Gabriela Peacock is helping us talk sensibly about obesity

Gabriela Peacock: ‘Why we really need to talk about weight loss’

She’s the model turned top nutritionist who’s credited with getting Prince Harry in shape for his wedding. But right now Gabriela Peacock has a bigger mission. Her revolutionary eating plan could help us all slim down – and live longer 

She’s the model turned top nutritionist who’s credited with getting Prince Harry in shape for his wedding. But right now Gabriela Peacock has a bigger mission. Her revolutionary eating plan could help us all slim down – and live longer

I’m a bit nervous that Gabriela Peacock is going to dispense loads of woo-woo advice such as cutting out all foods beginning with B, mainlining kale and only eating carbs when Venus is retrograde. After all, former model Gabriela is the nutritionist royals and A-listers have on speed-dial. A close friend of Princess Beatrice, Gabriela is rumoured to be the power behind both Prince Harry’s and Princess Eugenie’s glow at their respective weddings (she was a guest at both). Other clients include Ellie Goulding, Katherine Jenkins, Piers Morgan, James Blunt, Jodie Kidd, Donna Air and Anna Friel.

Yet, in fact, 40-year-old Czech-born Gabriela, mother of Maia, nine, and twins Iris and Caspar, three, couldn’t be more down to earth in her advice. She admits she’s partial to the odd Nando’s and is fine with clients drinking wine (in moderation) and eating (dark) chocolate. ‘Well, I do, so I can hardly tell them not to! Stress hormones can be far more damaging to your body than a couple of glasses of red wine. People need to live their lives – there’s no judgment from me!’ she says, laughing.

‘When I started studying nutrition [15 years ago] there was very little information out there. Now there’s almost too much. Everyone’s confused and feeling the pressure to eat perfectly. But how many smoothies can you make in a day? We worry, “Am I a terrible mother if I don’t cook all meals from scratch with organic ingredients?” But no one can do that. I feed my children lots of ready meals. We need to give ourselves a break.’

After months of scoffing Magnums as a ‘lockdown treat’, I’m hoping she will say it’s fine to have piled on the pounds. Yet her message is the opposite. Gabriela stresses this isn’t about looking perfect in a bikini: excess weight can shorten your life. This became abundantly clear recently when studies showed that 73 per cent of critically ill patients with Covid-19 in Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands were obese; the proportion was at least two thirds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, despite the health risks, it has become harder for health professionals to discuss weight with patients for fear of being accused of fat-shaming. Gabriela says, ‘Everybody is so scared to talk about weight, but this terrible virus has opened the discussion on how carrying extra pounds isn’t just about the way people look on their Instagram: obesity provokes inflammation, which leads to cancer and diabetes and many other chronic conditions.

‘Around 90 per cent of my patients see me for weight-loss reasons. They understand they need to be lighter to be healthy and feel good about themselves – but we can’t talk about it.’

To kick-start a programme, Gabriela favours a two-week 4:3 plan (see below) when people alternate days where they ‘fast’ – women eat 500 calories and men 600 – with days when they eat healthily. Day seven is the ‘magic’ day when they can eat anything they like (within reason). ‘Having that day to look forward to helps keep things achievable,’ she says.

Gabriela became fascinated by food and the effect it has on our bodies while working as a teenage model. ‘I saw so many food issues in the modelling world, especially in Paris – models were doing things such as eating cotton wool soaked in orange juice. It wasn’t pretty but it intrigued me. I wanted to know more about how the body worked,’ she says.

Warm, funny and self-deprecating, Gabriela is talking to me from the family’s holiday home in Ramatuelle in the South of France, where she’s spending time with her husband, hedge-fund manager David Peacock, 46, to mark their tenth wedding anniversary.

Normally based in Notting Hill in West London, Gabriela’s life now couldn’t be more different from her ‘very happy’ childhood, growing up in a flat in a town outside Prague in the dying days of Communism. Her father had a construction company, her ‘wonderful but slightly pushy’ mother was a kindergarten teacher who had her daughter modelling in catalogues from the age of four. When she was 15 she beat thousands of girls to win a modelling contract with jeweller Van Cleef & Arpels, and soon afterwards found herself alone on a plane bound for Paris. ‘It was the first time I’d ever been on a plane. I was terrified and my parents were terrified, but they had no money to travel with me.’

Paris came as a nasty shock. ‘I was very lucky to have the chance to get out of the Czech Republic so young; the girls I went to school with are still working in our village. But at first I met all these people who were awful to me. I was crying down the phone to my parents every day and sobbing myself to sleep every night.’

Even today, when Gabriela has enjoyed some fabulous trips to Paris with her husband, she says, ‘I get a shiver down my spine when I go there. My experiences were 20 years ago but I remember how miserable the girls were and how you’d go to a nightclub and you’d be surrounded by these awful men.’

