Ramadam may be over, but maybe it's time we all gave fasting a try.
I gave it a go this week. As did quite a few of my contemporaries. Prompted not by religion, or by impending surgery, but by mainstream telly. Michael Mosley's Horizon programme 'Eat, Fast and Live Longer' has caused quite a stir amongst all of us mid-life critical, youth-clinging, mortality-dawning forty-somethings. Suddenly fasting's no longer something confined to the lettuce-munching new-agers, but is being attempted across the country by the middle-aged Waitrose-shopping contingent, prompted to do so by the startling health benefits revealed by the programme.
Fasting, that is, dramatically cutting your calorific intake, specifically protein, reduces your blood glucose levels, reduces your cholesterol, reduces your weight and slows the ageing process. The (very basic) science is that by temporarily putting your body into starvation mode it stops building cells and starts repairing them. It may even stave off dementia. And by fasting, read 500kcal/day (4-500kcal for women; 5-600kcal for men to be precise) a couple of days a week, which, I can attest, is very doable. What's not to like?
I did Monday and Tuesday, and split the 500 kcals between two meals - fruit, veg, steamed fish and the odd cup of tea and apple in between.
It was weird, and boring of course - food being the main pillar of my social life - and by the end of Tuesday I was lightheaded, snappy and lacking in energy, but not particularly hungry. I probably could have gone on, but I was keen to get back to normal, if only to stop thinking about food. The next day, normal diet resumed, I felt a bit washed out til lunchtime then energy levels bounced back. I wouldn't say I felt rejuvenated by the experience, but certainly a little bit smug, and yes, a bit thinner already. Which during swimming cozzie season is never a bad thing.
Having tried it I'm not sure I'll keep up the five:two approach - I don't want to lose too much weight, plus I need energy for two kids under five, but I'm convinced enough by the programme's revelations to incorporate regular fasting into my life - perhaps six:one in my case (I note from Mosley's tweets he's now doing six:one).
Plus, there are other less obvious benefits to denying yourself food. It makes you appreciate it more, and register just what it is and how much you'd normally be ingesting willy-nilly if it weren't for fasting. Noting down everything you eat in a day alongside its calorific value is a sobering exercise we should probably all attempt (incidentally the app My Fitness Pal comes in very handy when doing this).
Obesity levels keep rising, diabetes-related prescriptions are rocketing, and will, according to some, bankrupt our beloved NHS before too long. We live in a society where many people can't or don't cook so much as a fresh vegetable, setting their children on a terminal diet of glucose-rich, processed food that's poisoning them. The kind of nutritionally bereft, processed food that's legitimised by its dominance in supermarket aisles.
Time to take stock. It's like the man on the programme said, you can either address the problem now by adapting your diet, or go the way of most adults - get to middle age and pop an ever-increasing cocktail of pills to keep things going. Therein lies the irony. We're all living longer, but being propped up by medication younger and younger. With the corresponding corrosive impact that has on life's quality. Not to mention the nation's coffers.
The fact is for many macro and micro-economic factors, not to mention environmental ones, and most important of all, personal ones, it's time we started to reassess our relationship with what we eat and how much. At this point I should point out that I love food, at least as much as the next person. But I want to love it for longer.
In a world of plenty, nothing tastes as good as skinnier feels, a controversial statement maybe, but generally true. We all feel great when we've lost some weight, because the vast majority of us are carrying too much. Nothing tastes so good it's worth a diabetes diagnosis, if you can avoid it.
And if you really want to appreciate the taste of food, try denying yourself it from time to time. Worth catching the Mosley programme on youtube, someone's uploaded the whole thing there. It's frankly fascinating, and worth it if you're looking to get slimmer and healthier and enjoy life's pleasures into old age. Which presumably accounts for us all?
Fasting doesn't suit everyone. Speak to your doctor first.