Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Hunger Games: Jo's Final Opinion of the 8 Hour Diet

Well, Jo has been faithful to her word, and tested out the 8 Hour Diet. Here she gives her final review and advice based on what she has experienced through the experiment. 

Having spent two weeks fruitlessly feeding my face in the daytime, then drinking litres of water to get me through the night, I was annoyed but not surprised to see I hadn’t lost any weight by following The 8 Hour Diet according to Zinczenko’s contradictory instructions to eat all I want, but stick to superfoods. Taken day by day, the scales fluctuated up and down as much as a kilo. But for me, that happens all the time, even though I always weigh myself at the same time.

I thoroughly fell off the bandwagon on the long weekend at the end of my two week trial. Events conspired – a going away party, some night shifts – with a general lack of will-power. Any weight-loss I’d managed was fast undone.

So, I’ve now ditched the book, and turned me attention to intermittent fasting, without the hype. In my initial research, some of the reviews of The 8 Hour Diet have been more useful than the book itself.

This three star review highlights the research that preceded The 8 Hour Diet (though these authors are ignored in the book). This reviewer recommends Brad Pilon’s “Eat, Stop, Eat” program, as well as Martin Berkhan’s The reviewer implies that you can get all the info you need online, without putting yourself through Zinczenko’s writing.

While I agree with the above, I also found an easy way to read the book – via this summary article, “8-hour diet lets you cheat and still lose up to 10lb in a week”, written by the man himself. Even though it’s written to spark people’s interest in his product, it gives the book’s core content.

Back to the reviewers on, another reviewer discusses her previous experience with a type of intermittent fasting. Even though her 5 star rating for the book makes me instantly suspicious, her experience is useful to hear. After many years doing a kind of intermittent fasting, she stopped when doctors and friends argued that she didn’t eat enough. This saw her stack on weight, so she went back to IF, and quickly saw improvement in her health and weight. She says the book helped her lose the last few kilos she wanted. “This book reminded me of everything I believe in about the body's need to rest and not constantly be working day and night to process food. It does not makes sense to eat around the clock, we have only had access to excess food a hundred years or so.”

Interesting point.

More importantly for me, she highlighted reasons for why the diet fails for some people: “Many people here say the diet did not work for them so it may not work for everyone. Every body is different. I lost 10 lbs in one month and that's all I needed to lose. But I ate the 8 super-foods everyday and after filling up on them I didn't eat any junk. I also workout daily. I think giving it a try is worth it but you really do need to exercise and eat the 8 everyday in order to test it properly.”  And there’s the crux. You do actually have to be sensible and ignore all the author’s hype.

This is also what makes me the most cranky about the diet. I followed it properly and I ate the 8 superfoods each day. Okay, I might have also added a block of chocolate – BUT that’s supposedly allowed. As is occasionally falling off the bandwagon…. The book emphasises how it’s a diet that you can adapt to fit your life, and even if you only follow it strictly for 3 days a week, you’ll still see results. I don’t think this is true – not for me, at least.

So, where do I go from here?

Research time. I found this article on IF by Joseph Mercola, helpful. This tip jumped out at me: “Remember it takes a few weeks, and you have to do it gradually, but once you succeed to switch to fat burning mode you be easily able to fast for 18 hours and not feel hungry.  The “hunger” most people feel are actually cravings for sugar, and these will disappear, as if by magic, once you successfully shift over to burning fat instead.” (A word of advice: ignore the rest of the website this is posted on!) 

The disappearance of cravings really surprised me, but this goes towards explaining it. I’ve always craved sugar, and have been worried even by the idea of giving it up, in the belief that the cravings will have me whimpering in the sweets aisle within hours of quitting them. It was quite exciting to be free of them so easily! And it gives me hope that if I feed myself properly, I can escape the Sugar Demon. 

This is another thing that Dr Mercola highlights – nutrition. “I have been experimenting with different types of scheduled eating for the past two years and currently restrict my eating to a 6-7 hour window each day. While you’re not required to restrict the amount of food you eat when on this type of daily scheduled eating plan, I would caution against versions of intermittent fasting that gives you free reign to eat all the junk food you want when not fasting, as this seems awfully counterproductive [my emphasis].”

