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My experience with a basic 5/2 'diet'

After a long absence, I'm writing this down because (whisper it), this seems to be working, seems to be workable, and is a fairly interesting experience, where it feels like a degree of permanence could be achievable.  So hopefully this might be useful to someone who is thinking about dieting in as low an impact way as possible.


Time for Basil Exposition:

I hate diets. The diet industry is a scummy, appalling disgrace founded on making women hate themselves if they eat: pushing people away from healthy calories and in to the arms of gross, guilt ridden crap that is always helpfully held close to the tills in food shops. "Dieting" is full of tales of failure, paranoia and a sad attempt to replace deeply unhealthy sugary crap food with ersatz 'sweetener' versions, held together by guar gum infested gloop, desperately trying to persuade you that the content has the same mouthfeel as fatty cream, thus keeping you in a terrible cycle of craving sugary crap... Fat *is* a feminist issue and vested interests will keep you buying diet powders, and pills, because they *know* you will fail. You will go back to eating the crap, feel shame and guilt for doing so and neck back more of their unholy shite. It's how they make their money. Fuck them.

...and so on. I really, really don't like diets. I did a starvation diet once, when I was 16, and wanted to fit in to a size 12 dress. I had come down from size 16 a couple of depression weighted years before, and wanted people to look at my body, rather than a deformity I had at the time. It worked! I felt like shit for weeks beforehand! I ate nothing but a baked potato a day for about 3 weeks, and did no exercise, naturally. 

That was the last time I dieted. While I was a student, I was pretty slim, basically through being young and being too poor to eat. Then I discovered exercise - not team based, competitive school PE misery but competing against yourself: feeling your leg muscles pulling and stretching in delicious agony - I discovered cycling, and it felt so good, I also did 100 leg lifts every evening, and lifted cheap weights from Argos. I was in my twenties, pretty skint, not eating much and fit as a fucking fiddle. I loved it.

Then I got a full on desk job on t'internet, and over time, despite cycling, the thickening did start. I didn't really mind because I was fit, had a beloved and everything felt good. When I had the kids, I didn't cycle, (for I do think relatively reasonable reasons of not wanting to crash whilst they were gestating) and it took the weight to start hefting on in spades for me to get back to biking. 20 miles a day; starting to do charity long runs - deliciously fit. Thighs like tree trunks. Ate whatever I liked given that frankly, I needed the carbs.

Then I was dragged under a lorry. 


I haven't really been able to do sustained exercise with the exception of walking in the last three years. I do press ups against a wall, and I did, last year, try to go for doing lots of core muscle conditioning on the soft surface of the bed but too many residual problems made that impossible. I am not happy. And I was until mid-January rather large. So, mid-January, I had my weight taken for hospital type reasons, and realised that just about the only thing I had any control over in order to reduce my current level of pain was to lose weight. Without extensive exercise. Bollocks.

So here we are. It is now the end of February. I have been 5/2'ing for 6 weeks. 


Why did I choose to 5/2 over and above any other diet?

As I've said, I don't like diets. I also actually eat rather healthily and have done for a long time: I'm a fish eating vegetarian, who has a zero sugar breakfast with a mix of shredded wheat, oats and seeds/nuts with skimmed goats milk and sheep's yogurt (because I'm a middle class ponce, obviously) every day. For lunch every day, because it's easier than having to think about it, I have a leaf heavy salad with sprouted seeds, about half a carrot, 3 small tomatoes, chunks of cucumber and radish, spring onion, a tiny drizzle of olive oil & balsamic, just to get a bit of taste, and a hunk of protein. No bread or noodles, I find I don't need them. 

So why on earth would I change that? The answer is that I wouldn't. Shouldn't. It's hardly worth counting up the calories, frankly. My evening meals are very veg and pulse heavy. In some senses, I was left pondering how on earth I was putting on so much weight. I mean sure, I like a bit of dark chocolate, and I do drink wine but... well, ok, I do eat chocolate and I do drink wine. A bit. But, the basic problem I have is that I am not in my twenties. Without regular exercise, and I do not mean walking down the road for a while, my metabolic rate has hit the floor. If one can think of the 'body fitness' as a balance: with a low metabolic rate, one's calorie input must by necessity, reduce. Do anaerobic exercise: metabolic rate goes up. That's it. It's very simple. Right now, I'm looking at a metabolic rate that appears to resemble a collection of half-dead slime moulds. And there's no real forseeable time in the next 6 months when I'll be able to suddenly snap back to the equivalent of 20 miles of cycling a day. As for running... heartbreakingly, I think that's out for good. It's hateful.

The only possible answer then is to eat less. Global evidence of paranoid and obsessive calorie counting is not great, and eating some kind of pathetic mess of a meal whilst my family eat something delicious and healthy but over the predefined number of calories was definitely not an option. Setting unrealistic expectations in terms of how much one is going to lose, over which timeframe has never worked for me, and I suspect, many millions of other failed, frustrated people. Is it better to attempt something which is more of a lifestyle change - in the true sense of the word 'diet', than a Diet?

