I have tried them all. Counting points, counting calories, the Atkins, the Pritikin and even had a brief dalliance with the Dukan. And for all they may work, I’ve never been able to stick to any diet long term. Somehow, the temptation of a natter over a glass (read three) of wine, has always proved too great.
So I watched the BBC’s Horizon programme Eat, Fast, Live Longer and saw presenter Dr Michael Mosley extolling the benefits of a new eating regime with piqued interest. The diet, or way of life, promises to keep me youthful on the inside (it’s a start), and help me lose weight. But the biggest draw? Five days a week, I would be able to eat precisely what I wanted.
Oh yeah, and I would need to eat just 500 calories on two (non-consecutive) days each week too.
Unlike other diets, which require a lot of planning, reading and purchasing specific food, the 5:2 requires no preparation. The only thing you need is a good calorie counter. I have downloaded the My Fitness Pal app ( www.myfitnesspal.com/mobile ) to my phone and it is ideal. It not only lists branded foods but a lot of fast and chain restaurant food as well, so you can track everything on the go.
There are lots of blogs online, with people musing about the best way to spend your 500 calories, but the diet is still in its infancy, so as yet there are no strict rules and you can spend them how you wish.
After trying several combinations – just one meal in the middle of the day; strictly splitting the calories between two 250 calorie meals morning and evening – I've settled on spreading my calories over the day in order to feel less deprived. On an average day, I might have two boiled eggs and a single piece of toast (no butter) for breakfast and some baked cod with a mountain of steamed vegetables topped with lemon juice or soy sauce for dinner.
I then get through the day with bucketloads of fennel tea (the process of making something can be quite satisfying, and fennel is a natural appetite suppressant), a black coffee here and there, some miso soup and a bag of carrots in the middle of the day. Plenty of water is always recommended, particularly if you suffer from any sugar-related withdrawal headaches.
But I can't lie: at times I did feel woozy and lacking in energy. The deprivation left me feeling as if I was running on empty and battling on to the Northern Line at the end of the day took every ounce of gusto I could muster. I would have screamed had I anything left in me. But it's surprising how quickly I became accustomed to the feeling and was able to power through it. The key was to distract myself by keeping busy, safe in the knowledge that when I woke in the morning, some buttery toast and Marmite awaited me.
As for the eat days, particularly at first, the novelty of not being restricted to any diet at all, meant I was tempted to eat everything I set eyes on, including the odd Krispy Creme that arrived in the office. That has worn off now though, and I'm able to eat normally. I was never bingeing in terms of volume though, just in terms of treats and indulging in exactly what I wanted.
Six weeks later, the 5:2 has revolutionised my approach to food. Now, I eat the food I love. I choose food based on taste, not its saturated fat content. I take pleasure in planning meals and love preparing them. I have a glass of wine just because I can. I get excited about invitations to restaurants, which on previous diets would have caused me to falter and fall off the wagon. Instead now, falling off the wagon is more than a weekly occurrence. And, I’ve lost approximately a pound a week to boot.
So when someone brings out the chocolate brownies in the office on a fast day, I can say no without feeling hard done-by. The difference being that I know tomorrow, if someone were to do the same thing, I would be able to partake, guilt-free. Unlike other diets, it’s not a life sentence. Instead it’s a 24-hour deprivation, and that is something I can handle.
I think I may have found my diet life-partner.
Prue White is Associate Style Editor at The Times Magazine