Matt West is probably the most Herculean man I know. He is literally a specimen, a physical Adonis. We all have that one Facebook “friend” who makes protein brownies, checks in at the gym, and generally makes you feel inadequate, but – despite appearances – Matt couldn’t be further from the stereotype.
As recently as January, and you wouldn’t have put him in the same physical bracket either. “I’d left uni and started working, it wasn’t really a conscious decision…[fitness] just kind of slipped out of my list of priorities”, he tells me when we meet up in a North London park where he often puts himself through his paces.
Matt was always a bit of a tank at uni, so I was surprised to hear such a frank admittance. “It got to the stage where I wasn’t really happy in myself, I felt sluggish and heavy.”
What inspired such a quick turnaround? Ironically, it was decided over a double cheeseburger and coke. “I was headed home from New Years with a mate. I’m really not one for resolutions or anything but we were both feeling worse for wear and promised that we’d sign up for Tough Mudder. As soon as I had a goal to work towards, it was like something clicked in my head.”
Matt signed up to a series of military fitness classes, which involve being screamed at by an angry Sargent Major and taking to the cold in January, braving gale-force winds and torrential rain. This might sound a bit much for the average jogger, but he says some of the seemingly less significant decisions he took actually had the most profound effect.
“When it got to March I’d toned up quite a bit, but I reached a pretty stable level of body fat that I just wasn’t shifting even though I was working harder and harder. Once I decided to cut Doritos out of my diet, though, I noticed a change almost immediately.”
I asked Matt how he finds the time to stay fit while working full time and his attitude is refreshingly human. “Firstly, don’t obsess about it – we all have days we can’t just arsed, and we all have sessions where you wonder why you bothered going.”
He does have some more proactive advice though: “find a mate who’ll hassle you to go on those days when you might not, don’t waste your time – I see so many people in the gym who spend half their time on the phone, it’s the same with runners. Also keep changing it up; I get so bored if I’m doing the same thing day after day. By mixing [your routine], you also find what works for you – little changes can make a big difference.”
Matt’s changes in six months may seem jaw-dropping, but he stays stoic despite my saccharine flattery. I ask what his aims are for the next six months, expecting to hear about some hellishly demanding routine. “Stay off the Doritos”, he says, completely straight faced. It seems to have worked so far.
Every year in the UK, individuals consume on average 79.3kg of meat, but that number is getting smaller as nearly a quarter of the British public cut back on the amount of meat they ate in the years 2013/14. According to Meat Free Monday’s website, reducing meat consumption could save lives.
In 2010, a study carried out by Oxford University’s department of public health concluded that eating meat no more than three times a week could prevent 31,000 deaths from heart disease, 9,000 deaths from cancer and 5,000 deaths from stroke, as well as save the NHS £1.2 billion in costs each year (MeatFreeMondays.com).
According to British Council statistics, 5.7% of the UK, that’s 3 million people, are vegetarian but taking into consideration the possible health benefits as concluded by Oxford University, it is surprising that more people are not flocking toward meat-free eating. However, people are often dubious about making the change.
Chandni is 23 and is from London, she graduated from Loughborough University last year and has since move to China to start her career as a teacher of English. Growing up as a Hindu in the capital, her family made it a priority to ensure that she understood the values and traditions that were a part of Hindu culture, one of them being vegetarianism.
Leaving home at 20, she continued that vegetarian eating into university and found it extremely easy to upkeep:
“At university I never came across any problems cooking, or buying vegetarian food even though I was usually the only vegetarian in my flat or house. This is mainly because vegetarianism has proved long-term benefits and thus become quite popular in a society that is quite health conscious.”
Chandni was always extremely active whilst being at university but found that variety is often something that puts people off vegetarianism and the fear of there being a lack of taste and satisfying substances within the meal, but she says this shouldn’t be the case.
“Now there are so many different sources of protein other than red meat which are so readily available in supermarkets and there are so many blogs and articles with amazing vegetarian recipes online. Having mainly eaten Indian food everyday at home, university was the time I discovered cooking can actually be enjoyable and I spent quite a lot of time researching what I could eat for dinner.”
She says that any diet and exercise regime is easier to maintain if you have the support from your friends and family and you make cooking and mealtimes enjoyable and something to look forward to.
“It wasn’t until final year of university where I had other people in the house I could cook vegetarian food with, and it was great. We would discuss what we fancied having for dinner after we’d been to the gym and one of us would research recipes and then we would all pitch in with buying groceries, prepping and cooking dinner.”
Since the horse-meat scandal, meat-free substitutes such as Quorn and tofu have increased in popularity dramatically, according to the Vegetarian Society website. In a YouGov poll 18% of people claimed to have been put off eating meat as a result of the scandal.
Research by The Food People, commissioned by Linda McCartney, predicts from their research that the number of vegetarians will double from 5% to 10% in the next 2 years. They also predict the UK can expect to see more vegetarian restaurants, and more restaurants providing meat-free options and an overall greater acceptance of vegetarian diets and the benefits that come with it.
