Get beach-ready by fast-tracking the most popular diet of 2014
A veteran of failed dieting tries to shift pounds on a fast-track version of the popular 5:2 regime.
When summer comes, the urge to lose a few pounds is almost as natural as the urge to shed some clothes. It was with that thought firmly in mind that in May I took up a challenge – perhaps rashly – to try a new version of the hugely popular 5:2 diet, called The Fast Beach Diet (FBD), which promises to help you slim by up to 12lb in six weeks.
Just enough time to get you into last year's bikini or shorts before the holiday.
The FBD, written by journalist Mimi Spencer, takes the basic concept of fasting for weight loss, and then throws in some extra rules to make it more effective in the short term.
Could it work for me – a jaded habitué of diet forums with a library of classic slimming tomes, a wardrobe that spans dress sizes from 10 to 16, an aversion to celery, and a taste for rosé? And what about meeting Dr Michael Mosley, the journalist and medic who kicked off the whole 5:2 mania with his investigation for BBC Two's Horizon into intermittent fasting (and associated weight loss), and who shed 18lb on the diet – shouldn't tips from the god of 5:2 be the ultimate benediction? Would I, I wondered, lose any weight?
Day One went well. I weighed and measured myself all over, cleared out the kitchen cupboards to ditch tempting foods, and told everyone I knew how marvellous this was going to be. I listened to Mosley's advice about exercise, and followed his lead by putting my trainers by the door so that I had no excuse not to get out for short sharp blasts of energy whenever I could. (I've since extended this to wearing running clothes at home more often so I am always ready for a run, no excuses.)
My first week was fairly dramatic as they often are on a new regime. I lost 3lb, felt pretty hungry and moaned a lot to family and friends. I realised I was probably going on just a tad too much – about just how hungry-mungry I was – when a relative in Australia told me to "stop being a princess'' via Facebook. To be fair, he had a point.
But honestly, there were times in that first week on fast days when I could have taken a bite out of anything static.
I felt like a lion in an abattoir on a vow of veganism. My body couldn't understand why my brain was not responding to its urgent messages of imminent death by starvation, by instantly sourcing a Crunchie. I was surviving in a state of biological bafflement.
I tried to find comfort by reading the FBD, but even seeing the word "fast'' seemed to kick off a chemical cascade in my hypothalamus, rendering me whingey and hissy. Just a hunch, but I may have been ghastly to live with.
But then, as Spencer pointed out, we are all so unused to hunger. I can't be the only one who has forgotten what it feels like to look forward to a meal, with real appetite, or how to manage that if there are no Mini Cheddars to hand.
That sense of shame made week two much more bearable. I was super-good on fast days and tried to add in sessions of High Intensity Exercise (HIT) as recommended. HIT – or Fast Exercise – involves raising your heart rate sharply for short bursts of intensity, and is a technique again explored by Mosley for Horizon that may be a more efficient way to burn fat than with longer, less intense exercise sessions.
I also began to accept my hunger – the less I fought it, the easier it was to deal with. I found I could "ride'' the sensation of appetite, and it would calm down – much like ignoring an itch. If it became unbearable, water was an option. Spencer told me that in her darkest hours, she relies on a baby beetroot or a cornichon (miniature gherkin), but anything small, sour and unusual seems to work as an appetite killer.
What was vital was counting the calories on the Fast Day. The regime allows you 500 calories for a woman, and 600 for a man, and you have to be strict – no wobbling around the upper limit, sneaking in an apple.
But if you don't eat all day, and then reward yourself with a miso soup at about 4pm, and a green salad with a pack of smoked salmon at 7pm, it's do-able. Both Spencer and I have found gazpacho to be a saviour, too. What the FBD encourages you to do is be far tougher on non-fast days: smaller portions, no treats, the avoidance of alcohol and lattes. I certainly haven't had a latte since I began – goodness only knows how Costa Coffee is staying in business. I've learnt to see M&Ms, and think 511 calories per 100g. But summer and rosé still go glass-in-hand for me, and I have found it impossible to ignore the siren call of Provence at the end of a working (non-fast) day.
This probably made my weight loss a lot slower than it could have been, especially when I went to Andalucia on holidays. The fast days were still easy enough: black coffee, and then gazpacho or fish with salad. Even so, with hindsight, I didn't keep the 500 calorie lid down hard enough though on fast days, and non-fast days may have included ice cream, multiple scoops, multiple flavours.
Back home, two more weeks of more disciplined 5:2 fasting, including a week of 4:3 (Spencer suggests ditching another food day to get a better response). And before I knew it, it was time for weights and measures.
First my waist, which was – hurrah! – two inches smaller. I was clearly a cup size down in my bra, and half a dress size down overall, bringing me back to a size 13 – which doesn't exist in shops, but really ought to, since most women I know are halfway between a 12 and a 14. And my overall weight loss? Seven pounds. Not bad at all.
Will I carry on? I think so. I'd like to drop another couple of pounds slowly and then maintain my new weight with a 6:1 pattern, which I am assured is all the maintenance you need. More than the weight loss, though, I like feeling in touch with my inner hungry caterpillar again – just not eating like one.
'The Fast Beach Diet' by Mimi Spencer
VICTORIA'S FAST DAY MENUS
Follow Victoria's suggested menus for tasty but filling meals during the two "fasting" days on Mimi Spencer's 5:2-inspired Fast Beach diet.
All day: black coffee or tea / still water (unlimited)
1pm: Miso soup, individual sachets – 36 calories per sachet; portion = one mug
3pm: Baby Beetroot In Mild Malt Vinegar, 250g – 46 cals per 100g; portion = 1/3 pack (38 cals)
7pm: Gazpacho, 600g – 47 cals per 100g; portion = 600g (282 cals) Total 0pc fat Greek yoghurt, 500g – 57 cals per 100g; portion =1/5 pack (57 cals)
Total calorie intake = 476 cals
All day: black coffee or tea / still water (unlimited)
3pm: Miso soup, individual sachets – 36 calories per sachet; portion = one mug
7pm: Aldi Almare – Scottish Smoked Salmon, 200g - 185 cals per 100g; portion = 1 pckt (368 cals)
Small green side salad (consisting of lettuce, celery, cucumber) – (40 cals)
Half a pink grapefruit (52 cals)
Total calorie intake = 496 cals