As we established in the original Fast Diet book, in order to be effective, any weight-loss regime must be sustainable over the long haul. ‘To work at all,’ I wrote back then, ‘any weight-loss strategy has to be tolerable, organic and innate, not some spurious add-on that makes you feel awkward and self-conscious, the dietary equivalent of uncomfortable shoes…’ We know that one of the keys to the success of the 5:2 Fast Diet is compliance – we do it gladly because the commitment is only occasional and always leavened by the prospect of a day of normal eating tomorrow.
The Fast Beach Diet takes a slightly different tack. Think of it as a jump-start. A reboot. It’s the turbo-drive button that takes you off cruise control. The idea is to commit to a six-week modified programme, knowing that you can soon return to the familiar territory of the classic 5:2. You may want to use it in the run-up to a holiday, a wedding, a moment when you want to shine, a day that demands that you look your slimline best. It’s for people who may feel they have got a bit stuck;
just as having a dry January or growing a moustache for November has become part of many people’s annual calendar, so the Fast Beach Diet can be your short-term, souped-up strategy for summer. Its approach is three-pronged, based on ways to:
• Tighten up on Fast Days
• Toughen up on non-Fast Days, and
• Tune in on any day
You may choose to include most of the suggestions here, or just a handful of them. If you want a shorthand checklist of all the Fast Beach Diet hints, tips and techniques, you’ll find one at the end of the six-week diet planner included in this book. First, it’s time to rev up your Fast Days.
Tighten up on Fast Days
The simple premise of the Fast Diet requires you to cut back hard on calories for two days a week, and it’s entirely possible that this is more than enough for you. But on the six-week Fast Beach Diet, you should aim to step up the programme by experimenting with extensions to the original plan. These are suggestions not imperatives – so read, absorb and, if it feels right, have a go.
One clear way to accelerate your Fast Diet is to add a third Fast Day each week for six weeks. In practice, this amounts to Alternate Day Fasting (ADF), and is the IF method that has been most extensively investigated by researchers. To inspire you on your way, consider the following:
• A surprising finding during ADF trials was that people, when allowed to feast on a normal day, did not tend to do so. They reported not feeling particularly hungry after a day of fasting and rarely ate more than 110% of their normal calories2
• Another intriguing finding was that people on this form of IF lost more body fat than those doing a conventional calorie-restricting regime. If you go on a standard, medically approved diet (ie restricting your calorie intake every day) you will lose around 75% of weight as fat, 25% as muscle. On ADF, by contrast, the weight lost is almost entirely fat
What is also encouraging is that studies done with volunteers who have tried ADF show that those who stick to it report increasing feelings of fullness and dietary satisfaction over time. One explanation for this is that your stomach will shrink. So by all means give ADF or 4:3 a go. If it appeals, try it for six weeks only, always ensuring that you are meeting your nutritional needs over the course of a week – so, plenty of plants, adequate protein, occasional dairy, some ‘good fats’. There’s plenty of motivation and support later in this chapter.
Some fasters get quite exercised about the precise timing of a fast. Michael and I are not overly prescriptive on this point: our aim is to present a flexible plan that can be adapted to suit your own particular lifestyle and daily agenda. That said, it’s clear that you can experiment with timing in order to maximise the effectiveness of a fast. You may, for instance, choose to fast, not from bedtime to bedtime, but from 2pm until 2pm, with reduced calories (or no calories) consumed at all during that 24-hour period. This is the method proposed by Canadian Brad Pilon in his seminal e-book Eat Stop Eat (if you haven’t read it, I urge you to, particularly if you are interested in fitness and muscle mass).
If you choose to try the 2-to-2, here’s how to go about it: after a normal lunch on Day 1, eat sparingly (or, if you follow Pilon’s approach, nothing at all) until a late lunch the following day. That way, you fast as you sleep and no single day feels uncomfortably deprived of food. It’s a clever trick, but it does require a modicum more concentration and commitment than the expressly straightforward whole-day option with its 500/600-calorie allowance. You might also choose to fast from supper to supper, which again means that no day is All Fast and No Fun. The point is that this plan is ‘adjust to fit’. During the Fast Beach Diet, you may want to try a 2-to-2 full 24-hour fast to discover whether it’s a good method for you. Stay playful, stay alert. Remember, you are in the driving seat, your foot poised delicately on the gas: if it feels wrong, pull over and revert to your usual 5:2 approach.
