The wife and I have had many experiences of weight gain and loss, fad diets and slimming pills, exercise and slouching. As with millions of people, it’s a constant struggle and difficulty. I hate fad diets and never believe anything a slimming pill claims to do. My main concern with any fad diet is the implausible confidence it has in its own sustainability as a long term solution.
Allow me to get my soap box out for a minute (I’m still sitting at my desk, but pleases do imagine me getting animated at speakers corner). Whenever I hear or read of a new diet, I always take the time to read up on its inner workings, any science behind its claims, the details of the studies that ‘support’ it, and then I consider the practicalities of keeping it going in the long term. Let me be clear then: I’ve found NO diets which achieve this effectively. None. Yes, even the 5:2 diet which I’m moments away from giving my 2¢ about. Obviously ‘eat well and exercise lots’ does work, but that not a diet as it’s not restricting or measuring intake.
It all comes down to a very simple piece of logic: all diets restrict what the user can eat and drink, therefore all diets require the user to have willpower and determination over very long periods of time. Anyone who is struggling with their weight is very likely to be lacking any sort of willpower for extended periods of time. If we had willpower, then it’s very likely we wouldn’t be in this situation. I very purposefully use the term ‘we’ as this wholeheartedly includes me. A day of dieting I can smash out no problem. A week is a challenge, but one I usually embrace. A month verges on the once-in-a-blue-moon territory. Longer? Nope. I always revert back to previous habits, no matter what good lessons I’ve learnt.
The truth of the matter is that I am a slave to food, and I crave deliciousness. I know exactly why I can’t lose weight effectively: I adore flavours; I want as many and as much flavour as I can cram into my mouth; I know that if I eat very fast and over-indulge I can get more food in. It’s almost stupid that I can’t control this as I’m fully aware I’m doing it. But it’s like a ghost taking control of my brain when it happens – I physically cannot stop it. For someone who doesn’t struggle with weight, this may seem like an over-embellishment, something I can control if I really wanted to. But it really isn’t – it is like the rage you feel when someone is so rude to you that you have to say something. Some people can control this, but many more of us simply cannot. Instinct overpowers conscious reasoning. And let me be clear – this is happening at the times when I want to stop over-indulging. There are plenty of times when I don’t! (Many of which are alcohol related…!).
But I digress. I like the 5:2 diet. It has some major flaws, but it satisfies my biggest concerns – it is sustainable, and it does work to some extent. For me, at least. If you find that you’re comfort eating, or have some other driver for struggling with weight, this diet might be rubbish.
For those of you who are unaware of the 5:2 diet, it’s very simple. Eat normally for 5 days a week, then on 2 non-consecutive days you consume only 500kcal (600kcal for men). Its official name is intermittent fasting, and there is some science behind it. I first read it from a Michael Mosley article on BBC News. It had some science behind it that held more weight that most diets. Plus the very logic of it sat well with me.
The reason this works for me is that you aren’t sustaining a diet for months or years – in practice, you’re only sustaining it for a single day. A single really crappy day, admittedly. But knowing that in just a single day you’re back to normal really helps to get you through the pains and troubles.
Herein lies its biggest flaw, however. This isn’t a win-all solution to weight loss. It’s of utmost importance that you eat normally on the other five days. By normal, I mean 1500-2000kcal a day. No pigging out on McDonald’s, saucy chicken tikka masalas, and a cheeky Nando’s for the rest of the week. Because you’ve consumed such a tiny number of calories on the ‘diet days’ (as we call them, most people refer to them as fasting days), there is a huge tendency to over-compensate on the following days and over eat. As you can imagine, this may totally undo any good work you did on the diet day! But eating ‘normally’ is far more flexible than dieting – just be aware of what you’re eating, and don’t go silly. Have your cheeky Nando’s, but keep it reasonable.
Fortunately, the wife and I don’t suffer this over-compensation problem all too much. So the diet does work for the most part. But we have some other bad habits that we need to kick before relishing in our success (like not justifying frequently eating at restaurants by saying ‘we need to enjoy married life before we have kids’). To be fair – the wife has lost an astonishing 6 stone, and I’ve done 4 stone, since using the 5:2 diet. That in itself is massively successful. But we’ve got plenty of work to do, and we’ve both hit a serious plateau that we want to overcome.
I do need to qualify this further, mind. The wife and I exercise a fair bit. We jog 2-3 times a week, go for long walks, do the occasional Body Pump, always make a point of leaving the car at home and walking where we can, parking in the furthest corner of supermarket parking lots so we have to walk more, etc. Our success is as much us notching up achievements on our Fitbits as it is watching what we eat. The wife had never jogged in her life before tackling the NHS’s ‘Couch to 5k’. I was already a jogger, but Emma quite literally forced herself to get through every single stage, and fantastically she managed to get through the whole lot. Even the freakish spike of having to jump from 8 minutes continuous jogging straight up to 20 minutes. (If you try the Couch to 5k – TRUST ME – you CAN do it. Force it. It works.) But my blog isn’t about exercising, so this is as much as I plan on labouring this point. Other than to say that if you’re on a 500kcal day and you also throw in a 5-7km jog, you’re effectively on negative calories for the day. That really makes you feel pretty good about yourself!
Again I digress (I love a good digress!), and my original point of this blog post is left wanting!
What I wanted to say was that I’m going to use my blog as a tool to help me focus. I’m going to keep cracking at the 5:2 diet. I’ll be posting ‘diet day’ posts with a rundown of everything I’m eating on my diet days, which in turn can help you guys if you’re wondering what a diet day looks like and how on earth you achieve sustenance from a pathetic 500kcal (600kcal for men btw *high fives myself*(that’s just a clap isn’t it??)).
I’m also relishing the challenge of creating new super-low-cal meals, as at the moment I’m still not achieving as much variation to my diet as I usually enjoy. Watch this space! (Hopefully as this space gets slimmer!)