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5:2 diet failed you? Try the 4:3

Healthista’s MumBack blogger, journalist Sarah Maber charts the journey of getting her body and life back after having children.  When the 5:2 diet proved, Sarah tried the new 4:3…

The 5:2 diet should be a perfect fit for family life – with just two days of denial, you can still eat family meals for most of the week (thus teaching impressionable daughters that yes, mummy is eating the same as the rest of the family).

It acts as a good curb on drinking – fast days mean just 500 calories, which mean no sane person would squander one third of her allowance on a small glass of wine, which means you are automatically introducing two alcohol-free days a week. It revs up your metabolism, rather than slows it down (having tried countless weightloss regimes, I suspect my metabolism shuffles along with the aid of a zimmer frame).

Plus, it is a plan for life, with what appear to be myriad health benefits (studies of intermittent fasting show that not only do people see improvements in blood pressure and their cholesterol levels, but also in their insulin sensitivity).

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And there’s one last connection that should make the 5:2 a no-brainer for me – the diet’s basic splurge-starve philosophy chimes with the rest of my life. I TRY to be good – not to overspend, to stick to diets, to steer clear of alcohol, to be a kind, understanding parent and an even tempered, rational spouse… and I  probably achieve this about 20 per cent of the time. And there you have it – the 5:2 in action, deployed in every day life.

So WHY did I find it impossible to deploy the 5:2 diet, with its remarkable weightloss, in my every day life? Everyone I know has been on it, or is currently on it. Heck, I even wrote the recipes for Mimi Spencer and Michael Mosley’s best-selling Fast Diet book and spent weeks testing and tasting, cutting out the calories while still preserving the flavour. Why? The young children, that’s why.

A planned fast day typically began like this. Four year old Martha, 8am: ‘Mummy remember, no crusts on my sandwich.’ Two year old Seth, hopping from foot to foot: ‘I no like crusts either!’ ‘But if I cut them off, your sandwich will be TINY,’ I point out. Martha, surveying the remaining loaf: ‘That’s ok mummy. You can make me another one with no crusts too.’

By now, having been up since 5am, fuelled only by coffee, I was properly hungry. On the chopping board sat eight sets of farmhouse white crusts. It would have taken a Herculean effort of will not to spread them with peanut butter and snaffle them; a will that had no hope of surfacing after a broken night, early start and a gnawing sense of self pity. By 8.20 I had consumed around 300 of my 500 calories in an utterly joyless breakfast. Game over.

There WERE days I made it past the crusts. But I became so obsessed with food that I could think of nothing other than my Elvis-sized breakfast the next morning. With only fast-day fruit on the menu (quick ‘n easy with deadlines to meet) I found it impossible not to fall on the kids teatime leftovers. A cold fishfinger and five soggy oven chips probably wouldn’t tempt you, but for a semi-starved, sleep deprived mother in desperate need of fuel they were irresistible. No harm done, I’d think, just don’t eat dinner. But then 8pm came knocking, my husband entered with a bottle of wine, and bang! Another fast day cast aside.

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Soon, every day began as a fast day, only to falter at various hurdles. This was immensely dispiriting. I am not fat so much as an out of shape size 14; my energy levels are low as there is scant time to exercise and I worry about the example I’m setting to Martha and Seth. I long to be the kind of mother who grabs her tennis racket and casually lobs them a ball, or pelts around the park in skinny jeans and Converse, who arrives home rosy-cheeked on a Saturday morning from a 5km run, and who enjoys food and good nutrition and passes on this love to her family. Instead I was in danger of turning into someone with erratic eating patterns, who groaned when they sat down.

Something had to change. And miraculously, something did. For the past three weeks, I have been a successful 4:3 faster (four days of eating, three days of surviving on 500 calories). The ‘have you lost weight?’ comments are beginning, the scales show a four pound drop, and rather than dreading my fast days, I relish them. I’ve finally managed to work out a way to make fasting fit with family, and I am so delighted and feel so much better, I need to pass it on. Here goes…

*Don’t eat breakfast. Drink only coffee until 1130 or 12, then eat a piece of wholemeal toast with a poached egg – 200 calories that will properly fill you up.

*Give the children an early supper, and sit down and eat with them. My whole ethos on this has changed – now my fast days are the days I join the children for dinner, as I can eat at 430pm, and my non fast days I wait for Rufus. I just serve myself a 300 calorie version of their tea.

*If the 5:2 has failed for you, try the 4:3 instead. Theoretically, this should be tougher, but I’ve found it gives a better rhythm to your week. Plus, it feels more like a traditional diet, which is familiar territory to most of us.

*On non-fast days, DO enjoy treats. I love having wine before dinner and a bit of chocolate afterwards – it’s the little indulgences that make this diet work.

*Don’t tell anyone. Just do it. Telling people ‘I’m having a fast day’ can lull you into a false sense of security, when actually it’s only 9am and you still have the rest of the day to get through.

*Don’t wait for your husband to do it too. Even though the 5:2 is billed as a man-friendly plan, fast days are tough and they do need to be properly on board to make it through the 24 hours of 600 calories. Rufus, for instance, reluctantly agreed to join me at the start of the year. As he works long days, I diligently packed up an entire 600 calories worth of food for him, separated into two 100 calorie snacks and a 400 calorie tub of pasta. He’d eaten the lot by midday.

*Do see your fast days as a mini-detox and give yourself permission to prioritise yourself. Have a bath, and go to bed at 9pm with a good book and a herbal tea. Bliss.

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‘I became so obsessed with food on 5:2 that I could think of nothing other than my Elvis-sized breakfast the next morning’

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