Low carb and me – my journey as a GP

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The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.
– Thomas Edison

I am a third generation GP, born and raised in Ireland and living in Bristol, U.K. During my medical school years, I was interested in a career as an orthopaedic surgeon, where I hoped to combine my passion of sport with medicine. Having been exposed to the real world of practicing medicine as a junior doctor, I soon realised that my true passion was in the promotion of health and in preventing illness.

A career as a GP would allow me to serve a community, just as my father and grandfather had done before me. What excited me about this was the ability to get to know a community and treat their everyday concerns, which a career as a surgeon would never be able to offer me. I decided to combine my passion for medicine with my passion for sport, and studied for a Sport and Exercise Medicine degree alongside my Specialist Training in General Practice in the U.K. I am currently practicing as a GP and in my research phase of my MSc in Sports Medicine.

Carb sensitivity

When I think back, I can remember feeling lethargic and sluggish after certain meals throughout my school years, where I would often feel as though I needed to go to bed in the afternoon rather than go to class or play sport. This continued throughout medical school, where I would often feel as though I needed a sleep on the medical wards after lunch!

More recently, I would often be lethargic as I drove to work in the morning, just after having what I though was a healthy breakfast. Of course I now know that I was experiencing sugar crushes, but at the time I didn’t know what was happening. Was I eating enough? Did I need more sugar in my food… imagine!

Nutrition experience

Throughout medical school, and as a practicing doctor, my lifestyle advice followed that of the mainstream: “Eat less and do more”. “Eat foods low in fat and try to follow the food pyramid or the eat well plate”. “You need to think of calories in and calories out”. In fact this was what I was also following myself.

I felt that as a general practitioner, I had a duty to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk! Despite following nutrition guidelines, I found myself not reaching my own lifestyle goals and briefly flirted with established diets, usually in preparation for holidays.

With a strong family history of dyslipidemia and type 2 diabetes, I have always been interested in my own health and doing what I could to counteract my predicted health journey. Surely if I followed the established nutrition guidelines I would be taking ownership of my own dietary health, right?

Frustration

When I eventually began practicing as a trainee GP, I was full of enthusiasm to help people. I quickly realised that I was practicing reactionary, knee-jerk prescribing medicine. I was treating numbers and blood results instead of my patients. I was focusing on guidelines and protocols instead of engaging with the patient at the other end of the table. “I have a pill for that, we can target your bloods and see how you get on with the medications..”

When the established diet and exercise advice and medication approach inevitably failed, there was equal frustration across both sides of the clinic table. There must be more to being a GP, I though… if only I could find a way around my frustration…

Epiphany

I can remember the epiphany. I was working as a GP trainee and also taking a module on my Sports Medicine masters programme entitled ‘Exercise for Health’. I found myself reading up on nutrition in sport and came across the workings of Tim Noakes, who was a contributing author in my Sports Medicine book, Brukner and Khan’s ‘Clinical Sports Medicine’.

I had heard about Tim Noakes previously as a scientist who was a keen marathon runner who developed diabetes despite following his own high-carb nutrition advice. I think it was his humility in acknowledging that he might have been wrong with his high-carb advice which initially lit the flame for me. I soon found myself reading Nina Teicholz’s ‘Big Fat Surprise’ and soon after that enjoyed several Netflix documentaries on nutrition, namely ‘Food Inc‘ and ‘Hungry for Change‘.

It was not long after this that I researched low-carb online, and found dietdoctor.com. These resources were just the life raft that I was looking for. I bought ‘The Real Meal Revolution‘ and decided to give some Diet Doctor recipes a go.

Igniting the flame

The flame soon became a fire and it continues to burn and burn! I cannot think of a single day in my clinical practice when I have not written these resources down for patients to explore. Those who come back to me feel like they have found the answers that they have been looking for. The message is simple. Eat real food, eat to satiety, and keep it simple. Don’t count calories, don’t follow fads, just eat real food!

I am now 18 months into my own low-carb journey. I continue to enjoy the many benefits of eating low carb. I no longer get sluggish after meals. I no longer feel the need to sleep after I eat. I feel like my concentration has significantly improved. I have never felt as physically fit, despite reducing my physical activity levels. My waist has reduced by 3 inches (8 cm). I am living the low-carb approach and routinely show my patients the food I am eating that day – unless I am fasting! I have also developed an Instagram account @drpeterjfoley which I use as a reference tool for my patients. I am now living the life that I want to live, and I am talking the low-carb talk and walking the low-carb walk!

