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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Thu 05-Jun-14 12:45:08

Guest post: Mimi Spencer - 'Why 5:2 is the only thing that's worked for me'

Weight is a complicated business - pressure to be slim can make women uncomfortable with their bodies, but many of us are also conscious that slimmer can mean healthier.

Here, co-author of The Fast Beach Diet Mimi Spencer writes on why, after years of trying fad diets, she's evangelical about 5:2 as a sustainable way to maintain a healthy, happy weight.

Mimi Spencer

Co-author of The Fast Beach Diet

Posted on: Thu 05-Jun-14 12:45:08


Lead photo

"When it comes to dieting and body shape, of course, we all know it's complicated"

It's hard to remember a time B5:2… Before the Fast Diet, before 5:2 emerged as the diet that changed the way we think about eating and weight loss, and parked itself firmly in the national conversation.

I'd always been one of those serial dieters who attempted any newfangled fad that came along, often in the interests of research. I've written about body shape and diet in the national press for twenty years or more - dieting was my schtick.

When it comes to dieting and body shape, of course, we all know it's complicated. We know that the (largely media-driven) cult of ageless thin has made many of us needlessly uncomfortable with our size, unhappy with our bodies, unhealthy in our approach to food.

But most of us would recognise, too, that being slimmer is generally healthier – not only as a guard against diabetes, heart disease and stroke, but also for the more subtle changes that occur: a renewed energy, a greater interest in exercise, a body confidence that can really make a difference to a day. These things, far beyond any desperate desire for weight loss per se, are what kept me searching.

I'd undertake new diets in the interests of womankind, ever hopeful, never satisfied as I bounced from regime to regime. I'd waded through the Cabbage Soup diet (remember that? Thermos flasks of gently rotting brassicas on your desk at work?). Through Atkins, with its foul breath and death knell for your social life. And Dukan. And that weird chilli/lemon drink that Jennifer Aniston or someone equally minuscule absolutely swore by.

None of it worked of course, not in the long run. Weight off, weight on, up, down, smaller jeans, ‘fat’ jeans. My life was precisely the life of many women in their forties - looking for the magic bullet that would make the roll top go away in time for the summer holidays.

I'd undertake new diets in the interests of womankind, ever hopeful, never satisfied as I bounced from regime to regime... None of it worked of course, not in the long run. Weight off, weight on, up, down, smaller jeans, ‘fat' jeans. My life was precisely the life of many women in their forties - looking for the magic bullet.

Then in September 2012, I encountered Dr. Michael Mosley in the course of writing a feature about intermittent fasting for The Times. 5:2 was just starting to gain attention. His Horizon programme for the BBC – Eat, Fast, Live Longer - had sparked interest in the relationship between fasting and longevity, and Michael's take on it was already beginning to find fans. Having spoken to many of the leading experts in the field, he'd come to the conclusion that what you really needed to make it work was a high degree of compliance. His approach hinged on achieving sustainability over time. Fasting occasionally, calorie-cutting rather than calorie-eliminating? Well, that might just work.

It worked for Michael, of course. He lost 20 pounds, his blood sugars – which had been threatening his health – returned to normal. And it subsequently worked for me too.

On the Fast Diet, I lost 22 pounds in six months. These days, I'm in Maintenance Mode, fasting only a day a week, if that. I'm still at my happy weight – which happens to be around nine stone, down from the upper tens. I have more energy, I do more exercise, I know I'm healthier and protecting myself against age-related disease. It's not all about looking good in a clingy dress. Though that helps.

So why has Michael's plan worked for so many? There's the science stuff of course – details of which are in the original book - but, for me and for countless others, there's the huge benefit of compliance: we do the Fast Diet, we stick with the Fast Diet, because most of the time, we're not dieting at all. There's something radical here, something ‘revolutionary’, as Michael said on TV way back at the outset.