Yet how does Zinczenko sell his diet? “Watch the pounds disappear without watching what you eat!” It’s seriously worrying that such misinformation – nay, a downright lie – prefaces the whole book.
Take away message?

As Mercola points out, “It typically takes several weeks to shift to fat burning mode, but once you do, your cravings for unhealthy foods and carbs will automatically disappear. This is because you’re now actually able to burn your stored fat and don’t have to rely on new fast-burning carbs for fuel.”

While I take anything I read online with a grain of salt, I am finding truth in what Mercola writes. I’m now almost four weeks in, and I’m starting to get better at ignoring my brain’s habit of thinking I can’t sleep without a recent feeding. I’m also learning the right amounts to feed myself to get me through the fasting period. I’ve ditched The 8 Hour Diet, but I am thankful for the useful information I’ve found in the process. It looks like there’s an increasing amount of research being done on this kind of dieting (Google it, you’ll see!), so it’s something I plan to watch, at the same time I watch the clock and improve the nutrition value of my meals.
Thanks Jo! It has been quite a journey, and I'm glad it was you doing it!
My next installment on the 5:2 Diet will be coming soon. 

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Half Marathon Training (Finally) Continues!

So it has been a while since I checked in about my half marathon training.

Last post I was up to week four, using Half Marathon Coach app as my program, and preparing for Run Melbourne in July.

Let me quickly detail what has happened since then.

First, I found out there was a better half marathon just a few weeks later in August, which instead of being with thousands of people in the middle of the city, was smaller and along a coastal road. Scenic is always good when you are going 21kms.

So I decided I would change my goal to that.

This might have resulted in me bludging for a week.

I then tried to get back into my training using the Half Marathon App. It was then I realised a few things I don't like about it:

1. It doesn't let you pause or restart. This means it keeps ticking over and whispering to you that you are getting even further and further behind, which is a guilt trip I don't need from my phone.

2. I wanted to change the date of my final race, but couldn't. So I ended up getting a whole new program, which was annoying because it started again at the low milage. Further, I then found out that it would give me only 2 weeks of the new program, and I would have to pay for the rest! Even though the original was free!

So, I got sick of it and did some research into other apps.

I have since downloaded the Runner's World app (which again is free).

Pros to the app:

- again it lets you put in your final race date and it works out a program towards that.

- it lets you choose 'maintenance', 'moderate', 'hard' and 'extra hard' levels of training which affects the number of sessions per week you have and how quickly the intensity and mileage increases.

- my biggest love comes from the fact that you put in your previous best race time for any standard distance (I put in my time for my most recent 10km) and in all of your training sessions it will give you an exact pace you should be aiming for. Looking at this, I've realised I was going a bit too hard for my 'easy' jogs previously.

- it also is more varied in its training, including tempo and speed work. This keeps the training a bit more interesting. I take whatever distractions I can get :D


- can't decide if it is actually a con, but you don't actually record what you do anywhere, so it doesn't show you how much you have achieved. Might be easy to just forget it is there if you didn't have your own motivation to keep doing it.

- It would be better if you could change the 'pace' for workouts to 'speed'. While there are calculators that do this for you on the internet, it would make it easier to use if it did it itself. (I work in speed rather than pace, being a long time treadmill user.)

Overall, at the moment I really like it. Though last week I really was sick, and so am just getting back into it now. Today I did my 11km long run on the treadmill as it was raining outside (and yes, I'm that soft.) 

Weightloss wise:

Last time I checked in for training, I realised my parents' scales were lying to me though they gave me a reading of 75.7.

Over the next few weeks of not training but definitely eating, my weight crept up to 77kgs again until I jumped on the 5:2 Diet. In the first two weeks of doing that, my weight dropped right back down to 74kgs. However, last week and a bit the loss hasn't been as good (which I knew when I started the program, the first two weeks give you the biggest loss.) My weight has been bouncing around quite a bit in unpredictable ways. I had gone down to 73.9, but then back up to 75.6, and lots of things in between. However, today I clocked in at a reasonable 74.5kgs (had hoped to be firmly in the 73s, but it was not to be). 