Meanwhile, all around her Gabriela saw ‘girls with eating disorders’. When she put on a few pounds, her agent told her to eat nothing but green beans with a bit of boiled fish. ‘I remember thinking, “Gosh, really?” but I ended up doing it otherwise I’d have been sent home on the bus.’

With time Gabriela gained confidence. ‘It was tough but it made me stronger,’ she says. Then, in her 20s, when her modelling career took off, she moved to London. ‘I found life much easier here; you don’t have sleazy men surrounding you, there were girls who I liked who were not bitchy. I found a flat with people who are still my best friends and felt grounded.’

But even though she was at the peak of her career by now, Gabriela began working on a get-out plan. ‘I lived with a lovely girl who, when she hit 31, saw all her jobs slow down, and that scared me. I thought, “There’s no way I’m going to become this ageing model getting less and less work.” I’d had an amazing time – getting lots of attention, doing things such as shooting a calendar in Anguilla – but I knew it wouldn’t last.’

Gabriela became fascinated by food and the effect it has on our bodies while working as a teenage model

So Gabriela did a degree in naturopathic nutrition, then – for ‘more scientific depth’ – took another in nutritional therapy. ‘When I started the second degree, having already done one, I thought, “This will be so easy.” Oh my gosh, it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done! Even though my English is good I could hardly write a sentence, and we had a really tough module leader who was determined to push out all the flaky “Ooh, studying nutrition sounds nice” types.’

But Gabriela was determined to prove herself. Six years later she graduated with a 2:1. By now, she had also married David in a ceremony at Lake Como. They’d met through friends, though when he first asked her out she wasn’t sure and begged her modelling booker to come, too.

‘But alcohol helps in these situations, so we drank a lot of wine and everything was fine,’ she laughs. ‘Before, I’d always tended to analyse everything about relationships – who’d texted who, what did he say – and suddenly I was like, “I don’t need to think about this.” We spent that first weekend together and David often likes to joke that, after that, I moved into his house and never left, but, actually, it’s kind of true.’

Gabriela with her husband, hedge-fund manager David Peacock. Gabriela’s no believer in wacky or ultra-strict diets, preferring tweaks we can adopt long term

She could have been a trophy wife, but Gabriela wanted a successful career, so she begged her friend, socialite Tamara Beckwith Veroni’s sister Clare, to introduce her to the Queen’s physician Sir Tim Evans, who was in charge of a new holistic practice at a swanky all-women’s club in London, Grace Belgravia. ‘I got myself invited to a party I knew he’d be at, and I cornered him with my one-year-old on my hip and he hired me,’ says Gabriela with a chuckle.

She was the head nutritionist there until it closed last year, then began practising privately – during lockdown doing consultations via FaceTime. ‘It’s been really busy. At the start of the pandemic people wanted to know what to eat to support their immunity, but as it went on it became more about diet plans – being stuck in has made it very easy to snack.’

As mentioned, Gabriela’s no believer in wacky or ultra-strict diets, preferring tweaks we can adopt long term. She jokes that she’s much more relaxed than some of the ‘Notting Hill mums’ she mixes with. ‘I was terrified to hear that some of my friends’ kids have never even seen apple juice – my kids have it every day. My older daughter loves all the unhealthy stuff, but what I’ve taught her is, for example, if she wants a doughnut, she can have it as a treat, so long as she has a portion of protein first. Now she negotiates with me – “If I have a yogurt and two eggs, then can I have a pastry?” I grew up on white bread rolls pretty much and I ended up being fine,’ she adds. ‘It is all about balance.’

Ever pragmatic, Gabriela also realises that many of us don’t have the time to make sure we’re getting all our daily nutrients. ‘We’re running around [going], “How much broccoli can we realistically eat in a day?”’

To aid this, four years ago she launched her GP Nutrition Supplements, with ranges such as Clean Me – sachets and pills to optimise liver function – and Slim Me, a fibre-packed powder drink to quell the appetite. The latter sparked controversy and debate as it has been criticised by the British Dietetic Association for containing glucomannan, a laxative with potential side effects of ‘diarrhoea, bloating and flatulence’ and that talk of suppressing appetites could also be ‘emotionally damaging’.

‘That made headlines because I’m friends with the royals. I was so shocked about it, I couldn’t sleep,’ she says. ‘Glucomannan is a water-soluble fibre that the European Food Safety Authority has shown supports weight loss, but it’s only one of between 20 to 30 nutrients in my supplements that help a healthy, balanced lifestyle.’

If Gabriela was upset it’s because her work is everything to her. ‘It sounds so naff but being a nutritionist fulfils me. I’d always had a bit of an issue with being just a pretty hanger for clothes. What I do now makes me so much happier.’

