Anyone for the 5:2 diet?-Fasting The benefits of fasting on body, mind and spirit
I’m by no means ‘overweight’. I’m an active person. I swim and do Pilates. I run around after a three year old quite a lot.
But since I have had that three year old, I (in common with many other women) haven’t been able to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight. And despite my regular exercise, I’ve developed a number of lumps and bumps in places I don’t want them.
Like many others, I began the New Year with a few more unwanted pounds and a desire to lose them. I started a calorie counting diet as usual. As usual, within a few days I caved in. Then, quite by chance, I spotted an intriguing looking book on the carousel of my kindle. It wasn’t very expensive. It was advocating fasting for two days out of every seven in order to lose weight.
The 5:2 Diet.
I brought the book because it intrigued me (and to give me a chance to try out my new e-reader). I’d taken part in lent as a child and tried a few detox diet but had never seriously considered fasting as it seemed rather extreme. Wasn’t starving the body the worst thing you could do on a diet?
Within a few pages, I was seriously intrigued. The 5:2 diet, as it is known, is a form of alternative fasting where you eat a quarter of your required intake of calories for two days of the week-but eat normally for the other five. As long as you don’t seriously over eat on the other five days, you should lose weight.
What was more, the promised benefits of the diet went beyond weight loss. They include:
· Increased longevity
· Possible reduction of the likelihood of heart disease, diabetes, strokes, Alzheimer’s and cancer.
· An increased feeling of general physical and mental wellbeing.
All very appealing and especially so when I realised I didn’t want to just lose weight but have more energy and generally feel better while setting myself up for a healthy old age. But how could I be sure this wasn’t just another fad?
Simply put, because of the weight of the scientific research behind it-and the fact it has the backing of medical experts. It seems logical that if you eat less on two days a week and don’t seriously overeat the rest of the time, you will lose weight. But what about the diets other claims?
Professor Valter Longo, the director of the University of south California’s Longevity institute has been studying ageing in humans. As a part of his study, he has been monitoring a species of dwarf mice that exceed the average mouse lifespan by double if they eat a calorie restricted diet. As an added bonus, these mice are healthier too.
Humans aren’t mice. But the common factor between both species is a hormone called insulin-like growth factor 1. IGF-1 keeps the cells in the body growing which is vital when you are young and developing but not so good when you reach maturity as it can accelerate aging and the likelihood of cancer. But according to Professor Longo, by fasting, you can make your body reduce the amount of IGF-1 you produce.
It also seems that when we fast, the body goes into repair mode, transferring energy from growing and reproducing to all those little jobs the body has been putting off but now thinks it’s a good time to do. This is because when we start to fast, the body thinks you are hitting a time of famine so it starts to prioritise. Survival becomes top of the agenda. So it needs to make sure you are in tip top condition to get through the tough times ahead.
But there’s more. If you eat the same number of calories as someone else but in restricted periods (i.e fast rather than eat when you like) according to the Salk Institute of Biological Studies, you are less likely to develop diabetes and related diseases like strokes, Alzheimer’s and heart disease. According to the Salk Institute, this is because when you are eating, your insulin levels are high and your body in fat storing mode. When you fast, the reverse happens. So even limited fasting helps.
The Mechanics of the Diet
As with any diet, the advice is to seek medical advice before beginning. But for obvious reasons, the 5:2 diet isn’t recommended for everyone. Those with type 1 diabetes, anyone suffering from an eating disorder, children and pregnant women should avoid.
For everyone given the medical all clear, the basic premise is simple:
· Work out what the basic calorie requirements are for someone of your age, sex, height and weight. This is the quota of calories to stick to on your normal eating days. Try a calorie calculator to help work this out.
· Quarter this for your fats days.
· Decide which days are best for you to fast on.
· Eat plenty of vegetables and drink plenty of water on fast days. Fruit can stimulate your appetite so keep this to a minimum. Otherwise, eat what you like as long as it is within your restricted calories limits.
I’ve Started it-Have You?
So armed with this basic knowledge, I have decided to have a go. How am I getting on? Well, its early days but so far so good. I intend to post weekly with updates of how the diet is working for me on a physical and mental level. But I’d like to hear from others too.
Moseley, Michael (Dr) and Spencer, M ‘The Fast Diet’.
Harrison, K, ‘The 5:2 Diet Book’