It’s a measure of how frantic we are to lose weight that Dr Michael Mosley’s diet book The Fast Diet shot straight to number 1 on Amazon yesterday. But is it worth buying?
I’ve been on the diet for just over a month and lost 4kg despite Christmas so there’s no doubt the method works. The idea is brilliantly simple - on two non-consecutive days a week you restrict yourself to 500 calories a day (600 for men), the rest you eat whatever you like. Well, not quite. If you attempted to make up for your semi-fast with a massive burger blowout you’d probably wouldn’t make much progress. But happily the fast days have the effect of taking the edge off your appetite.
The most interesting and useful aspect of the book is Mosley’s explanation of the science behind the diet which covers the research he did for the Horizon programme in the summer which kicked off the craze. Fasting, he says, is a natural state for humans and restricting your calories regularly can not only help you lose weight but help to prevent diseases such as diabetes, alzheimers and cancer.
His collaborator lifestyle and fashion journalist Mimi Spencer deals with the practical side - what to eat and when. There are menu plans - though based on two meals a day rather than the three I, and I suspect others, go in for - and calorie charts.
The book shows signs in places of being put together at some speed. No wonder. It would have been galling if someone else had stolen their thunder when Mosley had done all the pioneering work. There is in fact an e-book (and now a paperback) called the 5:2 diet which a smart journalist called Kate Harrison rushed out before Christmas.
Twenty pages are given over to testimonials from fellow dieters on bulletin boards and Twitter which, while reassuring, seems a bit lazy. And you sometimes wonder how aware Mosley and Spencer are of the calorie content of some of the foods they recommend.
The advice to add a tablespoon of oil to a salad for example would immediately knock 119 calories off your daily tally*, the few nuts recommended as 'brilliantly satiating' could easily add more.
The menus are worked out to fall within the 500 or 600 calorie limit but Spencer says she then adds a couple of snacks which would take her over if she follows them. The 5:2 diet book is better on the practicalities.
The most interesting revelation though was that Mosley normally skips lunch on non-diet days which helps to account for his own spectacular weight loss (well over a stone) and possibly explains why the rest of us plateau after a while. There could be more on how compulsive grazers (and greedy food writers . . . ) could adapt themselves to the diet which requires a strength of will that isn’t quite acknowledged in the book. Certainly having a dieting pal, as they suggest, is a good plan
Still, if you’re contemplating the diet and want to know why it works and why it’s so good for you it’s a worthwhile investment. It’s not expensive after all. But you may want to glean some more practical tips from bloggers who have been posting their recipes regularly: Fiona Maclean of London Unattached, Jacqueline Meldrum of Tinned Tomatoes and Karen Burns-Booth of Lavender and Lovage to take three examples. And there are some on my own Frugal Cook blog here.
You can also find some good recipes from food writer Xanthe Clay - another devotee - in the Telegraph.
PS a useful tip from the book: before you start the 5;2 diet should work out your BMI and take your waist measurement as well as weighing yourself. I didn’t so can’t quantify my progress fully though I have dropped a jeans size. Huzzah!
* The authors say they don't recommend a tablespoon, only a teaspoon - see comments below. Which would make more sense