Thursday, 13 June 2013

I can resist everything – except temptation...

It is Thursday – one of my fasting days – and I have to confess I was too hungry at lunchtime to bother making the promised tuna and bean pate, and instead ate all the ingredients as a salad. (80g tuna in brine, a few tinned butter beans, 2 cherry tomatoes, 4 olives, some cucumber, spring onion and celery, with watercress and baby red sorrel leaves).

But I am still hungry – and feeling like the world is conspiring to taunt me.

It started with HealtheHelen’s blog about Whey Hey high protein icecream. She makes it sound delicious. But it has 160 calories per 150g portion. That would have to be a meal today.

Then I clicked on my emails and the top one was from Waitrose, offering me a free Toblerone if I spend £40 in store today. I can’t remember the last time I had a Toblerone – it could be 10 years or more. I don’t really like sweet chocolate – but I am drooling at the thought of it now. (Did you know, there are 43 calories in one piece of Toblerone?!)

To distract myself, I turned on the radio – the R4 play was in full swing and a couple were in a deli. The guy says: “I’ll have a large milky coffee, and a piece of your apple cake,” and the girl says, “a pastrami sandwich please...”

Downstairs, Steve is cooking lamb in a fresh tomato sauce and Imam Bayaldi for a client....

I am just glad we caught up with Simon Hopkinson and his prawn cocktail and “trifle fit for a queen” last night. Tonight would be too much to bear!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Get into your skinny genes

The mystery is over – it seems the 5:2 diet does not work by simply restricting our overall calories after all. As I suspected IGF-1 has a part to play and - in the words of Patrick Holford whose new book Burn Fat Fast was published last week – it ‘switches on the genes that stop you burning fat’. Hence when we lower levels of IGF-1, which is what happens when we fast, we switch off these fat storing genes and speed up our body's fat burning action.
Holford goes one step further than the 5:2 diet. He combines alternate day fasting with the low GL diet and an exercise regime that one case study – a doctor - claims helped her shift 12 pounds in four weeks.
Alternate day fasting does, of course, require far more effort than the 5:2 – simply because any social and work life that involves eating must fit around three or four days of fasting and not just two days a week. To make it easier, Holford’s regime allows a higher calorie in take on the fast days  - more like 800 calories, or 50% of a normal day’s intake. But the meals and snacks – appetising as they are – are designed to be cooked at home, and so I can imagine I would have more trouble sticking to this routine while also trying to maintain the life I love of meeting friends and colleagues for lovely lunches. Plus, on the “feast days”, you will have to eat even more mindfully than on the straight 5:2, making sure your diet is still low GL...
There are some great recipes in this little book, however, and, because your calorie allowance is higher than that of the 5:2, there is more scope to eat well most days.
After reading that butter beans are a filling low cal choice, I had been wondering whether a home made pate of tuna and butter beans (my invention) would be something I’d want to eat, or would have to throw away. I haven’t tried it yet, but Holford has a similar pate of smoked salmon and cannellini beans – so the tuna and butter beans will probably work and I think they will be lower in calories too. I will test it out later this week and post the recipe I rate it as a success.

