Fast is hard but good for you

Last updated 05:00 14/07/2013
HARD AND FAST: The weight has been dropping off our food-loving correspondent Grant Smithies.

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Emails have been trickling in, asking - albeit more politely - if I am still a fat bastard. As some of you will know, for the past two months I have been eating normally for five days per week, and eating no more than a minuscule 600 calories on the other two.

Getting used to this new regime has not been easy, but it needed to be done. Two decades of overeating had condemned me to daily hard labour, where even a trip to the letterbox involved hauling along 20 extra kilos. I began to fear for my heart and pity my beleaguered office chair. I pictured myself in my dotage, moving slowly around my house like a blubbery blimp, wearing enormous white kaftans like Demis Roussos.

So I staged a one-man intervention and radically curtailed my eating on Mondays and Thursdays, inspired by Dr Michael Mosley's book The Fast Diet, which claims that intermittent fasting makes weight fall away like clumps of snow dropping from a sun-warmed tree in spring.

Stick to the programme, the book implied, and you'd soon be donating your baggy old clothes to the op shop (no, not the band, though they could certainly use a little styling) and getting about in form-hugging leotards.

But that's just the theory. In practice, for the first few weeks in particular, fasting was tough going. When broken into a breakfast and dinner of just 300 calories each, the fasting day "meals" were so small, they almost got lost on the plate.

By mid-afternoon, I was ravenous. I started taking long walks in the hope that releasing a few endorphins might distract me from the hunger pangs, only to discover that the world outside my office was hungry-person hell.

Inconsiderate citizens sauntered past wolfing down pies and filled rolls. Delicious smells drifted from cafes and pavement food carts, causing me to salivate like Pavlov's dog. A fundraising barbie outside The Warehouse filled the air with the scent of charred sausages and caramelised onions; an aroma so appealing, I contemplated eating my own hand.

I became so hungry that my subconscious went a bit Salvador Dali on me. I was plunged without warning into alarming surrealist reveries: I imagined a wood pigeon in the nearby park plucked, basted, crispy and golden, yet still cooing upon the branch; someone's passing corgi looked like a rolled lamb shoulder taking a stroll while wrapped in a coarse fur rug.

But then, thankfully, things settled down. I've since discovered that endless infusions of coffee, herbal tea and miso broth dispatch the worst hunger pangs. Indeed, given that I've done my utmost to avoid experiencing it for years, I've been amazed at how transitory a sensation hunger is. It comes on in a wave, sticks around for 10 minutes, then buggers off again. Even so, there's no denying the relief when that evening meal eventually finally arrives on fasting days. I imagine the final meal of a death row convict pales in comparison, even though my fasting day dinner is just a few square centimetres of steamed fish balancing atop a mountain of streamed broccoli.

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I'm delighted to discover that fasting is considerably less painful than traditional dieting, which just feels like a blanket of misery descending over the intensely pleasurable human activities of cooking and eating. Intermittent fasting is more a form of delayed gratification, in that any deliciousness you forgo on fasting days can always be eaten tomorrow, making this the perfect eating plan for food lovers who'd gladly suffer major privations twice a week so they can hook into butter or bacon the rest of the time.

Best of all, the weight has been falling off me so fast, I feel as if I've shrugged off a heavy rucksack. Eight weeks ago, I was hovering around 100kg. When I weighed myself this morning, I was 90kg. If I lose much more weight, Bob Geldof will be amassing pop stars for a benefit gig.

Not only do I feel lighter and slimmer, but also more alert. I've started looking forward to fasting days, and on the other days, I'm less likely to eat because I'm bored, tired, stressed or just in the vicinity of some nice tucker. And given that I'm still eating exactly what I want most of the time, this feels like something I'll be able to stick to long-term.

After nearly 20 years, a change has finally come. Food is no longer some peculiar amalgam of consolation, addiction and mistress. It is, at last, just food.

- Sunday Star Times


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