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Just over a year ago myself and Mark watched a BBC Horizon documentary by Dr. Michael Mosely called Eat Fast and Live Longer – a documentary about intermittent fasting. I had come across the concept of fasting in the past but to be honest I really didn’t know much about it. The documentary follows Dr. Mosely around the world as he investigates and tries out different forms of intermittent fasting, some quite extreme, others more manageable. Whether or not you’re interested in giving fasting a go, the documentary is quite a fascinating watch. At the very beginning of the documentary we are introduced to a 101 year old Punjabi man running the London City Marathon – he manages to finish it in 7 hours and 49 minutes! Imagine! At 101!!
During the documentary, Dr. Mosely meets with many medical experts around the world and the benefits of fasting appear to be quite amazing. Fasting seems not only to help with weight loss, blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin sensitivity but it also appears to have huge benefits in fighting degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer. Mark’s family unfortunately has a history of Alzheimer’s and my family – like so many others – has been affected by cancer.
The documentary had quite an impact on us. If there was any way that we could maybe improve our chances against these diseases, we decided we should give it a try. So we started on the 5:2 diet on the 9th of January 2014, just over a year ago. This is the time of year when everyone promises to get fitter, lose weight and tries to eat healthier – so I thought in case the 5:2/intermittent fasting is something you might be considering, I’d let you know what our experience has been like and give you some resources to maybe help you along the way.
The intermittent fasting diet we follow is the 5:2 diet which means you eat normally for 5 days and fast for 2. On the two fasting days you are allowed 1/4 of the standard calorie intake for your gender – so for me that’s 500 calories and for Mark 600. Normally, for me that means I have breakfast & dinner or lunch & dinner but I usually don’t have enough calories for all three. Mark usually has a bowl of soup for lunch on fast days. We choose to fast on Mondays & Thursdays. Mondays are generally pretty easy as if you’ve overindulged over the weekend it feels good to get back on track! Thursdays are marginally tougher but not much more to be honest.
So what’s it like? I won’t lie – it was tough at the beginning. The whole calorie counting thing and the feeling of being hungry takes some getting used to. Plus I feel a bit lacking in energy the following morning but on the day itself I actually feel very sharp – my concentration levels are much higher and I generally get a lot more work done. Breakfast after a fast day is one of the tastiest things ever! And because fast days tend to have no (or very little) carbs, I usually crave carbs. A slice of toast and butter never tasted as good as on the day after fasting! I think it does make me appreciate my food a bit more and I’m definitely more conscious of what I’m putting into my mouth on non-fast days. I don’t think I eat more on days after fasting but I do definitely snack a bit more the evening before a fast….something I want to cut down on. But overall, once you get into the swing of things it’s quite easy to do. The key is to be organised, to know in advance what fast meals you’re going to have and make sure to have all your supplies in and vary your fast meals to keep it interesting.
I’ve never had much luck with diets in the past, but one of the reasons I think the 5:2 it’s so do-able is the fact that you know you can eat normally again the day after. On the weight loss side of things, I lost about 6 kgs (just under a stone) over a period of about 5 months which I was pretty happy with and Mark lost about 8 kgs (about 1 stone 3 lbs) over the same period. More importantly, we’ve managed to keep the weight off. More than just weight though, we also lost inches from around our bodies, especially from the middle region which is one of the most dangerous places to be carrying weight. The good thing is that once you’ve reached your target weight you can then switch to 6:1 where you only have to fast 1 day a week.
One thing which we couldn’t do without is an app called The Complete 5:2 which is available in the App Store for €2.99. We use it all the time. It has over 100 recipes to choose from as well as exercise plans, BMI & BMR calculators and a really handy calorie counter. It just makes coming up with ideas and calculating calories so much easier than having to google stuff all the time.
I plan to share some recipes in future blog posts but just to give you an idea of the types of dinners you can expect to have on a fast day here are a few of our favourites (all found on the The Complete 5:2 app):
- Butternut Squash with Rustic Beans and Chorizo (or prawns for me as I don’t eat meat)
- Prawn Thai Green Curry
- Red Lentil Dhal
- Tomato and Tuna Bake
There are a huge number of information & recipe resources on the net in relation to the 5:2 diet which you’ll find by just searching for ‘the fast diet’ or ‘5:2 diet’. Some good ones I’ve come across are:
Anyway, I hope this helps and I’d love to know if you’ve tried the 5:2 or are thinking about it. Also if you have any questions feel free to ask below in the comments – I’d be happy to help.