As many of you are aware, I’ve lost a significant amount of weight in the past 7 months. 15kg (33 pounds) to be exact, not including the just under 1kg loss of my recent breast reduction surgery. As someone who has not been easily slim since I discovered chocolate when I was 15, I’ve always been interested in finding out how others either maintain their weight or lose their excess.
Last year, just after my 45th birthday (what is it about birthdays that make you assess your life) I realised that my weight had crept up to an unhealthy 81kg. I knew I had to do something about it, but regular dieting just doesn’t cut it for me, I’d done it a couple of times before (most recently 2009) and lost weight, but struggle to maintain. The more I’m deprived of things, the more I want them. I needed to find a way to have my chocolate and lose weight too. I could never cut out any particular food groups, I once looked at the quitting sugar diet and when I saw you had to give up balsamic vinegar, I decided it wasn’t for me!
Fortunately I stumbled upon it on a personal shopping trip with one of my lovely clients. I’d noticed that she’d lost weight (I’m aware of her clothing size and how it had decreased from our previous shopping trip) and so I asked her how she’d lost the weight. She told me that she was on the 5:2 “Fast” eating plan (it’s a way of life, not a diet) and had found it easy to shed the extra weight. I was interested to find out more, and then a week or so later, the documentary by Dr Michael Mosley came on TV and I watched and decided to give it a go. (You can watch the documentary here)
As I’m a researcher, I also bought the Fast Diet book (and The FastDiet Cookbook: 150 Delicious, Calorie-Controlled Meals to Make Your Fasting Days Easy for meal inspiration) and the weight started dropping off. It’s certainly the easiest “diet” I’ve ever been on, and has a built in “maintain” phase which I think is super important. I like that it not only helps me lose weight, but has additional health benefits that go with!
The crux of the ‘diet’ is that 5 days a week you eat a normal fairly healthy and varied diet of around 2000 calories (though I don’t count). Two days a week you eat 500 calories (women) or 600 calories (men). It’s as simple as that. You don’t have to worry about your body going into ‘starvation mode’ as you are not on a low calorie diet every day (regular diets have this as an issue, but not 5:2). Your body is shocked, twice a week with the ‘fasting’ day so burns up your fat, but because on the other 5 days you feed it around 2000 calories, it doesn’t think it’s being deprived, so doesn’t start holding onto those calories or start eating away at your muscle.
As you can see from the picture at the top of this post, I’ve had some plateaus along the way, and I did have to give it up for a month after my surgery, but I’ve had a healthy and fairly steady weight loss the rest of the time. The closer to my goal, the slower it went, but it has still gone.
So now I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned over the past 7 months and what has worked for me.
My health has improved. Before 5:2 I was on cholesterol medication. Now I’m not. My doctor feels that my cholesterol levels are now within a reasonable limit and there is no need to be medicated. My doctor is very happy with me and this way of eating.
I’m the fittest I’ve ever been (well since I was 20 anyway). Losing the weight has helped me become fitter. It’s much harder to run when you’re carrying extra kilos. I do exercise on fast days, usually in the morning. I do also exercise the morning after a fast day (it is definitely harder) but I figure my body has to start accessing my fat stores for the energy so it’s a win for me!
Exercise for me has never been something that I’ve loved. I’m not a natural sportsperson, in fact, I hate team sports. So I have to make myself exercise but I do try and mix it up a bit and so I:
- Run the streets round where I live plus do some High Intensity Interval Training sprints (3 x 20 second per session read about it in Fast Exercise)
- Yoga classes
- Walk on the treadmill on an incline
- Body Pump classes at the gym
- Free weights at the gym
- And I’m about to start tap dancing classes for some extra variety
I try and do some exercise 3-4 times per week.
One question people ask about exercise is if you say burn 300 calories on a fast day exercising, can you then eat 800 calories instead of 500? The answer is no. Just stick with the 500 calories and consider those extra 300 calories burnt up a bonus!
The 5:2 diet and fasting is about a mindset. We are trained into thinking that being hungry is terrible. Every diet you see will promote that you “won’t feel hungry” on it. But in fact, feeling hungry is good. Feeling hungry means that our body has to start burning up our excess fat instead of accessing energy from food. Every time I feel hungry on a fast day, rather than feel “poor me” I just remind myself that my body is now burning my fat. Have you noticed that hunger comes in waves? Once that wave of hunger is gone, your body has just accessed some of your fat stores to keep it going.
