Another day, another diet

In Diets on January 17, 2013 at 8:46 pm


I am to diets what Taylor Swift is to relationships. I’m convinced every new one is The One, the stayer, the answer to all my prayers… then three months later it’s all over. Except in my case, I then put all the weight back on and she writes a new album about the latest heartbreak and makes another $50,000,000.

I’ve done every diet craze of the last ten years. They all worked. I think the GI Diet was the best, the one it was most possible to live ‘normally’ on. Weight Watchers also worked brilliantly for me. Twice. When I went back a third time and the ‘leader’ just assumed I’d done it before, I knew it was a loser’s game. And not the right kind of losing.

Dukan is amazing. Three of my friends have each lost a stack of weight on it and kept it off. They followed it to the letter, no short cuts, and I don’t think they will ever put it on again now. It worked for me, but I didn’t follow through all the stages, put the weight on again, and then found I just couldn’t go back to endless plates of slimy food.

So I was immediately gripped when I happened to see Dr Michael Mosley’s (below) fascinating Horizon programme about the health and weight loss benefits of fasting.


Annoyingly it doesn’t seem to be on Youtube and I fear people outside the UK won’t be able to watch it on the BBC iPlayer, but the progression of his research was fascinating – the science rigorous and very convincing.

I immediately wanted to try the system he decided combined the greatest effect (on blood sugar and cholesterol, as well as weight loss) with the easiest stickability, which has come to be known as 5:2 fasting. This means one week equals five days of free, unrestricted eating and two when you eat no more than 500 calories (600 for men).

I started looking at calorie counting apps online and found it too difficult because everything is listed by 100g. The thought of boiling an egg, weighing it and then working out the percentage of 100g and thence the calories was just too hard. So I waited for the inevitable books to come out.

This January magazines and newspapers in the UK are full of versions of the diet programme, but I was thrilled to see that the man himself has produced a book with the very excellent Mimi Spencer, one of my preferred journalistas.


The book is great, going through all the research, before getting on to the nitty gritty of follwing the diet, with tips and meal plans, and although the calorie charts are still in the maddening 100g system (I suppose it is the only way, really…) you can find out the value of a boiled egg by cross referencing to the recipe section. 90 calories.

I am now in my first week of the diet, coming towards the end – THANK GOD – of my second day of fasting. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you how I’ve found it so far. I may have chocolate all round my mouth…

Meanwhile, here is the link to the article about the programme on the BBC website.

  1. My weight loss of 35kgs was achieved by following what I call the GST method. In Australia we have a 10% Goods & Services tax on all non fresh produce. So my rule of thumb was that I could only eat food which didn’t attract a GST . So much easier than weighing portion size or counting calories. Six years later and I have managed to maintain this weight loss. I too had tried every other diet known to man. This one really worked, well for me it has.

    • That sounds like a great plan. Well done!

    • Well done Anne – it sounds like you eat unprocessed foods and presumably a small amount of sugar so, in theory, your body is capable of taking only the amount of energy it needs.
      How is your cholesterol/blood pressure etc as a result if you don’t mind me asking?

  2. Good luck with it, Maggie, I hope it works for you.
    I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s almost impossible for women-of-a-certain-age to lose weight.
    Last year I walked part of the Larapinta Trail near Alice Springs. I spent 12 days carrying a 15kg pack, walked between 5 & 10 hours a day, consumed less than 450g of food per day, drank only water and lost a whopping (NOT!) 2kg. Aargh!! Now, losing weight was not the main focus of the walk, but it would have been a nice bonus.
    So if lots of exercise, minimal food and no alcohol doesn’t shift excess weight …. what does?

    • I am not a dietician but I would say 2 kgs in 12 days is pretty good, particularly if you were putting on a bit of muscle in place of fat (which I imagine you would have if you were walking and carrying a pack).

