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Bone Broth Elixir: Intermittent fasting for feasting

Bone Broth Elixir: Intermittent fasting for feasting
Dem bones, dem bones: Dr Broth bone broth front-quarter rib bone rack. Photo: Wanda Hennig

We might think of ‘fasting’ and ‘foodie’ as being at odds. So what’s the connection with fulfilment and love and pleasure? And aromas, flavours and visuals manifested in a million Instagram images. For some it’s about no-diet weight loss. For others it’s about quality of life and good health. Then there’s entrepreneurship – and that bone broth elixir.

Let me start with the disclaimers.

This is not a resolution story. While any month, week – day – is as good a time as any other to contemplate, assess and move on, if you’ve set intentions and made resolutions you’ll know setting them is the easy part. If they’re at odds with habits and lifestyle, more often than not: a waste of time.

This is not an advice or how-to story. Why heed some mere mortal – like me – when Google makes research and custom, self-generated DIY fun and simple.

This is not a diet story, as in deprive or torture yourself to weight loss. You’ve indulged, so you’re going to deny, renounce, refuse, reject. Yikes.

Same as resolutions, any diet that is not sustainable, which is at odds with habits and lifestyle: waste of time. There is a multimillion-rand diet industry to prove this.

Now for a disclosure.

I am an intermittent fasting (IF) fan having engaged in (varying versions of) it for nine or 10 months so far. One might think of “fasting” and “foodie” as being at odds. In fact, what inspired me to think of pitching this story was: I kept bumping into other intermittent fasters who love to eat well, to indulge; who are fortunate enough to be in a position to eat for pleasure – and who do.

And yes, I know fasting, intermittent or just-plain-old, is not new.

My Scottish grandmother who has been dead – seems like forever – was a proponent of intermittent fasting. Only she didn’t call it that. She just said she didn’t eat on Mondays – it was her water-only day – to give her “digestion” a chance to rest. I reckon that qualifies as a version of IF.

On the other hand, in the deep dark days when I was either “on diet” or “off diet” – before I switched from the feast-famine lifestyle to indulging in exactly what I want to eat, in eating for pleasure, and in so doing broke old habits, lost weight and wrote a book about it – I would go into starvation mode every so often.

Sometimes and most effectively, this was with the help of prescription schedule seven appetite suppressants, which on the positive side kept me awake 36-plus hours at a time so I could cram for exams.

But every gram of the significant amounts of weight I lost would return – with interest – as soon as I started eating (ab)normally again. That did not qualify as intermittent fasting. 

So, latish in 2019 I went – for TGIF – to speak with restaurateur Gina Neilson and her chef husband, Graham Neilson, about their acclaimed Durban restaurant, 9th Avenue Waterside.

I arrived at the appointed time, which happened to be lunchtime. 

What would I like to eat is Gina’s first question.

“Black coffee would be great,” I say. “I’m intermittent fasting. Eating tonight.”

“Intermittent fasting? Me too,” she tells me. And her delightful story about food and fulfilment and love and pleasure unfolds. And how it got her entrepreneurial juices flowing.

How when she was pregnant with her daughter, now aged five, she put on 30kg. Three years later – by May of 2018 – she’d lost 10kg. Coming up late in 2019 was her 40th birthday.

“You read stories about how the metabolism changes, slows down, after 40,” she tells me. “I started freaking out. I had tried personal trainers and diets. If you feel unhappy about yourself – it’s not a good place to be. I love food and wine. Here I am, a restaurateur married to a chef. And we’re a celebratory family. 

“Graham’s love language is food and feeding. He will literally follow me round with two desserts. Besides him wanting me to enjoy them, he reckons I have an average Durban palate. If I like something, the average Durban person will like it.” 

She tells me she reached a stage when it was “do something now – or give up”. 

Give up, buy larger clothes and feel defeated? Unhappy with yourself and in yourself? Not bloody likely given her ebullience and can-do zing.

“I’d seen a video on Facebook on intermittent fasting. I liked the idea. It wasn’t about starving yourself. Or switching to ‘diet’ food.”

She researched IF, looking at her lifestyle and at the various options. 

Trust me. When you start googling, there are more YouTube videos and informative articles on IF than I’ve had dinners in my lifetime. 

Neilson decided she could work with the 16/8 game plan, where you fast for 16 hours and eat within an eight-hour window. “There’s no point embarking on something that’s not sustainable; that doesn’t fit with your lifestyle.”

What she decided would best fit for her was to eat her first meal at 10.30am: a “giant breakfast” of whatever she feels like, often including scrambled egg and bacon. 

“I have lunch around 2.30pm. And I try to eat my last meal at 6pm (to 6.30pm), with my daughter.”

Whereas before she started intermittent fasting, while considering herself a healthy eater, she would, she says, often duck into Spar and grab something on-the-run, now she found herself becoming more conscious of what she was eating. Without any effort, she found she stopped snacking. She added more leafy greens.

“I lost 10kg in three months. I was shocked at how easy it was.” Also at how good she felt. 

After that she plateaued. Lost a little more. Stabilised. 

“I don’t think I will ever lose the final 6kg,” she says. “But that’s okay. As women we can be so hard on ourselves. Kill ourselves to be perfect. Healthy is the most important thing. I don’t want to be extreme. I will never be stick-thin. I do 16/8 most days. But I assess if there are occasions. It fits with my lifestyle. Works great.”

During her research into IF (and during mine, too) what kept popping up was: bone broth. Now bone broth, if you Google, is essentially the voguish name for good old-fashioned stock that once-upon-a-time everybody made themselves. What these days comes in cubes and instant, which bears no resemblance to what stock was. Or to bone broth, which can have a base of beef bones, chicken bones, fish bones and so forth. Or a base of seaweed or mushrooms for veggie or vegan broth.

