Friday, 16 May 2014

The Lazy Girl's Diet

I am not a doctor, and Seraphic Singles should never be taken as a substitute for medical advice. Or spiritual advice. Or as a substitute for anything really, save blogs that claim Singledom is wicked/terrible/pathetic/unbiblical.


"I want a diet where I don't have to DO anything," wailed a young house guest of ours, who complained she had put on two kilos since her arrival.

"The Fast Diet is perfect," I said. "All you have to do is not eat."

And really it is that simple. Since January 10th, I have fasted two days a week--eating only 500 (or thereabouts) calories on these two fasting days. I am not sure what weight I started at, but the scale said 10 stone 2 (142 lbs) on January 23, and 9 stone 2 (128 lbs) on May 15. That's one stone (14 lbs or 6.5 kg) gone in 16 weeks. [N.B. I am 5'2".]

Ha! Not exactly the 1-2 lbs a week suggested by the Fast Diet (aka the 5-2 Diet), but I am not complaining. Well, not yet. I will complain later today about feeling hungry and being tired of drinking herbal tea. Today is FRIDAY, and my usual fasting days are Wednesdays and Fridays. Oh, for the happy Wednesday I can start chowing down on Wednesdays again. I will be fasting on Fridays, however, for the rest of my life.

The Fast Diet suggests Mondays and Thursdays as fasting days because people are less likely to be invited to parties those days. It also claims the founder of the Muslim religion fasted on Mondays and Thursdays, as if the other 94% of Britain might believe or be inspired by that. Personally, I think about all the Christians, especially Eastern Orthodox Christians, who always fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, especially Greek Orthodox monks. If Greek Orthodox monks can do it every Wednesday and Friday out of love for God, I reason, surely Roman Catholic I can do it for purely selfish reasons. Nothing like a little ecumenical rivalry, eh? And if there is a party on Friday, I just fast that Saturday instead.

My selfish reasons are to look better, to stave off dread disease and to get the long-term benefits of fasting, which apparently include defense against age-related dementia. I used not to be afraid of dementia, but then I found out dementia can include being terrified. That sounds awful, and not like the blissed-out torpor and mental trips back into the past I was hoping for. Blah!

Having lost fewer than sixteen ounces a week, I an attest that the Fast Diet is not a quick fix. And indeed I may have helped it along by actually increasing my exercise. For example, I go to the gym at least one day a week for a lovely Pilates class and a 20 minute run (or, more challenging, intervals) on the treadmill. And sometimes I do Pilates at home with a free lesson on Youtube. And while in Poland I walked rather a lot.

Muscle weighs more than fat, so it could be that Pilates is actually slowing the weight loss, albeit in a good way. The true test of slimming is not the scale but your favourite skinny dress. My favourite skinny dress now fits, so I have asked my mother to bring my dodgy black spandex jumpsuit from Toronto when she comes to Scotland on holiday. I cannot remember why I bought it or imagine where I could wear it now. Not to Mass, that's for sure.

One of the beauties of the Fast Diet is that it is free. No memberships, no meetings, no pills, no powders, no special food. Just 500 calories for two non-consecutive days a week. My typical fast day involves oatmeal porridge with blueberries in the morning and a fillet of salmon with a pile of veg in the evening. I drink black coffee, water, and an awful lot of herbal tea. When I feel hungry, I offer it up for those who are hungry because they have no access to food and then have another mug of herbal tea.

Naturally B.A. and I do pay for my gym membership. However, exercise can be free, and you can find many free Pilate classes on Youtube. In fact, I didn't really enjoy my gym Pilates classes until I began doing Pilates outside of class. So it turns out that the weight-loss industry is, or should be, doomed. The answer to the most discussed quandary of Western female life comes free of charge. Unless you have an eating disorder, or a history of eating disorders, or are a child, teen, pregnant, etc., check out the Fast Diet online.

Update: In case you are wondering, I just eat whatever and whenever I want on the other five days, although I have cut back on sugar and eliminated almost all processed foods. I have added high-fat (but unsalted) seeds and nuts instead. Yum! Apparently given my habits I should be eating only 1642 calories on non-fast days, but I cannot be bothered to count.


Rudy said...

Fasting for religious reasons is one thing-- fasting to lose weight is asking for trouble, and encourages eating disorders. Some girls might be liable to think, "Well, if I can go without eating for two days, maybe I can try for three, or four..."