The Sandy Point Half Marathon is on the 18th August, just over two months away. Plenty of time to increase my mileage and reach my goal weight of sub 70 kgs... if I'm good. Wish me luck!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Measure It: Cholesterol

nutrition / trans fat panel
Courtesy of Jason Anthony at stock.xchng

In the last post for the Measure It series I looked at What are BMI and BFP?
Hope you did some testing and found out how you were going, especially for those of you in my hemisphere, going into winter it is always good to make sure you aren't losing muscle tone for excess baggage.

In today's measure it I'm going to look at Cholesterol - what it is and what the tests actually indicate.
As I've been researching for Intermittent Fasting, cholesterol, and particularly the dangers of high cholesterol, have kept coming up again and again. This is not something you should ignore. So I thought I would give you more details so you knew what was happening.

What is Cholesterol?

Very simply, it's a type of fat-like substance found in the body. It is produced by the liver and really important for your body, in the right amounts (isn't that always the way?). It does a lot of good things like build and maintain membranes, essential for the production of hormones released by the adrenal gland, helps produce bile, converts sunshine to Vitamin D, helps metabolise fat soluble vitamins including A, D, E and K, and insulates never fibres. You don't want any of that to stuff up.

You will hear talk of LDL and HDL, being two types of cholesterol. However, this actually refers to the types of lipoproteins that carry the cholesterol through your body.

LDL stands for low-density lipoproteints, often known as the 'bad' cholesterol. Having high levels of cholesterol carried by LDL leads to buildup of cholesterol in your arteries.

On the other hand, high level of HDL means cholesterol is being carried from other parts of your body back to your liver, where it can be removed for your body... which is why it's okay to have higher levels of these.

Why is High Cholesterol Bad?

So, some cholesterol is good, but too much of particularly LDL cholesterol is bad. Why?
Well, basically the higher the LDL's, the more cholesterol floating around the body, and the more likely you are to get heart disease. The cholesterol joins with fat, calcium and other substances in the blood to create plaque build up in your arteries. The result? Less blood is able to flow through the pipes, and sometimes can be blocked altogether leading to a heart attack. You get the picture.

On the other hand, having a lot of HDL means that more cholesterol is being taken out of the body, so the lower your chance  of having heart disease, which is great news. HDL appear to clean up the walls of blood vessels and removes excess cholesterol. Therefore, the higher the HDL levels, presumably the more possibly damaging cholesterol is being removed.

Therefore, you need to think of it as a ratio of HDL cholesterol over total cholesterol, rather than a number. You might have 'low' overall cholesterol, or vise versa, but if you don't have a strong ratio, you are in dangerous territory.

How Is Cholesterol Tested?

Most of the time it is measured by a simple blood test and then a lipid panel (there are now at home tests you can administer yourself if you don't like doctors, but can bring yourself to prick your own finger). It is important not to eat anything for at least 12 hours before the test, to get accurate results.

Don't like your blood being taken? Well researchers in India are developing a photographic cholesterol test, where they take a photograph of the back of your hand, and compare it to a database of images of known cholesterol levels. However, you might need to wait a while for that to hit the mainstream.

The test will look at three factors: your total cholesterol, then LDL, HDL and triglycerides (another type of lipid that circulate in your bloodstream). The results are measured in mg/dL (milligrammes/decilitre) or 5mmol/L (millimoles/litre).

It is recommended that from about the age of 20 onwards you should get testing done every five years if good, and then every year if levels are too high. (Though scary research is coming out that 1 in 10 American children may have higher than good cholesterol levels, so don't think you're safe just because you're young!)

What Do The Results Mean?

Total Cholesterol:
Refer to the following to get your total cholesterol ranges:
Less than 200 mg/dL: Desirable
200--239 mg/dL: Borderline-high risk
240 mg/dL and over: High risk

In mmol/L terms:
less than 5.2 mmol/L

LDL (bad cholesterol):
Range for LDL cholesterol:
Less than 100 mg/dL: Optimal
100 -129: Near optimal and above
130-159: Borderline high
160-189 mg/dL: High
190 and above: Very high

Or less than 3.5 mmol/L is a good target.

HDL Cholesterol:
Basically, the higher the better. For men, HDL less than 40 is considered a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.  For women, normal HDL ranges from 50 to 60 mg/dL.

or higher than 1.3 mmol/L for women and 1.0 mmol/L for men.