It's easy to grasp, easy to follow, easy to modify to suit individual needs. And there's no guilt. You bust a Fast Day? So what? There's always tomorrow. You've got a dinner date? Great. Enjoy it.

Some people have, however, asked us for a ‘boot camp’ version of 5:2 to propel them off cruise control – particularly in readiness for summer's great reveal. So we've written The Fast Beach Diet – a souped up, six-week programme which includes techniques to change your habits around food, tips on how to eat healthily and well on any day, and ideas about how to negotiate the temptations and cravings of our food-fixated world. It includes an exercise plan too, based on Fast Exercise, the high intensity training book written by Michael Mosley and Peta Bee.

So, as you can see, much has changed since B5:2. I hope you benefit from it too – do let us know how you get on.

By Mimi Spencer

Twitter: @mimispencer1

Southeastdweller Mon 09-Jun-14 19:31:43

I've read the book and actually Mintyy there's stuff in there that I haven't seen on here.

Mintyy Mon 09-Jun-14 15:30:41

I think there is nothing you can learn about 5:2 that isn't on the Mumsnet threads. And I think the first thread started very shortly after the original Horizon programme so there are probably some fasting veterans on here who are more informed on the subject than even Ms Spencer.

Having this book marketed at us is a bit like teaching your grandma to suck eggs.

Fillybuster Mon 09-Jun-14 15:27:07

I'm another long term 5:2er, and have a huge amount of sympathy for Mintyy as she put in a lot of effort for very limited results.

It doesn't work for everyone. I don't know why, but that does seem to be the case. But it does, and has, worked for an awful lot of people (check out the happy vibe on the maintainers thread smile ). I've been sitting on or around my revised (lower) target weight for about a year now: it's been a huge relief to shed the last of the weight I gained with dc3 (who is now 4), and a massive boost to my confidence. I find fasting 1 or 2 days a week fairly easy (not always, but mostly) and honestly do eat 'whatever I like' the rest of the week. Sometimes my weight creeps up as a result, but my fast days help bring it back into line. And, over time, 'what I want' has either changed substantially or reduced a lot!

But this thread does feel an awful lot like a plug for Mimi's new book. As much as I'm impressed by her weight-loss and subsequent commercial activities, I don't think pinning this thread on MN is helping anyone (apart from Mimi).

mollysfolly Mon 09-Jun-14 12:22:01

As a long time lurker and occasional poster on the 5:2 threads here, I remember mintyy and her struggles, I have struggled myself at times so I sympathise.

However, I have no patience with the op turning this way of eating into a slimming diet.

Join the main thread, listen to BigChoc's excellent advice on fitness, BetsyBell's and others on food and cooking and keep going. Don't expect a quick weight loss fix but do expect to feel well and trimmer. football

catsrus Sat 07-Jun-14 10:15:15

Can I say at this point that I do NOT exercise - I do walk the dog most days but that's a gentle stroll with him running around like a lunatic - I do try to take the stairs not use lifts, walk to the next bus stop, go to the loo on the next floor up at work, that kind of thing, but I don't do gyms or shredding or running or weights. Maybe that's my next challenge as I know it's got health benefits, but my weight loss was not dependent on it, nor is my maintaining.

I used to have a range of sizes in my wardrobe to accommodate the weight fluctuations, when I started this I wanted to get into a pair of trousers that I had only worn once, a size 12. They are now my fat 'top of the weight wobble' trousers. Everything above a 12 has been given away, a lot of my good work stuff to a friend who has come down from a 22 to a 16-18 on 5:2. I have wobbled back up 7lbs or so over winter, in the past that would have signalled broken diet and a creep upwards. I now feel I have the tools to stop that happening and as I said, only another 2lbs to bring me back to my original target weight of 9.4

People have nothing to lose by giving this a go, you don't have to buy a book or join a club, all the information is on the 5:2 threads on MN. Clearly some people find it impossible to do - but those of us who do find it works for us it really is life changing.

