The adventures of Merv and his muffin top

Health advocate David Contarini shares his views on carbohydrates and weight gain.

Merv is my mate and he’s struggling with excess body fat in the lumbar region.There’s a medical name for his condition - a muffin top.

He’s tried eating less and moving more – what his doctor ordered – but he always feels hungry and tired.

Understandably, he wants the muffin top gone along with his high blood pressure, high fat and sugar in his blood.

This week, he popped around to my place for a chat and some health advice.

While thumbing through an old fitness mag on my coffee table he sees an ad for grain-free dog food while I’m in the kitchen making him a cacao smoothie.

Merv: Dave?

Me: Yes, Merv?

Merv: Have you seen this dog food ad?

Me: Nope

Merv: Well, it’s an ad saying this brand of dog food doesn’t have grain in it.

Me: Because?

Merv: I’m thinking because it’s not good for the dog.

Me: Or humans.

Merv: But humans eat grain by the truckloads.

Me: Yep.

Merv: Come to think of it, so do cattle.

Me: Only when the farmer wants to fatten them.

Merv looked up at me, pulling a face like he’d won the lottery but couldn’t find the ticket.

You see, Merv comes from the Old School of ‘eat fat, get fat’ and has lived on a diet of low-fat everything for the past 10 years.

But the penny’s dropped. Little does he know low-fat food is code for high-sugar junk and he’s been eating it by the truckload too.

The thought of carbohydrate or, more accurately lots of it, could make you fat was inconceivable to Merv.

They’re fine if you’re a front row forward for the Brisbane Broncos or work in a salt mine, but not for a bloke sitting eight hours’ a day in an office job.

So what is it about carbs that makes us gain weight?

When you eat carbohydrate, the body converts it to sugar (glucose) and then shunts it to two places – your muscles (so you can move) and your brain (so you can think).

If you eat what’s recommended for ‘good health’ – six servings a day or about 200-250g of carbs – glucose begins to ‘overflow’ into the liver.

From the liver it’s fast-tracked to your adipose cells (fat cells) where it has an unlimited storage capacity.

If Merv has any hope of losing weight, he must reduce his carbohydrate consumption to his lowest comfortable level – preferably under 100 grams per day.

If you make a ladle with the palm of your hand – scoop of rice, a handful of pasta, a medium apple – you’ll fit about 30g of carbs. More than three scoops throughout the day and you’ve just broken the bank.

Over the next few weeks Merv began to remove all of his liquid sugar (soft drinks, orange juice, sports drinks), milky sugar (flavoured milks), grainy sugar (bread, breakfast cereals, rice, pasta), sugary sugar (chocolates, any packet food with added sugar), fruity sugar (grapes, bananas, apples) and ‘beery’ sugar (all alcohol).

He swapped it for red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, whole milk, cheese, vegetables, some fruit, nuts, seeds and water and lost 24kgs in six months.

His blood glucose level returned to normal as did his blood pressure and, his muffin top disappeared. No more storm in a cupcake.