Since moving to Lancaster County, PA 6 years ago, a place that doesn't exactly specialize in exotic eating adventures, but that does specialize in some of the best breads and desserts I've ever eaten, I've gained 15 pounds. I don't look horrible at this weight, but it isn't a weight that makes me happy, and it means I can no longer wear some of my favorite clothes, so I'd like to get rid of it. Back when I was 35, losing weight wasn't a big deal. I'd get back into an exercise routine (usually lack of a regular exercise routine was the reason I'd gained), keep track of what I ate, and soon I'd be where I wanted to be. Not so much anymore. In fact, not at all anymore.
It seems now my only choices are to exercise tons more or to eat tons less. Since I already exercise for 20-60 minutes 5-6 times a week, and, sorry, I'm just really not going to do anymore than that, the only real option for me is to eat less. For about a year now, I've been checking out different diet books and plans and doing things like trying to keep up with tracking my food and fitness at Sparkpeople.com. I'll lose a few pounds, get all excited, and then, well, you know, we have out-of-town guests, and I have to introduce them to the wonders of Amish sticky buns. Or someone invites me over for dinner and offers me two desserts, after I've already eaten an overflowing plateful of food, and, heaven forbid, I be rude and refuse. In fact, to be really polite, I'd better try both desserts or my poor host might think I don't like his or her offerings. Then there's that plate of brownies or cupcakes someone leaves in the kitchen at work. Whatever it is, all my willpower soon goes out the window.
The thing about me, though, is that I'm someone who knows she only eats for three reasons. Reason number one is that someone else suggests it's time to eat, and I agree. This used to happen a lot when I worked in an office all day. At 11:00, someone would decide it was time to go to lunch, and even though I wasn't the least bit hungry, I'd agree and go along. Reason number two is that food presents itself. I'm really not someone who ever goes around thinking, "I'd like a doughnut. I'd better go get a doughnut." But if I walk into a bank, and they have doughnuts sitting out for their customers, well, I'll eat one. The third reason is that I'm actually hungry. This often sneaks up on me. I'll be busy writing a short story for hours, when suddenly, I'll notice my stomach is growling. I'll look at my watch and realize, oh, it's 2:00 p.m., and I haven't eaten anything since 8:00 a.m.
In other words, I'm an impulsive eater, and I don't tend to be an emotional eater. I don't eat when I'm bored (which I rarely ever am anyway) or when I'm depressed. In fact, when I'm depressed, I'm one of those people who's less likely to eat. Ideally food would never present itself without my seeking it out; no one else would ever decide that 6:30 p.m. is a good time for dinner when I just went to Costco at 4:00 and ate every single sample offered; and I'd only ever eat when hungry. Life, alas, is never ideal.
Something else I know about myself is that I'm highly suggestible. It's why I often avoid reading reviews of books by my favorite authors and movies with my favorite actors until I've read or seen them. It's why I'm a borderline hypochondriac. It's why reading an issue of O magazine sometimes means I find myself thinking, "Hmm. Maybe Bob and I should sell everything and go build schools in South America." O is full of ideas when it comes to dieting (as well as delicious-looking recipes meant to sabotage any diet, I've not failed to notice), so it was O that introduced me to the idea of the 5:2 Diet.
I read an article written by a woman who'd decided to try this intermittent fast diet, initially thinking, "Oh, I could never do that." I've fasted on occasion and know it's something I don't much like doing, because rather than being one of those people who feels rejuvenated by fasting or maybe has spiritual insights, I'm one of those people who, by 3:00 p.m. is ready to cook up a shoe and eat it. By the time I'd finished the article, though, I'd begun to think "I could do that. Maybe." The change of heart had less to do with the convincing manor in which the author had written it and more to do with the fact that, although the diet uses the word "fast", it's not a true fast, as in, you do nothing but drink water (or juice you have to make yourself, something I'm not willing to do) all day. No, you do actually get to eat. You just eat very, very little, for two days a week. The rest of the week, you eat what you please, without thinking about it.
That sounded doable and far better to me than constantly worrying about what I'm eating every day, which, let's face it, just doesn't work for me. I don't like having to choose between cake or ice cream on any given day when what I really want is both cake and ice cream (and probably even a second piece of cake, if you're offering). Oh, and did I mention, that's on top of the two hot dogs I've already had? Foregoing cake and ice cream today when I know I can have it tomorrow? That just didn't really sound so bad. So I decided to read the book, which explained to me that I need to choose two nonconsecutive days a week and limit my caloric intake to 500 (men, those lucky bastards, get to eat 600 calories) on those days.
There are all kinds of arguments the authors put forth as to why this makes sense (the old "this is how hunters and gatherers ate and how our bodies evolved" is there, yet again, for anyone who, somehow, hasn't managed to hear it associated with any diet in the past 20 years), but do you want to know what I think? I think it works because people are actually just doing what always works, eating fewer calories. Let's say I typically want to eat 2000 calories per day, but that's really too many for me, if I want to lose weight. Now, let's look at two days if I'm on this 5:2 diet. One day, I eat 500 calories. Let's say the next day I eat 2500, I've still only eaten 3000 instead of the 4000 I would've eaten when I wasn't on the diet, and if I eat only 2000, well then, in two days, I've eaten 1500 calories less than I normally would.
All of this is to say that I've begun this diet. I'm convinced that even I can control my impulsive eating enough to look at a plate of brownies at work, take one, and save it until tomorrow, if I'm not allowed to eat it today. I'm in week two. I won't say it's for everyone, because you will be hungry on your "fast" days. I've fasted four days now, sticking to the authors' recommendation of eating something at breakfast, skipping lunch, and then eating something at dinner, about twelve hours later, which means I actually am fasting for twelve waking hours. I get really, really, shoe-eyeing hungry around 3:00 or 4:00 p.m. I've discovered, though, that if I stick it out, the growling stomach goes away. Counter-intuitively (because one would think this would mean passing out, given all we've heard about low blood sugar, etc.), it appears that working out is a good thing to do when my stomach starts to growl. I can workout, which distracts me, and then the hunger goes away for a while. I did that two days. The other two days, I discovered what worked was throwing myself into writing -- distraction again.
I'm sure your burning question is, "Yes, but is it working?" The answer to that question is "yes." I began this diet thirteen days ago. I've lost 3 pounds so far and have kept it off. That means it's working enough for me to continue with it. We'll see what happens if a plate of brownies ever presents itself on one of my fast days.