This is the most common type of cholesterol.  It is a type of fat which indicates the overall cholesterol ranges.  The normal range for triglycerides less than 150.  If your reading is high, your other four readings will be high as well.  Refer to these ranges for your triglycerides measurement.
Less than 150: Normal
150--199: Borderline-high
200--499: High
500: Very high

or aim for less than 1.7 mmol/L

You also have to measure your total cholesterol over your HDL.  Your TC/HDL ratio is the proportion of your total cholesterol over your HDL. The figure you get is an indicator of your risk of atherosclerosis, the process of fatty buildup in the walls of the arteries. It is recommended to maintain a ratio of below 5.  But it can differ in men and women.  The normal ratio of TC/HDL is 4.5 or below for men and 4.0 or below for women.

So, if you haven't done it recently, take the plunge and get tested. It's always better to know because there are active steps you can take to bring your ratio back into the healthy territory.

I'm going to hand it over to you guys to give any tips you have on lowering cholesterol.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The 5:2 Diet - Two Weeks In

On Tuesday Jo gave us a summary of her first 8 days on the 8 Hour Diet. It's been going well, and she has seen some good weight loss (600grams in 8 days) without too much difficulty.

Therefore, I thought it about time I stepped up to the plate and told you about my first two weeks on the 5:2 Diet.


If you haven't already, check out my full post on what the 5:2 diet is all about. But for those of you too lazy to click back there, here's the overview:

5 days a week you can eat anything you want, and 2 days a week you eat 1/4 for your calorie requirements, so roughly 500 calories for girls and 600 for boys. 


This all started because I had reviewed the 8 Hour Diet, but wasn't prepared to do it myself. A friend was over for dinner and said that if  I wasn't interested in the 8 Hour Diet, I should look at the other big intermittent fasting diet at the moment, the 5:2 diet. There and then we grabbed out the laptop and did some research. A diet where most of the time I get to eat absolutely anything I want guilt free, huh? Sounded pretty good to me.

So I started the very next day (can't do too much thinking about these things). It was a Thursday.

My First Day:
It was a pretty easy start, since I was running late for work anyway, so skipped breakfast.

By mid-morning I was starting to feel a bit rumbly, but managed to quell the noise with some (carefully measured and entered into MyFitnessPal calorie counter) milky tea. Totally worth the 30 calories.

Then came lunch. One of the great things about writing a fitness blog is that you can try all these bizarre things and just tell people you are 'doing research'. So luckily for me I had no problem at work, I just explained that I was testing out this fad diet for the blog (so much better than trying to hide that you are on a diet, and just really, really want to eat a plateful of kelp, or you like drinks with lemon and cayenne pepper in them). I actually had a large bowl full of oats made up with water, which I liberally sprinkled with cinnamon and then added a level teaspoon of brown sugar.

Turns out that 60grams of a oats makes really quite a large bowlful and in winter is a really good meal to keep you going. Though a lot of people do not understand the wonder of hot porridge as a lunch choice. However, once informed, the girls of my work happily joined in discussions on the pros and cons of the diet.

The afternoon wasn't too bad. It wasn't brilliant, but totally doable. (Disclaimer: I've done quite a lot of different types of fasting for religious purposes over the years, so I did sort of know what to expect, and also that whatever whinging my body is doing, it can last at least 24 hours without food.)

For dinner I had what I had actually planned to have anyway: a Lean Cuisine (or one of those) microwave meal of Lamb Hotpot, which came in at 250 calories.

I sat down and ate it slowly while watching the documentary Eat, Fast and Live Longer, which is the foundation for the diet. I highly recommend doing this on your first fast day, as it makes you feel all empowered and like you are changing your world for the better. Afterwards I spent a little while working out what I would eat tomorrow when I could have anything I wanted, and then went to bed with just a few rumbles.

The Next Day:

Woke up feeling really good and not starving. I had decided I would get a hot breakfast from the fast food stand at the station, and splurged out and got an egg and bacon sandwich and a chicken skewer. Have to admit, the chicken skewer was one of the greatest things I had ever tasted. At work I then finished of the bacon and egg sandwich and felt really quite sick for eating way too much.

