The Blood Sugar Diet Review
The Blood Sugar Diet is a book by Dr Michael Moseley. It promises to shed 10% to 15% of your body weight in just 8 weeks! Essentially, it's a Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD), with one huge difference: it uses real food.
On most VLCD systems, you replace some or all of your meals with diet shakes or bars, which have one big drawback: they don't help you learn new eating habits. Once the diet is over, you go back to cooking the same old meals, with ingredients and/or portion sizes that are unhealthy, so you'll put the weight right back on.
The Blood Sugar Diet is not only much tastier (because food always tastes better than synthetic shakes!), it also teaches you about healthy eating, so you'll know how to maintain your weight once you've reached your goal.
Having spent hours Googling and finding forums full of people who have achieved and maintained the promised weight loss on the BSD, I was convinced. However, I know I'm not good at dieting. So I decided to sign up for an online version, which promised lots of help and support to stick to it.
The group I joined was the 12 week Blood Sugar Diet Online (BSD Online). This is my detailed review.
Is BSD Online Value for Money?
There's no question, the 8 Week Blood Sugar Diet is value for money - all you have to do is buy the book! But what about the online program?
When I signed up, the fee was about $130 (99 pounds sterling), and I hesitated about the cost - but the longer duration made me feel I was getting better value. It works out at about $11 a week for 12 weeks, whereas it would be $16 a week for 8 weeks. Bargain!
You can imagine how I felt, then, when I got my welcome email and discovered that "Week One" isn't week one at all! It's "orientation" week. In practice that meant a couple of handouts about weight loss and health, and advice to clear out my pantry. That's what I call an "introduction" and not enough to justify calling it a full week of the program, in my book. Then the final week is just a wrap-up.
So in all, the online program is 10 weeks rather than 12 - not quite such a bargain!
Shopping Lists, Menus and Meals
One attraction of the online program was that every week's meals would be planned out for me, and at the start of each week I could download a shopping list to take to the supermarket.
That turned out to be true (albeit for eight weeks not twelve). However, the shopping list is just a printed list, not an interactive system. Like most people, there are foods I don't like, and that meant I substituted some meals or ingredients. I had to print off the shopping list and scribble all over it to make my changes. I had expected to be able to tweak the menu plan online, and that would have produced a tailored shopping list. There are websites which can do that, so it's technically possible.
My other surprise was the length (and therefore higher cost) of the shopping list in the first week.
When I started preparing the meals, I discovered why there was so much food. One was that the shopping list included, say, a whole cauliflower even if you needed only a few ounces. If the list had shown the quantity needed, I could have bought a half cauliflower, or a small packet of pre-cut cauli.
Also, the meals seemed to be chosen without much regard for wastage. As an example, I needed half a cup of almond milk for a breakfast porridge on Tuesday. That meant buying a whole carton of almond milk, which was then not used in any of the other recipes that week - so the rest got poured down the sink.
You may think that you could use up the leftovers in other ways - but there is very little room for manoeuvre on this program. Just an extra half a cup of almond milk or an extra ounce or two of salmon could blow your diet, so you simply can't yield to the temptation to eat the excess!
As time went on, I discovered they assume you're going to freeze surplus ingredients, sometimes on their own and sometimes by making meals in advance and freezing those. While that's a good idea, and perhaps obvious to experienced home cooks, it wasn't obvious to me - nor was it explained.
On this Program, I spent significantly longer in the kitchen than I normally would. There were more vegetables to chop, ingredients to be measured and weighed carefully, and lots of different spices and seasonings to be added. The result was that the meals were yummy and beautifully presented, but I found it hard work, and I wonder how a busy mum would cope with it.
Although the servings were small, I didn't feel deprived of food. What I did feel deprived of was a social life. The participants in the original scientific study of this diet found the same thing. The food is fine and hunger isn't an issue - boredom is!
Like I said, there's no room for flexibility in the online program. If you go out for a meal, you will blow your diet, guaranteed. The average restaurant meal would use up your whole daily allowance, and even a grilled fish/salad choice will be well over the limit for your evening meal. If you're going to a social event, your only option is to make something and take it with you. Also, although they say you can drink alcohol if you cut out something else, you'd have to cut out an entire meal to compensate, and you're already eating a bare minimum every day. So it's not really an option - you have to drink water.
The net result was that if I wanted to go out and enjoy myself, I had to regard the day as a write-off.
What is the Support Like?
Basic support is provided in a forum, but the forum software is primitive. You can't easily keep track when new topics or replies have been posted. There's no facility to create a profile and there's no way to see who else is on the program unless they create a forum post to say hello. It doesn't feel like a community. There are experts to answer your questions - although to be honest, when I later joined a Facebook page for the 8-Week book, I felt I got more informative answers there than from the "experts"!
The big support factor missing from the online program was accountability. If you join a conventional diet group like Weight Watchers, you have to go to a meeting, and face the consultant while you step on the scales. For me, that guilt and embarrassment is a good incentive to stick to the diet. On the online BSD, that doesn't happen.