Friday, 7 June 2013

5.2 – the pros and cons

Headline news: Steve ate toast for breakfast this morning – and lots of it.  This was quite something. Last week he fixed our 25 year old Dualit toaster (it had been working at 25% of its capacity for the last 10 years), and even polished it up so it looked new again. Then, after meeting Dr Sarah Myhill in Guernsey, he gamely announced that he was going to combine the 5.2 diet with a full time no carb regime...
I was not convinced of the wisdom of this, and, after a couple of days when he stoically refused all grains, potatoes and pulses – at which point I suggested he must remember he has a busy and physical job – the thought of lovely toast was obviously too much for him.
I tell this story because it demonstrates one of the main problems with the 5.2 diet: that, if you are the obsessive type, a regime like this could potentially fuel an eating disorder. A number of people have told me they would never consider the 5.2 for just this reason – mostly they are people who have had an eating disorder in the past, and know that they can easily start to obsess about counting calories or skipping meals. Success for people like this tends to create a craving for even more success. If they can cope with one day on 500 calories, why not do it every day? Come to that, why not restrict your calories even further and live on 300 a day?
As we know, when your body slips into starvation mode – which is what happens when you seriously restrict calories long term – it stores all the fat it can and rejoices in doing so once you try to eat “properly” again.
So, however manageable 500 calories may become once you have cracked the best options, it is important to resist the temptation to do it on more than intermittent days.
Here are the pros and cons I’ve learned so far:
. Pro: 500 calories is actually very easy to achieve, once you know what to eat and have found satisfying meal choices. The way I do it now is to make sure each meal is under 200 calories (hence not busting a gut to make each one 166!). Yesterday, for example, I had low fat yogurt with berries and two bites of banana for breakfast; tuna salad with 1tsp mayo and one ryvita for lunch; and prawn and tofu stirfry (mushrooms, broccoli, pak choi, a few slivers of pepper with loads of spices and just 1tsp coconut oil between two of us) for supper. Steve’s reaction (I cooked it, because he loses the will to live let alone cook on the 500 calorie days) was: “That cannot be within our limits!” But I weighed and measured and I am sure it was!
. Con: 500 calories becomes so easy that on these “fasting” days you may start to wonder why you don’t eat like this every day... I mean, why would you squirt mayo all over your salad, or let your stir-fry slosh around in oil when 1tsp is enough? Don’t go down that slippery slope!
. Pro: I now find I feel clean and fresh on the fasting days, and much heavier in-between.
. Con: This feeling can be addictive for a lot of people. It seems a strange state of affairs when one has to consciously eat more on the in-between days.
. Pro: A meal of 400 calories feels like a King’s feast on the non-fasting days. Hang on to this feeling and don’t let it creep up too much. In theory a woman can consume 2000 calories a day without gaining weight, but this does depend on your size, BMR(mine is just 1200), and activity level – a lot of us will be maintaining our weight on 1500 calories a day (I need between 1644 and 1860).
. Con: Thinking like this shows you are already becoming a bit calorie obsessed, when the whole point of this diet is that you should not be obsessing about calories.
. Pro: The diet seems to work... In six weeks (is it already that long?) I seem to be fastening my belt on the third notch, instead of the second one (albeit there is still a bit of muffin over-hang). And Steve seems to have completely lost his “love handles”. I have heard of a number of men losing huge bellies, and one of my friends, after a very slow start (during lent), seems to have dropped a dress size. I live in hope.
. Con: I am not quite sure how it works... Most of the research is around the insulin like hormone IGF-1, high levels of which are linked to various ageing conditions such as diabetes, cancer and dementia, go down with intermittent fasting, but I am not quite sure how this affects weight, except by maybe also interfering with insulin. Some say the diet just works by restricting the overall number of calories we consume in a week. That seems rather pedestrian, but probably true.
. Pro: The diet may prevent the above ageing diseases.
. Con: It could encourage overeating on the non fast days. One friend told me: “It’s so hard to make up the balance of calories you've skipped that I had a pasty and cream cake today without feeling guilty”.
. Pro: It is so do-able. Knowing that “it is just one day”, is highly motivating for those of us who give up on other diets (see John Briffa's blog re what happens when we deny ourselves something), and those who do not become obsessed about calories, but just become more mindful about what we eat are – I hope – the most likely to succeed long term. 

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

What is a portion?

In the 1960s my dad worked for BP, and a Sunday family treat was to go to the company’s sports club for lunch and a swim. I don’t remember much about the lunch’s main course – I suspect it was some form of roast  - but the cheese and biscuits that followed have left an indelible mark on my memory.
 I have always loved cheese – but this was long before the days of cheese boards heaving with the runny stinky specimens I now expect and eagerly consume. And the club’s cheese plate was not unusual for the time in boasting no more than a couple of Jacob’s crackers and a tiny block of sweaty plastic-wrapped cheddar. You may find something similar in an airline snack pack. I’d like to say the cheese was the size of a matchbox – but that would be too generous. Picture a small box of staples and you may be closer.
Nobody (apart from a complier of airline snack boxes) would offer such a paltry piece of cheese these days - and then ask you to pay for it - but I was surprised to learn last weekend that this is actually the RDA for cheese we should all be aiming for. At least it is the RDA I should be aiming for, as the recommendation is that high fat foods like cheese should be the size of our own thumbs pressed together, and mine are pretty small. This is not enough cheese to fill a sandwich, even if I fold a single slice of bread in half.
Other portion size recommendations include:
. Meat or fish: enough to fit comfortably in the palm of your own hand (around 80-100g).
. Fruit and vegetables: enough to fit in your cupped hands. You should have at least five portions of these a day if you live in the UK, but in Japan the RDA  is 17!
. Carbs: a portion = the size of your fist.
. Oils: the size of your OK sign (finger joining thumb in an O).
This is, of course, just government guideline information. Talk to nutritional scientists and you will find they all have quite different ideas.
Dr Sarah Myhill, for example, recommends a stone age diet in which we eat far more fat than these RDAs suggest. Not just protein, but fat! According to Dr Myhill we should all be cooking in lard, goose and duck fat, and limiting fruit, which are far too sugary.
On her website she says: 'We have been brainwashed into believing that high fat diets result in high cholesterol, which results in arterial disease and therefore premature death. There isn't a shred of evidence to show high fat diet causes high cholesterol and there is a good bio-chemical reason for this. 80% of cholesterol is synthesised in the liver as a result of sugar metabolism. There is no convincing evidence that links high fat diets with high rates of arteriosclerosis'
Her advice makes good sense, and, when I met her last weekend she confirmed that the 5:2 diet is also an excellent way of eating as we were designed to – as stone age man would have feasted and fasted just like this. Dr Myhill uses her dietary advice to treat patients suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome or ME. Find out more about her work here.