Fasting, by the way, is not necessarily even a great way to lose weight because it confuses your metabolism. When you fast, your body slows down your metabolism to make the most of whatever calories you *do* consume, and actually ends up storing fat thinking it'll need it. I have never even lost weight during Lent.

People are not meant to "diet." People are meant to cultivate healthy, *sustainable* eating habits. You cut out sugar, you eat balanced meals, and you exercise (which I suspect is the real reason you are losing weight, Seraphic.) That's why people recovering from eating disorders tend to become overweight rather quickly.

I gained a lot of weight at a receptionist job, but I lost something like 30 pounds over the course of a little over a year by doing virtually nothing food-wise. I simply made healthier choices (passing on dessert more often, stopped drinking soda, spent more time evaluating whether I was eating because I was hungry, or because I was bored) and went on the occasional run. My job also required a lot of moving around and lifting.

I moved into a different department of the company I work for where I am sitting down more and lifting less, and I am really afraid I won't be able to maintain my weight anymore, so I need to get back in the habit of running. I may also cut out sugar. And I'm fairly confident that that's about all I'll need to do, because it's consistently worked for the past two years.

Rudy said...

Oh, oops, I was signed into google where my nickname is Rudy. That last comment is actually from Sarah.

Seraphic said...

Nope to the more exercise. I tried three-days-at-the-gym last year, and it just didn't work out that well. I lost a bit, but not a lot, and I didn't keep it off, and going to the gym bored me. Lifting free weights hurt in a way it didn't when I was a young thing.

I lost 20 pounds in six months when I was 25 by going low-fat and working out three times a week (running and with weights), and now I am probably going have lost 20 pounds in 6 months just by doing what I'm doing: 5:2 and going to the gym 1- times a week.

I am not fasting two days consecutively, but on Wednesdays and Fridays, no more than the Christian who does so for religious reasons. The 5:2 diet is for adults, and if teenage girls make dumb assumptions about starvation diets, well.... They do already anyway. That said, the stupidest weight-loss diet I ever saw was being passed around by young men at my boxing club.

Whatever works, works. The British National Health Service's principal problem with 5:2 is that it doesn't think most people can stick to it. But Greek Orthodox monks do, so why not others? Meanwhile, there are no side effects, except feeling a tad hungry on the fasting days. And let me tell you, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday this Lent were the easiest of my adult life!

Anyway, I recommend a good read of "The Fast Diet" before dismissing it altogether. It is probably in the library.

Seraphic said...

Oooh! SODA! Soda-pop is evil! Pure poison. My mother wouldn't let me drink it when I was little, and now I know why. If America gave up soda-pop of all and every kind, plus fast food, America would cease to be so fat and unhealthy.

Seraphic said...

The killer for me was really noticing how few calories one burns by running for half an hour, e.g. about 300. Cardio is a great heart-strengthener, but all that effort to burn 300 calories!? At least Pilates is fun and creates muscle that helps the body get rid of fat more effectively.

Personally, I prefer exercise to be fun. And now I shall make another fun cup of tea.

Rudy said...

I found running very helpful, and it builds up muscle everywhere in your body. Running was definitely the turning point for weight loss for me. Hm, I really do need to start doing that again.

I also do yoga, (lots of similarities to Pilates) though. Well, in theory. I have been depressed and busy and thus haven't made a lot of time for it lately. But I do love yoga. My workplace even offers classes once a week that I feel really guilty for not taking advantage of.

Leah said...

Honestly, I think different diets work for different people, and you have to find the one that works for you.

Reducing my carb (bread, potatoes and rice) and sugar intake (I already didn't drink soda or eat tons of candy of anything, increasing my protein and exercising three times a week has done wonders for me, and I know lots of other people this kind of diet has worked for as well. (It's what is recommended for people with diabetes and insulin resistance.)

Fasting twice a week and eating normally the other five days wouldn't have helped me at all, because of my insulin resistance.
Eating healthier and exercising more did. But that's me.

Although I do think that eating healthier is good for everyone, even if it doesn't necessarily help you lose weight. :)

Julia said...

I used to be a five-time-a-week gym junkie, and I loved it! My gym had excellent small group training classes, and I made friends with all the super-fit housewives. Alas, grad studies got in the way.

I find that if I eat well, my weight is very easy to control, but it also seems that the more physically active I am, the better I eat.

Bee said...

