From hospitals to jelly babies to nonsense diets.

Stay with me, you will get where I am going with this…………….


No Bananas / Melons, Not Before Midnight, or after for that matter

Nil By Mouth

A medical instruction for patients who may not eat or drink for various reasons.

Mine because I was having surgery.

I essentially had to starve myself.  This was the first time ever I have had to deprive myself of all food and drink for any length of time and it was completely against my natural urge to eat when hungry. As it turned out I only had to stop eating from 11am until I went down to theatre at around 8.30pm which I didn’t think was too bad really. There were no significant delays so I was fortunate to go down pretty much when I expected to. It is highly unusual for me to go more than 3-4hours without eating, never mind 9.5 so during this time my patience and mood were tested, as was my relationship with my husband.

File:Fasting 4-Fasting-a-glass-of-water-on-an-empty-plate.jpg

Now I love food. I live to eat as opposed to eat to live so taking food out of my life leaves a big hole. Even by 1.30, having just eaten at 10.59, I missed my lunch. I imagined sitting down to tuck in. What will I do with myself?! I started thinking non-stop about food. What would I eat afterwards? How much would I be allowed to eat? What if I feel sick and not be able to eat?!  I wonder what so-and-so is having to eat? Thank goodness I packed those emergency jelly babies, just in case. I always feel safe with jelly babies. A childhood treat that I rely on when  feeling poorly. Both my mum and nana have sworn by them for years so they must be good. Sweet to give you some energy but fruity so they don’t make you feel yukky. “A little bit of what you fancy does you good”, that’s what my nana used to say.  I knew if I woke up starving, my jelly babies would save me! 🙂

At 3.30 I took my last sips of water and watched my husband slurp his large mug of tea. I can see this seems dramatic from an onlooker but for me this was a big deal. By 5.30 I had a very empty, grumbly stomach and by 6.30 was dreaming about crispy beef cantonese style and yuk sung………..By 8.00 my husband caved. Much to my disgust, shock and without pause he stole my jelly babies! Not only that, he openly ate them in front of me, no care taken to leave me my favourite black ones, or eat them with compassion (head first so they don’t feel anything). He just devoured them! No savoring of each one individually, he just stuffed them in, several at a time and told me how good they were! The cheek! I think this will require me to ‘milk the recuperation time‘ if you know what I mean 😉

I was however, reassured by the delightful tea lady I would have  a sandwich waiting for me for when I felt like it after my surgery. This did help me feel better……somewhat.  But under the influence of anaesthetic, I slept through the entire night until 7.30am the following morning. So 20.5hrs since my last meal I was tucking into a lovely hospital breakfast (yes, I said lovely!).

It was then it occurred to me. Why would you choose to fast /starve yourself for health reasons, more specifically for weight loss? Now I appreciate there are essential medical reasons why fasting (i.e. NBM) takes place in hospitals. And I understand the strong religious and spiritual reasons why people fast too (Muslims are currently in the middle of Ramadan and do not eat or drink during daylight for 30 days) but I don’t get the willing denial of all food, drink, or both, for prolonged periods of time to help reduce the size of our waistlines. Partly because I couldn’t do it but I also know it doesn’t work.

Fasting is defined as the willing abstinence from or reduction of food, drink, or both, for a period of time. We will normally have an overnight fasting period where we do not eat (unless you are a secret eater or sleep-walker taking trips to the fridge in the middle of the night) and then we break this fast with ‘breakfast’. Continuing to significantly restrict Calorie intake throughout the rest of the day, whether it be for 24hrs or several days or more is viewed as fasting. You could be intentionally skipping meals, following a restricted diet plan out of the Daily Mail or off the Internet or simply avoiding eating all day and ‘saving’ the calories up for another time. I need to say these are not necessarily healthy approaches to eating or weight loss and you will probably be worse off in the long run. This is what I think about intentional fasting for weight loss:

To me it’s madness, which ever way you look at it. The 5:2 intermittent fasting comes to mind first. With this diet you eat normally for five days of the week and fast on the other two days. When I say eat normally, the diet plan encourages you to eat healthily and sensibly but no doubt, following the 2 day fast its a free for all treat fest for a 5 full days.  The comedian Dom Joly reported he liked this diet as “I simply have to get through to the next day where I can eat and drink to my heart’s content”.  Great for helping to encourage permanent lifestyle changes eh? The fasting then comes as a massive shock to the system; eating around 1/4 of your normal daily calorific requirement – that’s just 500-600 Calories a day! I simply couldn’t function on this. Not only would I be flagging by mid morning but I would not be a very nice person to be around. When I am hungry and need to eat it’s best to give me a wide berth!

This 5:2 diet was developed based on research findings in animals by the Institute of aging and health at University College London in 2012. They reported that eating less could help you love longer – “If you reduce the diet of a rat by 40 per cent it will live for 20 or 30 per cent longer. So we would be talking 20 years of human life. This has shown on all sorts of organisms, even labradors.” OK now we it has been seen that certain populations that have a more ‘conservative’ diet live a little longer but where is the proper research in humans? And how does this translate into a ‘pig out for 5 days, fast for 2 days’ diet?  Many of us rely too heavily on processed foods and in our society where we have developed the skill of mindless eating rather than mindful. Anyway it’s not just about how long we live is it? And on this train of thought, The University of Bath have just reported that following the 5:2 diet could affect your immune system and increase your risk of infection – read it here.

Apparently the 5:2 has worked for J Lo and Benedict Cumberbatch (plus a load of  Z class celebrities who I have never heard of before). They reveal their secret on the red carpet as we gawk at their new slimline figures, yeah yeah, do we really care?! Well it seems so! Unfortunately we believe everything that comes out of their mouths and forget the 6-figure salaries they are on to pay for the personal chef, trainer, nanny, housekeeper oh and don’t forget J Lo’s plastic surgery. We forget these people do not lead normal lives like we do. I mean come on, if only we were all like Linda Barker, we would have that will power and therefore the perfect bod (oh those abs!), job done!  Am I right?!  :-/

I was actually pleased to see Philip Schofield reporting how he hated the diet; that it made him hallucinate when on the fasting days. Please can we have more stories published about the harsh realities of nonsense diets rather than the rosy-coloured spectacle versions all the time?

The worst ‘diet’ I have seen is the Breatharian DietAs the name suggests you live on breathing alone…….yes you did read that correctly. A Breatharian (I can’t imagine they live that long so evidence is going to be sparse here) believes they do not need to eat food or drink any liquids because they can achieve sustenance from air and sunlight alone. I am literally trying not to laugh out loud as I type this! Apparently this is very similar to Madonna‘s  ‘Air Diet’ when you pretend to eat the food on the plate in front of you and fill up by gulping air.  Mmmm sounds delicious doesn’t it! We cannot survive without water or food so PLEASE DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. Seriously, it’s dangerous. You may lose weight but you’ll die too.

Whatever we seek to improve ourselves, we are not helped with unrealistic and perfectionist images. Then we are led to believe these unachievable  bodies are the result of a super new, never been seen before quick, cheap and easy fix. Get those results you have wanted for so long in less than 6 weeks! And so we dream on………we think ‘if it worked for them, it will work for me! ‘The baby food diet, the egg and wine diet, the purple diet…… whichever one it is, these fad and nonsense diets will take you on a long and winding road to no-where. There may be some health benefits but nothing you can’t gain from eating sensibly. The reality is if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Image from http://www.lifeissweetinnyc.com/2013/09/wellness-wednesday-3-day-juice-cleanse.html (I am not endorsing this or any other detox product)

Following a restricted low-calorie or very low-calorie diet without help and advice from the right people (i.e. a registered dietitian or nutritionist) will more than likely make you moody and irritable, feel sluggish and lethargic, give you headaches, bad breath and constipation! There is also a real risk of developing nutritional deficiencies, hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose) and low blood pressure, which could be particularly dangerous if you have pre-existing diabetes or heart disease.  Fasting for prolonged periods of time is also likely to make your metabolic rate fall, reducing the number of calories you burn and actually slowing weight loss. There is a nice review here I would recommend you to read (by the British Dietetic Association) of the top 10 diets and their pros and cons. So getting the right advice and support is essential. As is being motivated to start making changes.