Yup, after even one day of fasting, your stomach contracts so you are satisfied with much less. Score!
I also found myself craving salad! Don't ask me why. So I had a salad for lunch. Someone had brought in homemade biscuits and I happily scoffed as many as I wanted with a smile on my face.

At the end of the day, I sat down and did the maths:

If twice a week I eat 500 calories, and the rest of the time I should eat 1800 calories, then on my feasting days, I can eat (1300x2)/5 =  520 extra calories and still maintain my weight, so that's 2320.

I then added up absolutely everything I had eaten that day, when I had eaten everything I wanted to, and found that I had actually only eaten just over 2000. Now I know that on some days I can eat more than that (especially when KFC beckons) but it was still looking pretty good.

Second Fast Day:

Got round to the second fast day and it was a whole lot easier. Partly this was because I knew what to expect, but partly because I also prepared and cooked better. For breakfast I sauteed a cup of mushrooms and two cups of spinach leaves in vegetable stock, and roasted a tomato with basil. Quite a lot of food, less than 100 calories. I also added 25grams of cooked oats to give me some filling to keep me going.

Only problem on the day was that Mum came down to town to take me out to lunch. (I know, what a waste of a free lunch!)

'Surely you can eat this?' She said, pointing to the avocado and creamy dressing salad.
'No, I really don't think I can.'
'How about this?'
'No, not that either.'

If I had been able to plan for it, and had rearranged my calorie intake it would have been better. However, in the end I did find a vegetable, oxtail and freekha soup which apparently came to only about 200 calories. For the win! Add in a diet coke and I was a happy girl.


And for those of you wondering, yes you can still exercise on a fast day. On both my Sundays I fasted and did my long run for my half marathon training. The key, I think, is to do aerobic exercise, long and slow, rather than high intensity. Last Sunday I did my longest run yet (13kms) and ended up burning twice what I had eaten for the whole day, with no adverse effects.


So, the big test for me is the weightloss. Yes, yes the health benefits will be great, but they don't show up as much in someone my age unless I was at risk already. It's when you get into your 50s+ that the health benefits really kick in.

Unfortunately, I didn't actually weigh myself just before I started as I didn't own my own scales. I had planned to run to the gym on the first morning, but ended up being late for work so couldn't.

As you might know from following my half marathon training posts, I had started around 77kgs, and over a few weeks worked my way down to about 75kg (I got a great reading one day, then realised it was actually because I had used my parents' scales which were not the same as the gym ones).

However, over the next few weeks, where I paused my training and had a lot of family birthday parties, mother's day, fish and chips etc, I had crept back up to 77kgs. The last time I had weighed myself (just a few days before my first fast) I had been about 77.6kgs.

After the first week I dropped down to 75.6kgs. That is pretty good, but I felt I was only just getting back to where I had been, so wasn't super excited.

After the second week I dropped down to 74.4kgs, breaking new ground!

I have now bought myself a set of scales, and I weigh myself most mornings to see how it all works.  (Not generally recommended, once a week is totally fine, it's just for scientific research purposes I'm doing it everyday.)

The morning after your fast day the scale will read ridiculously low, partly because you will have emptied your gut without filling it up, and also you need to be careful of dehydration. The next day it will have jumped up around 0.5-1kgs, which is a bit despiriting, as you think that it will just keep going up and up.

However, the next two days after that, even though you continue to eat whatever you like, it starts to creep back down again. It won't hit where you had been on a fast day without another fast day, but it definitely keeps going down.

Now, I have been warned that you get the most weightloss in the first two weeks, and then it slows down. However, it is totally worth doing even just for 0.5kgs a week.

Conclusion So Far?

Last Friday I was out for work drinks and I ordered a bowl of wedges and was chomping away. One of the girls was like, 'Hey, you can't eat that, you're on a diet!' Cider in one hand, wedge in the other, I waved it under her nose and said 'It's exactly because I'm on a diet I can eat it! It's when you don't do anything you can't justify the extras!' And happily went back to munching with a sigh and a grin.

Feeling totally justified in having that second piece of cake on my feasting days completely make up for any hardship of fasting two days a week. And during the fast, just smiling and saying 'I can have that tomorrow' makes all the difference over other diets.