I had the great fortune of meeting Andreas Eenfeldt and Jason Fung at the recent Public Health Collaboration Annual conference in Manchester, UK. This proved to be a very exciting weekend where real-food enthusiasts from all over the world gathered to share experiences, successes and future ideas for the continuing promotion of healthy lifestyle choices for our patients.

A word of thanks is needed to my GP trainers and training practices, as I was encouraged to develop my interests in the low-carb approach. They might not have understood what I was doing, and they may have had their reservations about essentially promoting a diet which was going against established national guidelines, but they supported me in the early days. Once I achieved patient success, reduced patient medications and showed quantifiable evidence of the low-carb approach, they were sold!

A very special word of thanks also needs to go to my patients, without whom I would not be pursing this very exciting journey. I was just a training GP, informing them that they needed to eat more fat and this would be good for them! For those who took my advice, I will be eterntally grateful. Neither I nor my low-carb patients have looked back since. I have a long list of patients on low-carb journeys in my practice and the list continues to grow. We are enjoying success with patients who suffer from a wide range of presentations, including metabolic syndrome, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, obesity, dyslipidemia and type 2 diabetes.

My future

Having discovered the low-carb/real-food approach to health, whatever route my career takes, it is fair to say that the low-carb approach will be playing a significant part! I am passionate about serving a community and promoting health. However, there is a growing pressure on primary care resources. This often results in significant time being spent on non-clinical administrative tasks. This is a concern for me, as I want to be engaging with patients as often as possible.

I aim to continue to work in primary care, to continue to develop my clinical skills and serve my community. I will explore the possibility of developing an LCHF clinic alongside my primary care work, where I can focus more on delivering patient-centred care and less on non-clinical administration. I feel that my career has been saved before it even began.


Dr. Peter Foley

More

Low carb for beginners

Earlier

How I became an LCHF doctor reversing type 2 diabetes

My path to low carb

Top videos with low-carb doctors

11 Comments

  1. Steven
    Great piece. I live in Bristol too and recently has a cholesterol test. I'm pretty fit and healthy and I've been doing lchf on and off for a about four years. Off the diet in the last year I put on about 9 pounds and tipped myself over into the 'looking a bit overweight' bracket.
    So my cholesterol test result was an overall 7. My concern was my local Bristol GP just stated go on a low fat diet. That was it. I made an appointment to see the GP. Fortunately I got a locum GP who, off the record, reassured me to continue with lchf. She seemed concerned this was not the party line and what she was telling me had to stay within the room. It seemed like giving advice on a lchf was not allowed. Maybe this was because of the GPs locum status. It concerns me that GPs may not feel empowered to impart advice advocating lchf.
  2. Alan
    I am one of Peter Foley's patents! After my heart attack last year Peter Foley asked if any one had mentioned my weight? He directed me to the two books mentioned in his article, and everything made sense to me! I changed my diet and lost nearly two stone, and I'm still living the changed lifestyle. Sadly, I've found that portion control is also important!! But what a journey!! I kept the "high fat" bit of the diet quiet for a long time, so many people were opposed to the idea, but more and more people in my area are now hearing and talking about the benefits, it seems to be so much more acceptable now!
  3. Sue greaves
    doing low carb for 12months. lost 3 stone and have reversed my type 2 diabetes. its great.
  4. Steve - Zimbabwe
    Good article. With many friends and some family as doctors, it is obvious that more and more often the treatment is for the symptom and not the cause which leads to a plethora of drugs being administered. Treat the patient at the root cause, usually what's going into their mouths and wonders will happen.
    Btw, after reading one of Dr Noakes' blogs I now refer to the HF of LCHF as Healthy Fats rather than High Fat.
  5. Jennifer Douglas
    Congratulations Dr. Foley on your vision and viewing of Medical profession and the style which you wish to operate.

    My only hope is that many other doctors will take a LEAF OUT OF YOU BOOK, and follow your style, we need more Doctors like yourself.

    I am also a great fan and have much respect and admiration for Dr. Fung and Dr. Eendfelt.