Extend your Fasting Window
Alternatively, you may simply choose to extend your normal Fasting Window. In the classic Fast Diet, we recommend breakfast, perhaps at 7am, then supper around 12 hours later. It’s what works for me, and for many women who need a little sustenance to get the day going. This gives us 12 hours without food. However, as we know, plenty of successful Fast Dieters prefer to ignore breakfast entirely;
these people – and I’ve found them to be mostly men – are effectively fasting for longer: from supper the previous night to supper on a Fast Day. On this regime, the Fasting Window can be as long as 24 hours – as with the 2-to2. This is something you may decide to try during the Fast Beach Diet. Perhaps give it a go for one of your weekly Fast Days. Remember, this is Fast Diet Plus, and it may not be to everyone’s taste or benefit. Keep an open mind, stay strong, but always shut down a fast if it feels overwhelming.
Be fast-idious about your calorie quota
If you have been on the Fast Diet – or indeed, any diet – for a while, it’s human instinct to develop a more blasé approach: you feel you know what’s what, so you start to slip and an ‘unconscious non-compliance’ creeps in. While 5:2 demands that you ‘comply’ for only two days a week, it is still something of a challenge to apply yourself, to measure and count on those days. It is, as one 5:2 adherent says, ‘a bit of a chore. And we humans are very good at avoiding chores.’ For the next six weeks, don’t guestimate, don’t cheat, don’t avoid the chore. Be particular. On Fast Days, renew your vows and be resolute about those calorie quotas. Apps such as MyFitnessPal will help you discover the calorie count of any given food.
Toughen up on non-Fast Days
You’ll remember that the advice in The Fast Diet is to ‘eat well for five days and reduce your calories for two’. It’s the foundation of the 5:2 approach, but ‘eating well’ remains quite a vague proposition. The general thrust is that you shouldn’t dwell upon calorie-counting on the five days a week when you’re not fasting. But now, on the six-week Fast Beach Diet, we’re going to toughen up on the non-Fast Days. For a short, contained period, it’s time to really eat well. This will require some behavioural change, both subtle and direct. Again, you may choose to implement all of the suggestions in the pages ahead, or hand-pick those that best suit you. The idea here is to make some short-term sacrifices to get yourself beach-ready for summer. First up? The tricky subject of booze…
Cut out alcohol
I’ve put this first as it is the most effective way I know to kick-start the Fast Diet. I’m not expecting you to give up alcohol for ever, just for six short weeks. There are fantastically good reasons for doing so – and they’re not all about weight loss.
If you’re not sure how much good it will do you, a little experiment3 performed in the offices of the New Scientist may be enough to get you on the wagon. On 5 October 2013, 14 members of the magazine’s staff – all of whom considered themselves to be ‘normal’ drinkers – were given a range of tests to gauge the state of their livers and overall health. For the next five weeks, 10 of them drank no alcohol, while the other four continued as normal. Just over a month later, they returned to repeat the tests. For the four drinkers, there had been no significant changes. But in the abstainers, the impact had been dramatic. Their levels of liver fat – a precursor to liver damage – had fallen by an average of 15%. Their blood glucose levels had fallen a staggering 23% from 5.1 to 4.3mmol/l (the normal range is 3.9-5.6). They’d lost weight – 1.5kg on average. And their total blood cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease, had dropped on average by 5%, from 4.6 to 4.4 mmo/l (a healthy level is anything below 5.2 mmo/l). The abstainers also reported sleeping better (up to 10% on the scale), and having improved concentration.
As the New Scientist went on to report in its January 2014 issue, Kevin Moore, a consultant in liver services at University College London Medical School, declared himself amazed by the results. ‘What you have is a pretty average group of people who would not consider themselves heavy drinkers, yet stopping drinking for a month [my italics] alters liver fat, cholesterol and blood sugar and helps them lose weight. If someone did that with a health product, they’d be raking it in.’
Alcohol is chemically similar to sugar, so drinking it will set off the same insulin resistance that can promote weight gain
• It is stacked with calories and largely devoid of any nutritional benefit. A recent survey4 found that 85% of consumers don’t know how many calories are in a glass of wine, and 63% don’t consider wine when counting their calorie intake. But a 250ml glass of wine contains around 180 calories, a similar number to an ice cream; and remember – the higher the alcohol content, the more calories you’re getting (see box below)
Drink inhibits sleep (find out why this isn’t great for weight loss on pages 62-64)
• It also stimulates appetite
• Nutritionists recognise that the body processes alcohol before it gets to work on fats and carbs – which means that drinking slows down the burning of fat for energy
In short, if you’re really serious about trying to lose weight and gain health, consider a complete ban on alcohol for the duration of your FBD. You can always tuck into the sangria once you’re on holiday.
