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Why I love the 5:2 diet

Victoria WilliamsSpring is, apparently, on the way. For me, rather than the traditional resolution on the 1st January, this is the time of year when I take stock of the state of my body, mindful that shorts, bare arms and maybe even bikinis are on the horizon. This year, after a stressful house move followed by a long winter of comfort eating, there are a few more pounds spread about my person than I would like.

Previously, this would have been a signal to beat myself up - did I really need all those mince pies and hot cross buns? - but I rarely think that way these days. Yes, I have weight to lose, but it’s not a great deal and I know I can get rid of it.

About 3 years ago, I lost 20lbs on an intermittent fasting diet that I had read about in a newspaper article. Like Michael Mosley’s 5:2 diet, it recommended cutting my food intake to 500 calories on non-consecutive fast days every week and it made immediate sense to me. I had been carrying the baby weight for years (the baby was nearly 5) and hopes were fading that I would ever use my pre-pregnancy jeans for anything other than dusters. The thought of dull months of careful eating was just too depressing, but this diet seemed different. I gave it a go, and it worked. I lost the weight and have, give or take 5lbs, kept it off ever since.

Getting started is not easy. I defy anyone to reach the end of their first day on 500 calories without wanting to gnaw their arm off but gradually I got used to the hunger pangs, and found strategies to deal with them. I discovered how few calories there are in certain foods (lettuce, take a bow) and how many in others (taramasalata? I almost cried).

I found that mushrooms are my friends, as are spinach and soup. In a fit of carb-desperation, I bought expensive "calorie-free" shiritake noodles to put in my usual fasting supper - a version of Vietnamese pho soup. The bulk they added was welcome, although the texture took some getting used to. I have even found a fast food option that fits in - the dreaded golden arches sells a grilled chicken salad of a decent size that is 140 calories, 163 calories if you add the low fat balsamic dressing.

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Saving 75 calories for a poached egg in the evening will prevent hunger pangs waking you in the night. I learned that on a day I ran out of calories at 5pm and tried to manage the next 14 hours on herb tea. I nearly ate the sofa. But now when I get to the end of day of eating so little, smugly noting that people pay vast sums for similar regimes at Alpine health clinics, I feel lighter, healthier and look forward to my small bowl of muesli the next morning as if it were lobster thermidor.

I know many people are able to follow the absolutely correct and sensible weight loss plans that advocate eating less and moving more, but for me, those diets always started well and then petered out. In conversations with friends about 5:2, I have found it works for people who love their food (my hand is up) and loathe the constant checking to see if a favourite meal is allowed, or for people given to mindless snacking (I would put my other hand up at this point but it's in the biscuit tin) who need to learn that "just a few crisps" is a lot more that "just a few calories".

For me, this diet works better and most importantly is easier to follow for longer. Above all, it has allowed me to relax about food. I have my maximum weight and try not to go above it and if I do, then it’s back to 5:2 until it’s gone. A few hungry days are a small price to pay for no longer feeling guilty after a blow out meal.

Victoria Williams.

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