Therefore, currently it has my thumbs up. It makes the rest of your life happier, I appear to be losing weight, the fast days become easier and it is fun trying to get as much food in as possible for 500 calories (this also encourages you to eat veggies as they are the best way to fill up your plate for less).

I have become a little bit evangalistic about this diet, to the point that my family are trying it! They weighed themselves on the 1st of June, are fasting Tuesdays and Thursdays, and are going to weigh themselves again on the 1st of July. Also, luckily for me, my dad had his cholesterol taken just before he started, so we can see if the diet makes any difference (though he was pretty good to begin with).

The most important thing, I think, is to work out delicious meals for 500 calories. I usually try for two smaller meals of about 125 calories each (30 grams of oats and then some sauteed veggies for example) and then one bigger meal of 250 calories.

Anyone got great low calorie recipes they want to share? 

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The Hunger Games: 8 Hour Diet - 8th Day Wrap

The Hunger Games have begun! First in with the results, Jo tells us about her first 8 days on the 8 Hour Diet.

Hello Basecampers – Guineapig Jo here, trying out the latest fad diet for you.

A Quick Recap of the 8 Hour Diet Structure:

You’re only allowed to eat during an 8 hour period, followed by 16 hours of fasting (water and black teas only), and your goal is to include a serving of each of the 8 superfoods per day – lean meat, veggies, beans/legumes, nuts and seeds, berries, fruit, dairy/yogurt and wholegrains. The more often you manage to stick to this diet, the greater the health gains are, including weightloss and general health.

I decided to read the book while doing the diet, curious to see whether the many promised results were at all realistic. My view after the first week? Well, there’s a big gap between the ideas and how they’re presented in the book.

Let’s break it up this way:


….is ridiculous, and should be taken with kilos of added salt. Its over-the-top (and counter-intuitive) claims begin with the tagline: “Watch the Pounds Disappear Without Watching What You Eat!”

We’ll return to the truth of that, when I’ve finished complaining about the book.

Author David Zinczenko never properly references his explanations. He sometimes refers to a specific study, but without any formal referencing, his words must be taken on faith. I find that a difficult way to read a book that’s meant to be ‘changing my life’. But then, that’s just symptomatic of an author who has no respect for his audience’s intelligence.

You also have to ignore the constant contradiction of his basic premise that you can eat anything you want… alongside the fine print, that you must make sure you eat the 8 superfoods every day and be moderate about junk food and don’t drink alcohol and and and…

The interesting information lurking behind all this centres on the large body of research into intermittent fasting. The book barely discusses the tip of the iceberg of this research, though it does briefly discuss how fasting enables our bodies to focus on daily regeneration, thus preserving youthfulness and health.

The other informative aspect is the explanation of why his 8 superfoods are, well, super. What he doesn’t make obvious, yet likes clearly between the lines, is that to eat all these superfoods you either need to be seriously committed to spending 8 hours of your day eating, or you have to cut the lousy foods to fit in all the superfoods. (Back to my point about respecting his audience…)

So, what about the actual diet and results?

After promising Buffy I’d give this a good for two weeks, I’m finding myself quite intrigued by its effects.

At first I was worried at the limited time to eat and how I’d fit that all in. Then I realised I’m normally only awake for, like, 14 hours in a 24 hour period (don’t judge me, I’m a bear hiding in a woman’s body, I need my sleep!)

The first day saw me feasting until the final minute. For that matter, every day has had the same mad rush at the end – quick, eeeeeeat! I was later surprised to find that I wasn’t hungry during the fast, as long as I slept in until 9ish (yes, a freelancer’s luxury) so I could eat within a few hours of getting up.

Also, the focus on my daily superfood requirement has improved my diet, though it’s not hugely different from usual. I’m reasonably healthy, focusing on meats, veggies and rice, mostly because my gluten intolerance forces me to avoid breads, baked goods and other wheaty nasties. I typically already ate 5-6 of his superfoods per day, so bumping that up to 8 wasn’t too hard. (Then there are the other days with the hot chips, icecream and chocolate binges, but that’s irrelevant – those are allowed on the diet too! … Sort of.)

And, since I can only manage to prepare and eat two meals in the 8 hour period, my caloric intake has decreased by about a third.