  3. I gave up dieting a long time ago. It made me too miserable to think about food in such clinical way. There are two things that I use to stop me eating and drinking alcoholic things too much: the way my clothes fit and my yoga practice. If I wonder why so many of my clothes don’t fit I realise that I have to have less of certain things that I love like cheese and alcohol. If I can’t do a hip opener or a backbend that I could do before I can reference back to a time that I could and remember what was different about what I ate, when I ate and so on.

    Sadly there is no one solution to staying fit and healthy other than inculcating self awareness. A set diet may do that or it may make us overeliant on someone else to do the self awareness bit for us.

    That said, I take your recommendations seriously as always Maggie and will check out the link 🙂

    • I loathe the whole idea of ‘diets’ and ‘dieting’ but I know from experience that as soon as I take my eye of the ball, the weight goes back on, so I feel condemned to keep trying them… I use exactly the same parameters as you, funnily enough.


    This is the BEST site for all permutations ( weights & measures) of most all foods and their nutritional info. Also rather charmingly named, I feel.

    You can do this!

  5. One of my friends reckons she is the best Monday dieter in the world. Unfortunately, after Monday she slides back from the lofty heights, until by Thursday she is talking about the diet she’ll be starting ‘next Monday’.

    No alcohol (and the commensurate weakening of willpower) and really watching the portion sizes seems to work for me. However I enjoy a glass of wine a couple of nights a week and I (really) like good food, so this is hard to maintain. My resolution this year is to be less hard on myself, so really I’d rather have the wine, keep exercising and put up with the extra kilos.

    Good luck with the new diet- I’ll be interested to hear if the deprivation is maintainable longer term.

  6. Hi Maggie..I hear you… a diet (maybe lifetsyle?) that I’ve recently embarked on also talks about fasting (although difficult for me to imagine being more than five paces away from any food group)’s called primal blueprint

    Good luck!

  7. Does your daughter see all of your dieting endeavours? Sometimes it worries me that we are passing on our dieting dilemmas to our daughters, but perhaps none of us are immune to it regardless of our parental influences. Besides a small few I guess.

    I think the worst thing about diets is the “on-program, off-program” mentality. The all-or-nothing attitude. It surely sets us up for failure from day one.

    Of course, I’m a woman so I’ve not figured out the solution. Exercising most days and calorie counting seems to work for me. But long term? I’m yet to figure out how to maintain the healthy weight for my height. But I keep trying. I’d love to study the psychology of it all. We are a complicated bunch!

    There is some compelling evidence that fructose may be a major problem in our weight-control endeavours. it may turn out to be incorrect but it’s worth looking in to.

    I like Michael Pollan’s theory – “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” It would probably serve most of us well.

    • I try and shield my daughter from the word ‘diet’ but it’s very very hard. I even covered this book with wrapping paper so she wouldn’t see the word ‘diet’ on the cover…. My mother was always on a diet and it definitely affected me and gave me the idea that was something ‘grown ups’ do. However a medical condition which made it impossible for me to eat at all for several weeks in my early 30s pretty much destroyed my metabolism and I’ve been fighting weight gain ever since. I’ve tried just trying to eat less and exercise more, but it doesn’t work. We have too much food to choose from and too many handy gadgets to save us expending energy – like cars, buses etc!

  8. Hi Maggie, is also an amazing source of calorie data. Is an Aussie website (obviously) so brandwise not helpful, but they also include basic foods.


  10. Hi Maggie – I went back to my naturopath the other day and she has got me on some gut cleansing herbs and a “clean” diet for two weeks – no caffeine, alcohol, red meat, dairy or wheat. I feel fabulous. Have given up coffee and filling my body with green tea and fresh fruit, veg and occasional white meat. I am also getting up early and doing exercise again. Find what works for you and stick with it. I will go back to eating red meat again when this is over, but will take everything in moderation. Good luck with your healthy new year start. Love Rina xx Stretna Nova Godina xx

    • Moderation is everything – but unfortunately so hard for the human species to stick to! Good luck with your cleanse.

