For tortoises and slow losers….

Following on from a post on the 5:2 Intermittent Fasting Diet group on Facebook about slow losers, I thought it would be helpful to share some suggestions for those who are following 5:2 but get stuck without losing any weight for 4 weeks or more.

Provided you are actually managing to do 2 fast days a week of under 500/600 calories, and you really do have some weight to lose – well there are lots of things that you can do to make a difference.

In general, we aren’t overweight because we don’t eat enough (though not eating enough on a regular basis may confound our attempts to lose). Fast days will help us to cut back – maybe enough to stop us gaining any more, but for some of us, not enough to make a noticeable difference to weight loss.

Intermittent Fasting is excellent at helping you to burn dangerous visceral fat, so that at least should be shifting, as your body transfers resources to more easy to access locations. So you may realise that you are changing shape, even if the scales don’t budge.

You may be happy enough with the long term health benefits to continue with little or no weight loss, and that is absolutely fine. But if you are frustrated enough to want to change things, then here are my suggestions (in no particular order, pick whatever appeals to you):

  • Option 1. Add in an extra fast day. Try 4:3 for a couple of weeks and see if it makes the difference. That may be enough to kick start the process again, so then go back to 5:2. You may learn through doing this that non fast days are your problem and that you need to cut back, just a little, on your portion sizes or particular types of foods in future.
  • Option 2. Mindful eating. Consider what you are going to eat before you put it in your mouth. So much of what we do is habit and nothing to do with appetite or hunger. So much of what we eat isn’t really food! Close the fridge/cupboard door again and come back later. Leave some on the plate. Put less on your plate in the first place. Mindful shopping is a good adjunct to this – if you don’t buy it in the first place, it won’t be there to tempt you. Planning ahead so that you have a week’s worth of well thought out menus to choose from before you go shopping can really help too. With mindful eating, if you think about it, really want it, and are hungry, then go ahead and eat – but stop before you are full. Eat slowly enough so that your fullness sensor has a chance to detect that you have eaten!
  • Option 3. Portion control. Using the hand guide to portion sizes can be a simple way to limit your intake, especially of things like pasta and other starchy carbs. No more than a fistful of those. See the graphic for more info.
  • Option 3. Start tracking. Track everything that you are eating and drinking for a week or two – it can be really illuminating, showing you where you eat those little extra things that are really high in sugar, or just generally high in calories. Once you have a handle on what you are really having, you can target things to cut back on. 
  • Option 4. Cut back on non fast days**. We may be shocked to discover how little we really need to stay the same weight, and gaining weight slowly over the years, is testament to that. Check your sedentary TDEE – If it is the average of about 2000 for a woman, then fast days alone will give a 3000 calorie deficit (we need to drop 3500 calories or so to lose a pound, as a rough guide). But you need to not exceed your TDEE on the others! It can be helpful to vary your intake, so some days can be lean and mean, and others can be more indulgent. ** Please note, I say cut back (to normal), not calorie restrict as you would with other diets. Intermittent Fasting requires that you refuel properly on non-fast days and eat normal amounts, which gives a good contrast to fast days and help keep your metabolism working normally.
  • Option 5. Avoid snacking. Make your 2 or 3 meals a day truly satisfying and nutritionally sound, so that you don’t need to top up between meals or afterwards. Snacks are often calorie dense and nutritionally poor, so ditching them can save lots of potential excess and leave room for adding some extra deliciousness to your meals – have a starter course instead of crisps, have a dessert instead of reaching for the sweets and so on.
  • Option 6. Cut out added sugar. Lots of prepared and packaged foods have hidden sugar that we really don’t need. If you make your own sauces, dressings, desserts and so on, you can easily avoid the unnecessary extras. Don’t be tempted to substitute with non-nutritive sweeteners, or even natural alternatives; it is better to let your palate become accustomed to less sweetness. Fruit is naturally sweet. Vanilla, Cinnamon and other spices can enhance the natural sweetness in our foods. Lots of root vegetables are naturally sweet too and the more you stay away from sugar, the more you will notice and appreciate them.
  • Option 7. Ditch highly refined foods. Refined foods like white rice, white pasta, white flour, white sugar and anything made from them, not only rack up your carb intake and spike your blood sugar, but for lots of people they cause bloating, inflammation and water retention. Cutting back on these sources of carbs can help enormously. Don’t be tempted to cut back on carbs too far, they are a much needed source of energy and you will end up feeling tired and cranky if you go too low. Aim for mostly low GI carbs and go for whole grains, pulses, vegetables and fruits.
  • Option 8. Ditch processed and packaged foods. Go for fresh, seasonal, local and home-made whenever possible. You will know that what you eat is full of good ingredients and you can add liberal amounts of love while preparing your meal. Read the labels! Long lists of ingredients and unpronounceable names are a warning sign. Not all ready meals or packages are bad, but many of them make up for poor ingredients and short cuts with additives and fillers, plus ingredients and techniques to extend the shelf life, that rob the food of its intrinsic qualities. Home-made doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive. Remember that 2 days a week you are eating less anyway, so your shopping bill should be lower and give you a bit of leeway for buying fresh, organic, good quality food and supporting local producers.
  • Option 9. Ditch the low fat and light products. It may seem counter-intuitive, but fat is not the enemy. Fat helps to add flavour, texture and satiety to many foods and lowers the glycemic load of carbs when eaten together. Better to eat a small amount of the real thing than something that has been modified with fillers, flavourings and sugar to make up for what has been removed. Yes, fat has a high calorific value, with 1 tsp of oil coming in at 40 calories, but there are plenty of techniques to help you make the most of using just a little. Use a little strong cheese, such as parmesan, some real butter, flavourful olive oil, rich seed oils, full fat greek yogurt and so on to enable your body to benefit from fat-soluble vitamins.
  • Option 10. Add Activity. Exercise alone is not a good way to lose weight, but as an addition to your Intermittent Fasting regime, it will make you feel good, boost your metabolism, firm up your flab, help you get into fat burning mode on a fast day and may stave off hunger. Many of us have found that a small amount of weight loss has made us feel a whole lot more enthusiastic about various exercise activities. So go for it! Do be aware that starting a new activity may temporarily increase your weight, as your muscles retain water to repair and grow. Stick with it and you will get the benefits.

