Sunday, 11 November 2012

My weight loss is a side-effect of fast living

TODAY I weigh several pounds less fully clothed, including shoes, than I did a month ago fully naked.
I wasn’t what you’d call fat before, but middle age was spreading about me in ways I didn’t care for.
The gain had been slow and insidious over years, a common experience. The sort of incremental increase you don’t notice day by day, even month by month, until you find yourself buying clothes a size or two bigger than before.
No one looking at me a few weeks ago would have thought – as I sometimes think of strangers in the street – “Gosh, he needs to diet”.
But, I can tell you, I already feel better not having to carry those extra few pounds of fatty tissue about with me everywhere I go.
Another month or so at this rate and I’ll be down to what I’ve long considered my “proper” weight. And I might have to buy some new clothes again.
After that, it’ll be interesting to see where on the scales my weight stabilises. And, indeed, whether it will do so without some sort of positive action on my part. I don’t want to shrink away entirely.
What I don’t think I’ll do is just stop dieting. Because my new regime was never primarily about weight loss anyway.
The difference on the bathroom scales is merely a by-product. A welcome by-product, certainly, but no part of the main goal – which is less easily measurable but potentially much more rewarding.
The prime aim is nothing less than lengthening my life. And, along the way, improving the quality of my living.
Sounds faddy, I know, and perhaps it is. But if it works, those seem to me like pretty worthwhile goals to achieve.
And I’m struggling, so far at least, to see any down side.
Now I’m not someone who normally goes for fads. If someone tries to sell me something I usually assume it’s for their benefit, not mine (this may be why I’m lousy at selling things, including myself).
I don’t do diets. Companies that sell you diet products do so in the confident expectation that the effects will be temporary and you will come back for more later.
It was grim poetic justice that Robert Atkins, promoter of the protein-rich Atkins Diet, weighed over 18 stone when he died.
I’m not going mad on proteins – the sensible advice is to cut down on them.
And I’m not buying anything from anyone. In fact I’m saving money slightly because I’m buying less food.
You may have guessed by now that I’m talking about the 5:2 diet proposed by telly scientist Michael Mosley in his recent Horizon programme Eat, Fast and Live Longer.
It’s a gloriously simple plan. For five days in every week you eat just as you always did. For the other two (non-consecutive) days you fast.
And that doesn’t mean going without food altogether, either – though if you wanted to do it that way I’m sure you could.
For me, the “fast” days mean having a slice of toast for breakfast as usual then nothing more until the evening. Then it’s something very light such as a piece of fruit, a crispbread “sandwich”, a cup of soup or a small portion of sushi.
What’s suggested is a total intake on those days of 600 calories for men or 500 for women – a quarter of what the NHS recommends daily to “maintain weight”.
Dr Mosley’s scientific approach to the possible benefits, and drawbacks, of various forms of fasting, and his ultimate endorsement of the 5:2 diet persuaded me as I watched.
I was struck by the idea that short spells of hunger seem to trigger regeneration of brain cells and may actually ward off Alzheimer’s disease.
Add to that the lowering of cholesterol and blood glucose – and yes, reduction in fat and body-weight – and you add a significant lowering in the risk of heart trouble and strokes. All things well worth avoiding if you can.
It seems pretty obvious to me that our hunter-gatherer ancestors evolved to eat well on some days and not at all on others.
But are the “fast” days difficult? And do I feel the urge to gorge myself on the other days?
Well, no and no, actually. Though I do really enjoy my food the next day.
I’ve found, as Mosley did, that hunger comes in waves rather than steadily building. And that it’s easily quelled by black coffee. The knowledge (perhaps that should be “belief”) that it’s doing me good also helps.
I feel much better than I expected to at the end of my fast days, and more full of energy than I used to on days of takeaway pasties and chips.
Medical opinion, I should say, is of course divided on the 5:2 score, and it’s definitely not recommended for children, teenagers or pregnant women.
But for me, after an initial six-week trial, it might just be the new lifestyle. And if it lasts till I’m 100 – bingo!

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