In which phase one of my challenge draws to an early close

At the start of April I started my brand new shiny weight loss challenge with my very clever and not at all excessively convoluted plan to do lots of different diets for shortish periods of time to a) lose vast quantities of weight and b) assess which of them actually work.

Phase 1 of the plan was the 5:2 Diet. 5:2 is a form of Intermittent Fasting which is the idea that you eat very little indeed on some days and then normally on others. Intermittent fasting plans vary in how many calories they allow on fast days, how many fast days per week they recommend and whether those fast days should be consecutive or spaced out. The version of 5:2 I was attempting was to eat around 500 calories on two non-consecutive days each week, and then eat normally on the other five.

And so how did it go? Well, not that well. Over four weeks I lost precisely no weight. At one point I had lost 3lbs, but I put that back on again, so we can’t really count it. So what were the problems?

Well, I think, ultimately, 5:2 just doesn’t really suit me. And I think there are reasons, which are various and I shall attempt to enumerate for you now.


1. 500 calories a day is a fast track to moodiness

If you’re doing 5:2 prepare for the fact that on the 500 calorie days you will be Grumpy McGrumpitude, possibly not on all of them, but on most. It is possible that on your first and even second 500 calorie day you will find yourself thinking ‘Oh, this isn’t that bad. I am thinking about cheesecake but I can have cheesecake tomorrow, so that’s fine.’ Those feelings don’t last. By 500 calorie day 5 I was basically ready to start eating my own face, and the faces of friends, family and innocent passersby.


2. 500 calories a day isn’t great if you want to exercise

So we all know the basics of losing weight, don’t we – eat less, move more. The moving more part isn’t that effective on its own, but is generally A Good Thing To Do for all sorts of not simply weight related health reasons. Try and do exercise at the end of a 500 calorie day and the things you may experience include: dizziness, nausea, light-headedness, stopping for a little sit down, hating the universe, weeping and, ultimately, abandoning both fasting and exercise and inhaling a massive cake, which does feel sort of counter-productive from a diet point of view.


3. You still can’t really eat what you like on the non-fasting days

And there’s the rub frankly. 5:2 gets bigged up with the alluring idea that you can eat whatever you like on the other 5 days, but that’s not true. Dropping to 500 calories for two days a week basically gives a woman a 3000 calorie deficit over the week; eat 600 more than you should on the other days and you’ve wiped that out. So actually 5:2 is a diet with 2 days of evil fasting and 5 days of eating sensibly, and frankly if I had the eating sensibly thing down I wouldn’t need to lose 5 stone, would I?


4. You have to be really good at forward planning

5:2 might work quite well if you have a very strong routine and fixed schedule in your week. I don’t, so I have to sit down at the start of each week and work out when my fast days will be. Once I’ve ruled out days with exercise in them (see earlier references to dizziness and cake) and days with socialising in them and days with big dayjob stints of travelling and being on my feet, and then added in the complication that the two days can’t be consecutive, I rapidly found I was struggling to find options. That was made worse by…


5. It’s not great if you have other health problems

I suffer from IBS which means that every now and then I have phases where my stomach will really only tolerate beige food – pasta, bread etc – which tends to be dull and relatively high calorie. The problem is that those phases arrive quite unpredictably and if one crops up on what you’d intended to be a fast day, then that’s the whole week out of the window from a diet perspective.


So there you go. 5:2 is not the diet for me. It might work for you if you have quite a regular routine and can see where fast days would fit into your week, and if you’re ok already at eating in moderation. I’m not and so for me 5:2 gets Null Points on my dieting score sheet.

The next phase of the challenge is good old fashioned calorie counting, only it’s not that old fashioned, because like all modern endeavours there’s an app for that these days. I’ll update on how that goes next month.

In which I am a terribly ungrateful poorly girl

Day 5 of my 5 blogs in 5 days (aka Alison’s Awesome Week of Daily Blogging). So far we’ve been on holiday, we’ve been annoyed by open letters, and we’ve moaned about lack of diversity in government, and today I’m going to talk about me, because that is pretty much my favourite subject, and I am – at least in this corner of the interweb – a special and important little snowflake.

I suffer from IBS. For the uninitiated, IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. That fact should do two things: firstly it should tip you off that this blogpost might involved reference to bottom business; and secondly it should give you a mental image of a bowel with a face, reading the Daily Express and chuntering to himself. Yes – for reasons I can’t really explain my mental personification of my bowel is male. Male with quite a fulsome moustache, since you ask.

Anyhoo, IBS is one of those modern illnesses that some people don’t really think exists, and is what doctors refer to as a functional disorder. That basically means that your bowel doesn’t quite work in a tiptop way, but the reasons for that are as yet not fully identified. Diagnosis is done by a process of ruling out all the stuff that doctors already know makes bowels abandon normal function (coeliac disease, cancer, crohns disease etc.) This is generally achieved by the method of sticking a tiny camera into places that no camera ever had ambitions to go and having a jolly good footle about to look for badness. If no specific badness is identified, then congratulations – you have IBS.

In practical terms that means that I suffer from stomach aches a lot, often with added constipation and diarrhea (sometimes, weirdly, on the same day). Diarrhea, for me at least, usually passes pretty quickly (well, obviously) on its own. The stomach aches can be fairly well treated with a wonderful little IBS drug called Buscopan, but the constipation is a right pain in the… *Handbrake turns the blog away from a very obvious, and somewhat yucky, joke.*

So those are the symptoms but that’s not what this post is about. It’s not, despite everything that’s gone so far, about my irritable bowel. It’s about irritable me. And I get irritable with people. Specifically people who are neither my GP, nor my consultant gastroenterologist, who want to offer me medical advice on this problem.

‘It’s probably stress,’ they say.

‘I’m not stressed,’ I say.

‘You are. Stress is what causes it. I had a stomach ache in 1982. That was stress.’

‘I’m not stressed.’

They tip their heads and adopt a sympathetic tone. ‘You’re putting on a brave face. That means you’re not dealing with your stress.’

‘I’m not stressed,’ I screech.

‘Well you sound stressed,’ they say

I’ve had versions of that conversation in real-life and on the modern social media a number of times since I was diagnosed, and I’m kind of vaguely aware that my irritability reflects worse on me than on the poor innocent sympathetic passerby, but I do get irritated. I occupy a weird double space where I want to be treated absolutely normally and not have to deal with any sort of sympathy or helpful suggestion about the herbal remedy that really helped your Aunt Tallulah, but I also want people to appreciate that sometimes I feel ouchy and this can lead to grumpiness. And I do get that that’s probably not really possible. Ah well, into each life some rain must fall etc. etc. Other people have far worse things to deal with. Every cloud has a silver whatnot. And other similar platitudes.

So that’s it for my 5 posts in 5 days week. It’s been slightly random but I never promised coherence, so there you go. I’m going to try to get back to regular weekly blogging from now on. Probably on Mondays or Tuesdays but we’ll see how it goes. In the meantime, you can always buy a book