I chose the 5/2 after an extensive search on t'internet for negatives. I didn't want to know the positives. I wanted to know whether you end up with bad breath, no energy, fainting, muscle cramps, vitamin deficiency... and the answer is that whilst the jury is out, part of the reason it is is that they can't really find anything bad to say about it. Huh. A friend of mine has been doing it, quite assiduously, whilst also going from being a non-runner to a half-marathoner. She's doing really well, over the course of the last year and a half, has two kids and a family life. I'm not really seeing any down sides here...It also works for vegetarian types, unlike the more extreme zero carb options.


Run down on how I've been doing it

1) No calorie counting. None. 

2) No weighing. Only going by which clothes I'm fitting in to.

3) No goals. This was started as an experiment, with the idea of a permanent lifestyle change for the sake of my broken physiology. A goal for the wrong reasons means the possibility of slippage.

Those are the basic premises. Now here is the functional implementation:

Fast Days: Monday and Thursday. By my reckoning, Monday's already a crap day. Me making it marginally more frustrating won't actually make it feel any worse! There may be something wrong with that logic. Thursday was chosen such that I didn't have to do any fasting over the weekend and therefore disrupt family meals, and also, yay! Curries on Fridays! There's no way you're going to take my legume based curry away from me. Not. A. Chance. Or my end-of-the-week glass/es of wine.

Eating on Fast Days: 

  1. Breakfast - unchanged. 
  2. Lunch: content unchanged, pushed to as late as possible (2pm-ish)
  3. Zero snacks.
  4. Lots of Green tea (the tea happens every day anyway so no big change there)
  5. No tea / supper 

Er, that's it really. Nothing too complicated. You can remind yourself of my quite healthy breakfast and lunch by reading higher up.


So how's it been going?

Well, cautiously, I think it's going ok. I'm doing a mindfulness meditation course at the moment so I find the periods of actually feeling hungry quite interesting, rather than horrible. Frankly, going in to 'normal' days, I do feel hungry. That is where the discipline really needs to kick in. Not hoovering snacks to make up for that slight gnaw in the belly. However, the other knock on effect is that I think, though I have no evidence for this, that my stomach has shrunk a bit. I don't seem to want to eat as much food. Even on normal days. The desire not to undo all the hard work has also meant I am cutting down a little on those avoidable but delicious carbs. Yes, I am still having dark chocolate but the frequency seems to have slipped to 'occasionally'. I even didn't have my usual Wednesday night few glasses of rosé last week and I don't think I will tonight. But, if I do, I'm not going to beat myself up about it.

Here's the other thing too. I think this can be a permanent change. I can't see any reason why I would want to go back to the other system (ie: eating whatever I want, when I want). Even if I can eventually get to go to a gym, it is useful, philosophically, to feel hungry. Feel what it is to not have eaten. It certainly makes things cheaper, and I would hope, once we're out of a currently skint phase, I will be able to give some money monthly to the local Food Bank and homeless hostel. It feels like a good quid pro quo. 

I can't pretend that I do not have in the back of my mind the general evidence around fasting and better body function over a longer lifespan, but in my particular instance, if I can take the weight load off my back and hip, that will make my enjoyment of what life there is immeasurably better than it is right now. Add in the gym (I'm told Tai Chi is the way to go for my particular disfunctional self) and... who knows. 

How much have I lost? Well, given that I have not weighed myself I don't know, but this week I got in to a pair of trousers I haven't been able to wear for about 2 years. Trousers I bought from Marks at xmas which were a bit tight are now a bit too loose around the waist. They don't fall down, not quite yet. My new-old tighter trousers are a little tight right now but I will enjoy the sensation of them getting looser. Over time. There is no pressure here. 

Just for you, I will weigh myself at some point. Easter? I would like there to be a nice change. The kind of change that makes me say "Really? Blimey!". It makes me annoyed that one celebrates losing weight as if in and of itself it is good, and better, where for me, being super-fit, enjoying my body and eating a healthy diet but-and-also-cake-thank-you was my happy place. But you know - realism strikes. That balance has to be achieved. No exercise = low to dead metabolism. When you have no choice, you eat less. That's it.


Update some 2 and a bit years later: Do you know, I am still doing it? It's an amazing discipline. I'd forgotten that I've got a really wide rib cage and hips, meaning that my clothes size is settling, and can't go any lower despite a generalised slimness. I've found that the hard far accumulated in the belly region is taking a long time to shift. A looong time. Partly because I refuse to go on a nuts diet (that's not the point) and partly simply because it took years of hard eating to get there! I have a nice 'pouch' of skin left over from my pregnancy collagen stretching but that doesn't worry me, and I go to the gym too now. I enjoy some delicious dark chocolate occasionally on my normal days; I've cut down the amount I drink which has also had a large effect. The point is: I'm very healthy, I haven't starved and have continued to up-health my life and downsize my body calmly and gently whilst not doing myself any harm. I cannot forsee a time when I stop doing 5/2, and can only keep recommending doing a calorie-free, stress-free version, as described above. Good luck! I tell you what else too - it really helps my digestion. I think the body seems to thrive on having breaks from eating. I have no medical, only personal evidence but it certainly feels that way.