    • Green tea has caffeine…….

      • and also makes my mouth feel like I have been gargling with wood shavings! But seriously, it is v handy when you can’t have milk. I also love some chopped fresh ginger left to steep in boiling water. So warming on a cold winter day x

      • My favourite caffeine-free tea is rooibos with vanilla and caramel – I haven’t had a cup of ‘real’ tea since September and I just don’t miss it. Oh, and peppermint; and chamomile……..

      • oh I love Rooibos – me and my daughter just had some!

  11. OMG. My background is medical and all I can say is: Don’t do this to yourself! Read Gary Taubes, ‘Why We Get Fat’ ( or his tome, ‘Good Calories Bad Calories’ for non-bias analysis of the scientific literature on all of this).

    • Thanks for your comment. I would rather not follow any diet, I hate the whole concept, but I have to lose the fat around my middle. My waist measurement is too big to venture safely into my mid-50s. That’s why I want to lose weight. Not to fit into designer clothes. I’ve tried other methods, lost weight and just put it on again as soon as I relax back to ‘normal’ eating. Dr Mosley is on the BBC as their staff reporter on medical issues – I trust his evaluation of the science of this. Have you seen the programme or read the book? It’s very interest. PS My father was a doctor. My niece is a doctor…

      • Have you read David Gillespie’s book about sugar. It really is the easiest ‘diet’. Just cut out things that are high in sugar – you’ll be surprised how much sugar there is in food you would least expect – and particularly high fructose corn syrup. I’ve lost 10 kilos just by doing that. I still eat all day – and I have hot chips and Thai food a couple of times a week – I just don’t have cake or dessert – and not too much fruit. I eat lots and lots of veggies and rice and eggs and I never feel hungry or deprived. It’s much easier than limiting calories, etc. However, you can’t just do it for a while – it’s like giving up smoking – all or nothing.
        Good luck, Maggie, I felt the same way you do about going into your mid-fifties carrying that extra bit of weight around the middle – and to quote Kate Moss – as much as it makes me cringe – “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”. It’s about feeling better not necessarily looking better. Damn the menopause!

      • Totally agree sugar is satan. The doctor who made the docco agrees with that too.

  12. It sounds like a program I could actually follow for more than two weeks 😉 I look forward to hearing how it goes.

  13. Hmm, interesting. I’m not a fan of the fad diet, but I’m a medical writer and was reading an article in a medical journal about the fact that, biologically, humans are designed to fast (our hunter-gatherer ancestors had times of plenty and other times of famine), so maybe this one has some credibility.

    BTW I try to eat low GI and it seems to keep the weight off. Not reed skinny but not overweight either. Too old to be skinny anyway. I follow the Catherine Deneuve principle: “After a certain age, you have to choose between your fanny and your face.”

    • Thank you for this reasonable response! The science in the programme was rigorous – Dr Mosely visited about five different universities where fasting is being studied in different ways. It was fascinating. I loathe the whole concept of diets, but being short and prone to gain weight (not helped by a medical condition in my early 30s when I couldn’t eat any solid food for weeks…) I just have to do something to get rid of the fat around my middle. I owe to my young daughter, if nothing else.. x

  14. Dear Maggie, I am surprised that you need to lose anything: when I saw you on the book tour in October you looked lovely – enviably chic.

    I am sitting here with a nice glass of Cienna Rosso after a day in Melbourne, where I visited (among other places) Haigh’s and happened to sample a few choccies. I won’t discuss the other things I ate. On arriving home my darling husband had made his own pork scratchings after being inspired by “Nigelissama” last night. (He is often inspired by her; I don’t ask for specifics.)

