This is my 8th fasting day and fourth week on the 5:2 or fast diet. Despite my years of yoga training, I have never fasted before. I have always eaten healthily, and for the most part, moderately. I wouldn’t describe my normal diet as unhealthy or excessive – I’m vegetarian, I avoid wheat as I’m a little intolerant to it, I don’t drink alcohol. But whereas, when I was younger, I found it easy to stick to healthy eating all the time, I have noticed my resolve slipping on more recent years, particularly where chocolate is concerned. And, also as I’ve got older, I don’t burn off the calories as easily as I used to.
So I started to read about the fast diet. At first I had thought it was some crash diet, not the sort of thing I would recommend to anyone. Let alone a relatively slim and active yoga teacher. But then I read “The Fast Diet” by Dr Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer. The authors explain the science behind the diet, the health benefits which for me are more of a motivation than losing a few pounds …..although the weight loss which can result from the diet for those seeking to lose more weight seems to be steady and sustained. Fasting for a few hours can lower our cholesterol levels, reducing our risk of heart disease. It can send our bodies into repair, rather than growth, mode which may help to reduce our risk of certain cancers. It can help to stabilise our blood sugar levels, cutting the risk of diabetes. There is anecdotal evidence that it may help our memory and reduce the risk of dementia. All this, together with fasting having a long history in yoga and the spiritual traditions, was enough to persuade me to give it a go.
The way it works is to eat normally 5 days a week, and to fast on 2 non-consecutive days. On fasting days I eat breakfast and dinner but no lunch, drinking plenty of water and herbal teas throughout the day. For a woman, the total calories on fasting days should be within 500 (men get to have 600) which is around a quarter of a normal daily intake. I don’t have much weight to lose, so I don’t worry about keeping it exact, but do like the challenge of keeping my two meals to around 250 calories each. For breakfasts I’ve had Bircher muesli with a spoonful of yogurt, porridge with berries, grapefruit and a plate of cottage cheese with asparagus, and today – I’m particularly proud of this one as I was really hungry and found I could keep within my calories with 2 slices of spelt toast, half a tin of tomatoes and a small poached egg. For dinners, salads are an obvious choice. With some cottage cheese or a boiled egg, or nuts or seeds, or a few beans for some protein. I’ve also had stir / steam fried vegetables with brown rice and lentils, a vegetable curry and tonight I think it will be a chilli. Whatever I eat on a fast day, I enjoy it all the more for being genuinely really hungry! And if I’m hankering after something a bit more naughty – some chocolate or some home-made cake, cheese and biscuits …..well, there’s always the next day! And although I eat well on the other 5 days of the week, I have found that I don’t compensate by over-eating. My appetite seems to have regulated so that I only want to eat when I’m truly hungry, so I’m less likely to reach for a snack than I was before.
Of course 4 weeks isn’t long, so it will be interesting for me to see how I get on in the coming weeks. I might write about my progress in another month or so. I’d also love to hear your views on fasting, and if you’ve tried it for health or for weight loss. Please leave your comments below.