The other day a psychologist friend told me you can’t change something about your behaviour until your body as well as your mind is ready. For years she refused my every offer of a jog in the park. Then something clicked. She got an app and started working on it. Now she runs much further than me. So it was with deciding to change my way of eating.
I think there comes a time in most Australian lives, where you look in the mirror and wonder what happened and whether it is good for one to look quite so, ahhh... ‘comfortable’. Until my 30s I’d been lucky, if staying fairly slim while scarfing down cheese and cake is your idea of luck. But I’d also been self-critical, unable to look in a mirror without seeing faults despite knowing how wrong this was. Through the 80s, 90s, 2000s relentless advertising told us being rib-sticking thin was the ideal. My ex-husband had cast a critical eye. When we separated and I became distraught skin and bones, he asked why I hadn’t been this thin when we were together. My intellectual feminism was no match for all this emotional pressure. Long story short, it’s been an ambivalent relationship with this body for a long time.
Over 15 years to my early 50s I put on 13 kilos. I was sure this extra padding was middle age and medications and convinced it was out of my control. Tired and sluggish, I tried many times to quit my unhealthy habits, but without a plan or clue the weight round the middle settled in for the duration. So, this is middle aged me? Right, let’s celebrate - hello cheesecake, my old friend.
I’m proud of this lived-in bod and marvel at the dear, brave old thing.
But the more too-small clothes accused me, the more uneasy I felt about my health.
Then another friend whispered about a little something that has been doing the rounds. The Fast 800 diet.
The idea is to cut calories back to 800 a day and combine that with a 12-16 hour per day fast for two weeks.
I’m inherently suspicious of science-y things that sound too good to be true. Never got on the super food bandwagon. Tried the Michael Mosely 5:2 diet - 5 normal eating days, and 2 of 500 calories - and I was so hangry I was a danger. I believed everything I’d read about crash dieting - that is it will mess up your metabolism for good.
But this? My friend had broken the ice and was managing not to be murderously hungry, despite, like me, a general life philosophy that a loaf of crunchy sourdough over a weekend was healthy eating.
I could do two weeks. Suddenly, both body and mind were ready.
This is the next iteration of the 5:2. On listening to desperate clients’ feedback Mosely hitched up the calories from 500 to 800 but for every day. He added the fast to trigger mild ketosis - pausing food consumption turns out to be quite good for your health. He had been en route to diabetes, but no longer.
I feel nothing but compassion for my younger, vulnerable self - and welcome the new version with kindness and love.
If you asked me to skip dinner I’d have to kill you, so I decided to miss breakfast to get that fast happening. It was surprisingly easy. Time saving. A pot of a favourite black tea at 11, and all good to midday at least. Lots of calorie counting. That was a must, and a burden, and then, briefly, an obsession as I marvelled that a thumb sized piece of cheese could steal so much from my 800 limit.
I’d been scared of hunger. On the Facebook forums everyone talked about day four and five, and they weren’t fun. But after that - I was bouncing out of my skin, and so was everyone else on the forums. The family slotted in behind me, simply adding rice and pasta to their meals.
Eight weeks later, I literally get a surprise every time I walk past a mirror. Ten kilos gone, 10 cm off the waist. It’s not huge, but it had seemed insurmountable before. Other women larger than I to begin with have lost more and feel similarly amazed.
This weight loss is surreal. It’s like catching up with my old self but 15 years on. I don’t trust it, can’t quite believe it, peer at myself in the mirror, perplexed. If I have something treat-ish, I expect to wake up the day after all expanded again. It’s all so very odd.
But something else has shifted too. Aside from resetting my relationship with baked treats, rice, pasta and bread, I genuinely - emotionally as well as intellectually - no longer care that the flesh isn't firm. In fact, I’m amused - I’m proud of this lived-in bod and marvel at the dear, brave old thing. I feel powerful for resisting what I assumed was inevitable - the middle aged spread. I’m not skinny but I’m healthy. I’ve regained my sparking energy. The mostly middle aged women in the forums agree.
They too are bouncing, celebrating their power, the regaining of control and quitting food as a numbing opiate by tenderly loving their lived-in bodies. I’m older and comply less than ever with whatever beauty standards. But I couldn’t care less, and remembering how much I judged myself when last at this weight, feel nothing but compassion for my younger, vulnerable self - and welcome the new version with kindness and love.
Dr Michael Mosley’s Reset is available for viewing on SBS On Demand.