And so, the weightloss?

I weigh myself every morning, around the same time, after my early morning bladder emptying (too much info yet?). Over the first two days I lost 600grams, which isn’t uncommon for me when I’m exercising, but I wasn’t on these days! On the third day I had my weekly bout of heavy exercise. The next morning I’d dropped exactly a kilo.

I followed the diet strictly for the 4th day, and lost another 300grams over that 16 hour fast.
Then I pushed it a little on day 5. The book says repeatedly that as long as you fit in the 8 superfoods, you can eat whatever else you want…. For me, this included half a 200gram block of Whittakers Peanut Butter Milk Chocolate…. Then a cheeky glass of red later that night.

Next morning, day 7, I weighed in 800grams heavier.

I wrote that day off, since a friend’s going away party promised too many drinks and a lot of party nibbles.

Day 8 began healthily at 600 grams lighter than Day 1. Over the day I “ate my 8”, until I cracked and ate two bags of Maccas fries, a short-cut way of carb-loading for a tournament the next day...
And that, my friends, is 8 days of the 8 hour diet. Overall, 600grams lighter – more results to come! 


The book is crap, but I’d be interested to do some more research about intermittent dieting and caloric control.

…. I’m also working on getting better at sticking to the diet…..

Thanks Jo! Stay tuned for the next post where I tell you about my first 2 weeks on the 5:2 Diet.

Any questions for the brave girl? Anything you would like to know about the diet as she tests it out?

Update: See Jo's Final Review of the Diet. 

Sunday, 2 June 2013

The 5:2 Diet and Variations on Alternate Day Fasting

Last Post I introduce the Hunger Games Challenge: Jo is testing out the 8 Hour Diet, while I'm testing out the 5:2 Diet.

So, before getting into the actual challenge, I had better explain what the 5:2 diet is all about.


The core of the diet is that you can eat whatever you want a certain number of days a week, and then have a calorie restricted diet on other days. Now, when they says calorie restricted diet, they really do mean it. It should be 1/4 of your recommended dietary intake. For most people it roughly works out to be 500 calories for women and 600 for men. 

Scientific testing started out with Alternate Day Fasting (ADF), one day on one day off. However, they have found that you get most of the benefits from 5:2 - five days feasting and 2 days fasting. You lose more weight faster if you go up to 4:3 or alternate days, but still get some benefits if you do as little as 6:1.


The idea of alternate fasting has been around for ages. However, the 5:2 diet has became popular because of a BBC documentary by Dr. Michael Mosley: Eat, Fast and Live Longer, which came out in August 2012. 

The documentary is interesting as it is not looking at methods to lose weight, but at ways to prevent/reduce the effects of aging.

Dr. Mosley starts by looking at those who are on constant calorie restricted diets, eating around 3/4 of the recommended calorie intake on a permanent basis. This has been shown to have very good health side effects. However, I'm with Dr. Mosley when he argues that it might have great advantages, but he just can't see himself doing that all the time.

Next he looks at the advantages that have been linked to doing longer fasts, such as 3-4 days. These appear to allow your body to do some healing, but you need to do them every few months in order to maintain the effect. Dr. Mosley tries a 3.5 day fast and survives, but argues that the thought of trying to do that every few months is a bit soul destroying.

He then looks at the research into ADF, where subjects can eat whatever they like one day and then have 1/4 of their required calories the next. So, it's not true fasting, as you can still have something, but the research appears to suggest that it has all the same benefits as doing longer fasts. Further, most of the effect can be gotten by doing even less, as little as 2 days of fasting a week.

Dr. Mosley finishes the program by trying the 5:2 diet for 5 weeks. In that time he loses quite a lot of weight (20lb (9.7kgs) over 9 weeks), but also reduces his cholesterol and blood sugar (both of which decrease the risk of various diseases). He has since moved onto a 6:1 lifestyle, to maintain the health benefits but to stop losing so much weight. Now there's a problem I'd like to have!

The show is only an hour long, and I highly recommend you sit down and watch it all if you have the time. Annoyingly, most of the channels that hosted it have expired, but you should still be able to find a copy of the full documentary at

The Book:
After watching the documentary, Kate Harrison tried the diet and finding there was very little information, created the book: The 5:2 Diet Book, which further popularized the diet.

