The 5:2 diet – reality check day

Clown trousers
Clown trousers (Photo credit: Eleventh Earl of Mar)

Thought I’d give myself a reality check today and try to get into some trousers that I haven’t worn since I tried to convince myself I had a 34 inch waist*. We’ve lived here since 2004, and the trousers up on the top shelf were bought in Costco, Derby, near where we used to live. There’s a couple of pairs of Dockers chinos, a pair of black Levi’s, a pair of black Marlboro jeans, and some old Racing Green trousers I kept in case I did any decorating.

The Dockers and the Levi’s are basically brand new. I obviously squeezed into them, convinced myself I’d “lose some weight”, and then ate a pizza.

I’ve been on the 5:2 since I read about it in the Telegraph on the 16th August. Started on the 18th, I think, and since then I’ve lost 7 kilograms, which is 15.5 lb or 1.1 stone, or 0.00771618 short tons. I missed the Horizon documentary about it, but a lot of people I know saw it.

It works. It not only works, but it’s the “easiest” diet I’ve ever tried. I had some success with WeightWatchers several years ago, and both my wife and I lost a lot of weight, but WW is a horrible cult-like racket designed to shift product, and it all goes back on as soon as you stop. Which is not to say that, were I to stop the “52”, I wouldn’t pile on the weight again – but I don’t feel like stopping.

52 is supposed to help you live longer, and I hope it does. My blood pressure, which was “high normal” even on medication, is now completely regular – so much so, that I’m hoping to at least reduce the number of pills I take. I’m currently 2mph faster on my bike than I was at the beginning of the diet, and my hips and back are no longer screaming in agony by the time I finish. I have some concerns about a lack of calcium and iron in my diet, but I’m aware of these problems because of the app I’ve been using, myfitnesspal, which is a free, and very good, way of keeping track of what you eat and how much you exercise.

Like WeightWatchers, myfitnesspal works by encouraging you to record everything. Unlike WW, you don’t have to pay a monthly subscription. The app’s database of foods is cluttered but comprehensive, and you can use your phone’s camera to scan barcodes to make recording quicker. The time-consuming part is recording home-made recipes, but then you can re-use anything that you put in once.

Twice a week, I restrict myself to 600 calories. Like Dr Michael Mosley, I’ve experimented with this, and think I’ve cracked a formula for one of these days: some OatsSoSimple for breakfast (made with just 100ml of soya milk, because 180ml is too much), followed by either a twice-baked potato or a home-made fish pie for an evening meal. I always do these days in the working week, because I don’t find it hard to skip lunch at work when I’m busy.

I’ve set up myfitnesspal to lose 450g or 1lb per week, though you don’t strictly have to stick to this, because the 2 lean days are what matters. When I reach my ideal weight (I have one in mind), I might put it up to “maintain weight”. Regular exercise, of course, burns calories, and increases your daily allowance. Myfitnesspal records your “net” calories, anyway, so you can always see where you really stand. My bike ride this morning was 58 minutes of “vigorous” cycling (14-16 mph, 22-25 kph), worth 902 calories. This is enough for one of my home made pizza meals. If I lose a few more kilos, I’ll be getting over 16mph, and into a whole new category.

A couple of interesting things about doing 52. First of all, there is a miraculous reduction in appetite. Everyone thinks when they begin that when you do the lean days, you’ll follow by stuffing yourself on the fat days. Not so. In fact, you just don’t feel like eating as much. Success breeds success. You can buy a 100g bar of chocolate, and eat 15 or 30g of it over a few days. At no stage do you feel like scarfing the lot. My youngest is into baking at the moment. She made some lovely chocolate fairy cakes yesterday. I ate one, that’s it. My home made fig rolls lasted over a week.

The second really interesting thing is that your average net calorie consumption is ridiculously low. I’m looking at this week’s stats, and my net consumption is just over 1000 calories per day (I’m still in negative calorie consumption as I write this, because of the bike ride). That’s just over half what you’re allowed when you’re trying to lose 450g a week. And yet I do not feel hungry. This is no fluke: last week: 1250 per day; the week before: around 1400;  week before that: 1250 again. So whereas WeightWatchers can leave you insanely hungry all the time, 52 means that the staffroom can be full of cake, as it was on the MacMillan Coffee Morning on Friday, and you don’t bat an eyelid.

I’d been toying, before I started this, with cutting wheat and dairy out of my diet, not because of any specific intolerance, but partly because I kinda, sorta, believe the whole paleo diet argument: that we didn’t evolve to eat wheat and cow’s milk; and partly because I’ve been completely addicted to bread all my life, it’s my achilles heel when it comes to food. I love carbs, but I love carbs from bread more than anything. White crusty loaf with a big hunk of cheese. Drool. But. Standing in the dairy aisle of a typical supermarket, you’ve got to agree: there’s something wrong with this picture.

But 52 is better than paleo. Fact is, my bread craving has reduced along with my other craving. I’m not going to have toast for breakfast when I know that oats will get me through till the evening fish pie. And I’m not going to squander hundreds of calories on cheese when I can have a chicken and tofu stir fry and a Cornetto.

Having to work late the other night, we were fed at an odd time, and the food was terrible. I  took one bite of a limp and soggy (and tiny) slice of catering pizza and said, “This is not worth the calories, is it?” (I’ll tell you what is worth the calories, though: Gourmet Burger Kitchen Aberdeen Angus Burgers. Oh my.)

And the trousers? Well, I got into the Marlboro jeans and the Dockers, but the black Levi’s went back on the shelf of shame. A few weeks to go.

I’ll post my recipes for lean day meals another time.


*34 inches is 86cm, which is why metric never took off in clothes sizing. In France they get around this by having arbitrary size numbering, as for women’s clothes in this country. In France, my 36-inch waist size translates to a “46”, which is much more palatable than “92”.

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