease. We were especially captivated by the stories of the slimmest, healthiest, and longest-living populations around the world – known as Blue Zones – and intrigued to find that their diets are always very rich in these precious plant nutrients.
Fasting diets were becoming very popular, yet rather than constantly going hungry to lose weight, we knew that certain of these natural plant nutrients could mimic the effects of fasting by switching on the same sirtuin genes in the body. Indeed, the pharmaceutical industry was actively investigating the metabolic effects of sirtuin-activating nutrients. We knew most people included them to some degree in their diets but at very low levels due to the nature of our modern way of eating. So we proposed a hypothesis: what would happen if we packed peoples diets with foods that provided much higher levels of sirtuin activators and combined that with a much milder calorie restriction than typical dieting. We tried it on 40 people, testing their metabolic health as well as body composition. The effects were astounding and the diet was born.
In the introduction of your book, you talk about Sirtfoods that activate the “skinny gene”… Can you elaborate? What is a skinny gene and does everyone have it?
We all possess a family of seven sirtuin genes, of which SIRT1 is the best studied. SIRT1 is like the body’s ‘spring cleaning’ gene. When it gets activated a recycling process, known as autophagy, gets turned on in our cells. It clears out all the clutter and waste that builds up with age that would normally cause us to feel sluggish as well as make us vulnerable to disease. To fuel this process our SIRT1 gene turns on fat burning, meaning our cellular health improves whilst we lose weight.
The scientific world refers to SIRT1 as the ‘master regulator’ of our metabolism so important are its actions. By improving the health of our cells, it allows all the tissues and organs to work as they should, and we see all these effects through greater health.
In terms of fat-burning, activating SIRT1 deals a double blow to body fat, both blocking the storage of fat in the body whilst triggering the production of more of the tiny energy factories in our cells (called mitochondria) and getting them revved up for burning fat for fuel.
Incredibly, despite losing substantial weight, we found that people following the Sirtfood Diet also maintained or even gained muscle. This is contrary to what normally happens on a weight loss diet, where both fat and muscle are lost. The really interesting thing about our sirtuin genes is that when they are activated, they both prevent muscle breakdown and promote muscle regeneration.
This combined effect on fat loss and muscle preservation is a win-win for anyone wanting a more lean and toned look.
You did your study by testing a relatively healthy group, why did you choose to test a healthy group as opposed to people who were overweight?
We wanted to know how this way of eating worked in a real-world situation. A trick of many diets is to use a heavily overweight and unhealthy sample of people to show their benefits, as at first they lose weight the quickest and most dramatically. Our logic was the opposite: if we obtained good results with this relatively healthy group, it would set the minimum benchmark of what was achievable in the real world.
Who should do the Sirtfood diet? Is it for everyone?
This is the perfect diet for anyone who wants to look their best and feel their best.
If you have tried countless diets only to see the weight pile back on, don’t be put off. The Sirtfood Diet is different. It doesn’t involve calorie counting, nor does it involve cutting out carbs or avoiding fats or avoiding any food in fact. No food is off-limits and you still get to enjoy the things you love, like dark chocolate, coffee, curry, and red wine. Best of all, your body is actually burning fat to fuel better health. So ultimately, it’s a way of eating for anyone who wants to get in great shape, experience a renewed sense of wellbeing, and diminish the risk of chronic disease.
Because of the powerful effects of the diet, we do not recommend it in certain situations, for example for children, during pregnancy or breastfeeding, or for those who are already underweight. Although it should be noted that many of the Sirtfoods themselves are excellent inclusions as part of a balanced and appropriate diet in these situations.
Likewise, for those with significant health problems or taking prescription medications, we always recommend discussing the suitability of the diet with their doctor before embarking on it.
Are there any health risks involved in this diet?
The Sirtfood Diet is the antithesis of weight loss at the expense of health. The weight loss experienced whilst following the diet is a consequence of improving health on the deepest level – the health of our cells. By influencing our health on this most fundamental level, overall health and resistance to disease is enhanced. On an almost daily basis, we are blown away by the moving stories shared with us of the life-changing effects of the diet on people’s health, including those suffering from long-term chronic conditions.
