5:2 diet: Three Kiwis share whether intermittent fasting works for themby Sarah Lang
Dr Michael Mosley's 5:2 intermittent fasting diet has taken the world by storm and he just recently released a refined version of it, The Fast 800. Christchurch's Rachael Lane is a 5:2 convert, calling it a “way of life” rather than a diet. Wellingtonian Lou Draper quit 5:2 after a month, and Elizabeth Chisholm says she feels great on it.
She didn’t wait to see if those initial side effects would fade. “I couldn’t tolerate it any longer. If it had been 800 calories, as Mosley recommends now, it may or may not have been manageable.”
Draper, 38, has long been a yoyo dieter and says she’s still overweight. “I’ve tried so many diets. All of them, I reckon. I usually lost around two kilos before quitting, because they’re unsustainable.”
Last year, she earned credentials online through reputable Canadian-based company Precision Nutrition, and is now one of its online nutrition coaches (not a qualified dietitian). “My friend swears by 5:2, but it doesn’t work for everyone. People can get quite ill on so few calories: lethargy, malnourishment, if they aren’t getting enough nutrients. And 5:2 is harder for people who absorb fewer calories than others."
She’s finally found an approach that works for her. “I eat a balanced diet: mainly wholefoods, plus I prioritise hydration, exercise and sleep. I don’t weigh myself, but my clothes fit better. Obsessing over calorie counting is the wrong approach for many people. You can be eating really well, but stress, sleep etcetera are more important than measuring out 12 almonds. People struggle to handle massive change. Just eat better quality food and leave it at that.”
Way of life
Then she heard a radio interview with Michael Mosley and watched his BBC documentary Eat, Fast, Live Longer. “I read about the science and thought I’d try 5:2 – for my health, not just my weight. It’s the only diet I’ve ever managed to stick to.”
Rachael, 45, and husband Jared Lane have done the 5:2 diet for five years. “It was easiest to do it together, eating the same and supporting each other.” On Mondays and Thursdays, she eats 500-600 calories while Jared aims for 600. On fasting days, she usually only has two coffees until dinner.
“Sometimes I text Jared saying ‘I’m so hungry’! But you learn it’s alright to be hungry. I did initially go to bed dreaming about what I’d eat the next day. But I’d actually wake up not that hungry. It’s difficult at work morning teas, but I tell myself ‘wait until tomorrow’ and when tomorrow comes, I often don’t want it.”
Jared is cagey about his weight, she says. “Maybe he cheats at work!” However, Lane, who once weighed 100-plus kg, has lost close to 25kg. It’s easier to move around, and she doesn’t wake up sore anymore. “I’m still overweight, but I’m okay with being this size – though currently I’m ‘Christmas-sized’.”
Her diverticulitis, a painful intestinal disease, still flares up but not as often. “The 5:2 might help me avoid future health problems, but the immediate payoff is shopping in normal clothing stores.”
On non-fasting days, the pair don’t restrict their diet. “But we’ve organically started eating fewer carbohydrates. When we eat carbs, though, I crave more. I do love potatoes and pasta. Restricting calories every day takes the joy out of food – and you feel guilty when you crack.” She and Jared recently started time-restricted eating, eating only between 10am and 6pm twice-weekly.
“Various friends have started doing 5:2, too. Only one woman raised her eyebrows, like ‘Oh, you’re on the snake oil.’ But compared to fad diets out there, this is actually sustainable. For me, it’s a way of life.”
In 2012, Elizabeth Chisholm discovered during a routine “over-60s” check that she was pre-diabetic and had high cholesterol. Then 62, she was shocked. At 66-67kg, she had a healthy BMI (albeit at the upper end of the range). “My grandmother had late-onset diabetes, so I decided to take action – but I didn’t know how, exactly, because I had a pretty healthy diet. Then, on a flight, I saw Mosley’s documentary on fasting.”
She’s now been on 5:2 for six years. For three years, she ate only 400 calories on Mondays and Thursdays. Initially she felt good – not overly hungry, though a bit “brain-foggy” mid-afternoon on a fast day. “On the first few fast days, I had trouble sleeping, but then found everything quite easy. I have no breakfast except a cup of tea, miso soup for lunch, and nearly all 400 calories for dinner. The next morning, I have a great feeling of lightness.”
She lost 5kg in 18 months – not a particularly quick weight loss (partly due to breaks during holidays). But she reached 61kg, and her blood sugars and cholesterol returned to normal.
Chisholm now fasts only one day a week (eating 500 calories) to avoid losing too much weight, given a family history of osteoporosis. Her husband “is the same healthy weight no matter what he eats” and eats her fast-day dinners, adding some more food. For two years Chisholm has done time-restricted dieting (not eating between 6pm and midday the following day). Now 68, she weighs 60-62kg.
“I feel great. I appreciate the beautiful, nutritious food I eat, and with other food I think ‘my body doesn’t need that’.” She won’t go up to 800 calories, as what she’s doing works for her.
This article was first published in the February 2019 issue of North & South.
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