A strange thing has happened in the past week, I’ve found myself actually looking forward to my fast days. (For those who’ve just tuned in, I’m experimenting with the 5:2 diet for a month – see previous posts for the back story). I’m kind of enjoying getting in touch with my hunger signals again – waiting for meals instead of eating a snack in between to stave off major hunger pangs – and I also quite like the feeling of not eating until I’m at least reasonably full, which I struggled with at first. That’s not to say I love every minute of the days when I’m actually fasting – they’re still fairly tough and I’m not sure how people go a whole day without eating anything (which apparently is what some people who practice intermittent fasting do). It’s also quite nice feeling hungry the next day and being able to eat a big (healthy) breakfast to satisfy my hunger. In fact, I was going so well this week I considered doing a third fasting day today… an idea that lasted until approximately midday when I was starving and thought better of it. A girl can only take so much.

I have had to tweak a few things in the past week though – such as picking more carefully the days I’m going to fast. For me, it seems to be easier if they’re days when I’m busy and don’t have much time to think about food. I had also so far avoided fasting on days when I was doing a hard training session. But I couldn’t avoid it this week and I did fast on one of my training days and it actually wasn’t too bad. I was pretty hungry during the training session, although I felt like I was still able to work almost as hard as I usually would, and afterwards had half a scoop of protein powder with water (230kJ) which filled me up and fit into my daily limit.

A friend and bootcamp client of mine who’s also doing 5:2 has been playing around with which days are better for her to fast on, and she finds it’s easier to fast on days when she’s training first thing in the morning (then she’ll eat breakfast straight after) than it is to fast the day before training when she doesn’t have time to eat before the session.

But I digress… about 10 days into the 5:2 diet I hadn’t lost any weight, in fact I’d actually put on a couple of hundred grams, which was a little disheartening! I think part of the reason was I was so ravenous on the days directly following a fast day, and sometimes even two days later, that I was almost making up the shortfall on my non-fast days. So I started keeping a food diary on the days when I wasn’t fasting (I was already writing everything down on my fast days to make sure I was keeping to the 500 calorie/2000kJ limit). I found that kept me honest and it’s something I recommend to any of my clients wanting to lose weight. There are apps that do the same thing (such as www.myfitnesspal.com) or you can do it the old-fashioned way and write everything down (www.calorieking.com has a great kilojoule counter for looking up the kilojoule content of pretty much any food you can think of). And every food – yep, even celery! – counts, so recording everything you eat is pretty much the only way you can be sure that you’re on track. There are plenty of calculators online to help you figure out what your daily kilojoule intake should be based on your height, weight, gender and activity level (e.g. www.8700.com.au). Mine is about 8000kJ/ day – i.e. that’s how many kJ I should consume to maintain my current weight.

It might seem strange that, being a personal trainer, I didn’t have a better handle on kilojoule requirements but to be honest I’ve never needed to. Apart from the times I’ve been pregnant my weight hasn’t fluctuated more than a couple of kilos in the past 10 years. I’ve always worked on the basis that if my weight starts to creep up I exercise a bit more and eat a bit less. Pretty straightforward. But I appreciate that it’s not that easy for everyone and some people need to keep a closer eye on their food intake in order to maintain or lose weight. And I think a lot of people would be surprised at how easy it is to overeat, and if you do that on a consistent basis, it doesn’t take a PhD in maths to realise you’re going to put on weight.

Anyway once I worked out just how much I should be eating, I figured that even allowing for an extra 1000kJ on the days directly following a fast day, in theory my kilojoule deficit for the week should still be about 10,000kJ. There are 35,000kJ in a kilogram of fat (and it’s fat, not water or muscle that you should be aiming to lose) so based on that equation it should take me a little less than four weeks to lose a kilo. When I weighed myself a couple of days ago (two weeks into the diet) I was half a kilo down on my starting weight so things are heading in the right direction.

Along with helping me to not overeat on my non-fast days, diarising all my food has made me realise just how many kilojoules are in some of things I regularly eat. My Sunday morning pancake breakfast, for example, with fruit and maple syrup, comes in at a whopping 2900kJ, a realisation that means I’ll probably never again enjoy that breakfast quite as much!

It has also shown me just how easy it is to add a couple of thousand kilojoules a day in snacks alone – a cracker here, a few nuts there, a mouthful or two of the kids’ dinner, it all adds up. And quickly. But conversely, it’s also demonstrated how easy it is to eliminate that sort of mindless eating and wipe those added kJ from your diet without too much effort.

Fast days have also made me think more about the value of everything I put in my mouth – from a nutritional and a satiety sense. In other words, how can I get the most bang from my food buck, so to speak! The two key factors, I’ve found, are fibre – veges are full of it which is why they keep you full for relatively few kilojoules – and protein. Half a block of tofu, for example, has less than 400kJ but almost 10g of protein so it’s a good option if you want to fill up and keep your kilojoules in check. Whereas my pancake breakfast is, sadly, high in kilojoules, low in protein and made up of high-GI carbs, which means I feel hungry again a couple of hours later even though I’ve eaten a big meal. But all’s not lost… I figure even on fast days I can still have my pancakes if I really want them – I’ll just have to make do with a quarter of my usual serve!