Calorie Simpleton

Mrs E and I are on a diet. I know, I know, neither of us need to and you’re very kind but we have our reasons.

Reason one is that we have returned from Sicily, after 6-8 hours hiking every day, both half a stone heavier than we left. Thereby proving that lots of exercise really didn’t balance off against eating nothing but cake for breakfast and pasta/gelato in the evenings.

We divert at this point on the reasoning front. Mrs E is keen to look a million dollars for Jr Emu#1’s wedding in the summer. I’ve not asked her what her current currency self-valuation is, and, of course, I wouldn’t be so rude, but it’s sad if it’s more than a couple of grand shy of the million, because I think she’s never stopped looking fantastic since the day I met her. Well, there was an incident with a heavy fall involving a trifle dish that made her look like Frank Bruno, but even that was quite endearing. And anyway, self-image is just that, isn’t it? It’s all about how we feel ourselves rather than what others think.

My reason 2 is slightly different. For quite a while now, my fitness has been going down the pan, and I had a look at some of my training diaries from years ago, when I was running at a decent lick. According to these diaries, I could knock out a sub 3 hour marathon in the morning, have a couple of pints and fish and chips at lunchtime, more chips in the evening, and be nicely rested in time for another run the following morning. I couldn’t do anything like that now, and, of course I’m in denial about that all being twenty years ago, so the only factor that I can change is the one that gets me back to the weight I was when I was running well, which is about half a stone lighter than I am currently. I do appreciate that what I’ve just written is the ramblings of a deluded fool, but there’s a voice in my head that keep saying that I’m only a few pounds away from being able to run properly again…

So, different reasons, but the same objective, and we’ve both agreed to follow a plan based on the very lucrative writings of Dr Michael Mosely. I’ve had a bit of a root round and there doesn’t seem to be any family link between Dr Michael and Sir Oswald, and that’s a bit of a surprise, because the latest offering from Dr M has quite bit in common with a very dark, ultra-disciplined and spartan existence. Essentially, the Fast 800 approach instructs you to avoid all food for 16 hours, and then to eat two meals, of around 400 calories apiece, with nothing in between. No sugars, no alcohol, no chocolate, no snacks, no bread and definitely no chips. Frankly, if you enjoy your food. this is not the life for you.

But it makes a bit of sense. There’s links in there with ketosis, which, as a runner, means you need to shift your attention to running slowly to burn fat. Theres a lot of sense in reducing the number and size of your insulin spikes to a couple a day. Giving your body something to do other than processing food all the time seems to be a good call as well. But it’s fairly tough going, especially at the start.

One of the things that you do at the start of the exercise is set your target weight. The target weight is a bit like a carrot on the end of the stick which is attached to the top of your head, and possibly your self-esteem. It’s in sight, but never quite achievable no matter how hard you try to get to it. Incidentally, there are 41 calories in a carrot, which means that you could have 10 of them for lunch. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Dr M’s next book gives us a calorie count for the stick as well, but I digress. Anyway, the point of the analogy is relevant – if you look on social media there are people who have been on this diet for a couple of years and not got to where they want to be – understandably the author has re-purposed the d-word into a ‘healthy lifestyle’.

Beyond the calories, the fast element can be a bit of a challenge, although personally, I’ve not had a huge issue with it. This is because Dr M and I have a bit of ‘previous’ in the from of the 5:2 diet. The idea of this is that 2 days a week you fast for 24 hours, before eating in the evening, and that you don’t go stupid on the other 5 days. I did a variety of this diet for several years, always fasting on a Monday and Thursday. It got me to where I wanted to be physically, but the impact of a 24 hour fast on my mood and mentality was a bit much. Mrs E used to work a late shift on Monday, so I would come home from work to four rowdy boys of various ages, who needed feeding, watering, cleaning, entertaining, tutoring and more, and I’m afraid that between the hours of 1700 and 1900 they mainly just got a lot of tired shouting. After food, which I would often eat without cutlery because I was so hungry, all was fine, but they collectively petitioned against ‘Monday Dad’, and order was restored after a few years by me simply eating a sandwich at lunchtime.

A 24 hour fast is one thing, and it made me feel several shades of rubbish, but it’s as nothing compared to some of the fasting approaches of the past. Fasting has been a part of many religions for as long as religions have been about, of course. And if you want to know about more recent non-religious proponents, look up Upton Sinclair, Edward H Dewey, or my personal favourite, Linda Hazzard, who carried the nickname ‘The Starvation Doctor’. These days, we’d call Hazzard a psychopathic fraudster; she treated people for a range of ailments, and almost always by putting them on starvation diets with maybe a tomato and a couple of oranges a day for months at a time. She was convicted of manslaughter in 1911 for the deaths of at least 15 people at her sanatorium in Washington – a place that the locals named ‘Starvation Heights’.

So , after a few days of getting used to this, and in the knowledge that we’re not anywhere near the experience of being treated by Ms Hazzard, we can manage the fasting bit of this fairly well. Until the last 30 minutes or so before we eat. Thankfully, Mrs E writes up what we’re going to eat a week ahead so we don’t buy any food that we don’t need (let alone any that we might actually enjoy). This helps hugely, because the run up to the whole breaking the fast thing is a bit reminiscent of those hangry Mondays. Except there’s just two of us, and no children around to tell us to grow up and behave.

We bump into each other. I put things back in the fridge before they’ve actually been used. We ask each other multiple times about how long it will take for the food to be ready. I check more than once what we’re actually cooking (which must be annoying) and whether we’ll be allowed to have a spoonful of yoghurt afterwards. Occasionally, when the meals look like they might actually sustain us, we realise that they serve four. Words are muddled, thoughts go foggy, and attention spans reach all time lows.

And then we get to eat. Sometimes we use cutlery. There are 10-12 mouthfuls to enjoy, and then we’re done.

‘That’s better’, one of us will say.

‘What are we going to have for tea?’


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