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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Thoughts on the 5/2 diet: Fasting is not for me.

At the beginning of this month, I reviewed our poor diet and decided to give the 5/2 diet a try. This means severely restricting calories - fasting - on two days of the week, not necessarily consecutively, and eating what you like on the other five days. Yesterday was my sixth fasting day, having missed one when relatives were visiting.

It wasn't too bad to start with. Of course I was hungry, but nothing I couldn't live with. I tweaked things slightly and by the third fast it seemed quite do-able. I reduced my breakfast slightly (it's usually about 600 calories on its own) and delayed it until midday, allowed myself three cups of tea throughout the day, and ate a high-protein snack, such as a boiled egg, at about 6pm. There were periods of intense hunger between for about an hour prior to eating, but I thought that as I got used to it, that would get easier.

Actually, it didn't; it got worse. I found I was spending more and more of the day feeling painfully hungry, completely fixated on food, unable to concentrate on anything, and seriously irritable. Furthermore, I didn't like the effect it was having on me the rest of the time: I turned into a dieter.

I have never in my life been a dieter. My mother believed that we should listen to our bodies' signals about when and what to eat. She encouraged us to try new foods, but never forced us to eat things we didn't like or to finish a plate of food if we were full. She didn't keep sweets in the house, and cakes and ice cream were special treats, so our food choices weren't completely unrestricted, but we had a lot of choice in what we ate. I have grown into an adult who, from time to time, craves spinach (or nettles, if that's what's available).

One comment about the benefits of the 5/2 diet is that it teaches you what it feels like to be hungry, so you can distinguish it from wanting food for other reasons. I couldn't relate to this; I know what it's like to be hungry, and I mostly don't eat for other reasons. I don't want to sound holier-than-thou about this, and I do eat food just because it's delicious, but I can take a large bar of chocolate from the cupboard, eat four squares, and leave the rest sitting on the table in front of me.

This changed when I started fasting. On non-fast days, I felt drawn to food in a new way. I've observed this in friends, but I've never before felt the compulsion to eat food just because it's there. What I learnt from fasting was not what hunger feels like, but the desire to overeat, because you never know when food might be in short supply again, so you'd better build up your reserves just in case. OK, that second part isn't conscious, but I assume it's the survival strategy underlying that desire.

I don't like being a dieter. I eat when I'm hungry and I stop eating when I'm full (or sometimes before, if I didn't prepare enough food). My food intake is not completely unrestricted - I'll resist eating something so I can use it for dinner tomorrow, for example - but I don't force myself to feel hungry. I live in a world of relatively plentiful food and I'm well adapted to it. I'd like to keep it that way. My experiment with fasting ended with an ice cream in the middle of yesterday afternoon, and I felt so much better for it!


  1. My experiment with the 5:2 diet ended by 9am on the first day of fasting- it was two hours after my usual breakfast time, I was ANGRY and couldn't settle to anything because all I could think about was eating. (I had planned to eat my normal breakfast as brunch).
    Maybe I should have given it more time...but then again, perhaps not!

    1. I wondered if I should have given it more time, but decided that nearly a month was quite enough of feeling like that. I think you were wise to stop after two hours.

  2. I'm glad. Dieting makes you fat and miserable.

  3. Well... having spent most of my adolescence and early adulthood boomeranging between anorexia and bulimia, there's no way I'd even attempt something like that. Just too emotionally risky for a person with my background.

    I started my first diet at age 11 because my father told me I was getting fat (I was 5 feet tall and weighed 85 pounds). In his defense (not that I really think it was defensible) he was terrified that I would become morbidly obese like my mother and was trying to "warn" me. It literally took me 15 years to get back to "normal." So yes... been there, done that, not goin' back!

    Anyhow, congratulations on quitting something that was obviously not healthy for you.

    1. Ooh, no, you wouldn't want to try anything like this with a history of eating disorders. In general, I'm against diets, and this little experiment has reinforced that. It was quite scary how strongly I felt the compulsion to eat. The idea of telling a child to diet is horrifying. I'm impressed that you managed to escape from that by your mid twenties. I can imagine it could leave a person with lifetime eating problems.


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