The easiest way to have a positive mindset about this way of eating for me has been;
To call them ‘5’ days and ‘2’ days (not feast and fast). I find when I think about a feast day, then I think well it’s all great and I can completely gorge myself on all sorts of high calorie foods, rather than if it’s a ‘5’ day, I just think about eating well, 5 days a week, and I can have some wine or a biscuit and not feel guilty.
On my ‘2’ days I just remind myself when I feel like eating the cake or the ice-cream or even the crispy chicken skin, I can have it tomorrow. This is only for one day. This is not like other diet’s where you’re depriving yourself of everything you love that isn’t so healthy all the time, it’s just one day. It does become easier the longer you do it. Your body learns to ride the hunger waves, and you get psychologically stronger as you see results. In fact, after a glutinous weekend, I look forward to a ‘2’ day as I let my body recover from over indulging!
Keeping busy really helps. I won’t fast on days I have something social planned, the whole point of this way of eating is that it can work around your lifestyle.
Hot drinks such as herbal teas are great when you’re feeling hungry. Apparently there is some research that shows that drinking something hot helps to fool your brain into thinking you’ve eaten.
Each person will figure out on this eating plan what works for them. I’m fortunate that I’ve never been a big breakfast person (I’ve never particularly liked cereal, if it was dinner for breakfast, that would be a different story), so I find it quite easy to forgo eating til lunchtime or later. I found when I started that I had to eat twice a day, but now I’ve trained myself to go the whole day (most days) without eating til dinner time, but some days I will still have a light lunch of some soup at around 100 calories. I generally find it more satisfying to have all my 500 calories in one big meal, rather than split into 2 or 3 very small meals. Sure I get hungry during the day, but I really keep my liquids up which does help combat the hunger pangs. Honestly, it’s a mindset more than anything. Just keep telling yourself and you’ll get past it. What is amazing, is often the day after a fast, I don’t want to eat that treat that I was thinking about the day before.
The problem with having kids is that I have to prepare them food even when I’m fasting. Staying out of the kitchen as much as you can does make it much easier! I will often try and pre-prepare food (particularly when I first started I found this made a huge difference) so that I wasn’t tempted when in the kitchen.
Soups are great, they are often low in calorie, but filling and can be made in many different flavours! Some of my favourites are:
- Beef Pho
- Cheesy Cauliflower
- Tomato and Roast Capsicum
On ‘2’ days I don’t eat bread, potatoes, pasta or rice, they are high in calories! Instead I eat meals that are made from lean protein (meat and eggs) and lots of plants – vegetables and some fruit (1 medium strawberry is only 5 calories), and low fat and sugar yoghurt.
But I also will eat:
- Burgers (home made with turkey mince, no breadcrumbs and no bun) with salad
- Dumplings (pork mince, with lots of bok choy and Chinese chives) that I make myself
- Chicken rice paper rolls (I leave out the rice vermicelli and add in bean sprouts
- Lamb cutlets and steamed vegetables
I use an app (Calorie King) on my phone to calculate calories of anything I’m making, and I do weigh everything on a fast day, so I can keep proper track of my calories. There are lots of great resources for recipes if you’re feeling uninspired.
I don’t bother counting calories on my ‘5’ days, but be careful not to overeat too much as it won’t help you lose weight!
Here are some links to 5:2 recipe websites:
There are so many resources and recipes on the internet you can find plus I just look at normal recipes and think about if I can substitute something low calorie for something higher (such as Stevia for Sugar when called for in recipes), and figure out what is in the recipe using my calorie counting app!
Now that I’m in my healthy weight range I’m moving to the maintenance phase of this way of eating. It’s called 6:1 and basically, you eat normally 6 days a week and do the 500 calorie fast 1 day a week. Pretty simple! This gives you the health benefits of fasting, plus helps to stop you putting the weight back on (which is what most commonly happens after you finish a regular ‘diet’. Should I start putting on weight, it’s easy just to go back to the 2 days of fasting a week for a while.
The reality is, I don’t love fasting, but I find it easier to do that diet or count calories 7 days a week. I love that I can happily go out and eat and drink on a weekend without the consequences.
It’s a plan that’s worked for me. Honestly, the idea of fasting is harder to get over until you’ve done it a few times, than the reality!
If you’re currently on a weight loss journey, or thinking of starting one, don’t forget that Jill Chivers and I wrote an ebook to help you through the style challenges it can create.