Photography of Mimi Spencer by Suki Dhanda
Journalist Mimi Spencer had such incredible results from the 5:2 diet she decided to write a book about it. Here she describes a week in her life as a 5:2 faster
Name: Mimi Spencer
Age: 45 (looks 35)
Height: 5 ft 7”
Weight: 8 stone 7lbs (formerly 10 stone 2lbs)
Jeans size: 8 (formerly 12)
The results of the 5:2 diet for me have been outstanding. I used to be a size 12 and now I am a size 8, I used to have a sticky outy belly and now that’s gone. I feel leaner, I have more stamina, I’m nimbler, less sluggish, I no longer have a problem getting up, and what’s more, my skin is clear, my nails aren’t breaking and my hair is super glossy. I would even go as far as saying that I’m 45 and probably don’t look it.
I started the 5:2 diet last autumn, having seen the Michael Mosley Horizon programme, and I found it incredibly simple and straightforward to follow. In fact, if you have a target like a holiday in mind, you can actually calibrate what weight you wish to be and when. What’s even more amazing about this diet is its proven health benefits; from reduced cholesterol to much greater life expectancy, reduced chances of cancer and diabetes. It’s as much about health as it is weight loss.
When I started, I chose a Monday and a Thursday as my ‘fast’ days. I was looking for non-consecutive days, partly to allow the body to recover and benefit from the fasting periods, but mostly to allow compliance. That is what marks the 5:2 out from other diets that are consistently restrictive over a given period. What generally happens on other diets is that people get bored, get fed up with being hungry and disheartened at having to say ‘no’ to dinner invitations or special foods all the time. The reason why the 5:2 diet works is that you’re not starving yourself on an ongoing basis… on your non-fast days you can have that pizza and a glass of wine, plus chocolate buttons if you really fancy them!
It’s important not to get too hung up on the word ‘fasting’ too. On your ‘fasting’ days you are not starving yourself, you are cutting back on your calorie intake, and the way that Michael Mosley has formulated it is that you are looking for a 12 hour fasting window between meals. This length of time basically gives your body time to go into rest and repair mode – if you graze all day, this keep sugar levels and insulin levels constantly on a high, and the aim with the 5:2 is to give the body the chance to recuperate instead.
We say breakfast and supper should be mostly plants and protein (protein satiates the appetite), and it’s important to have some fat in a diet on a fast day which makes nutrients soluble - without fat they are not available for uptake.
So, a typical fast day for me would be the following: I get the children up and take them to school, then I’ll have two poached eggs and a slice of smoked salmon or lean ham. No buttered bread or anything like that. Then I won’t eat again until 7pm in the evening. In the beginning if I felt I needed a snack in the afternoon I would maybe have some carrots and houmous. I also always make sure I am hydrated by drinking plenty of water or sparkling water and lime.
A word on hunger – to start with, you may be fearful of hunger (I was), but what I learnt is that hunger comes in waves not a wall, and if you can negotiate a wave, then you’ll be fine. You soon realise that hunger is actually manageable – it ‘s not a constant gnawing wall of belly noises. Obviously if you can stay busy or distract yourself with work, then this helps.
Then it would get to about 7pm and a typical meal might be a big pile of grilled vegetables and poached salmon, or perhaps a chicken breast baked with cumin seeds. I find that adding flavour to food such as a squeeze of lemon, some cracked pepper and a dash of balsamic on asparagus or broccoli gives it some much-needed punch and zing.
On my fasting days, I would then tend to have an early night – the great thing about the 5:2 is that it is literally a moveable fast – if you have a big work presentation for example and you don’t want your stomach to grumble, you can move the fast to another day of the week. Occasionally some people find that they have difficulty in sleeping on fast days, and Michael suggests an egg or a glass of milk before bedtime which will allow the body to relax sufficiently to sleep.
When it comes to ‘normal’ eating days, you will probably find - as I did - that you start to engage in healthy eating much more, since your brain and body start to become retrained. You might think that you’re going to get up and have that bacon sandwich and croissant, but you get downstairs and somehow you don’t fancy it and opt for muesli and fruit instead. Don’t get me wrong – sometimes I love a bacon sandwich especially on a thick white bloomer, but I don’t always fancy it. Trials have shown that people who are liberated on a non-fast day end up eating about 10% of their previously normal food intake – you don’t double up as you think you will as your stomach literally can’t cope with it.
I also don’t over-watch what I eat on a normal eating day. Today for example, for lunch I had half an avocado with some prawn cocktail, then this afternoon I’ve had some mini Cadburys cream eggs and some grapes. Tonight I’ll have chicken kiev, new potatoes, some tender stem broccoli and some dark chocolate. I don’t drink alcohol, but I could if I wanted to.
The key is to choose your fasting days around your lifestyle; if I have an event to go to for example, I’ll make sure that is a normal eating day, and I’ll have those sticky sausage canapés with honey and mustard dip. On Fridays, I probably wouldn’t fast as I often have a lunch with friends, and on Saturdays it’s not quite as easy to do with the children, although if I have to, it is do-able – I can make chicken and vegetables and put some rice on the side for them. Then on Sundays it’s normal family life - roasts, pies, ice cream and sticky toffee pudding if I want it, safe in the knowledge that I know I’m back to a refreshing, cleansing day again on the Monday.
Now that I’ve reached my desired weight (8 stone 7lbs), I’m doing what I call the 6:1 plan (six days of eating normally, one of fasting), as I don’t want to lose any more, but I still want to get the health benefits. I know I’ve written a book about this diet, but I am slightly evangelical about it. I really believe that it could even make a proper difference to the health of the nation.
The Fast Diet, by Dr Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer is available on Amazon for £7.99 - check out our review of the book for more information and take a look at our six week 5:2 diet plan if you fancy following in Mimi's footsteps.