CAN’T REJECT? THEN REDUCE
If you simply want to drink in a more controlled way during your six-week Fast Beach Diet, a few subtle changes can really cut your calorie count:
• Only ever half fill your glass
• Make every second drink water
• Keep the opened wine bottle in the fridge or cupboard, not on the table, where it’s easier to reach for a refill
• Swap white wine for spritzers
• Keep adding ice cubes
• Choose small glasses (a ‘glass of wine’ used to be one unit; now – thanks to more generous glass sizes – it’s two). And do be aware of visual illusions: research shows that people pour 28% more into short, wide glasses than tall ones5
• Watch your mixers. Soda water, lemon and lime juice are the best bet;
orange juice will double the calorie count of a vodka shot
• Choose at least one night a week when you give alcohol a miss
THE CALORIES IN YOUR GLASS
Alcohol has around seven calories per gram, nearly twice that of protein or carbs, and is almost as calorific as fat. Brands and serving sizes will differ, but the following list gives a rough idea of the average calories in your drink.
1 pint (568ml)
1 pint (568ml)
1 glass (120ml)
1 glass (120ml)
1 glass (120ml)
Shot of gin
Shot of vodka
Rum & Diet Coke
Glass of Baileys
Shift your eating on non-Fast Days
So, for six weeks only, you’ll need to watch what you eat on non-Fast Days as well as Fast Days and exert a degree of dietary restraint; the good news is that even modest changes in the way that you eat and the way that you think, can really make a difference.
Here’s your best bet for success on the Fast Beach Diet:
• On a Fast Day, follow the 500/600-calorie rule
• On a non-Fast Day, eat healthily, moderately and with awareness
Simple, yes. But what does it mean in practice? On the Fast Beach Diet you do need to rethink a few attitudes, actions and habits in order to fulfil the ‘eat healthily’ part of the bargain. It’s not a revolution. It’s a recalibration, a time to reset your habits and expectations around food. Without assiduous calorie counting, it’s now worth holding back on indulgences – the empty calories, extra helpings and superfluous snacks which may usually be part of your non-Fast Days.
The following are suggestions not edicts, a host of ideas for you to try, like a buffet of ways to introduce healthy eating into your life. Some may seem obvious, some you’ll be doing already, others may steer you on a new course. The idea is to introduce as many healthy habits as possible over the course of your Fast Beach Diet, exercising just a bit more informed caution, a little more vigilance. So, pick and mix, remembering to keep it fairly simple and not so restrictive as to impact harshly upon your everyday life. This is not meant to be a punishment, and you shouldn’t become a martyr to the cause. Here’s how to accomplish the shift, realistically, positively and wisely.
WHY INSULIN MATTERS
Highly refined carbs have a high GI so cause a spike in your blood-sugar levels, which then leads your pancreas to produce insulin. Insulin reduces the level of glucose in the bloodstream by diverting it to various body tissues for immediate use – or by storing it as fat. It also inhibits the conversion of body fat back into glucose for the body to burn. So insulin both facilitates the accumulation of fat, and then guards against its depletion. Insulin also acts on the brain to make you eat more, on your liver to manufacture more fat, and on the fat cells in your belly to store that fat. A steady blood-sugar level – encouraged by those slow-burn carbs which take time and energy to digest – will elicit a lower insulin response that can help to regulate your appetite. In other words, you’re less likely to feel as hungry.
A QUICK WORD ON VITAMIN C
Fibre. Nutrients. Volume. Yes, you already know eating plenty of veg makes sense. What you may not know is that vitamin C, among its many health benefits, may well be crucial for weight management. According to researchers from Arizona State University, individuals who consume an adequate amount of vitamin C burn 30% more fat during moderate exercise than those who don’t get enough of the stuff12. They also showed that too little vitamin C in the bloodstream correlates with increased body fat and waist measurements. Remember that vitamin C is easily lost – so if you’re cooking leafy veg, do it quickly. Steaming is ideal.
Watch what you drink
We’ve already talked about limiting your alcohol intake while on the Fast Beach Diet; but there are equally good reasons for cutting back on soft drinks too. While many of us are aware of the calories loaded on our forks, the ones that lurk in cups and glasses frequently go uncounted. You may well need to modify your behaviour, so make the commitment, write it down and have alternatives to hand. As you’ll discover later in this chapter, with recognition and repetition, habits can be modified. After six weeks,your daily caramel latte will seem about as appealing as a triple-layer cream cake with cream on the side.