Auntie, if one were to consider fasting for religious reasons, is there a resource you could point her to that helps silence the brain? You see, every Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and any stretch of 5 hours without sustenance, the hunger hormone floods my brain and tricks it into thinking I am "hungry," and it gets quite mentally ugly and occasionally spills into social interactions because I feel *that* hungry. So it's very hard for me to reap the spiritual good of fasts. And yet over the past couple months there's been nudge after nudge to try it out for spiritual reasons. Thanks.

Clare said...

I myself was thinking today of starting a '6-1' "diet" -I don't really like the word diet- but more for penitential reasons rather than weight loss ones.

Interestingly, although I love love swimming training and aerobics classes, I've found it's not really helping me lose weight - not like when I was 20, anyway. But I enjoy being fit regardless. Then I found I lost nearly nearly 3kg in just over 4 weeks on holiday in America just by eating breakfast and lunch! Which I have been lapse to do here due to my work - I tended to drink too much coffee and not eat really anything till after work at 4pm. So I can attest to the metabolism slowing down advice. And so, I intend to keep eating breakfast and lunch (and dinner, of course), exercise when I can and accept I will never be so skinny as I was again! Sigh.... I love hearing everyone's own experiences on this!

Nzie said...

Muscle weighs more than fat but it also helps you metabolize calories better. Also, the less weight you have to lose, the less you tend to lose, and men lose weight faster than women (in the days of famine and siege, we lasted longer than men because we starved more slowly).

Weight's been a long-time struggle for me because of a medical condition, but I decided a couple months ago it was time for me to apply the "rooted in reality" principle to that condition, so I bought a book by a doctor who specializes in it, and read it. (Honestly, if you read the online stuff about it, it was just frustrating because it seemed like every post I saw, & from reputable sources, just listed every single possible annoying and uncomfortable and embarrassing symptom ever ("New study links [horrible symptom] to [syndrome]" on like a weekly basis) but as I'd mostly taken care of the painful ones, I was annoyed at them for pointing out the others.)

As a result of reading the book, I was decently scared by all the long term health effects and started trying to follow his advice and also the advice of a book on how to eat properly for insulin resistance (which is a part of the condition). I was not particularly dedicated during exams, but I noticed non-scale health/symptom improvements and felt better, so I will be working to make the advice part of my habits again this summer regardless of what the scale says or doesn't.

I did fast on days Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but I think given the metabolic problems I have fasting regularly would not be good for me, especially because it's not just insulin or metabolism, but their effects on other parts of my body's chemistry. Because of that, I really recommend people do some research before starting a fast diet - a lot of people are insulin resistant and that's much more about managing sugar and insulin levels.

Sheila said...

I have read some neat things about the health benefits of intermittent fasting. On the other hand, I've also read things suggesting most of those good results don't happen for women -- we are more vulnerable to stressors, so some women will have missed periods or hormonal issues with fasting.

Your mileage may vary; you could try it and see how it goes.

Me, I can't fast to save my life. Even when I'm not pregnant or nursing (like .... back in 2009) I get actually ill every time I attempt to fast. And that's the canonical fast, not a complete fast. For whatever reason, I don't seem to handle it well.

Bee, all I can say is, practice helps. If you occasionally skip ONE meal, or eat half as much as usual at one meal, it gives you some practice saying no to food when you are not actually starving. Or there is the "enjoyment fast" -- some days I will eat only the plainest food, and strengthen my will by not giving in to my cravings for my favorite treats.

If actual blood sugar issues are your problem (they are mine!) you can fast on milk or juice. It is plenty sacrificial and counts for the canonical fast, but you have something to stop your blood sugar from crashing so dramatically. And as an added benefit, it is terribly wounding to your pride to be with other Catholics who are going above and beyond with *their* fast while you are scraping by on the bare minimum. I'd do better if I could, but my body just doesn't let me achieve holiness in any of those impressive ways. I figure that doesn't mean it's less sanctifying.

Sheila said...

Oh, and here is the link to the sciencey stuff:

Sounds like there really isn't a whole lot of evidence either way, because scientists like to get rid of "confounding factors" by just doing all their studies with men. Ugh. Half the species here! Do some studies for us too!

Seraphic said...

Ooooh! Sheila, I KNOW! That's a good point. I read a paleo site talking about how fasting works better for men than for women, so I am not taking it personally that I am trudging along at less than a pound a week (and that's factoring the weeks I lose 2 lbs and the weeks I lose 0 lbs).

For me the important thing was to get a healthy BMI number, and now that I'm there, I'm just aiming for 124. Since when I was all bone and muscle I weighed 117, I figure 124 is a good target when I am bone, muscle and squish, muscle weighing more than squish, etc.