I hope this has given you some ideas to encourage you to stick with fasting and to realise that maybe just a small tweak here and there may be all that is needed to make the difference between staying the same and seeing the scales going down…

This may seem more like following a ‘diet’ for a bit I guess, but the way I look at it, this is a way of eating, something you are going to follow for the rest of your life, so you may as well make some small, permanent changes that you can really live with, that will give you the results you want – and enable you to look and feel good.


Hand Guide to Portion Control


What IS a healthy balanced diet?


It seems clear that the standard advice from governments in the US and UK over the last 20 years or so has not helped to prevent the rise of obesity and diabetes.  Thankfully, opinions are changing as they are coming to realise that their advice was based on shaky foundations. Fat is no longer enemy no 1. Dietary cholesterol is not responsible for the increase in cholesterol in the blood. So once again, we can embrace eggs and natural sources of fat in our diet. 

So with all the conflicting advice over the years, people may be wondering, well, what can we eat?

Here’s a good summary from Dr Mark Hyman, about what we should be eating.

I’ve resisted going down the Paleo route, because I think a lot of people take it to extremes. I don’t live in an area where coconuts grow, so I’m not going to go overboard for them. Leaving out beans and all grains doesn’t make sense to me as a gardener.

Similarly, for me, a completely vegan diet does not sit naturally with me. I like to have occasional fish, small amounts of meat, cheese and eggs.

But I agree with Dr Mark Hyman’s summary and I think that if you were to stick to these guidelines, you would naturally achieve a healthy weight with very little effort and improve your health overall.

The main points:
Very low in terms of glycemic load, meaning low in sugar, flour, and refined carbohydrates of all kinds.
High in vegetables and fruits. The deeper the colors, the more variety, the better, which provides a high phytonutrient content protective against most diseases.
Low in pesticides, antibiotics and hormones, and low or no GMO foods.
No chemicals, additives, preservatives, dyes, MSG, artificial sweeteners and other “Franken Chemicals” that you would never keep in your pantry.
Higher in good-quality fats. Most camps advise good-quality fats from olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados.
Adequate protein for appetite control and muscle synthesis.
Organic, local, fresh foods should be the majority of your diet.
Avoid dairy. According to Dr. Amy Shah, the number one reason to ditch dairy is that it is inflammatory. While some can tolerate it, for most it contributes to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, and may increase (not decrease) the risk of osteoporosis.

I don’t think you can make sweeping changes overnight, but by focussing on mainly seasonal, mainly local/regional, mainly fresh and home made you will be reducing food miles and getting good value. This is where we have got to:


  • We make our own bread, using regionally grown, organic, stoneground, wholewheat flour. Maybe 1 loaf a week between us. The same flour is used for our weekly treat which is a thin crust pizza. For pastry, it can be sifted to make a lighter flour. Locally they grow spelt, the old-fashioned kind of wheat, which I also use sometimes, especially for flatbread.
  • I use brown, red and wild rice grown in the Carmargue, but even this we have maybe only once or twice a fortnight. I use Basmati rice from time to time when we have curry.
  • Pasta is a rare event these days and portion sizes are small. I sometimes buy freshly made pasta (haven’t got round to making my own yet), or wholewheat pasta. But we probably only have it once a month now.


