The 5:2 Diet Special: 'I want to do this for the rest of my life'
Author Kate Harrison on her fast-and-feast eating plan, that has everyone talking
Want to lose up to 5lbs in a week? The diet starts two-day! Dubbed 'The 5:2 Diet', the latest worldwide weight loss sensation promises results fast – by fasting on 500 calories two days a week and eating normally for the other five.
After dropping three dress sizes in five months, 45-year-old Kate Harrison is just one of those who now swear by the fast-and-feast plan.
"I've battled with my weight pretty much all my adult life," says Kate. "Over the years, my weight has varied between just under nine stone all the way up to 11-and-a-half stone, which at 5' 4" made me very much overweight.
"I've tried every diet in the book, but I could never find a way to control my weight."
It was at her heaviest last August that Kate sat down to watch BBC Horizon programme Eat, Fast and Live Longer.
In it, Dr Michael Mosley – who's credited with popularising the fast diet – explored the theory that fasting can help you live longer, look younger and even ward off dementia.
"It was certainly inspiring," says Kate, who penned The 5:2 Diet Book and the forthcoming Ultimate 5:2 Diet Recipe Book. "But it focused so much on the science and I actually wanted to put it into practice.
"So I decided to crack on anyway and try it for myself.
"Almost immediately, I realised: 'I can do this.'
"Fundamentally, it is cutting back two days a week and eating a really normal diet, including the treats you like, the rest of the time," she explains.
"The idea is that you cut your calorie intake to a quarter of the normal intake on fast days.
"For the average woman, it's about 500 calories, and for the average man it's about 600 calories.
"Typically, that calorie deficit results in weight loss of about a pound a week.
"However, we have had people who've lost five or six pounds in the first week."
Today, author Kate has almost 5,000 followers on Facebook – including hundreds of Irish 5:2 devotees.
"It does take a bit of getting used to," she admits. "It does involve a bit of a psychological and physical adjustment because it is fewer calories than you're used to.
"Initially, you can feel hungry – especially if you don't choose the right foods.
"What I realised was that I hadn't allowed myself to feel hungry for years, and that had caused me to lose sight of the difference between being hungry and being bored.
"Before, I could easily polish off half a packet of biscuits – now I really savour the odd biscuit or two."
She adds: "You don't have to do it on set days or consecutive days.
"Lots of people choose days that they are going to be busy at work. Think of all the days you've been really manic at work and you don't eat until the evening anyway.
"I vary it according to what I've got on. I think that flexibility is what makes it so much more sustainable than pretty much every other diet I've tried."
Intermittent fasting, as it's also known, is nothing new.
As far back as the cave, our ancestors often went days between meals.
And the Romans usually only ate once a day, at around noon.
Nonetheless, little is known about the long-term effects of fasting.
"For me, it wasn't just about my weight," says Kate. "My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago and both my mum and dad have Type 2 diabetes, so I was worried about that, too.
'There are all sorts of health benefits because your body is able to turn its attention away from constantly digesting food.
"Plus, you don't get bored as you do if you're counting calories every day.
"One of the most massive benefits for me, though, is that, because I'm doing it two days a week, I don't feel guilty when I do eat the foods I like."
Having already lost 26lbs on the plan, Kate confesses that she's looking forward to putting a few back on when she goes on holiday soon.
"I'm going to Greece, so I might be tucking into the baklava and a few sundowner cocktails," she laughs. "I'm really looking forward to that.
"When I get back, I'll just go back to fasting – I plan to do this for the rest of my life."
How to keep your calories down but flavour up
One-Tray Baked Cod Provencal
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Ingredients: 1-cal cooking spray, 1 red pepper and 1 yellow pepper, seeded and cut into wedges, 1 courgette, thickly sliced, 1 red onion, peeled and sliced, 2 x 150g cod fillets, 100g cherry tomatoes, 30g pitted black olives, zest and juice of 1/2 lemon, 1 tbsp fresh oregano or thyme leaves, salt and pepper.
• Heat the oven to 200°C. Place the chopped peppers, courgette and onion in a shallow baking dish. Spray with a little 1-cal cooking spray, season well with salt and pepper and roast for 10 minutes.
• Place the cod fillets on top, season and spray with 1-cal cooking spray. Scatter the tomatoes, olives and lemon zest around the fish, and squeeze over the lemon juice. Sprinkle with the herbs, season again, and bake for 8-10 minutes, until the cod has just turned a denser white colour. Scatter with the remaining olives and serve immediately.
Spicy Chicken, Courgette, Basil and Orzo Soup
Cooking time: one hour
Ingredients: 1-cal cooking spray, 1 carrot, 2 sticks celery, 1 leek (180g), 1 onion, 1 small courgette, 2 chicken thighs, 50g orzo, 2 bay leaves, 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil or parsley.
• Spray a large non-stick saucepan with 1-cal cooking spray. Add the carrot, celery, leek and onion, peeled and finely chopped, and fry over a medium heat for 3–-4 minutes until softened. Add a splash of water to help the veggies steam.
• Add the chicken thighs, bay leaves, and enough water to just cover everything (about 1.2 litres). Bring to the boil and then simmer gently for 45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.
• Remove the chicken from the pan, shred the meat and set aside. Discard the bones.
• Add the orzo to the pan and cook for 3 minutes. Add the shredded chicken and finely chopped courgette and simmer for 3 minutes. Scatter with the chopped herbs before serving.
Recipes from The Ultimate 5:2 Diet Recipe Book by Kate Harrison
The Ultimate 5:2 Diet Recipe Book by Kate Harrison is published by Orion on May 25, €8.99