LivinLaVidaLocal Sat 07-Jun-14 09:17:16

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Mintyy Sat 07-Jun-14 09:15:52

I was also amused by "only 60-90 minutes intense exercise 5-6 times per week". No wonder you are a gorgeous healthy weight - it would be a travesty of justice if you weren't!

Eatriskier Sat 07-Jun-14 07:56:07

MN chicken is a chicken that feeds the family for a week (I'm not sure why its known as mn chicken, but I've seen it referred to it as that on here a lot). We usually cook up 2 big birds/a big roasting joint of some other meat and have a roast dinner then use the rest of the meat in other meals to feed us until it runs out.

ExitPursuedByABear Sat 07-Jun-14 07:41:04

What is MN chicken?

ExitPursuedByABear Sat 07-Jun-14 07:39:22

The thing I like about 5:2 is that if I do have a 'treat' on NFD is doesn't derail me. I just modify the next day.

My appetite has definitely changed. I have list 5 stone 4lbs since January 2013.

Eatriskier Sat 07-Jun-14 06:54:59

DH has asked me to point out that the lack of takeaway though may also be to do with us being followers/practitioners of mumsnet chicken other meats are available too. Meal planning and prep is easier when there's always cooked meat to hand. He probably has a good point.

Eatriskier Sat 07-Jun-14 06:46:26

Living I also get mintyys and your point but if eating to your TDEE on a non fast day is being felt as dieting then there's a reason for weight gain.

Like catsrus what I want to eat now has changed, I'm a lot more aware of portion size of things like pasta and I also don't often get a takeaway anymore because the thought isn't there. I make things like pizzas and curries anyway, so it doesn't feel like we're missing. DH loves a dominos and I've just realised the last time he suggested one was Christmas. He hadn't even noticed himself.

LivinLaVidaLocal Sat 07-Jun-14 03:04:50

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

catsrus Sat 07-Jun-14 02:08:05

One of the reasons I can say I eat what I want is because what I want I eat has changed. My diet was always reasonably healthy - just too much food and too many processed carbs like pasta. I now follow the mantra of "eat real food mainly plants". I still go out for meals, have Indian, Chinese, Italian food but it really is a treat to do that now and so I enjoy it even more when I do have it. We used to have Chinese takeaway once a week, it doesn't occur to me to do that now - it doesn't feel like I'm depriving myself of it, Ive developed different habits.

Discovering that 5:2 worked so well for me has been an unexpected gift really - I'm working tomorrow, attending a workshop, read my notes today and saw that they're providing tea, coffee, biscuits but we have to bring a packed lunch - my reaction to that is "oh good a fast day". It will be easy to just drink the tea / coffee ignore the biscuits and go for a walk at lunch time. I didn't plan it as a fast day but it's a good opportunity to throw one in - its the flexibility that's so great for me.

Eatriskier Fri 06-Jun-14 22:38:02

My tdee would be 1580 without exercise. Most of my extra is walking. OK, so as a sahm I am a bit more able to do that, but basically I just don't sit still that often. If I can't escape my house for a walk I hike around my living room whilst the kids are occupied eating/sleeping/drawing and sometimes TV watching if it's a very bad day. On the occasions I work I use my lunch break to go for a big hike. I also use a fitbit which I find quite accurate for me and is perfect as my activity isn't often focused. Wouldn't recommend unless you're a big walker though yeah, that definitely says walker, phew blush wink

BigChocFrenzy Fri 06-Jun-14 22:35:19

"Eat all the junk you want" would exceed almost anyone's TDEE.
On the 5:2 threads, we try to encourage healthy eating, because many of us are on it as a longterm healthy WOL.
Most folk there learn healthier eating and exercise habits - my username is no longer applicable.

Within that, one of the things I like about 5:2 is that it works for all sorts on our threads: balanced / mediterranean / low carb / low fat / paleo / veggie / vegan .....

Low carb or low fat each seems to suit a minority, depending on insulin sensitivity / endocrine system.
Each group can be evangelical, but most of us seem to do best on a balanced diet.