More about Neilson’s Dr Broth bone broth entrepreneurial brainchild to come.

A lunchtime Ninth Avenue Waterside chicken dish glazed with Dr Broth chicken and ginger broth. Photo: Wanda Hennig

Unlike Neilson, I didn’t start intermittent fasting to lose weight. I had been feeling bloated. Wondering if perhaps I was developing a lactose or gluten intolerance, seeing every second person these days seems to have one or both. 

And lo and behold. Up on my iPad news channel popped a story about fasting. Which, under normal always-in-a-hurry circumstances I might have ignored. But I read it. And then, like magic, as happens these days, up popped a link to a YouTube intermittent fasting presentation. It was a good, solid overview by a tall, dark and six-packed matter-of-fact man called Thomas. 

I say for anyone curious, explore. Consider this a suggestion, not advice. Nobody knows what’s right for you better than you do. Do your research. Read articles. Watch videos. See what and who speaks to you. I read a couple of articles a month, watch a couple of videos. Take what I want from them, leave what I don’t.  

At this point let me also share the story of a journalist friend, a 60-something guy who likes to eat well, relishes being fit, publishes a health-focused newsletter, writes hard-hitting columns and is another of the many IF fans to suddenly cross my path. 

“The attraction of the intermittent fasting diet to me was its simplicity,” he says.

“Depending on what version you opt for, you deprive yourself of food for between 14-24 hours. The most recent research review by a Harvard neuroscientist promises all kinds of good things, seemingly no matter which version one chooses.” 

When he first told me he was intermittent fasting, he was not eating for a full 24 hours, two days a week. Now he’s switched to five days a week and the 18/6 model (six-hour eating window).

“What’s great about IF is that there’s no calorie counting, no weighing, estimating, no using of apps, no worrying about what is verboten,” he says. “One quickly gets used to the empty food period. Though when I was on the 24-hour option, I found I was listless and irritable towards the end of each cycle. The five-day a week version is a breeze. I’ve lost weight on it, I feel as fit as fiddle and it hasn’t affected my obsessive and sometimes punishing running schedules at all. What’s not to like?”

Gina Neilson wanted bone broth. Who better to co-opt into a partnership than her chef husband, Graham Neilson. Photo: Wanda Hennig

Most of us eat out of habit much of the time. And for diversion. And entertainment. And to block feelings. And for many other reasons that have nothing to do with true hunger. Or pleasure. The aromas, the flavours, the visuals manifested in a million Instagram images. Not to forget the textures, the sounds and any associated thoughts that arise if we make like the Buddhists and add thinking as a sixth sense.

Back to my personal story. I am an opportunistic eater guided by whims and availability more than by any sort of planning or routine. And a social eater.

Breakfast, I haven’t eaten in years. Unless there’s a good reason, typically involving people or special food. I simply don’t feel hungry at breakfast time.

In reply to the “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” chant? If you don’t already know it, click through and see how that was an invention of the breakfast cereal people

I like to eat in the evening. Ideally, with friends. Slow and convivial. So, dictated by my lifestyle and food preferences, I started off doing 20/4 or sometimes 18/6.

Then became more flexible when my friend, Anne Stevens, formerly KZN’s best known food writer (now retired from writing but not from eating), refused to meet me for our bi-monthly lunch and catch-up if I were going to stick to black coffee.

No sweat. Some days I do 16/8. Every so often, a no-fast day. Whatever fits with my lifestyle.

It has simplified my life. And I have felt many of the reported health and lifestyle benefits associated with IF kick in. 

No doubt there are folk who engage in intermittent fasting in – let me stick my neck out and say – anal and compulsive ways. As a form of abstinence. Denial. People who don’t know how to, or don’t allow themselves, or don’t have the constitution or wherewithal, to eat for pleasure. People who inhale their food (it’s disappeared off their plate while you’re still appreciating what’s on yours). Who talk about food in a reductionist way: protein, calories, carbohydrates and worse. 

Yes, I am prejudiced.  

Maybe Neilson is too, given her comment that she hears overweight people stress about avoiding calories “when what they should be worried about is chemicals”. 

So back to bone broth and her entrepreneurial spirit.

In researching IF when she was starting out, “bone broth kept popping up as this ‘miracle’ ingredient. I went looking for it everywhere”. 

And had no joy. Till inspiration struck. Here she was with access to her own personal chef. Running a restaurant where the focus is on organic, hormone-free, integrity. Graham Neilson was already making stock for use in the kitchen. She needed it. To start producing it commercially was a no-brainer.

They decided to create “a health elixir”, which grew into Dr Broth bone broth: “A perfect way to get more collagen, protein and micronutrients into your diet”. There was consultation with a dietitian to create a recipe with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and digestion aids. There was flavour and texture experimentation. 

What started out small has grown so that recently Gina Neilson – it’s primarily her “baby” – had a custom 300-litre silver dragon pressure cooker installed at The Plant, the Station Drive food-focused nest of small business she and bone broth chef, Philile Shezi, operate from. 

She makes bone broth and fresh pineapple or mango iced lollies for her daughter. And their usual 6pm meal is some kind of stew incorporating bone broth. On the business front, she’s battling to keep up with demand and deliveries. And thriving on it. 

So, it works for me. It works for Neilson. It works for my journalist friend who asked to be nameless. Who knows, maybe it will be the magic bullet. DM

If you have any chronic ailments it is advisable to consult a doctor before embarking on any new diet.

Wanda Hennig is a food and travel writer based in Durban. She has worked on newspapers and magazines in South Africa and the San Francisco Bay Area and freelanced extensively. She is the author of Cravings: A Zen-inspired memoir…. Reach her via her website wandahennig.com.

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