In your results, you found that weight loss was most noticeable around the abdominal area… why is that?
Where we store fat is very important and the type of fat we store around the abdominal area, known as ‘central adiposity,’ is strongly linked to chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The marked benefits for losing weight around the abdominal area from following the Sirtfood Diet are due to the powerful metabolic effects of Sirtfoods. One striking thing we have found is that most or all of the weight that people lose is from fat, not muscle. Additionally, by targeting activation of our sirtuin genes, the Sirtfood Diet also improves metabolic health and reduces inflammation, which further helps to explain why we see marked reductions in the harmful type of fat stored around the middle.
Is this diet similar to more well-known ones?
The Sirtfood Diet is the antidote to conventional dieting and seeks to change the landscape of how we understand the word ‘diet’ once and for all. It is not founded on calorie counting, it’s got nothing to do with restricting macronutrients, such as carbohydrates or fat, and no food groups, such as grains or dairy are vilified. Instead, The Sirtfood Diet is a diet of inclusion where every bite you take is one step further on the path to improved wellbeing.
The closest comparison would therefore be with the traditional Mediterranean diet, a way of eating that has been shown to be more beneficial than calorie counting for weight loss and more effective than pharmaceutical drugs for stopping disease. By developing a greater understanding of how it exerts these benefits, and how the foods that make it up ‘talk’ to our cells at a genetic level, we have been able to go a big step further. It has enabled us to take some of the best elements of a Mediterranean diet and combine them with the best foods from around the world and bring them all together into a completely new pattern of eating. So while there are parallels between the Sirtfood Diet and the traditional Mediterranean diet, you might think about following the Sirtfood Diet akin to upgrading your old mobile phone to a smartphone.
What foods are prohibited?
The beauty of the Sirtfood Diet is that it is a diet of inclusion. No foods are vi
llainized or prohibited.
How does eating a diet rich in Sirtfoods mimic the effects of fasting and exercise?
Both fasting and exercise trigger the activation of our sirtuin genes. Indeed, ‘caloric restriction’, the practice of lifelong calorie restriction without malnutrition, has been extensively studied for its longevity benefits. The reason it does this is because it activates our sirtiun genes. Sirtfoods are very rich in specific plant nutrients known as polyphenols that mimic the effects of calorie restriction in the body by activating our sirtuin genes. Thus, eating a diet packed full of Sirtfoods offers a revolutionary new way to activate these very same genes without having to endure a lifetime of hunger.
Would you still suggest to exercise? If so, what types of workouts complement this diet?
Of course, regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health and we want people to be active and do what they enjoy, as this will enhance the effects that Sirtfoods have on activating our sirtuin genes. Meeting established guidelines for exercise of 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate physical activity a week is all you need to reap the many benefits of exercise and to enhance the effects of the Sirtfood Diet.
Give us a typical day of eating on the Sirtfood plan.
After Phase 1, a typical Sirtfood day might look like this (with a vegan option also given):
Pre-breakfast: Sirtfood green juice
Breakfast: spiced scrambled eggs OR Sirt muesli
Lunch: Chicken Sirt super salad OR strawberry buckwheat tabbouleh salad
Snack: Sirtfood cocoa energy bites
Dinner: Miso-marinated baked cod with stir-fried greens and sesame OR Tuscan bean stew
Drinks: Black coffee, green tea, strawberry-infused water, and a glass of red wine
What do you mean by “after Phase 1”?
Phase 1 of the Sirtfood Diet is the optional hyper-success phase, a 7-day plan proven to help lose 7lbs. During the first three days, calorie intake is restricted to 1,000 calories per day, consisting of three Sirtfood green juices, plus one full meal rich in Sirtfoods. On days four to seven, calorie intake increases to 1,500 calories, comprising two Sirtfood-rich green juices and two Sirtfood-rich meals.
