Weekly plate plan: protein focus

by Kate Shapland

A few of you have asked me to explain in more depth why eating plenty of protein is key when you are following The Cellu-Lite Plan, so here goes:

Although cellulite is not a fat issue, eating the right way certainly helps. Foods rich in salt, sugar, carbs and even vegetable-based diets are hydrophilic and encourage water retention. Protein is the opposite, promoting the elimination of water via urine. A protein-rich diet (and for vegans this can include food like tofu and seitan, tempeh and soya) helps you lose weight without losing muscle or skin tone. But, conversely, a diet low in protein makes the body use up its own proteins – and that affects your skin’s elasticity.

Upping your protein and water intake makes a killer combination for treating cellulite. And this is especially advantageous for women because while men gain weight by overeating and storing surplus calories as fat, for women weight gain is often more complex and bound up with water retention, which prevents diets from working properly.

Even women who diet in order to avoid this bloating are surprised to find that during times of hormonal surge, all the little things that worked before no longer have any effect. In all these cases, a diet of pure proteins has a decisive and immediate effect. In a few days, sometimes even in a matter of hours, water-soaked tissues begin to dry up, leaving a feeling of well-being and lightness that shows up immediately on the scales and greatly boosts motivation. A low-calorie diet, on the other hand, doesn’t help reduce fluid retention; instead, this type of diet tends to make fluid retention worse. There is typically not enough protein in a low-calorie diet, and protein is an important nutrient in preventing the abnormal changes in body tissues.

It is quite possible to retain up to five pounds of water weight, much of which is stored in the fluid that surrounds the cells throughout the body. Overweight people tend to retain more water because they consume more calories and as a result, tend to consume higher amounts of sodium which greatly contributes to water retention.

Protein-rich diets are known to promote elimination through urine and, as such, provide a welcome purge or ‘drying out’ for tissues filled with water, which can be a problem during the premenstrual cycle or perimenopause.

So what constitutes a high-protein diet? Generally it’s thought to be one which contains more than 60 gms of protein per day or represents more than 30% of the total calorie intake from protein sources, as against the recommended 0.8 gms per kg daily.

In general, meat is the best source of protein, but it contains a lot of fat compared to chicken, egg whites and fish. Low-fat dairy products like milk, unflavoured yoghurt and cheese are a good sources of protein and calcium.

High-protein foods demand more effort to digest, metabolise and use, which means you burn more calories to process them. They also take longer to leave your stomach, so you feel full sooner and for long.

People on high-protein diets tend to have a higher metabolism. Your body uses the amino acids in protein to build lean muscle, which not only makes you stronger and more toned, but also burns calories even when you’re not active. Ultimately, this keeps your metabolism humming along at high speed. So, you can burn off the excess calories that you have eaten.

Higher amounts of protein have a diuretic effect so in the initial stages of this kind of diet you can experience increased frequency of urination. Nitrogen is a bi-product of protein metabolism and is toxic. So the body responds by pulling water from the tissues to flush it out. This is what leads to frequent urination and thirst. But as your body adapts to the diet, your thirst and urination levels will normalise.