I don’t believe in diets - and it was hard work - but following this plan improved my mood and health, and helped me form better habits
woman sitting on stairs in a house.

I’ve read enough essays titled “Why I Gave Up Dieting for Life” to know that the phrase “gave up dieting” is code for “ate only protein and BabyBels and called it a lifestyle”. So I’m not going to pretend that the three-week “Metabolic Reset” I’ve just completed isn’t a diet, or that it wasn’t hard, or that I didn’t go hungry.

The interesting part, for me, was investigating whether we really can reset our metabolisms. Can we genuinely dredge our fragile guts after a lifetime of mistreatment, and give them another chance at working efficiently – or must we settle for a sluggish midlife, and accept that if I stick with the Kettle Chips, my waist will expand indefinitely?

“Three weeks won’t change your life, but you will feel a significant shift in your body, sleep, and stress, and understand how food connects to how you feel,” says Rhian Stephenson, the nutritionist who devised the programme. “We’ve all been taught about food and body image, but not about how food affects your sleep, energy, attention and gut. After three weeks, you’ll hopefully feel able to change your habits. It also brings you back to cooking, which is important. We too often fall to the quickest and easiest choices.”

Stephenson is the founder of ARTAH supplements and has created a number of nutrition programmes that target common health complaints such as energy, gut health, metabolism, sleep, and hormone balance. She is also a hardcore, no nonsense, ex-athlete and former CEO of cult spinning company Psycle.

I gave up dieting 15 years ago when it became apparent that in order to lose even a measly half pound, I would need to eat almost nothing. Apart from a flirtation with Noom as my 40th approached, since then I’ve eaten what I wanted, and my weight has more or less returned to the same point over the years. That point is a much higher number than I wish for, but I am loudly against denial, cutting out food groups, demonising any foods, picky eaters, not clearing one’s plate, and ending a night without one more for the road.

Over this time, diet culture has rightly been called out as the enemy of women all over the (developed) world. I count myself as someone who can see the workings of the machine but remains nonetheless trapped in its pernicious grip. In other words, I know that diet culture is bad, but I still want to fit into my summer clothes. (None of which ever fit, given I only buy clothes when I’m at my slimmer end.)

With all this in mind, it’s complicated for me to admit I’ve spent the past three weeks, under Stephenson’s programme, avoiding all gluten, dairy and sugar and sticking to a strict programme of whole foods, intermittent fasting, some keto days and strictly no booze. But I’m delighted with the results, which include a 3.5kg weight loss (half a stone) and lots of delicious sleep. But it was all hard won – and really hard work.

Making Stephenson’s ARTAH seeded courgette loaf, for example, was far from an easy choice. After visiting various shops for the six kinds of seeds, quinoa and psyllium husk it demands, I was entering week two’s “keto sprint,” when very few carbs are permitted by the time I’ve made it, and it ended up going mouldy while I breakfasted on boiled eggs with asparagus soldiers and keto breakfast shakes of avocado, frozen berries, nut butter and plant milk.

The most surprising result is that I managed to stick to it. I’ve become so enmeshed in the self-care, anti-denial mindset that I need or expect constant hits of comfort be they from social media, online shopping or the biscuit barrel. I was after some sort of rest or reckoning and the Metabolic Reset fit the bill.

Stephenson’s comment, “it’s only three weeks”, plays on my mind like a mantra throughout my reset, because I know that in order to stick to any kind of eating plan, I need strict, schoolmarmish guidance. Not self-flagellation, but not bottomless indulgence, either.

The best thing? At £30 for the download, the programme feels really accessible. Supplements are also recommended, but I opt not to take these. In week two, when my sugar cravings are at their height, Stephenson promises me they will calm down, and sends me some.

But miraculously, by the time they arrive, I’m well into week three and my cravings have all but gone. I am going to try them for the next month to see the effects. Not taking them might have been a poor financial decision, because while I am craving sugar I sign up to two new wine subscriptions.

Is it really possible to reset our metabolisms? “I think when people talk about ‘resetting their metabolism’, they’re talking about becoming more metabolically flexible,” says Dr Ruqia Zafar, medical director at the Future Woman HRT clinic. “Metabolic flexibility refers to our ability to shift between carb and fat burning as we shift between different activity levels and between the states of fasting and feeding.”

I ask Dr Zafar why this shift matters. “People who are metabolically flexible are better able to tap into using fat as a fuel source and therefore utilise stored body fat, leading to weight loss,” she explains. The opposite happens when we can’t switch between the two states, and use carbs as a fuel source instead of burning fat, which can lead to a greater likelihood of being insulin resistant and at risk of developing diabetes.

The other side of resetting your metabolism, Dr Zafar explains, is increasing your resting metabolic rate – the amount of calories your body burns while resting – often referred to as a faster metabolism. She suggests exercising more to build muscle, eating more protein, and getting enough sleep as useful strategies for increasing your resting metabolic rate, all of which I’m doing on Stephenson’s reset.

Of most interest to me is Dr Zafar’s recommendation to make sure you eat enough. “Eating less doesn’t always lead to weight loss,” she says. “If you’re a chronic dieter, you will probably be familiar with this scenario. You feel like you eat nothing and yet nothing is shifting on the scales. This is because if your calorie consumption has been low for prolonged periods, your body will slow down its metabolic rate to conserve energy.” This sounds relatable. But I’d never considered I could do anything about my sloth-like metabolism, until I met Stephenson.

You don’t have to follow the ARTAH recipes, which include plenty of lean protein, oily fish, gluten-free grains, fruit, veg, herbs and spices, but they are very helpful as a guide. As well as ensuring you eat the right balance of protein, carbs and fat, they include interesting varieties of foods high in “phytochemicals”, which are said to improve all sorts of things, from circulation to cognitive health.

Left to my own devices, I would probably eat fairly plain dishes of salmon or chicken with piles of vegetables and brown rice. But I try to stick to Stephenson’s ideas for roughly two-thirds of the time, depending on leftovers and who else is home, which makes mealtimes more interesting.

There’s cashew fried rice with spring greens, baked cod with kale pesto and sweet potato fries, and delicious cacao, date and walnut granola. Coffee is allowed. Calorie counting is not. Snacking is permitted if you’re hungry but discouraged. I mostly manage but turn to handfuls of nuts on a few long afternoons. “We’ve become conditioned to snack all day,” says Stephenson. “We’ve lost true hunger and metabolic flexibility, and when you snack often, you feel hungrier.”

In the end, I overcame my afternoon sweet cravings to the extent that I don’t even want chocolate, which in turn makes me sad because I love chocolate and want it to be part of my life. But the effects that surprise me most are mental, rather than physical: I haven’t overcome my skittish behaviour entirely, but I am far more focused at a screen, and entirely without night-time anxiety. “We train ourselves to be hooked on stimulants,” says Stephenson. “But we can reset our brains as well as our metabolism.”