Phase 2 is a 14-day maintenance phase, where weight loss continues steadily. It’s all about packing the diet full of a wealth of Sirtfoods in a sustainable and realistic way. This is achieved by eating three balanced Sirtfood-rich meals daily, along with a ‘maintenance’ Sirtfood green juice.
But ultimately, the Sirtfood Diet is a way of eating for life. Phase 1 and 2 are the springboard for that, and that is how the long-term weight loss and life-changing health benefits are ultimately reaped.
Should one ever repeat phase 1 & 2? Or do I only do it once?
Phase 1 can be repeated again for those who need a weight loss or health boost. We recommend waiting at least a month before repeating it, but generally find that most people need to repeat it no more frequently than once every three months.
Some or all of Phase 2 can be repeated as often as you wish as it is all about establishing a lifelong Sirtfood inspired way of eating.
So in phase 1, you can expect to lose 7 pounds in seven days. But the first 3 days seem very limiting. How do you recommend someone getting through that without cheating?
It’s important to understand that Phase 1 is optional and is designed for those who want to get off to a flying start with weight loss. Where weight loss is less of a priority or people want to take a slower pace, it is not unusual to start at Day 4 of Phase 1 or even skip Phase 1 altogether. So there is no sense in which the first 3 days are obligatory.
In practice, for those who do follow Phase 1, we haven’t seen compliance with the first 3 days to be a big issue for people. We think this is due to the appetite-regulating effects of Sirftoods, so people actually adapt much more quickly than they think they will.
Is it okay to meal-prep the juices in advance? Or do they need the be consumed fresh out of the juicer?
Juices can be made in bulk and kept in the fridge for up to three days (or longer in the freezer).
Can you drink coffee or alcohol on this diet?
Both coffee and red wine are included in our list of Top Twenty Sirfoods!
Coffee deserves a special mention as we’re huge coffee fans. Coffee drinking wrongly gets a bad rap and we want to put the record straight. Packed full of polyphenols regular coffee drinking is linked to a reduced risk of diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, and certain cancers. As for fat-burning, a very recent study showed that women who drank two or three cups of coffee per day had the lowest fat levels, 3.4% lower than people who did not consume coffee. And for the ultimate irony…instead of being a toxin to the body as many people perceive it, coffee actually promotes liver health.
Does this diet allow for a cheat day?
The Sirtfood Diet is based on the principle of eating your way to better health and champions the likes of coffee, curry spices, dark chocolate, walnuts, extra virgin olive oil, and red wine. In essence, this is a food lover’s diet, and because nothing is forbidden, there simply isn’t that sense of restriction or deprivation that drives the desire for a ‘cheat day.’ The very idea of a cheat day just becomes a non-issue.
What tips do you have to set people up for success while on this diet?
We give lots of tips and advice in the book to help set people up for success, but one golden piece of advice is not to get overly focused on the numbers on the scale as the ultimate judge of success. Because of the unique metabolic effects of the Sirtfood Diet on fat-burning whilst preserving or even increasing muscle, changes to body composition are far more important than absolute numbers on the scale. Indeed, some of the most impressive transformations we have seen are where there is modest weight change but significant losses in fat and gains in muscle. This is reflected in how people look in the mirror, how their clothes fit, and inches lost around the waist.
In many diets, once you go off it, you gain all of your weight back, how is this diet any different?
To think of it purely as an aesthetic weight loss diet is to completely miss the point. With the Sirtfood Diet, weight loss is a consequence of improved health. Increased energy, clearer skin, feeling more alert, and better sleep are the pleasant ‘side effects’ from this way of eating. Longer-term, the benefits are even more remarkable with many cases where following the diet has reversed chronic metabolic and inflammatory diseases. In essence, it is a way of eating that lays the foundations for a longer, healthier life. With a newfound sense of well-being and weight loss as a consequence of a body back in balance, we find that people simply do not want to go back to their former way of eating.
If you want to learn more about the Sirtfood diet and follow the guidelines and recipes, click here to purchase the book and let us know your thoughts!
photo courtesy of @thesirtfooddiet