There is so much contradictory advice around in the health field, even if you stick to the stuff that has some science behind it, that it is impossible to know what the best thing to do is. My approach is to give things a try and see how they work for me. When I started on the 2:5 diet I didn’t have any particular expectations. It didn’t seem like it was especially different to any other strategy and I was basically just trying to find the optimum one that enabled me to shed some weight with the minimum of fuss.
But I was struck straight away from the first day that it was a particularly easy diet to follow. The word fasting used for the 2 days in the week that you limit your food intake is a bit of a misnomer really. 600 calories is still enough to have three modest meals. For example, 2 bananas, 2 apples and a sandwich would be about right. So you don’t actually have to go hungry. In fact at first I only found myself feeling hungry late in the afternoon. And even this faded after a couple of weeks on the diet. Fast days are not entirely painless. I do miss having a treat to look forward at lunchtime. And somehow not having a good breakfast is not an enjoyable way to start the day. But I don’t find that I need enormous willpower to get through the day.
In fact, that you can eat what you like the day after fasting is quite motivating. There is nothing as enjoyable as a good breakfast when you wake up hungry. The prospect of a really good breakfast the following day is enough to offset the downsides very effectively.
But the big surprise was just how quickly I was able to start losing weight. I had resigned myself to continuing to put weight on even with a diet. I was so convinced of this I even bought two pairs of trousers with waist measurements rather larger than my waist at the time to allow for the increase in girth I was anticipating. I had given up on finding any way of actually losing weight.
But my weight did in fact start to fall as soon as I started fasting. I am long in the tooth enough not to get excited by short term changes, and continued to expect my weight to start its upward trajectory again. But in fact as I plotted my daily weighing figures I discovered that my weight was steadily decreasing. And it was very consistent. When I had enough data to do an analysis I was able to calculate an underlying trend of losing about 20g a day. This is of course a trivial amount of weight to lose in the short run, but over time the trend has continued and my weight has continued to go down.
Being a good scientist of course I was aware that things don’t always work just how they appear. I had changed my diet and my weight had started to fall. It seemed obvious that the one was causing the other. But was it? I had been exceptionally heavy when I started on the diet, much heavier than I had even been before in my life. Was it possible that my body had simply changed in some way that just happened to coincide with the change in my eating habits?
Well an opportunity to put this to the test arrived in the form of Christmas. Who wants to stick to any kind of diet over Christmas? Although I was a bit nervous of cancelling out all my progress, I decided to eat exactly what I wanted to right over the Christmas period. And sure enough, my weight went straight back up again. It nearly cancelled all my gains. That was enough for me. I concluded that I had in fact discovered a diet that I could stick to and which worked.
But welcome as losing weight is, that wasn’t actually my motivation. I am now of an age that my personal appearance is not really so important. You don’t expect someone in their fifties to be slim. And I am not exactly out on the pull every night either. I was much more interested in doing something about my health. I had found that I was getting tired more and more of the time. Despite that I wasn’t sleeping well. And I was finding it increasingly hard to concentrate. I was even beginning to find reading for pleasure hard work. As someone who is never happier than with his nose in a book that was quite a big deal. So I was interested in seeing if losing weight could have some benefits to my general wellbeing.
This was also surprisingly quick to show itself. The first night after fasting I had a solid night’s sleep and woke up refreshed as I had not been for many years. I decided that if that was a side effect, then that was all the justification I needed to keep going.
But most surprisingly I found my fitness in terms of ability to run distances also increased remarkably quickly. I have been slogging away at trying to get fitter by exercising more for a couple of years. It turns out that losing weight is a lot more effective as a way of increasing my running speed and endurance than just getting regular exercise.
The last unexpected benefit is my general energy levels. For the last couple of years, in fact for about the last fifteen years, I have been aware that I have been having less and less energy. I would have fewer hours a day when I could get hard work, particularly hard thinking, done. I also found I was spending more and more time just feeling tired.
I put it down to getting older. But to my surprise I have found that since being on the 2:5 diet the trend has gone in the other direction. I am tired much less often. This is particularly noticeable in the late afternoon. I would often find it impossible to do all but the simplest of jobs after 3.30pm and wouldn’t pep up until after my evening meal.
Now I find that I can work solidly from the morning and all afternoon, leaving the evening free for fun stuff like reading novels. Oh, and that is the other thing. I have found that I have been reading a lot more too.
The other fascinating aspect was just how systematic the body is when it comes to burning fat. One of the things that has motivated me to find a suitable diet is my expanding waistline. This isn’t particularly down to concern about my appearance. My days of chasing the opposite sex are behind me, and I don’t really look fat anyway. But I was aware of a bulging stomach and I was concerned that the fat deposits around my internal organs might give me trouble in the future. The medical term for it is visceral fat and there is a suggestion that it is visceral fat that is the big risk factor in heart disease.
So I was hoping to lose some centimetres around my circumference. Well, I have, but it has been very slow in coming. As soon as I started losing weight I noticed that it was coming off from places like my face and neck, and from my fingers. I hadn’t even realised I had fat fingers until that happened. Presumably there is an evolutionary explanation for this. The fat in out of the way places like the neck is probably hard to get at and probably costs more in energy terms to utilise. So it is this that gets sacrificed first. The big deposits around my stomach is more valuable as an energy source, so it is this that is hung on to for the longest.
There are a couple of downsides, as there are with everything. Although the diet has improved my energy levels including on fast days, it doesn’t do much for my mood on those days. I might be getting more done in the afternoon, but I tend to feel more unhappy. It soon passes, but it does demonstrate that this might be a good diet but it isn’t a perfect one. It would be particularly bad if I had to meet members of the public regularly. They can lower your happiness levels pretty rapidly too.
So I can say that this is definitely a good diet for me. Having been doing it for a while I think I can see the reasons. For a start, carrying weight around in the form of fat just makes your life harder work. I have been having to find the equivalent of the energy required to carry around about 3 volumes of an encyclopedia. You don’t notice the weight but all that extra work requires extra energy to cope with it. I have also become a lot more aware of the way my body processes the food I put into it. If I pop into Greggs for a donut I now notice when an hour or so later I am feeling rather sleepy. And I can now make sure of a good night’s sleep by being sure to deplete my blood sugar in advance.
I think the root of this is simply that giving your body large amounts of sugar to deal with places a strain on it. If you are reasonably healthy you can cope with this strain. But it still takes its toll. Bringing your energy intake more closely in line with your energy usage just makes your life more efficient. The obvious conclusion to draw from this is that fasting is probably not the best way to achieve it. It would be much more sensible to match your energy intake more closely to your energy needs on a daily basis. It seems the easiest way to do this is to cut down on the biggest culprit that messes up your body’s controls, which is sugar. I will look into that next, but in the meantime I am going to keep going on my current regime until I reach my target weight.