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The emotional rollercoaster that is the challenging 5:2 diet


5:2 diet -simply put is five days a week of eating whatever you like, and two of consuming just 500 calories.

5:2 diet -simply put is five days a week of eating whatever you like, and two of consuming just 500 calories.

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Emily Hourican

Emily Hourican


5:2 diet -simply put is five days a week of eating whatever you like, and two of consuming just 500 calories.

It's 3pm on a Monday afternoon, and all I want to do is lie on the floor and cry. Preferably under the table. With a blanket over my head. I feel miserable, weak, confused, and unable to concentrate on anything - so much so, that I am certain there is something vital I am forgetting: to pick up a child, maybe.

Or a meeting with Jerry Bruckheimer. I want to go to bed with a hot-water bottle. Even more, I want to eat 15 toasted bagels with butter.

Because this feeling of misery and dread is caused by fasting and can, therefore, only be relieved by breaking that fast. Spaghetti Bolognese, I think. Macaroni cheese. Apple tart and cream.

I am on Day One of the 5:2 diet -simply put, that's five days a week of eating whatever you like, and two of consuming just 500 calories. Technically, that's about a quarter of what women are supposed to eat per day. In my case, I suspect it's rather less; I am given to eating very large quantities.

Having been brought up to believe there was nothing a decent meal and a good night's sleep couldn't cure - including teenage angst, a sprained ankle and a broken heart - those two things are still my go-to in times of need. There has never been any room for diets in this world view, and so I have never stopped myself eating anything I wanted, although obviously I have tried to steer towards the healthy, rather than buckets of KFC. Now, though, I am not just denying myself an extra biscuit, but actually a normal amount of food.

I'm trying to tell myself that its just like doing Lough Derg, which I have done - all three food-and-sleep-deprived days of it - and survived. But Lough Derg is mercifully removed from the outside world.

All you have to do is shuffle round and say countless Our Fathers and Hail Marys. Sometimes in the rain, admittedly, but you don't have to deal with phone calls, emails, work, panhandlers, road rage, co-worker rage, cupboards full of food, making dinner for other people and, crucially, children, with their non-stop demands.

In Lough Derg, you have the Lord on your side. That Monday afternoon, I felt that God had abandoned me. God, sanity, all my friends and very definitely my children, who, with understandable wariness, observed me shouting one minute, choking back tears the next.

So why am I doing this? Because I've been reading about the benefits of intermittent fasting for a couple of years, and I am convinced there is something in it. I'm not going to give you the science, but suffice to say that the major health indicators seem to benefit from short, sharp bouts of calorie restriction.

Now, in general, if there is better health, vitality, and greater longevity in the offing, I want in, however it is to be got. I have done every supplement and superfood you can think of, always on the promise of Perfect Health. So I'm not here for the weight loss - although that is a jolly by-product - I'm here for the improved concentration and mental clarity. The enhanced sense of well-being and possible longevity. Or maybe I'm like those guys who used to say they read Playboy for the articles by Norman Mailer?

However, some things come with too high a price, and by the end of Day One - capped by a really bad night's sleep - I was feeling gloomy about the prospects. Frankly, I was ready to fall at the very first hurdle. Except that if I did, I would never know. Perhaps this was an adjustment period? A pain barrier? The Cerberus that guards the road to perfect health? And so, after a 'normal' day in between, I began Day Two. And you know what? It was absolutely fine. I ate the 500 calories - 540, if I'm strictly honest - didn't obsess over food too much in between, drank a lot of green tea and conducted a perfectly normal day. I even volunteered to go shopping for Gaelic gloves with the eldest. I slept great, and woke up exuberant.

Which means I have had two utterly anomalous results, from which I can draw no conclusions at all. Except - damn it - that I need a few more goes of this. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday Independent

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