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I don't believe in dieting. I do believe in eating well: lots of dark, leafy greens ( kale is my favorite!); small amounts of red meat; as little of the "white stuff" (sugar, white potatoes, white rice) as possible; nuts (especially calcium-rich almonds); legumes; and huge amounts of water and green tea (with some coffee in the morning and a little heart-healthy red wine in the evening thrown in for good measure!). What has this way of eating done for me? It's helped me lose almost 15 lbs. since turning 50 ...and to keep it off. Just as important as what I eat, though, is how often. With my plan, I eat something good and healthy every 2 - 3 hours. This keeps my blood sugar levels steady and hunger at bay. Works for me!
However, we're all human and every once in a while we can fall off the wagon, so to speak. I found this winter especially challenging to maintain my good habits and healthy lifestyle. The cold, wet weather seemed to drag on and on, causing me to curtail my usual 3 - 4 times a week running schedule. And, the less I exercised the more I wanted to eat (and not always the good stuff). I could come up with a multitude of plausible reasons and explanations as to why ...but the bottom line is, I gained a few extra pounds this winter and to make matters worse, I don't feel my usual energetic self, creating a Catch-22, which can so easily happen. A little push would be helpful.
A few weeks ago, feeling sluggish and ready to pop a few M&M's in my mouth (leftover from my little nephew's recent visit), I grabbed my iPad and started mindlessly surfing around. Within minutes I came across an article about a U.K.-based physician, Michael Mosley, who, like so many of us, had gained weight (not a huge amount, but measurable) after 50, saw his health check numbers decline, was worried about developing diabetes (his father had suffered with the disease), and wasn't sure what to do. He decided to try fasting, based on a multitude of studies supporting the premise that temporarily "starving" your body can have quite positive effects. In his book, Dr. Mosley takes the reader through some of the most accepted and highly regarded research, and concludes that fasting is, indeed, a powerful antidote to a host of diseases and conditions that are directly related to how we eat (i.e., fatty, sugary, overly processed foods).
Dr. Mosley also decided that fasting, as presented in these studies, simply wasn't sustainable or enjoyable, and he had no interest in pursuing this particular path to better health, especially after he tried a four-day fast under the close watch of an expert who specializes in fasting to combat disease. He then tried another approach, called "Alternate Day Fasting" (ADF) but, as he put it in his new book, The FastDiet,
After a short while, however, I realized that it was just too tough physically, socially, and psychologically. I also found fasting every other day just a little too challenging. It is undoubtedly an effective way to lose weight rapidly and to get powerful changes to your biochemistry, but it was not for me.
That's when he decided to try this: eat 600 calories (500 for women) two days a week, and a normal diet the other five days. "After experimenting with different versions of fasting," Dr. Mosley writes, "I found the 5:2 approach to be the most effective and workable way for me to get the benefits of fasting and still retain a long-term commitment to a dietary plan." The scientific thinking behind intermittent fasting ("briefly but severely restricting the amount of calories you consume") is to trick your body into thinking it's starving, and it will immediately go into famine mode, which actually makes your body tougher and stronger. According to Dr. Mosley, the medical term is hormesis: what does not kill you will make you stronger.
Results? He lost the weight, improved his health, and found eating a controlled 600 calories two days a week (non-consecutive) was doable for the long haul. Before starting his new way of eating he had every single number checked: weight, waist size, cholesterol, and so on, and of course, he got the green light from his own doctor (which everyone is strongly encouraged to do before starting any new exercise or eating program). In his book, he lists all his 'before' and 'after' numbers, which I found fascinating, especially because they improved so dramatically.
The interesting thing is that I've been doing an exercise version of "intermittent eating" since turning 50: I follow the Jeff Galloway run/walk/run program which calls for running for a minute or two (depending upon your fitness level) and walking for 30 seconds or more, which causes your heart rate to speed up, then slow down, speed up, slow down and so on, for a sustained period of time. Many studies have shown that this " interval training" approach to exercise is superior for burning fat, losing weight, and exercising our hearts. So, I felt open-minded to trying interval eating, too.
I thought to myself, why not try the 5:2 way of eating for a few weeks, just to see how I feel? My husband calls me the "Ultimate Empiricist" for a reason: if something resonates with me and it seems to make good sense, I want to try it too, to make sure it really works. It's only then that I can truly recommend it to my readers.
Last week was my first time trying it, and this much I can tell you: it wasn't hard at all, and in fact, I felt lighter and more energetic on the "fast" days. But, really, eating 500 calories (either all at once, or scattered throughout the day, your call) isn't tortuous. And, as often happens, I found myself completely back on track with my regular eating and fitness program, which includes running, push-ups, the Plank, and other strength training exercises, because ...what's the point of starving yourself for two days a week only to eat junk (and too much of it) on the other days? That wouldn't make sense to me, and for sure, that's what Dr. Mosley and other scientists who are referenced in the book, discovered. One healthy dot connects to another and before you know it, you're eating better and less, and moving your body more.
Dr. Mosley concedes that more studies need to be conducted to ascertain whether it's more effective with greater health benefits to consume all 500 or 600 calories all at once, or scattered throughout the day, and so on, but the overall approach seems to be sound.
I'll keep you posted on how it's going and if I do, in fact, stick with it. If you've tried this way of eating, I'd love to hear how it's been working for you. Leave your comments below.
Until next week, remember this: we can't control getting older ....but we can control how we do it. Yay!
Oh ...and here's a short video from The Best of Everything series for the AARP YouTube Channel which offers a plan where you eat not only every day, but every few hours! Cheers!
I'm the National Osteoporosis Foundation 'Ambassador for Bone Health' and a fierce champion of positive aging. For more tips on living your best life after 50 (or 60, or 70...) check out "The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts' Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More" and www.bestofeverythingafter50.com. Keep me posted on how you're doing by subscribing to me on Facebook and "tweeting" me on Twitter at @BGrufferman.
Photo credits: bestofeverythingafter50.com, forbes.com
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