    I am Pre diabetes, followed Low Carb lost 16kilos, feel energised, don't take medication, simply changed lifestyle, low carb, keto 20 carbs a day every day! intermittent Fasting, thank you Dr. Fung, 4 days a week, its so simple, result, my fasting, 2 hr after eat and random finger real blood testing are controlled and normal levels. Infact, I only test every 6 months, and they are the same as 6 months ago, 88, 85 and 89 respectively more or less one number up or down, which indicates, the Keto and lifestyle change, walk walk and more walk is the simple remedy.

    Keep up the good work.

    Mallorca

  6. Mary
    My doctor did blood work and says my cholesterol is high, they made me an appointment with a heart doctor, I've lose 35 pounds on keto I'm at goal, they want to take statins which I refuse I live in Reno,Nv and there is no GP in the area that is a keto doctor, I'm jumping thru all the hoops need help
    Thank you
  7. Lynn Churchill
    Hi Dr. Foley. So pleased that more British GPs are becoming more aware of the health benefits of low carb eating. I am a nurse and nutritionist near Taunton and have been helping clients with obesity and diabetes over the last three years after listening to Professor Tim Noakes and doing my own research.
    It is difficult when you are swimming against the mainstream but keep up the good work. Check out Dr. Aseem Malhotra, a London cardiologist and a member of The Obesity Forum. He has had to be very cautious in how he presents his views but I have noticed his growing confidence in being more forthright of late as low carb is gaining more awareness in the public domain.
    Lynn Churchill RGN. Dip. Nutrition
  8. Donna Gunner
    Hi
    Im one of Dr Foleys patients ive been following this low carb diet for 13 days and ive lost 13lb never before have i felt so fit and healthy.
    Id luke to thank Dr Wright for booking me with Dr Foley as id taken up running and still had not lost weight i was getting fustrated by the lack of progress i was keeping track of the food going in my mouth but still no progress so Dr Wright booked me an appointment with Dr Foley saying he was a little unconventional but had been getting some amazing results.
    All i can say is WOW this has changed my life no longer am i hungry or tired after a meal.
    Im number 46 on his list im going back to see him in September hopefully by then he can start looking at taking me off my regime if 10 tablets a day.
  9. Mary Brady
    Hi I am - or was - type 2 diabetic and was on the upward trend of higher blood sugar readings so more medication. I stumbled on LCHF by accident giving up bread and potatoes. Immediately my sugar levels started dropping. My energy increased and I started eating more healthily I was a fast food junkie and all of a sudden I found myself wanting more greens and veggies. And had no cravings or hunger at all. Within 3 weeks my sugar levels were Normal. At a month I stopped all medication. I have now been med free for 4 months and still normal readings. I have lost 45 lbs which is a nice bonus and still steadily losing. More important I feel great thanks to LCHF. I don't consider it a diet. It is a lifestyle
  10. Maggie
    Full applause Dr Foley for not following the trend
    I live in Cyprus and was collecting more and more illnesses each year

    A visiting uk GP Dr Angarard Powell....she read my notes and diagnosed Metabolic Syndrome
    And talked to me about changing my diet...she said everyone had been treating me with sticking plasters of medicines on each growing illness....but that she would treat me as a whole person and cure what was wrong with me with diet....she also said that the other Drs in the practice where I was ...would probably disagree with what she was asking me to do....I am so pleased that I met Dr Powell...because she has cured many of my illnesses....I had already dropped all low fat foods after reading the labels and seeing them full of sugars....heading towards Diabetes and eventually becoming diabetic...I had ditched all low fat , false foods....so the high fat route was an easy sell to me...what she got me then to do was to go low carb...my blood works, Tryglicerides are back to normal, I am off Metformin as my sugars are the lowest in 14 years, my non alcoholic fatty liver is getting better and my weight is down 10 kL ....all after 6 months on a LCHF diet..being honest I aim for about upto 50 grams of carbs a day or lower and not 29 and I am happy that way...I eat when I am hungry and stop when I am full...Dr Powel advised like you all the books to read and also this wonderful website DD ....where the menus for delicious foods are amazing...I also fast from 8 pm until 1 pm daily..myself and my husband who has now lost 24 kL are feeling great...thank you to you pioneering Drs for treating us sick people through diet and not medications ..we love your approach and work

  11. 1 comment removed
  12. Susan Haines
    It's wonderful to find a British GP recommending this. Everything I have seen on the internet so far comes from the USA and here is someone practising not 15 miles from where I live!

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