    I have done Weight Watchers X 3 too. When the instructor gave me a knowing smirk on Day 1 of my last round it was like a red rag to a bull (in reverse). I eat for comfort. I also know that I need to lose 20 odd kilos, otherwise I am going to have some serious health problems. I am also a bit of a procrastinator, so unless I get my act together pronto it will be a heart attack that will be my catalyst for change.

    Anyway, my approach is going to be much less sugar, salt, alcohol and much more exercise (which won’t be hard as I do very little now anyway). I know what I should be doing, but the spirit is weak!

    • You are clearly my long lost twin. I’ve tried doing as you say and I’m afraid without some kind of structure it just doesn’t happen. I need ‘Rules’ to stick to. I hate the whole thing, but for my health – and with a young daughter I feel an added responsibility to look after it – I just have to shift the blubber around my middle. Thanks for kind words about my tour, but I’ve had Christmas since then and being so ‘height challenged’ a few pounds extra on me, can be four centimetres more round the middle… Good luck with your regime x

  15. Heh Maggie – I use a phone app called ‘MyFitnessPal’ that gives you cals / fats by whatever gram amount / portion size you want – Yah! I don’t use it religiously, but it helps me decide what treats are really worth it. A piece of dark Lindt chocolate – yes, yes, yes! Catering company muffin at work function – absolutely not – not even when I’m bored out of my brain and NEED to eat for entertainment 🙂 . It’s also a stark reminder of how little cals are in veggies and just how many are in carbs.

    Dr Oz did a show on how and why the Dukan diet works and I thought “AMAZING” and also, “NO way could I stick to that”. Dukan would be out the window the frst time my Thai Chef friend comes over and offers to cook Pad Thai…

    Good luck with your diet – I’m keen to hear how you go.

  16. You are brave and I am full of admiration!
    Please keep us posted with your progress – weight and state of mind.

  17. HI Maggie,

    I think you should check out Mark’s Daily Apple as already mentioned – Mark Sisson has many articles on there about Intermittent Fasting.

    Also, a wonderful book which has a whole chapter on the myriad benefits of fasting (with many citations to support its message) is Perfect Health Diet which is an ancestral-based diet similar to Paleo and Primal: It’s not just about weight loss or management, there are significant immune system benefits to fasting.

    I will be trying intermittent fasting soon – aiming towards fasting 16 hrs including overnight and having an 8 hr window of eating each day. But I don’t think I will be counting calories as I just can’t deal with the thought of doing that. As far as I know, I can eat coconut oil and bone broth (both highly nutritious) during the fasting period without affecting the fasting status. I have also found that ditching caffeine has helped with my hypoglycemia so I should be in a stronger position to do the fasting safely. I plan to ease in to it though by gradually reducing the eating window (the hours each day you are allowed to eat).

    Best wishes.

    • You’re the second person to tell me about this 16 hour/8 hour thing – it sounds very interesting. I’m going to give the 5:2 a go first, because I’ve bought the book now (!) but I will have a look at that, thanks x

  18. Gosh I seem to be oversharing everything today Maggie but this is the diet I have done the last 6 months an losted 8 kilos. Its also known as the Up day Down Day diet and I do it on Mondays Wednesdays and Fridays.
    My friends husband and wife did and diligently for a year and are now back to the weight they were when they met 30 years ago as svelte 20 year olds.
    I dont want to go to those lengths becasue as Catherine Deneuve said at some point “you chose the arse or the face”. Well I choose to have a bit each way and so being the 50 kilos of my twenties is not an option.
    The telegraph did some meal ideas which I find very helpful. The scallops are very special and I love teh Moroccan lentils. Good luck I am about to restart it again after having Xmas off. I have another 5 to go !