The doable way to diet

Don’t worry – intermittent fasting doesn’t mean going without every day…

We’ve all heard of the 5:2 diet – where you pick two out of the seven days of the week on which to fast, eating around 500 calories on those days. Gabriela prefers the 4:3 approach, her concept of alternate-day fasting, which is split into three ‘fasting’ days, three ‘mindful’ and one ‘magic’ day. She’s an advocate not only because ‘it has the most research behind it in terms of effective, healthy weight loss’, but because it’s simple – and works quickly. 

We’ve all heard of the 5:2 diet – where you pick two out of the seven days of the week on which to fast, eating around 500 calories on those days. Gabriela prefers the 4:3 approach, her concept of alternate-day fasting

Fasting helps lower inflammation, helps beat diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity and can also kick-start the immune system – not to mention improve rate of cellular repair, effectively slowing down ageing. ‘Intermittent fasting gives the body a bit of a shock, and by doing so it will become more resilient. A vast amount of research supports the effectiveness of fasting for sustainable weight loss, as long as you don’t compensate by eating much more the rest of the time,’ says Gabriela. ‘I wanted to create an amazing weight-loss plan where you will see results in the first two weeks. Because if you don’t see results fast, or it’s too difficult, you’ll lose motivation and won’t stick with it. That’s where the 4:3 comes in,’ she explains. ‘What I’ve found works is controlling yourself one day then not having to the day after. It’s three nonconsecutive days of fasting, and you can plan those around your social life. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is definitely doable if you choose the right foods.’ 

Fasting helps lower inflammation, helps beat diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity and can also kick-start the immune system – not to mention improve rate of cellular repair, effectively slowing down ageing

On the three mindful days you don’t count calories, but ensure you follow the blood sugar balancing protocol – three meals, plus two snacks, with protein included in every one. On the magic day – well, ‘I want you to go crazy and eat what you want, drink what you want and really enjoy yourself,’ Gabriela says. ‘From a psychological view point, it’s important to have something to look forward to: eat a lot of cake, drink wine and know that it will be fine. Like fasting, it’s a shock for your metabolism – and that can be good for it, because changing a pattern builds your body’s resilience. 

‘It really helps with loss of weight carried around the middle – the most dangerous area to carry fat as those tissues are the most active in prompting inflammation,’ adds Gabriela. The proof is in the results – in just two weeks on the 4:3 plan, Gabriela has seen clients lose between 1.7kg and 3.8kg.

 

Why fat can be fatal

Kick-starting your body into burning excess weight will bring instant life-changing benefits 

LOSING WEIGHT CAN HELP YOU LIVE LONGER

Fat is much more than an aesthetic issue – it affects many aspects of our health and wellbeing, and carrying too much of it can ultimately shorten our lives, explains Gabriela. ‘It’s never the weight alone that’s the concern – it’s what it can lead to.’

Decades of research has shown that being overweight or obese is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases (resulting in heart attacks and strokes), certain types of cancer, and issues as wide-ranging as infertility, asthma and psoriasis.

One of the most well-established links between obesity and ill health is the role it plays in diabetes, says Gabriela. Recent research has shown that fat tissue is more than just a storage system; it releases inflammatory proteins which can trigger changes in our metabolism and increase insulin resistance – leading to such conditions as type 2 diabetes (which occurs when your cells become resistant to insulin, the hormone that regulates how your body uses sugar and fat). Over time, the consistently high level of sugar circulating in your blood can lead to complications with your heart, eyes, kidneys and feet.

‘When you lose the excess weight, you lower your risk of all these illnesses – and ultimately, premature death,’ says Gabriela. There are other benefits, too. ‘You can also improve your energy levels and quality of sleep.’

WHY INFLAMMATION IS THE BIGGEST RISK TO YOUR HEALTH

Excess fat can cause inflammation, which can set off a domino effect of damaging changes throughout the body. Inflammation is part of our body’s immune response, bringing blood cells to attack infection or heal injuries. But when it becomes chronic, as it can when we are carrying too much weight, it has a host of negative effects.

‘This sort of inflammation is a risk factor for all sorts of diseases – not just diabetes but also hardening of the arteries, stroke, skin conditions, depression and cancer,’ explains Gabriela. But losing weight – reducing the amount of fat tissue – can reverse inflammation as well as the risks it can pose.

‘Although our genes can make some of us more prone to weight gain than others, ultimately, we can take control of our diets and lifestyles and effect the necessary changes,’ she says.

The food choices we make can also contribute to inflammation – or combat it, says Gabriela. She recommends avoiding added sugar and refined carbohydrates, which provoke inflammation by sending blood sugar soaring, and to instead eat more anti-inflammatory foods. ‘These include oily fish, nuts and seeds – the omega-3 fatty acids in these have been demonstrated to reduce the production of inflammatory markers in the body,’ Gabriela says. She also advocates eating ‘dark leafy greens including kale and sprouts, as well as purple foods such as blackberries and blueberries’, as these all contain a variety of chemicals, such as polyphenols, flavonoids and anthocyanins that are linked to reduced inflammation.

