As a graduate of Kura Kaupapa Māori, Dr Lily Fraser chose medical school because she had a point to prove and perceptions to shatter.
Now she is a GP and Clinical Director at Turuki Health Care in Mangere, Auckland, shattering perceptions of a different kind as a proponent of a low-carb high-fat diet to reduce the medical issues associated with obesity in her patients and community.
Diabetes, in particular, is a regular visitor to her clinic, and while she enjoyed educating people about how to manage the disease through time-honoured methods of reducing sugar intake and medication, she felt an increasing sense of frustration that many patients weren’t losing weight.
“We were trying and trying but people were staying obese and it was that driving the diabetes, the heart disease and all the other associated issues,” she says. “It seemed like the only long-term solution was surgery, which isn’t really too much of a solution at all.”
Then one particular patient really pushed her to make a discovery that would change the way she viewed obesity and weight loss forever.
A 35-year-old single father, the man had worked hard for a year to try and improve his very severe Hba1c of over 130. He had followed the recommend diabetic plate diet, taken his insulin, worn the CPAP mask and managed to get the score to target – but he hadn’t lost any weight.
Facing a life of dependency on medication and machine, he urged Lily to help find a solution. She had read an article in TIME magazine about saturated fat not being the villain it had been labelled. She also rationalised that diabetics can’t process carbs well and recommended he stopped eating starchy carbohydrates and added more fat to his diet.
“The results were nothing short of phenomenal. The patient stopped his insulin the first month, and came off all medication within four months. He is now 50kgs lighter, medication free and runs cooking classes at our clinic to help educate others.” says Lily.
Lily began to research this diet intensively and was also introduced to Grant Schofield at AUT Human Potential Centre, who was carrying out research exploring the low-carb high-fat paradigm. After a year she adopted the approach herself – and lost 20kg going from a size 14 to a size 8.
“The philosophy behind it isn’t just ‘eat less carbs’, nor is it ‘eat more fat’,” she explains. “Each of us has a genetic make-up that means we either store fat or we don’t. It’s not a lack of will power, or sugar addiction, which makes people consume in excess, it’s their physiological make up making them eat.
“It’s a very powerful message to be able to tell someone ‘It’s your body doing this to you. And you can take back control of it.’ You just have to turn the traditional food pyramid we all know on its head.”
And changing your body from being glucose-dependant to being fat-dependant is proving to bring more benefits than just weight-loss.
“The support group at our clinic regularly report an improvement in their mental health, with a fog of depression lifting and leaving a calmness and a clarity that they did not have before,” says Lily. “It’s really life-changing stuff.”
And it isn’t as difficult as you might think to adopt. Lily is adamant she can walk into any restaurant, fast food outlet or cafe and find something she can eat.
“Most places are now aware of the need for low carb options – even fast food chains like McDonalds or KFC,” she says. “It can be challenging to make that change at first but the more you do it, the better you get. And the benefits are worth it.”