    • SOunds interesting — this is definitely the whole new area of research for health and weight loss. Great to hear how you and your friends have done. I’ll let you know how I go x

  19. Hi – having been queen of yo yo dieting and gained/lost 10-15 kg over many years I gave up altogether for a few years and headed up into scary (nearly 100kg!!) territory in 2011. Then I had to have gall bladder removed, go on hypertension medication and generally was looking at a middle age that was not what I intended. So I started working to prioritise my wellbeing in my life and made some small changes (such as walking the dog) and meditating to find some balance back in my life. This was on the advice of a personal coach who guided me through the process. It was only after a few months of these little changes that I then put together the team of personal trainer/dietitian/physio (for dodgyback) etc that coached, cajoled, encouraged and reinforced the habits that supported a 25kg weight loss and generally much more active life. It was a big investment in myself but at some point I had to do it to prevent illness later in life. It is so rewarding to have started one year without “lose weight” at top of the resolution list.

    So I wish you well on developing your new habits and that this plan works for you. My suggestion is that you get baseline measures with your GP so you can track the impact of the change in eating patterns beyond scales if these are your main concerns and also so you have the support of a “team” member with expertise in areas you need.

    My other is get hold of an Australian cattle dog who needs more exercise than you do – but that may not be practical in London!

    Stay safe and well


    • If you knew how much time I spend/waste looking at websites for dog adoption… but my husband really doesn’t want one and I’m just not going to ride rough shod over him. I’m just hoping he will change his mind one day! Your transformation is inspiring and it is a good idea to go and get my baseline data. Thanks! x

  20. “It worked for me, but I didn’t follow through all the stages, put the weight on again, and then found I just couldn’t go back to endless plates of slimy food.”
    Hey Maggie, what did you mean by slimy food? I’ve heard good reports of this diet, too, but i haven’t heard of slimy food before..Tell me before i start this one….Thanks Maggie. I enjoy your books.x

    • I was talking about the Dukan Diet with that remark. You can’t have any carbohydrate at all and you can only have salad and veg every other day. After a while steak, fish, tofu, ham etc start to feel might slimy without a crunch of bread, or a cracker, or even some nice rice. That diet really works, but it doesn’t suit me, so I’m trying Intermittent Fasting instead.

  21. […] a few days ago I read this post by Maggie Alderson, which I found a little alarming. And then I read her update, and some of the […]

  22. Hi I have been trying this diet & have just started week 5. I have only lost 3lb & somedays only 1 or 2 ?! I don’t go crazy on eating days so goodness knows what would happen if I did !! However I find I’m feeling better & sleeping better than I have for years! I have read that lots of people have the same small weight loss in the early days & that it suddenly speeds up. Let’s hope that happens to us . Good luck. Christine.

    • Sounds very similar to my experience… I’m trying various ways to tweak it. I think maybe I was eating more than 500 calories, so I’ve really cut it back to bare minimum – and hoping I have a more steady loss now. I’ve been up and down a bit which is super annoying! But like you, despite that disappointment, I feel so great. It feels weirdly normal and it’s made me think the whole three meals a day thing is utter rot – we’ve all been eating way too much and way too often. Our hunter/gatherer ancestors wouldn’t have eaten every day, would they? So I reckon a more varied pattern is more natural – and it’s how my slim husband has always eaten. Fingers crossed it works for us. Let me know how it goes for you x

  23. I’ve just watched this programme here in Australia-it was on SBS last Monday, 22nd April (I recorded it so have only just twigged that this is the programme you refer to). For anyone in Australia, it should still be available to watch on SBS On Demand ( I watch it via the app on my ipad) but you may be able to view it on the SBS website – on demand programmes usually expire after a few weeks I think.
    It is really fascinating-I have cut out fructose recently (thanks to the book Sweet Poison by David Gillespie) and dropped 4 kg while eating full fat food! Yum. I’m going to order Michael Moseley’s book immediately. Could be a winning combination!

    • The programme has told you everything that’s in the book… but it’s a handy reference. I’ve found I have to eat less than 500 cals, which I think is because I’ve been on so many diets my metabolism is a bit shot. It’s not that hard once you get into a routine and so so SO much better than ‘living on a diet’ as I used to…

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