She’s also a huge fan of turmeric, which you can find in many curry sauces or as a standalone supplement, because it contains curcumin – said to be very anti-inflammatory. ‘There’s also evidence it may alter gut microbial composition; having healthier gut bacteria is also linked with lower levels of inflammation and good weight management.’

HOW TO BALANCE YOUR BLOOD SUGAR

‘Our blood-sugar level dictates how hungry we feel, as well as how tired or energetic,’ says Gabriela. ‘If you have low energy, if you can’t sleep, if you have cravings, if you struggle to lose weight – you need to balance your blood sugar.’

Blood sugar is produced when we break down the sugar from food we have eaten to provide an energy source for our cells. Sugary foods and simple carbohydrates such as white pasta are broken down quickly and absorbed rapidly, causing a quicker, higher rise in blood-sugar levels than a complex, high-fibre carbohydrate such as a sweet potato, or a protein (such as cheese or meat). In response to a rise in blood sugar, insulin is released.

‘Insulin is like a taxi: it takes the sugar into our cells, where it is stored,’ explains Gabriela. ‘This prevents blood-sugar levels from getting too high. But when we eat lots of simple carbohydrates, the pancreas releases lots of insulin. This not only promotes storage of blood sugars as body fat, but it also tells our body that there is plenty of energy available, and that it should not burn any fat.

The key is to stabilise blood-sugar levels, says Gabriela, which means ‘we won’t produce too much insulin and will allow our body to utilise our stored energy instead – the body fat.’

THE POWER OF PROTEIN

The best way to balance blood sugar is by eating complex rather than simple carbohydrates – rye bread over white, for instance – but, crucially, Gabriela says you should always balance this intake with protein.

‘If you combine protein and carbohydrate, it takes longer to digest and sugars are released much more slowly, meaning there is less of a spike in blood sugar or insulin. So never have toast plain or just with butter or Marmite – have it with cheese or eggs. There is nothing wrong with big snacks as long as the carbs are matched with protein.

‘My ideal snack in the afternoon is oatcakes with hummus or some nice toasted dark rye bread or pumpernickel bread with loads of turkey ham on it.

‘Within a day you’ll find your energy levels have improved. It’s quite amazing for someone who was always exhausted by mid-afternoon and relied on that sugary crutch of a cake and a coffee.’

  • For more information, visit Gabriela’s website gpnutrition.com 

We strongly advise consulting your doctor before embarking on any diet plan. You should also discuss your medication if necessary. The eating plan is not suitable if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or underweight.

Gabriela’s five weight-loss golden rules

1 Avoid drinking coffee on an empty stomach ‘Enjoy your daily coffee or two, but never on an empty stomach. Caffeine prompts the release of glucose from the liver. This causes a spike in blood sugar, and cravings follow – even though you didn’t eat anything sugary,’ says Gabriela. Pair that coffee with a high-protein breakfast or snack, such as greek yogurt.

‘Eat more veg and choose the high-fibre ones – especially cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, which are also good for liver health. And eat whole fruits over smoothies or juice,’ says Gabriela

2 Ditch low-fat Make sure that yogurt is full-fat – low-fat foods are a false economy. Low-fat versions are not as filling and may have fewer calories, but often replace these with sugar or sweeteners. The original wholefood is always best, says Gabriela.

3 Eat cheese before dessert Something full of protein – and flavour – will fill you up in a way something sweet simply can’t, says Gabriela. ‘So eat a piece of cheese before something sweet. The protein promotes satiety and will stem the urge to overeat the sweet stuff. I also love to drink a salty hot broth after my dinner on fast days – it has perhaps 20 calories in it but is tasty, warming and filling.’

4 Choose the chewiest food Eat lots of fibrous vegetables. Fibre fills you up, and is important for digestion and your gut microbiota – the ‘good bacteria’ in your gut, which research shows may be linked to weight. ‘Eat more veg and choose the high-fibre ones – especially cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, which are also good for liver health. And eat whole fruits over smoothies or juice,’ says Gabriela. Not only is it more satisfying, whole fruit is absorbed more slowly in the gut so you don’t get as high a spike in blood sugar.

5 Don’t skip celebrations ‘If my patients come to me before Christmas or a big holiday I almost always tell them, “Stop, don’t worry about what you are eating for a couple of weeks, have a nice time with your family. Come back to the plan afterwards, it will still be there,”’ says Gabriela. ‘You can’t be too obsessive. It’s very normal to dip in and out. It’s very normal to gain one or two kilos. But with these principles I’m giving you the power to rebalance your body again when you want to.’

 

  •  Report: Libby Galvin

 

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