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!