People got scared of fats, which is a shame. A little marbling of fat in meat adds flavour and succulence. I avoid anything labelled as low-fat as it almost invariably has additives and sometimes sugar to make up for the loss of flavour and texture. Fat is satiating and our bodies need essential fatty acids. We eat avocados as a treat and I try and include lots of walnuts and hazelnuts, which are grown locally. I use

  • butter (ideally from grass fed cattle)
  • olive oil (for dressings and low temp frying)
  • sunflower oil for general purposes
  • groundnut oil (for high temp frying)
  • duck fat (for sauté potatoes)
  • Nut and seed oils for drizzling, marinading, dips and dressings


We shouldn’t be eating loads of protein, but we do need a reasonable amount – the guideline is up to 0.8g or protein per kilo of body weight a day, ideally from plant-based sources (for longevity).

We eat beef, chicken, duck, turkey, pork and lamb in their various forms. I do find that these days we have much smaller portions and that by adding more other ingredients to dishes and having more vegetables alongside, a small amount can be made to go a long way. Choose organic or at least free range sources for meat and fish wherever possible.

Fish is a bit of a minefield, as stocks need conserving and farmed fish may be subject to questionable practices with regard to antibiotics and the source of their feed. If I lived nearer the sea I would go and find where the local inshore catch is landed and buy from them. As it is, I tend to choose sustainable fish from European waters for the most part.

I’m going to be featuring more recipes using plant based sources of protein over the coming year – nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, quinoa and tofu as well as those which have smaller amounts of meat, but still pack plenty of flavour and lovely textures.

And I will definitely be featuring eggs and continuing to use some cheese.


We cut out cow’s milk many years ago now and have soya milk in tea and for occasional use in cooking. I do have some cow’s milk natural yogurt and cheese, but we have such lovely goat and sheep cheeses to choose from that I find I actually use those by preference in many cases. Cream is an occasional treat.

Fruit and Vegetables

Yes, lots. The more local the better. Living in the midst of farmland it is relatively easy to feel connected to the seasons – but I find that not only is it usually better value to have seasonal produce, it is such a joy when new things arrive. I really am not attracted to tomatoes or strawberries in the midst of winter. I would rather have them frozen or dried or from a jar. But parsnips and leeks are just the job on a cold winter’s day and an orange or an apple will finish the meal just nicely, thank you. 

Swiss Chard Carrots Asparagus Rhubarb

Eat sustainable, eat real food

My head is buzzing with food activisim this morning.

Last night I watched “Hugh’s Fish Fight” on Channel 4 – a revelation about what’s happening in the oceans around Antarctica as the mega manufacturing ship hoovers up and processes thousands of tons of krill every day – to feed farmed salmon, to make food for farm animals and our pets, to make chic omega 3 fish oil capsules and increasingly, to make food to feed humans. Krill? That’s for whales – that’s for penguins –  that’s for the whole food chain in the ocean! How can krill, and the species that depend upon it, possibly withstand the onslaught of this wholesale pillaging?

Join Hugh in his Fish Fight campaign to stop the feeding frenzy and bring some sense into fishing policies world-wide.

Then this morning I read the NYTimes article The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food

Terrifying and illuminating.

The fact is, if you eat manufactured, packaged food or drink, then you are consuming an engineered product. Don’t for one moment believe that the product is created to give you the best possible nutritional value.  No, it is designed to increase the manufacturer’s “stomach share” of the market.  If you eat anything that comes in a packet, or drink soft drinks with a bit of fizz – read it. It just might open your eyes and encourage you to make more foods from scratch.

What can we do?

Let supermarkets and manufacturers know that we want real food, we want sustainable food and we want food that is good for us! Our buying choices influence them more than you might think. The power of the purse!

Looking at the statistics on the 5:2 Fast Diet Forum is fascinating – showing how the obese are slimming down to be overweight, and the overweight are achieving normal weight.

Of course if the 5:2 lifestyle becomes even more popular and is maintained, it is going to hit the food manufacturers and suppliers hard. Appetites reduced, cravings banished, less food being bought, more food being freshly prepared….

Expect a backlash – and it won’t be pretty. They will use all kinds of tactics to try and win us back to their packaged products.

Eat sustainable food. Eat real food. Support your local fisherman and your local growers and producers. Buy wisely. Sign petitions and get your voice heard!