Sunday 31 March 2013

Do you really need a 5:2 cookbook?

Given the success of the 5:2 diet it was inevitable that there would be a rash of cookbooks cashing in on it but having looked through a few I’m wondering how useful they really are.

I mean how much do you actually want to cook on fast days? Not much in my case - the less time I spend faffing around in the kitchen the better. If I do cook I want it to be tasty, of course, but above all quick and simple. Ideally not involving more than 5 or 6 ingredients.

Yesterday's fast day supper for example was a piece of grilled tuna and a salsa/chopped salady sort of thing made from cucumber, tomatoes, spring onions and some marinated olives which contributed enough oiliness to do without olive oil. Squeeze of lemon, handful of rocket - 10 minutes work max.

The idea that you want recipes for 4 or more seems just plain daft. Most books emphasise that kids shouldn’t be on the 5:2 diet so you wouldn’t be cooking for them.

For your friends? Why not have them round on a feast day when you can cook and eat what you like?

You’d only need recipes for more than 1 or 2 in the hypothetical situation that you have 4 or more adults in the house, ALL on the 5:2 diet. Which is obviously not impossible but highly unlikely. And recipes that cater for more don't take account of the fact that those of us who are overweight are unlikely to stick to our allotted portion. The temptation to overeat is just too great.

Two of the books I’ve read have recipes that are not written by cooks but by nutritionists. While I’m sure that makes them healthy and accurately calorie-counted it doesn't necessarily make them inspiring - or even easy to follow.

I tried a mushroom and artichoke bake from The 5:2 Cookbook at 168 calories a head - one of the few recipes in the book for 2. The quantities were confusing: 500g canned artichoke hearts, drained - was that the  weight of the artichokes or the weight of the can? If it was the artichokes you’d need two cans - a lot for two people. I made do with one and adjusted the amount of mushrooms - an over-generous 300g - downwards too.

It wasn’t very frugal either - fresh basil and oregano - surely you didn’t need both?  Lemon juice and white wine - would you open a bottle just to take out 1 tablespoon? A tablespoon of brown breadcrumbs. Dried or fresh - and why brown?

I adapted it slightly but was still underwhelmed with the result. My husband chomped manfully through it but I definitely won’t be making it again. (The artichokes on the other hand are rather useful. I can imagine combining them with hard boiled eggs and tinned tuna for a simple low cal salad.)

If you’re short of inspiration there are more appetising suggestions on some of the women’s magazine sites, the Channel 4 website, on established cookery sites like the 200-400 calorie meals on the BBC Good Food website and in some of the other new diet-conscious books like Gizzi Erskine’s new Skinny Weeks and Weekend Feasts which I’ll be reviewing shortly.

But in general I think it’s more about having a simple repertoire of dishes made from ingredients you know are low in calories rather than trying to push the boat out and experiment on your fast days. After all we’re only talking about two days a week.

What do you do about recipes? Do you have one of the 5:2 diet books and if so what do you think of it? Do you spend much time cooking on a fast day?

Saturday 16 March 2013

Why Frenchwomen don't get fat - mark II

After 9 days in Paris (it should have been 7 but we got marooned when Eurostar services were suspended) I was dreading getting on the scales. What would the damage be from a week's solid eating - the first time off from fast days since I started the 5:2 diet? An extra 2 kilos, 3 even?

You know what? I only put on half a pound. Incredible, eh?

I ate exactly what I wanted. Charcuterie, bread, cheese, wine, desserts, pastries - not in ridiculous quantities but enough to pile on the pounds - or so I thought. Hearty helpings too - nothing pickily pushed to the side of the plate as I always suspect those fabled Frenchwomen do. On one day (inadvertently) we had two four course meals.

Yet next to nothing on the scales.

The secret? We walked. And walked. And walked - all over Paris. At home I sit in front of my computer for hours on end - sometimes not leaving the house at all if I'm busy. And I wonder why my weight plateaus for weeks.

So back on the diet today - and off for a walk

As many have said: Eat less. Move more.

Monday 4 March 2013

Does the 5:2 diet work?

The question I get asked most often (mainly on Twitter) is whether the 5:2 diet actually works. And the answer is? Absolutely, yes it does. In the three months I've been on it I've lost almost a stone and a quarter (8kg) and dropped a size. I needed to, mind you, but nevertheless it's a massive achievement for one who has never managed to say no to food for that length of time before.

It doesn't tell the whole story though. I haven't lost much in the last 3-4 weeks and have been trying to work out why. Maybe being slightly less careful on the 'feed days' although at least I've got in the habit of skipping dinner when I've had a big lunch. Maybe being busier than I was just after the new year. And eating (and drinking) out more. You actually have to be quite mindful about your eating on non-fast days. It's not 'anything goes'.

A few other things I've noticed. If I'm active rather than sitting in front of my computer all day I tend to lose more. (No surprise there but I hadn't realised how big a difference it made.) When I say active I don't mean going to the gym (god forbid!) but just going for a reasonably brisk walk. Even getting up from your chair every 20 minutes is advisable, according to Dr Michael Mosely author of The Fast Diet. In fact essential. 'The chair kills!", he's just tweeted.

Meals that are heavy on salt, fat and sugar put on A LOT of weight. I was 3lbs heavier after my Chinese New Year feast and it took a couple of days to lose it again.

I don't get so hungry on fast days and slightly less ratty (although my nearest and dearest might tell you otherwise). I can manage on two meals now instead of having three and a snack. On the other hand the rather wonderful feeling of euphoria the morning after a fast day has diminished. I guess the body just gets used to semi-fasting.

I am, if I'm truthful, slightly bored with it at times. Less inclined to dream up ingenious ways of creating meals at less than 250 calories - fewer still if/when I have lunch. But that's not good because bought-in diet food like miso soup and milkless porridge (above) is boring - though I have, as I mentioned, come round to cottage cheese.

I think I probably need to shift another 2-3lbs to rekindle my enthusiasm though as I'm just about to disappear to Paris for a week during which I don't intend to fast at all, that certainly isn't going to happen any time soon.

So my mid-term report is 'could do better' and certainly 'could get her butt off the chair more often'  but I still have 10lbs to lose. I''ll let you know how it goes.

How's it going for those of you who have been on the diet for a while?