Rebecca Valentine passes on the benefit of her experience

‘Baby pounds’, they are apologetically referred to by those who have never had to consider so much as an elasticated-waist trouser, let alone a flop of skin tripping over their upper panty line. Or by a guilt-ridden mother who tucks into a forbidden-fruit muffin and third latte while lamenting her lost firmness with a fellow not-so-new mother. Nine months on baby pounds can weigh about a stone unless, like me, you didn’t get them off before baby number two came along, in which case they are more like one and a half stone.

I feel tired. My clothes feel uncomfortable, and they just don’t … hang properly. Despite all the carrying, running, rocking and pushing parenthood demands of me, it doesn’t equate to a gym workout. Playing chase up the stairs or running for the bus – or the school bell – leaves me panting and sweat-drenched. The cigarettes don’t help, of course, and neither do the leftovers on my kids’ plates, too easy to scoop into my mouth rather than the bin.

My job is sedentary. My social life is a bottle of wine in front of the TV. My life is sedentary. I need to get moving and I need to move some weight.

Years ago I fell prey to the Atkins diet. It worked, for a while, unlike the 1000 calorie diet, or any diet requiring daily flagellation based on calorie counting. But the pounds slowly crept back, and that was pre-baby. Six months ago I was tagged to a selection of Facebook photos from a day at the sea, which mainly involved eating fatty foods, salad dressings and cakes. I was horrified. Posted up for the world to see was my double chin and round belly. I looked fat, and no amount of great self-image could disguise the fact I needed to change my lifestyle, my diet and my waistline: My weight, no longer sustainable at forty, was increasing with every wrinkle.

Relaying my concerns to a thin friend I was let in to a secret; the Dukan Diet. It was a step on from Atkins – five days of low-fat, protein-only food, followed by five weeks of alternate protein only with protein and vegetables. Once I had reached my target weight I was promised I could reintroduce fruit, carbs, treats and alcohol, but in greater moderation than consumed before.

Miraculously I managed to complete the five weeks fairly honestly, and, indeed, my clothes were looking like I owned them. I was walking more often and my trimmer size meant short games of chase were less exhausting.

Proud of my abstinence and new shape I spent the summer holiday gleefully tucking in to pancakes, oily fish and ice cream. I had forgotten about the ‘easing back in stage’, and four weeks later had replaced almost all the lost weight. The unnaturally high consumption of all things protein had worried me. It wasn’t normal and certainly wasn’t a balanced diet, so I was reluctant to re-embark on another dose of the Dukan.

A chance scan through multiple TV channels one evening brought me to the BBC Horizon programme investigating the benefits of fasting. Presenter Michael Mosley plays human guinea pig, putting himself through the rigours of a five-day fast, surviving only on black coffee and miso soup for the duration. He was hallucinating, weak and depressed and came quickly to the conclusion that, like many of us, this kind of lifestyle could not be maintained. Instead, he was offered a more workable alternative, the alternate day fast (ADF) and chose the ‘any-two-days-per-week’ option. Five weeks on he was visibly lighter, his face shape had changed, but more importantly, medical tests showed his levels of the IGF-1 gene were down; replaced with repair hormones that would lead to reduced risk of cancer, heart disease and Alzheimers.

Heartened by the added bonus of a prolonged existence, I too decided to follow the principle of the ADF diet; eating only 500 calories a day for two days a week, forever. If I could eat ‘normally’ on the other five days, I was game. The results have been remarkable. Yes, I have shed pounds and look more in proportion, but I now have renewed vigour. By simply reducing the amount I eat, two days a week, my general feeling of apathy has subsided and low moods dispersed. Even my cigarette intake has greatly reduced as my body now expects a healthier lifestyle. I am happier, healthier and fitter.

The word diet has become associated with abstinence and misery, rather than better lifestyle, increased fitness and a delicious appetite. But I’m enjoying feeling hungry and looking forward to a truly healthy meal that I can taste. There is no harm in the odd cake or chocolate bar, but food should be fuel for the body and soul, not for comfort.

Whoever would have thought when it came to food, I would be on my soapbox shouting less is more! Bon Appetit.

More details at Horizon: East, Fast and Live Longer
Always seek medical advice before starting a diet.