To get through a day of fasting for religious reasons, I recommend lots and lots of herbal tea, lots of things to distract yourself, prayer, early supper and, if you're cranky, early to bed with a book. When you feel hunger pangs, offer them up for those who are hungry not-from-choice, or any other intention for someone else.

And, yes, the more you do it, the easier it will seem. I rather enjoyed Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, to tell you the truth, because now I had company!

It probably all comes down to "eat less, be more active." But personally I have to ENJOY active and find it interesting. Intervals can be interesting. Pilates is interesting. Hiking over the Scottish countryside is interesting. Walking from one end of Krakow to the other is interesting. Jogging along to MTV is NOT interesting.

Kathleen said...

What luck! I'd been thinking of your regime since the last time you mentioned it, and was wondering whether or not it was appropriate to ask for more details. I don't think I especially need to lose weight (although I have few mirrors in my house and not a single pair of trousers, and i'm not even sure of my height and weight for a BMI calculation, so who knows?) but I'm pretty overindulgent, and I have been thinking that being a bit more proportionate about food might help develop some other virtues I'm lacking more generally. Some porridge and fruit in the morning, and salmon and veg later on really isn't so terrible.

(In complete sympathy with Bee's comment, I get stressy and defensive just thinking about a spiritual fast).

Kathleen said...

Seraphic - This is a different query, so don't feel obliged to publish it. I posted a comment when you were in Poland that never made it up. Possibly it was just a glitch, but I was a bit judgemental and know it all about the way another reader spoke about her friendships with men. I wanted to apologise if you decided not to publish because my tone was uncongenial

Seraphic said...

No problem! I thought its author would regret it later, so I didn't pass it and forgot who wrote it!

Seraphic said...

Tonight's supper was plaice, crab and cabbage!

Sheila said...

I'm with you about exercise. I will exercise to some end, but I refuse to exercise mindlessly. A treadmill is basically the definition of useless, unproductive activity, and ditto for jogging if it's always on the same block. (Besides, jogging is so unpleasantly bouncy!)

My favorite exercises are doing squats (which I do when I am cleaning the house, getting things out of cupboards, picking up things I dropped, and gardening -- I can't do 50 reps in a row, but it's easy to fit in 50 in a day, here and there), long walks to places I actually want to go, games with friends (if not too competitive, I am not at all competitive), vacuuming (what it does to your core if you do a lot of it is AMAZING -- I vacuumed for a living one summer and I have never been in better shape), and yard work of any kind.

But the MOST important thing for your health is not the number of minutes you work out, but the amount you sit. Every hour a day you sit without moving shortens your life! So if you hate working out, as I do, perhaps try getting up every hour (at least when you are lounging around at home) and doing ten toe touches, ten squats, and ten jumping jacks -- something like that -- and sit back down. That helps your metabolism all day, keeps you from dozing off in front of your computer or TV, and will help you live longer.

I do not exercise or diet for weight. This is partly a personal decision made to be countercultural, since the obsession with weight and diet is unhealthy in many ways, and partly just because I have never had trouble with my weight and don't want to mess with a perfectly healthy weight by going for skinny. However, I have a tendency to be "skinny fat," that is thin but unhealthy and out of shape, and that's a greater health risk than being an overweight person who eats right and works out. So it's something I need to be conscious about, and it's easy to let it slide just because my clothes fit fine. And anyway there's nothing worse than having no car, wanting to get somewhere, and not doing it because you're too out of shape to make the trip. What if I ever have to run for my life? I need to be able to actually run!

Aquinas' Goose said...

This comment is for Bee: read. The Desert Fathers usually did not simply fast, they also fasted and "prayed." By "prayed" I mean what we usually think of as prayer (e.g. Lord's Prayer), but also more active prayer such as Rosaries, Lexicons or --a la today's Trappists--work. If you don't do anything while fasting you will get very hungry, but if you keep your mind occupied on something other than food it will help. I recommend a good copy of the liturgy of the hours or doing a full Mystery of the Rosary (or writings of the Desert Fathers... on fasting ;)). Also, straight up and fasting when you're not used to it can also be counter-productive, just like any exercise you need to build up to a full fast. You want to fast Fridays? Start this Friday by setting aside time you would normally eat or snack and decide not to, fill that time with some prayer form instead. Next week, increase that time... eventually it will turn into habit and you'll be able to increase your fast time to the desired full-day. But I can't recommend reading prayers or writings of saints et al. enough if your fasting for faith based reasons.