If you’ve opened a women’s magazine, read a fitness blog or watched a morning talk show lately, chances are you’ve heard of the latest craze that’s sweeping the diet landscape. Google “fasting” or the “fast diet” and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Not a diet in the traditional sense of having certain foods or food groups off limits (think Atkins, Dukan, South Beach), intermittent fasting is all about limiting your caloric intake for a certain number of days a week or month.
Probably the most common version is known as the 5:2 diet. In this one, the idea is that you fast for two non-consecutive days a week and eat normally – with no restrictions – for the other five. On the fast days you consume about a quarter of your normal daily caloric intake (500 calories for women, 600 for men).
Now anyone who knows me (or has read my previous blogs) knows I’m pretty staunchly anti-diet. I don’t think they work for the vast majority of people, usually because by definition diets require people to stay on them to maintain any weight loss they might experience. And how many people have the willpower – not to mention the desire – to stay on a diet for life?? And when they inevitably fall off the wagon, the end result is usually a return to their original eating/ exercise patterns and consequently regaining the weight they lost – plus a big, fat sense of failure to go with it.
In my experience, you can’t beat a healthy, clean diet – go easy on portion sizes – and lots of exercise.
So it’s probably no surprise that I reacted to this latest craze with a healthy dose of scepticism. But it just wouldn’t go away. Everywhere I looked people were espousing its benefits (or bagging it as yet another flash-in-the-pan fad diet). So out of pure curiosity I thought I’d give it a go.
Not generally being one to count calories, I wanted to see exactly what 500 calories (about 2000 kilojoules) equated to in food terms – and trust me, it ain’t much. My one-day experiment consisted of:
Breakfast: 1 egg scrambled (no butter or oil) on a small piece of plain gluten-free toast (600 kilojoules)
Snack: celery sticks, black coffee (50 kJ)
Lunch: Vege soup with a couple of pieces of chicken (600 kJ)
Dinner: 100g white fish, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, celery (600kJ)
Snack: decaf coffee with a splash of light soy milk, 2 rice crackers (100kJ)
Total kJ: 1950 (470 calories).
I managed to stick to the allotted calories for the day (only just) but I was pretty miserable (and moody, according to my husband), not to mention starving by the end of it. So, experiment over I figured I was done with the whole fasting thing. That was until a couple of friends started talking to me about a BBC documentary, Eat, Fast and Live Longer, which recently screened on SBS, and suggested I watch it. Which I did, and I have to admit it was a bit of an eye-opener. To say I was surprised by a few of the findings is an understatement.
To summarise, if you haven’t seen the doco, it explained how various tests and studies over the years have found that intermittent fasting can help dramatically improve factors such as blood pressure, blood glucose levels and cholesterol; decrease the risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers; and improve life expectancy. Fasting also appears to reduce the production of the growth hormone IGF1, which is a major risk factor for cancer.
Oh, and the doco presenter, Michael Mosley, also lost about six kilos in five weeks on the 5:2 diet and reduced his body fat from 27% to 19% (he also now has a book on the subject, The Fast Diet).
Having seen the documentary and done some further research on the topic, I figured maybe there was some merit to this madness.
So in the interests of science and based on the old adage of don’t knock it till you try it, I’m prepared to give this thing another go – so I’m committing to a month. Just think of me as your fasting guinea pig. I’ll keep you updated on this blog once a week or so and report back at the end with the results. Personally I think even sticking to it will be hard going – dramatically reducing your calorie intake for two days out of every seven is no mean feat – but I’m committed now so wish me luck!
Disclaimer: I’m not endorsing a fasting diet or recommending it to anyone else. If you are considering it, make sure you speak to your doctor or dietitian first!
For more info, see: thefastdiet.co.uk