It seems intuitive that to lose weight you must burn more calories than you consume. To facilitate this, you can exercise or diet (or both).
In the past I’ve tried running, indoor rowing, weight training, and cycling, but exercise doesn’t lead to sustained weight loss for me. I start with the best intentions and initially see big jumps in my fitness and some weight loss. The problem though (as I see it) is threefold:
- As the novelty wears off it becomes harder to motivate myself to exercise
- When personal bests stop tumbling the motivation dips even further
- The weight loss is never that significant (1/2 stone or so), and doesn’t seem worth the early morning gym sessions and post-work runs
I do kind of enjoy exercise though, just not the commitments that usually come with it. Currently I play 8-a-side football once a week and have run 45 miles in the last month (a lot for me, I’ve been off work). When I’m at work I try to cycle (about 6 miles a day) but sometimes walk or take the bus.
Until about eighteen months ago, I’d never really cared much for dieting. I love food, and the more that there is the better. About eighteen months ago I started the 5:2 diet. Briefly, this diet involves eating normally for 5 days of the week, and restricting your calorie intake to between 500-600 for the other two. I try to work the two days around social and football commitments. The reason the 5:2 diet seemed like a good idea was that it was simple (not open to interpretation), and that nobody was trying to make money out of it (you could buy one of the books, but you don’t need it).
Sure enough, the 5:2 diet has worked for me, for the two days I eat nothing but an apple and some soup. I’ve dropped nearly two stones since starting it; I look better, can run faster and for longer, and am as strong as I was before I started fasting. Fast days (the low calorie ones) can be tough, and I can get a bit more grumpy towards bed time, but it’s well worth it. I have been on the 5:2 diet for eighteen months.
So what’s the problem?
It sounds like I should just carry on with the 5:2 diet, right? There are two problems:
- The weight has stopped coming off. It stopped coming off a couple of months in to the diet. Despite restricting myself to 500 calories twice a week I’m still overweight!
- The diet hasn’t worked for my better half. She hasn’t been on it nearly as long (three months or so) but I’d seen significant benefits by then.
The problem for me is that I overindulge on the other five days a week, and especially at weekends. While I don’t think that I have a big problem, I tend to binge when I eat and drink. My weight regularly fluctuates by ~10 lbs and I think that this must be linked to my “ability” to consume vast amounts of food in very short spaces of time without giving it a second thought.
My girlfriend didn’t seem to struggle with the fast days, but they just don’t seem to have been as effective. I don’t know why this is, but her eating habits are very different to mine – she likes to graze. I think that her ideal meal at a restaurant would be a tasting platter sampling each of the mains whereas mine would be something off man vs food or epic meal time. Maybe the efficacy of the 5:2 diet is linked to this, maybe it is something else.
The proposed solution
We are going to be accountable for everything that we eat. It’s kind of dull. It’s calorie counting. I’m going to try to make it as interesting as possible. We are allowed chocolate, sweets, beer and wine (in moderation).
First, I plugged our desired numbers (the numbers that give us a BMI of 25) in to this calculator, and used the output as an initial guess for the number of calories that we should be consuming. I used the lightly active setting, and my other half the sedentary setting (although I’m sure that there’s more of a continuum between exercising 1-3 times a week and being sedentary). I got 2800 calories and my girlfriend 1800. I think that 2800 is a bit high, so I’m going for 2300 to start off with – these are just initial guesses and the numbers can be adapted as the weigh-in results come in.
My other half’s daily plan looks like this:
- 300 calories for breakfast
- 400 for lunch
- 500 for dinner
- 600 for snacks
- 200 calories for breakfast
- 700 for lunch
- 750 for dinner
- 650 for snacks
The snacks comprise whatever we like. Currently, we have bags of Haribo, chocolate, nuts and raisins, and other treats divided up into bags comprising fewer than 200 calories (bad snacks). These bad snacks could also include a can of beer or a glass of wine. We also have fruit in pots containing fewer than 100 calories (good snacks). In practice, I am eating 2 good snacks and 2 bad snacks a day, whereas my girlfriend is eating 3 bad snacks.
I plan to continue the 5:2 diet on top of this, and may end up adapting my calories to account for this. I’ll see how I feel. My girlfriend is going to stop, which is probably a sensible option.
I think that the success of this diet hinges on the idea that we can still indulge a little bit each day. Hopefully this will keep us interested, and will probably lead to me appreciating my food more. Perhaps I’ll even slow down enough to taste it!
In other posts, we’ll tell you about some meal suggestions, and will post the only metric that matters – our weigh-in results! And remember, weight loss is only one of our goals. There’ll be posts describing how we have kept within our new budget constraints while trying to buy healthier food.