For the first three weeks or so, I made a few posts on the forums. After that, I dropped out. During the remaining nine weeks, I didn't receive a single email from program staff, asking whether I was still doing OK on the diet or if I needed help to get back on track. Sure, I could have been pro-active and asked for help on the forums - but the point is, I'm the customer. They are being paid to encourage and mentor me. It was clear the staff didn't have any interest in me as an individual - which enabled me to drop out without feeling guilty.
Don't waste your money on the online program! It's simpler, cheaper and more effective to buy the book, and join one or more of the Facebook groups for the 8-week Blood Sugar Diet.
I think the 8-week Blood Sugar Diet is an excellent concept, but the 12-week online program added enough extra value to make it worth the investment, because:
- In spite of the detailed weekly menus, it didn't remove the need to count calories. I still had to track my own calories using a calorie app.
- The shopping list wasn't as helpful as I expected, because it's a simple Word document - and it caused extra expense and wastage.
- The meals were too complex, demanding a lot of planning and preparation every single day.
- The forum was primitive, like a forum from ten years ago. It was too hard to follow and because it was just text, it didn't engage me.
- The staff were inflexible, making participants feel they would be failing if they broke the diet even for a special event.
- There was no accountability.
How to Do It Yourself
When I gave up the online program and switched to the Facebook group, it was a revelation.
It's a Way of Eating
The first thing I learned is that it's not the calories that matter, it's the Way of Eating (WOE). The important thing is to learn and follow the principles of the WOE (i.e. which foods are allowed and which are not). The quickest results come from eating less than 800 calories a day too, but you don't have to count calories every single day: you will still get results.
That means that if you have a special occasion or find yourself having to eat out unexpectedly, it's not a disaster. All you have to do is follow the principles, and you are still "on plan". You can even treat yourself to a glass of wine.
That discovery had a huge effect on me. I'm one of those people who, in that situation, tends to think, "There's nothing here that's low-cal. I'm going to blow the diet anyway, I may as well go the whole hog and have that hummingbird cake too." Now, I don't feel like that, because I can usually find a menu item that fits the principles - and instead of feeling like a failure, I feel good because I've done the right thing.
You Don't Have to Cook Complicated Meals
The other big revelation is that it's OK to be a boring cook! A typical day's menu on the online version might be: Mexican Baked Eggs Avocado for breakfast, Halloumi and Asparagus Salad for lunch and Mustard Garlic Prawns for dinner.
Now, my typical menu is much simpler: poached eggs with mushrooms or spinach for breakfast and soup for lunch (possibly from a can!). I may cook something fancy for dinner, or if I'm busy I'll just serve grilled fish or meat with a huge salad. For me, it's enough of a stress being on a diet without having to make time for complicated recipes - so having permission to cook simple meals is a huge relief for me. I think the online group is trying to make every meal super-tasty and delicious so people won't feel deprived, but for me the trade-off on time wasn't acceptable.
In a nutshell, the Facebook groups have taught me that this diet can be easy to follow. The longer you do it, the more the WOE becomes a habit. If I'm able to count calories, I'm going to progress faster, but now I know that even if I don't have time to weigh and measure, I can have a "good" diet day, I feel so much more positive.
Health Claims - Will It Reverse Diabetes?
I can't discuss the Blood Sugar Diet without discussing its biggest claim to fame: that it can reverse diabetes. There is certainly scientific evidence to indicate that it could. The diet has gained fame thanks to Michael Moseley's book, but it's not his idea. The concept was originally studied at Newcastle University in the UK and you can read the results in this scientific paper.
The Blood Sugar diet is slightly different in that it doesn't use VLCD shakes. Instead it uses fresh, wholesome food in recipes which emphasize flavor, but the principle is exactly the same, so it's reasonable to expect the results should be similar.
Before you get too excited about the results of the Newcastle study, check that you have the type of diabetes which responds to the diet. Read this document for more information:
The Opposing View
As with all new diets, not everyone agrees that the Blood Sugar Diet is a good thing. Here are some contra views:
Of course, the diet is not suitable for everyone. You SHOULD NOT do it if you are:
- Underweight and/or have a history of an eating disorder
- Under 18
- Pregnant or breastfeeding
- Diagnosed with a significant psychiatric disorder
- Frail, suffering a major illness or recovering from surgery
- A Type 1 diabetic
If you are on insulin, or any medication for diabetes or blood pressure, you MUST plan your diet in conjunction with your doctor, because it's likely you'll need close monitoring to adjust your dosage as the diet progresses.
In fact if you're on any medication for a chronic condition, you should discuss the diet with your doctor before embarking on it.
Caution: f you have retinopathy you should have extra screening within 6 months (as retinopathy can sometimes get worse when blood sugar improves).
If you'd like to try the diet, it's absolutely essential to buy this book. It clearly sets out the principles of the WOE (way of eating). It's not necessary to buy any of the other books or sign up for the online program: this book has everything you need to get started.