I am trying the 5:2 diet, because I heard it facilitated George Osborne’s transformation from awful bastard into slightly thinner awful bastard. This requires planning, especially where lunch is concerned, because it turns out that on your low-calorie days getting the turkey club sandwich from Sainsbury’s will mean all you’re allowed to eat for the rest of the day is dust and grass.
If you landed here after googling the 5:2 diet then for Christ’s sake run for the hills and get your nutritional advice from someone who knows what they’re talking about, but the headline is: restrict yourself to about 600 calories (I read a thing saying 800 was all right, so I give myself some leeway) on two non-consecutive days a week, and for the other five eat normally. If “normally” involves fudge for breakfast and sausages fried in butter as a snack for the train journey then maybe dial it down a bit in general.
The appeal of this is obvious: you don’t have to make any particularly sweeping changes in terms of cutting out certain foods altogether. This cuts right to the heart of what people, and I, really want from diets: earplugs and a blindfold to block out the deafening and blinding fact that if you want to lose weight you need to do stuff you don’t want to. So this is ideal. All I need to do is plan some lunches and dinners that add up to about 300 calories and within about a fortnight I’ll look like Hunter from the Gladiators.
I first spend a week eating normally and logging it all on MyFitnessPal. It turns out I’m generally eating nowhere near as much as the men’s recommended 2,500 calories a day to maintain weight. I’m usually around the 1,730-per-day target the app has set me without thinking about it too much. This is unless I go drinking and stop off for chicken on the way home, which is far from unheard of.
Essentially I’m fine and need to make no lifestyle changes at all, except for maybe hoover a bit more. Great. I celebrate by making oven fried chicken and cramming it into my idiot face, safe in the absolute proven knowledge that I can eat anything I want and possibly even develop a casual heroin habit at no cost whatsoever to my wellbeing.
But I’m committed to the idea now and it’ll give me something to focus on for a bit. So what’s quite nice to eat for lunch without too many calories and won’t leave me hungry all day? Potato salad, that’s what. I’m not all that big on salad unless it accompanies something more substantial, but throw a potato into anything and it adds a bit of heft. Unless it’s a washing machine. Don’t throw a potato into a washing machine: it gets all mushed up in your trouser pockets. I learned that one the hard way.
So I boil some new potatoes, not bothering to salt the water because I’ll season it all later. While they’re submerged I use some of the boiling water to make a bit of vegetable stock with a Knorr cube and mix it up with some wholegrain mustard, olive oil and white wine vinegar. I set it aside, because recipes always tell you to set things aside, even when your kitchen’s too small to fit a food recycling bin in it like mine is, then chop up a red onion. The onion is unusually irritating, so much so that once done I have to go into the bathroom to escape the atmosphere and dry my eyes, just like when I’m at a party.
I’m busking a bit now. Spinach I’ve always got in, so I stir some leaves into the drained potatoes and let them wilt a bit, then the red onion and some capers, before dressing it with the stock mix and some seasoning. Throughout all this I’m weighing things and scanning barcodes into MyFitnessPal to work out the calorie content. What you learn very quickly when logging everything you eat and drink into an app is that (a) putting olive oil in anything really screws you over, so you might as well just find other ways of making dressings, and (b) over time, the very act of logging it makes you think more about what you eat and alters your behaviour. It’s like a sort of Panopticon in which you’ve voluntarily locked yourself.
Another variation next week is this, with gherkins, capers, red onion, white wine vinegar and a bit of light mayonnaise rather than the olive oil.
As much of a task as making this stuff, which is what you’ll find me doing most Sunday afternoons at the moment, is weighing it out into portions that will be enough to see me through till dinner two days a week and not blow the whole calorie gaff. Something about the whole process appeals to me though, because I’m working within parameters and forcing myself to be creative within them. I box them up and put them in the fridge ready for the week coming. I have properly prepared for something in advance. So this is what that feels like.