The Fast Diet: 5:2 Intermittent Fasting - vegan style!

 

Well here I am, having lost 3.7k – just over 8lbs – in about three weeks. It’s been remarkably easy. I had tried other methods but the thought of being on a constant low-fat diet – well, for months – made me want to reach for the cake immediately. So when a couple of friends told me about their successes with this diet, I ordered the book that very day and just went for it.

What is the 5:2 or Fast Diet?
Perhaps it’s easier to explain what it is not! Although the 5:2 is also known as ‘the intermittent fasting diet’, it doesn’t mean going without food for two days every week. Rather, it means that you have two low-calorie days per week and five days of eating normally.

How do you do it?

  • Choose two intermittent fasting days – eg Tuesdays and Thursdays – then restrict calories on those days. The days can also be tweaked to fit in with your schedule, eg if you have a prior dinner engagement on a fast day, switch to a Monday or whatever.

  • Keep a simple food/fasting diary. Keep brief records of your weight, what you eat on all days and write three sentences describing each day.

    On the first page, keep a record of

·         your weight when you begin the programme

·         your height and waist measurements at the start. Use these to get a calculation of your Body Mass Index (BMI) – this can be done easily on the internet.

  • Weigh yourself on the same day and time each week, preferably in the morning, before eating. Measure your waist and log the changes to your BMI regularly, also.

  • When your target weight is reached, the two fasting days can be reduced to one if you wish.

  • Read the book for a more comprehensive overview of the diet and how to do it.

How does it work?
Dr Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer, the Fast Diet ‘gurus’, claim that not only does it help one to lose weight easily and safely but that it is a natural way to eat – we gatherer/hunters had ‘lean’ days when there wasn’t much around and made up for it at other times. Contrast that with 21st Century latte/muffin culture! We now eat more than ever in human history and have more food choices than we know what to do with. It means that many of us eat more often; we eat between meals and we eat more fattening, unhealthy food.

But why do vegans need to diet? 
Vegans tend to be leaner and healthier than the average - and that's official! Our basic diet of veggies, fruit, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and pulses is certainly healthier than that of omnivores – and even the fattier foods like vegan dairy and meat alternatives are healthier than animal products overall – low cholesterol, for starters. However, as veganism becomes more mainstream and popular, a whole new world of convenience foods is blossoming. That means cakes, fast food and the like. And extra calories from such foods can mean a weight gain.  

My story
When I first went vegan I was very slim and fit for the first years.  However, although I’m not exactly obese, the pounds have piled on recently - a combination of a desk job, going through the menopause, taking less exercise – and working in my dream job as Viva!’s Food & Cookery Coordinator. That means talking about food, thinking about it, writing about it, cooking it – and eating! Combine that with regular access to the new wave of vegan junk food plus natural greediness, a sweet tooth – and working in a vegan cake-tastic office… well, it’s easy to see why I’ve become a lot chubbier!

Many adherents claim that their appetites decreases in a healthy way; that even on the five days of normal eating they enjoy food but are less inclined to gorge themselves.  It’s too early for me to say if this is true or not but I have noticed I get more full more quickly; I am more aware of what I’m eating and I am finding it easier to avoid late-night snacks and the like. And get this – I actually enjoy the fast days. For those that know me and my voracious appetite, this is the biggest surprise. Yet it is as if my body gets a chance to rest and heal and everything looks a bit sharper and clearer. Psychologically, knowing that I can eat what I want the next day makes it that much more achievable – if I have a rumbly tum I just tell myself it’s just this one day; I have a hot drink, distract myself with work or whatever – and forget about it.

Are the effects long term or just a blip? 
In a nutshell, it is about when you eat as much as what you eat – intermittent fasting helps to burn calories; it also helps tissue repair  – and what’s more, it doesn’t cause muscle loss in the way that traditional low calorie diets can do. However, we still advise that you aim for healthier options such as wholegrains and keep sugar and other junk out of the equation as much as possible!

Some scientific studies have found that fasting like this for one-two days per week helps the fat-burning process which in turn can help prevent neurological disease such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.  More research is needed but the diet’s calorie and fat-burning properties seem well-proven – and sustainable.

How do you sustain the weight loss?
Reduce the fasting to one day per week when you reach your target weight.

Is it safe for everyone? 
It is not recommended for people with diabetes, pregnant women or those with a history of eating disorder – although there isn’t any evidence it can trigger anorexia or bulimia, fasting can be addictive. And as with any diet, it’s best to get advice from your GP, particularly if you have a medical condition or something like borderline diabetes type 2.

What about vegans and veggies?
While the book and website are very useful, most of the recipes aren’t vegetarian, let alone vegan. So, true to form, I decided to put together a small handful of recipes so that vegans and veggies could have a go – and of course, anyone else on the diet who wants to reduce their intake of animal products whether for the environment, their health or the animals themselves.

The recipes are based on a total daily intake of 500 calories – ie for women. However, each recipe comes with an additional suggestion for men to increase it to their allotted 600 calories.

I hope you enjoy them!

Here is the complete list of recipes with ideas on how to combine and rotate them. It's a small list but you can mix and match to ensure the calorie limit is correct, as we've done below.

1+7 (462 cals); 2+5 (479 cals); 3+8 (489 cals); 4+8 (490 cals); 5+9 (487 cals); 4+5 (453 cals)

  1. Porridge with Berries & Cinnamon 210 cals
  2. Plain Yoghurt with Fresh Fruit (259 cals)
  3. Tofu Scramble 232 cals
  4. Baked Beans on Toast 233 cals
  5. Spiced Tomato Dahl 220 cals
  6. Griddled Courgettes with Puy Lentils, Lemon & Cheezly 248 cals
  7. Green Beans, Spring Onions & Garlic Tofu with Soya-Chilli Dressing 252 cals
  8. Big Noodle Soup 257 cals
  9. Smoked Tofu with Broccoli & Teriyaki Sauce 267 cals

Further reading
Wikipedia overview

Guardian feature with both Fast Dieter Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and medical expert Dr Luisa Dullner discussing its pros and cons.

The Fast Diet book I’d recommend this, despite all the animal-based recipes! It is written in a very accessible style and explains how and why the diet works as well as lots of encouraging case studies/testimonials; calorie charts; recipe and menu planning suggestions and lots more. Just a shame they lean so much on animal testing for research – bad science as well as unnecessarily cruel.

Fast Diet website   Includes a vegetarian forum

My Fitness Pal a very useful site to find out calorie and other nutritional breakdowns of most foods. Try searching by brand, eg Redwood,Clearspring, rather than ‘vegan cheese’ etc.