Jennifer O’Connell: I’ve lost 13lb eating shepherd’s pie and chocolate

Mild self-denial is the only diet for me

Delicious diet: ‘Dinner will be a full-blooded, creamy shepherd’s pie.’ Photograph: Thinkstock

Delicious diet: ‘Dinner will be a full-blooded, creamy shepherd’s pie.’ Photograph: Thinkstock

 

I’m on a diet. I’ve just polished off a piece of a carrot cake and a (non-fat) latte. Lunch will be a poached egg and toast, and dinner will be a full-blooded, creamy shepherd’s pie. I might have a small glass of wine with it, or some chocolate afterwards.

On this diet, which I started two months ago, I’ve lost 13lb (6kg); basically, all of the extra weight acquired over the course of my 30s and three pregnancies. I plan to lose 1kg more, and then I’ll stop. Not that it’s torture or anything. Most of the time, I don’t even notice that I’m dieting – because most of the time, I’m not.

I’m following the Fast Diet, also known as the 5:2 Diet. It began life as an experiment for the BBC programme Horizon, and then evolved into a book by doctor Michael Mosley and journalist Mimi Spencer, and eventually into a lifestyle choice more trendy than going gluten-free.

In case you’ve been marooned on a remote island with no wifi for the past year, the Fast Diet is all about restricted eating. Sure, restricted eating is a staple instruction for most diets, but this version espouses it only intermittently. Two days a week to be precise. And so tomorrow I will consume no more than 500 calories. I’ll begin with a cup of tea with non-fat milk. Mid-morning, I’ll have a piece of fruit or a 130-calorie protein shake. Dinner will be a grilled turkey burger (no bun) and some stir-fried vegetables, comprising about 300 calories in total. I’ll get through it knowing that the following day, if I really want them, I’ll be back to carrot cake and shepherd’s pie.

According to devotees, intermittent fasting allows the immune system to “reboot”. No long-term studies have been carried out on humans, but early results indicate that it might have a positive impact in humans in relation to obesity-related cancers, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and maybe even Alzheimer’s. It seems to do much of this by lowering the hormone insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and encouraging weight loss. Aficionados, and there are many, point out that our remote ancestors often had to go without food for long periods, and that we haven’t evolved to eat the way most of us do, which is to snack on something every time we pass the fridge and then collapse in front of the TV with a foil-wrapped carton of 2,000 calories.

Normally, I’d be sceptical. After all, our remote ancestors were lucky if they lived to see 30. I’m not a fan of fad diets. In fact, I’ve never actually dieted before. But I had a baby almost a year ago, and my body seemed reluctant to give up the extra half stone (yes, all right, it was a stone). Most diets fail because most of us are not fans of extreme self-denial. Mild self-denial, though, we can manage. (A health warning here: if you have suffered from anorexia, have long-term health problems, or are pregnant or breastfeeding, this diet is not for you.)

It was the word “intermittent” in intermittent fasting that appealed to me, because as the main cook in the family, I knew I would find it hard to produce healthy, delicious meals for everyone else and then sit down to a bowl of steamed broccoli myself. Now that I have been reacquainted with what actual hunger feels like, even I can feel semi-enthusiastic about a bowl of steamed broccoli – for two days a week, anyway.

I enjoy food more on my non-fast days too, but I find myself eating less of it, without any real effort. On my fast days, I’m grateful to not have to give the whole subject of what to eat much thought. I bought the Fast Diet Cookbook by Mosley and Spencer, but now it sits on my kitchen shelf, gathering dust like the oxymoron it is; I can’t get excited about the thought of a 300-calorie dinner, so I usually eat some lean meat and vegetables, salad or, when I’m feeling really disinclined to cook, a low-calorie ready meal. The rest of the week, I eat roast chicken, casseroles, pasta dishes, curries and pies to my heart’s content. And I’ve been losing weight at a rate I wouldn’t have believed possible: 2kg (5lb) in the first week, and about 0.5-1kg a week thereafter.

Mild self-denial is the way forward for me. I plan to apply the 5:2 approach to my finances next.

My heart bleeds for Prince Harry

Princess Charlotte

The tabloids were all over it, with “Broody Harry” headlines promptly knocking Nepal off the front pages. “Prince Harry is ready to put a baby in somebody,” New York magazine solemnly declared. Be still, my beating uterus.

With that unlucky-in-love George Clooney inconveniently happily married off, I guess what the world really needs is another handsome, desirable millionaire playboy to feel bad for.

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