Choose your coffee carefully
There’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that, far from being a guilty pleasure, coffee may be good for you, helping to prevent mental decline, improve cardiac health and reduce the risk of diabetes, liver cancer and stroke14. It does matter, however, what you order from your friendly local barista. A Starbucks grande whole milk caffé mocha with whipped cream, to take one ridiculous example, has 396 calories. Even a Costa caffé latte with skimmed has 71. And a double espresso? Just 11. So, decide right now to ditch
Choose your coffee carefully
Choose your coffee carefully
There’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that, far from being a guilty pleasure, coffee may be good for you, helping to prevent mental decline, improve cardiac health and reduce the risk of diabetes, liver cancer and stroke14. It does matter, however, what you order from your friendly local barista. A Starbucks grande whole milk caffé mocha with whipped cream, to take one ridiculous example, has 396 calories. Even a Costa caffé latte with skimmed has 71. And a double espresso? Just 11. So, decide right now to ditch the gaudy coffees that have danced into our lives and taken up lazy residence. Try instead, just for this six weeks, to drink your coffee black and sugarless. If you still despise it after several attempts, have just a dash of milk to take the edge off. Remember: the Fast Beach Diet is a short, sharp wake-up call, and for the next six weeks you do need to stay gently alert, like a seated (not sleeping) guard at the gate.
There are dozens of published research papers that link poor sleep with weight gain. Researchers at the University of Warwick analysed the relationship between sleep and obesity15 and found that that adults who slept for fewer than five hours a night were one and a half times more likely to be obese. Why?
The answer comes from studies of leptin and ghrelin, two of the hormones that govern appetite. For some reason, I think of them as characters from The Lord of the Rings – leptin, the elf that keeps the hypothalamus informed about the adequacy of your energy stores, is the satiety hormone that suppresses appetite; and ghrelin is the belly dwarf whose job it is to signal hunger to the brain.
Leptin, secreted by fat cells, has a circadian rhythm and reaches its peak during sleep. If you’re not sleeping well, peak leptin levels are not reached and the brain sends out its minions – hunger pangs and energy conservation. At the same time, lack of sleep causes ghrelin levels to rise. Your appetite kicks in and calorie-dense, dopamine-generating snacks become irresistible.
There have been innumerable investigations– sometimes resulting in hyperbolic claims – into sleep and its effect on leptin and ghrelin. A swift round-up might include:
• A study16 of 1000 volunteers at Stanford University found that those who slept fewer than eight hours a night had lower levels of leptin and higher levels of ghrelin, and they also had higher levels of body fat. ‘Specifically, those who slept the fewest hours per night weighed the most’
Researchers at Bristol University17 compared blood samples from insomniacs and good sleepers. The former had leptin levels 15% below normal, and ghrelin levels 15% above normal
• A study at Laval University in Quebec18 found that there may be an ideal ‘sleep zone’ of around eight hours a night that facilitates body-weight regulation
None of this is incontrovertible evidence that a good night’s sleep will encourage fat loss on your Fast Beach Diet. But it is worth knowing that sleep is far from a passive state; disrupt it and our bodies will inevitably suffer. Besides, whatever our hormones are doing, poor sleep will certainly rob us of the energy required to bounce out of bed and make the best of a day. This low-energy cycle
is the enemy of sustainable weight loss, since sugary, salty, starchy snacks are incomparably more enticing when we’re tired.
So, commit to going to bed at a reasonable time while on your diet. Try and get a decent eight-hour sleep every night for the next six weeks (much easier, incidentally, when you go alcohol-free). It will do you the world of good, and may even help shift those scales.
A word about willpower
What do we really know about willpower? It’s a slippery beast, the eel of the mind. But recent studies have provided new insights which make stimulating food for thought, and can offer ways to galvanise you during your Fast Beach Diet.
In her book The Willpower Instinct, Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal suggests that self-control shouldn’t be seen as a virtue, but as a muscle: it gets tired from use, but regular exercise makes it stronger. This is great news: it means (as we know from experience on the Fast Diet) that the going gets easier if we persevere
• ‘Feeling bad’ about giving in to a craving only leads to… more giving in. It turns out that self-compassion is a far better strategy than self-flagellation. This has long been our approach on the Fast Diet, but it’s worth being explicit about it here: inner acceptance
actually seems to improve outer control – while attempts to fight instincts and desires only serve to make them worse. So, recognising that thought suppression really doesn’t work, make a positive commitment rather than a negative one: instead of saying No, say Yes; not ‘I won’t’ (eat the muffin), but ‘I will’ (have the apple)
• Similarly, you can ‘reframe the motivator’. Rather than thinking ‘Arrgh, I don’t want to be fat’, focus on ‘I’d like to be slimmer, healthier and full of energy’. Consider what you want, frame it positively, write it down and read it every day
Self-control is, it seems, subject to social control32; we are hard-wired to mimic the behaviour of others, even when it comes to a pursuit as seemingly solitary as willpower. Psychologists call this ‘goal contagion’, and it chimes with our ideas about embarking on the Fast Beach Diet with a friend or a partner, or finding a ‘goal role model’ (you may well discover one at www.thefastdiet.co.uk). You might, for instance, decide to try a reward technique with a friend – each of you could put £10 in a pot; if one of you gives up, both of you lose. Canny, eh?
And just add exercise…