OK so there may be some initial weight loss but I can confidently say this will be closely followed by weight regain, plus a bit more as you fall off the ‘latest diet craze’ wagon, back into your old eating habits. The yo-yo diet which teaches you nothing about making successful long term dietary improvements. In some respects weight loss is simple. You eat less, you do more, you burn more calories than you eat, you lose weight.  Now if it was this simple, we wouldn’t all be talking about the obesity epidemic but when it comes to fasting, fad and nonsense diets, it is not rocket science or anything amazing that explains any resulting weight loss.  It’s just not sustainable. Let me explain a few things here –

  1. Most diets will cut your calorie intake. That’s it. No magic wands required. No spells performed. By eating more protein, less fat, fewer carbs, drinking juices, shakes and flavoured waters, you will be consuming fewer calories than your body is using up. It is this that results in weight loss. If you don’t consume enough calories from your diet, your body will use up its own energy stores to supply enough energy for it to carry on its everyday processes. This means it has to break down fat and protein (muscle) stores so we get smaller.
  2. We cannot spot reduce. No matter what you are told by the product information, you can not melt away that belly fat, shrink those love handles or deflate those muffin tops in isolation of any other part of your body. It is not possible to ‘shift’ your metabolism so you just tackle those stubborn places. The size of your body fat stores as a whole will shrink as you burn fat to provide energy for your body.  Your body will not burn 100% pure fat so it’s not going to say “right, let’s get those bingo wings this morning!”  There will always be a little protein (muscle) loss when trying to lose weight but that is why exercise can be really help.  It preserves your muscle mass – this is the most metabolic tissue of your body so it is best at burning Calories and helping with weight loss. 
  3. Detox diets are not necessary. Diets (particularly those based on drinks and juices) often claim they help remove harmful toxins from your body. That it will be cleansed and purified as you breakdown these toxins which will then help to correct disorders and diseases (oh please!)  A detox is NOT an essential part of your health and beauty regime even if Beyonce does it. Save your pennies and buy some fruit and veg instead and by all means try a fresh cold-pressed veggie juice if you can afford it. Whole fruit and veg are much cheaper though, with guaranteed and scientifically proven health benefits! We have survived since we appeared on Earth with our very own detox system – our liver. Our liver is responsible for cleansing and detoxifying our body. We just need to supply fluids and it will beaver away all on its own. Just don’t abuse it!
  4. Pills are not the answer either. Whether it’s expensive raspberry ketones or metabolic boosters (containing all sorts of stimulants from caffeine to chili) to increase weight loss, there is no sound scientific evidence that they actually work (don’t believe the before vs after shots of people who took them!) They are likely to be harmful by causing you a number of unpleasant and potentially serious side effects as well as being a complete waste of money.

 So in summary:

  • Fasting is not advisable for children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, the elderly or sick.
  • Fasting may increase your risk of dehydration, low blood sugar and low blood pressure
  • Fasting can result in nutrient deficiencies, poor health and a low immune system
  • Eat regularly throughout the day, including breakfast to encourage weight loss
  • Eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, whole grain cereals and lean protein
  • Limit the amount of added sugars and fats in your diet
  • Watch your portion sizes
  • Drink plenty of fluids (low sugar!), especially in this heat!
  • Jelly Babies are OK in moderation!

Penny for your thoughts........

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