To be honest, I've just finished reading the book and it really is a lot of fluff. It is pretty thin to begin with, is puffed out with quotes and testimonies from other dieters, and really isn't as well set out at the documentary. It does look a bit more at the effects of the diet on mental health, which is interesting, and does have some recipes at the back which are useful. However, the recipes are pretty basic, and the 'ready meals' section is only useful if you live in the UK. Also, now that there are more recipes on the internet, you don't really need it.

If you are interested in the diet, I would highly recommend that you watch the documentary, and if you feel like you need more support, Dr. Mosley has written follow up books such as The Fast Diet.

The Weightloss Benefits:

Weightloss is supposed to be a side benefit of the diet, though for a lot of us (me included) it is one of the major reasons we are attracted to the diet.

5:2 Fast Diet forum has collected data from over 1,500 particpants for the first 6 months of fasting, and have made a very nice graph, which gives you a good indication of what you can expect weightloss-wise:


Based on their data, they have concluded that you can roughly expect:
- general weekly loss of around 0.45kg.
- a lot of people lose a lot of weight in the first week or two, but then plateau.
- if you're already in the healthy weight range, you're likely to lose weight more slowly.
- men tend to lose weight faster than women.

However, while this might not seem much compared to other fad diets, the big thing going for it as a method of weight loss is that on your feasting days you really can have what you want, with no guilt attached.

Researchers looking into ADF suspected (like most of us) that on the feast days participants would eat more than enough to make up for the restrictions the day before, so 175% of their required intake. However, they found that even with the opportunity to eat anything, the participants actually only ate 110%. Moreover, the research found that having a high fat diet on your feast days does not negate the effects of the fast days, so you really can eat anything you want.

It is also the guilty free part that appears for most people. Imagine what it is like to never have to worry, ever again, about eating that extra piece of cake, in exchange for just two days of fasting?

Further, as a lot of participants will tell you, the fasting days appear to 'reset' what you think of as a 'normal' amount, making you feel fuller faster on your normal days. 

Other Health Benefits:

The controversial part of the diet, however, is not the weightloss but the health claims. Researchers are suggesting that it can increase life span, improve blood sugar levels (reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes), lower cholesterol, improve cognitive function and protect against dementia and the risk of Alzheimer's, as well as protecting against disease. Sounds pretty impressive, no?

Is it all good news?

One of the major criticisms of the diet is that there is just not that much research into it. Yes, the research that has come out has been promising, but more would need to be done in order to justify all the claims.

This is reflected in a lot of the rules which appear to be slightly arbitrary.  Is 500/600 calories really the best amount to get maximum effect? Is 5:2 really just as good as ADF, or should everyone be doing alternate day fasting to get the promised results?

An interesting article which looks at some of the research around Intermittent Fasting was published by the NHS on the 5:2 Diet, questioning its claims. If you are interested in the research side, it is a good place to start.

The article is written from a skeptical point of view, and even then they could only conclude that there wasn't sufficient evidence to support all the claims. They couldn't find any evidence against it.  


If you have never fasted before, the first few times can be a bit scary. You just don't know what to expect, and fear that you are going to be swallowed up by a growing hole in your stomach. Surprisingly, this doesn't happen, though you can be a bit grumpy.

It does take some getting use to how much 500-600 calories really is. You will need to carefully calorie count for a while, or eat ready meals that have already been worked out for you.
Most processed food is out, and to get as much bang for your buck, you really do need to focus on veggies, lots of veggies.


As with all diets, there are certain people that should get medical advice before trying this, particularly pregnant women and those who already suffer from eating disorders.


If you are looking for a long term plan that will require very little change to your current lifestyle, and allow you to eat what you want most of the time, and yet still lose weight at a sustainable pace, this diet has a lot going for it. It is amazingly flexible and leaves you feeling guilty free the rest of the time. It doesn't require any expensive/weird tasting food and doesn't make you anti-social most of the time.

If the science also proves to be correct and it protects against a lot of the problems of old age, that for me is an added bonus.

When you are struggling on your fast days, just keep this motto in mind:

I can eat anything I want... tomorrow. 

the fast diet
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