Longterm, I'm sure mainlining sweet junk would have health consequences for anyone. It is not a food group.

BigChocFrenzy Fri 06-Jun-14 22:04:52

Front TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) is how many calories you should be eating in a day to maintain current weight.
This is a very accurate TDEEcalculator because it uses detailed activity times for an average 24 hrs

Minty I only do 60-90 mins very intense training 5-6 days per week and I have a few days break every couple of months. The TDEE works for me, though.
I do HIIT spin, boxing, heavy lifting, CrossFit circuits.

My cycling to/from work, gym and shops (relaxed pace) keeps my system ticking over.

JaneParker Fri 06-Jun-14 21:58:09

TDEE - number of calories to stay the same weight.

The science is clear - we all need to eat healthier foods which are not processed and in addition if we can have longish gaps between eating and sometimes fasting that will help our health too.

I suspect moving to a healthier way of eating with lots of good fats, medium protein and low carb and lots of veg plus some intermittent fasting works for more people than eat all you like boxes of chocolates and sweets 5 days a week Billy Bunter style followed by 2 days of fasting.

Mintyy Fri 06-Jun-14 21:06:58

Wow, you are doing 900 calories worth of exercise every day? How do you fit that in and what do you do?

FrontForward Fri 06-Jun-14 20:35:19

What is TDEE... Please

BigChocFrenzy Fri 06-Jun-14 20:31:14

TDEE is mostly determined by height, age, activity level, only the last of which you can influence.
That totally sucks btw for the disabled who can't exercise.

Talkinpeace, ErrolTheDragon on our 5:2 threads have sub-1500 TDEE, but raised it a few hundred by exercise.

I'm 5'3", nearly 58 and my TDEE would be 1500 if I were sedentary, but I cycle everywhere - too mean to get a car - and I'm a lifelong exerciser, so it's actually 2400.

Mintyy Fri 06-Jun-14 19:16:01

Yes. Gruelling though, isn't it. 500 calories two days a week and 1650 calories five days a week, all to lose just over 2.5lb per month. It would take me 16 months to lose my excess at that rate, assuming I could keep the weight loss up. And then I'd be down to bmi of about 24.

Whereas our op lost 21lb in 3 months when her starting point was bmi of 22. AND she was allowed more calories than me.

I bloody hate being short sometimes.

BigChocFrenzy Fri 06-Jun-14 19:02:34

Minty If your TDEE is 1700, then that is what you can eat on average on NFDs. The FDs would give you a weekly 2400 deficit, so about ⅔ lb.
That is healthy and sustainable for someone of lowish TDEE.

To accelerate weight loss, we suggest using the goal weight TDEE
which also trains you how to eat for later maintenance.

A faster quicker alternative is ADF, where you could eat up to 120% TDEE, 2040 for you. I personally wouldn't like so many FDs, but Varady has human trials on hundreds of people that ADF works and is healthy.
There is much more science for ADF than 5:2 , tbh

Mintyy Fri 06-Jun-14 18:08:21

Oh God! I'd have been happy with 1lb a week, ecstatic even. I have a funny feeling I'm not expressing myself terribly well grin.

And good luck FrontForward - it works extremely well for some people. I'm not sure what they do that I didn't do, but I certainly haven't been saying it doesn't work.

Eatriskier Fri 06-Jun-14 17:57:35

Yes, everyone's metabolisms are different. Which is why some things work for some people and don't get others. My metabolism didn't stop me from nearly getting morbidly obese though.

And yes, I'd have been happy with 4-5lb loss a month. Because that's 4 stone over a year. And I didn't want a quick fix, I wanted something that would make me keep it off. But then it was never about vanity for me, my health was affected and I want to live to see grandkids.

If you were so miserable on 5:2 why are you even thinking of trying to do it and depriving yourself on further days? If you want a quick fix then you're on a sure fire path to misery.

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