“Any weight loss?” the doctor asked. “Well yes, there has been,” I said, “but I think that’s directly attributable to my being on the 5:2 diet for a year.” The doctor just smiled and moved on.
Today I weigh two stone less than I did a year ago, when telly scientist Michael Mosley’s programme Eat, Fast and Live Longer was first aired in the BBC’s Horizon series.
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 would have thought – as I sometimes think of strangers in the street – “Gosh, he needs to diet”.
But I certainly feel a lot better not having to carry those extra lumps of fatty tissue about with me everywhere I go.
After years of more or less putting up with the idea that I'd never again be the svelte youth I once was, I'm back down to what I always used to consider my “proper” weight. And I've had to buy new trousers in a size I feared I might have grown out of forever.
I don’t want to shrink away entirely but I’m happy with the weight I am now, and fairly confident of maintaining it.
But the regime was never primarily about losing weight. 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
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 a year in I’m still struggling to see any down side.
I don’t normally go in for fads, and 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.
But I’m not buying anything from anyone. In fact I’m saving money slightly because I’m buying less food. Well, maybe.
If you haven't encountered the 5:2 yourself – and I’ve been amazed since starting it how many other people seem to be doing it too – it’s gloriously simple. For five days in every week you eat just as you always did. For the other two (non-consecutive) days you fast. Which in this case doesn’t mean going without food altogether.
What’s suggested is a total intake on that day of 600 calories for men or 500 for women – a quarter of what the NHS recommends daily to “maintain weight”. The increasing habit of some shops to label their food by its calorie count is a big help.
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.
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.
The passing waves of hunger are easily quelled by black coffee and near calorie-free nibbles of celery, carrot and courgette.
At the end of my fast days I feel fuller of energy than I used to on days of takeaway pasties and chips.
Medical opinion may be divided on the 5:2 score - though my doctor seems to be happy enough with it.
It’s definitely not recommended for children, teenagers or pregnant women. But for me it’s a whole lifestyle that was surprisingly easy to switch into. And if it lasts till I’m 100 – bingo!
Part of me wanted Madrid to win the vote to stage the 2020 Olympics. I liked the Spanish capital’s intention to stage the Games on a budget half that of Tokyo and a tenth of Istanbul’s.
Not just because austerity is in fashion, but because the bloated nature of the Olympics has been growing ever more offensive since 1976, when the Games thrust Montreal into a debt crisis that took 30 years to clear.
Madrid – understandably, given that Spain’s economy is in almost as dire trouble as that of Greece – didn’t want to become another Athens.
But the decision to put the Games in the “safe hands” of Tokyo makes sense. Not least because of Japan’s clean record – in sharp contrast to both Spain and Turkey – in the matter of doping. Of which, more in this column next week.