Here in London the vegetarian way of living has been fully embraced for many years. It is home to some of the best vegetarian restaurants in the world and street food markets are some of the best places for meat-free eating. Back in 2009, London was voted ‘the best city for vegetarian dining’ beating Los Angeles, New York, Melbourne and Mumbai.
But, one of those people who remains certain that he will not try a meat-free diet is Louis Keeley. Louis lives in London with his family but regularly travels away with work. He says giving up meat is something he would never consider:
“I have a very labour intensive job and could never give up meat. I eat a bacon sandwich every morning before I go to work and try to include it in every meal I have. I workout and play rugby regularly and need the protein from chicken, steak and pork for recovery after the gym.”
“I also enjoy the taste far too much. I couldn’t think of anything worse than just eating vegetables or meat-free substitutes. They do not fill me up for the day and they just do not excite me”.
“Living in London you want to go out for nice meals and I couldn’t do that if I was concerned about not eating meat all the time.”
I asked him whether the health benefits and prospect of a longer life would persuade him to change his mind;
“Personally, the health benefits would never stop me from giving up meat. I have members of my family who are vegetarian and I sometimes eat Quorn mince if we’re all eating together. But, personally I’ve just become very used to cooking with meat, I enjoy it, I like the taste and I do feel long term benefits from it. Nothing could make me give it up”.
A survey by the Food Standards Agency found that women are more likely to adopt vegetarianism than men but with initiatives like Meat-free Monday’s emerging in more and more schools around the UK, we may well see an increase in young children and young adults taking up vegetarianism over the next few years.
Follow the link for some of altFit’s best post-workout vegetarian recipes by clicking here
Take part in our Alternative Eating poll below:
For more stats on vegetarianism, visit the Vegetarian Society website by clicking here
To find out more on Meat Free Mondays visit the link by clicking here
I certainly haven’t been able to go near any take away today, but, eleven hours on from my first post, three meals and 600 calories in, I thought it would be a good time to sum up some of my thoughts of today and what I’ve learnt about 5:2. So in no real order:
Fasting is tricky, but surprisingly satisfying – I wasn’t expecting it to feel remotely rewarding, but by the end my smugness drowned out any groans from my empty belly.
Preparation is key – I undoubtedly made it harder for myself by not spending enough time looking into meals that can actually satisfy you on 200 calories.
Support is out there – on Twitter, chat rooms and dedicated sites I was really surprised by just how many people are talking about the diet, sharing recipes, words of encouragement and tips on how to make it through.
Choose your fast days wisely – was it a mistake to fast on a day where I went on a run, when I could’ve chosen a day where I’m sat inside all day. It was also a mistake to pick a bank holiday Sunday – bank holiday weekends are surely made for excess?
Speak to your GP before trying it – most importantly, and especially if you’re female, it really doesn’t sound like a wise idea to commit to the 5:2 before you have spoken to your GP. While there clearly isn’t enough research on it, some of the reported possible side effects sound worrying.
I hope my liveblog has at least been mildly informative/entertaining, I’ve certainly learnt a lot. altFit send their best wished to John Woodcock tomorrow – MPs get a bad name but he truly is fighting the good fight.
By then I’ll probably be back on my Eric Pickles regime…
You wouldn’t try the 5:2
Eurovision might have been yesterday, but the biggest results of the weekend are in. Just over half of altFit readers said they wouldn’t try the 5:2 diet.
Maybe I haven’t been selling it to you, maybe you’re put off by the potential side effects. Either way, altFit readers obviously prefer a healthy, balanced diet – and most nutritionists seem to think that it’s the best option.
Absolutely no pesto in sight, a relatively meagre looking pasta salad, with a splash of olive oil, salt and pepper to give it some taste. I bizarrely feel hungrier for having eaten it but I’m also surprised at how surprisingly easy it has been to get to the evening on such little food.
I’ve been reading that spiralised courgette works as a brilliant low-calorie pasta replacement – if I’m ever fasting again I will be sure to give that a try.
1730: Things I can’t drink today
Credit: David Martyn Hunt
Bank holiday weekends are meant for drinking, right? Wrong if you’re on a “fast day”. It only takes three pints to tip you over the 600 calorie threshold, or four glasses of red wine.
I’m sticking to the water, green tea and diet coke today, and learning how many calories are in alcoholic drinks actually makes them a lot less appealing. It must be hard if you’re spending the day down the pub with friends though, so if you’re thinking about the 5:2 diet, choose your “fast days” wisely.
Is 5:2 safe?
The 5:2 has taken the UK, and now Europe and the US, by storm since it was first conceived of in 2012. There’s been some evidence that it can help you lose weight, but there have also been some concerns about the long term impacts of the 5:2 diet.
Worryingly, it seems that the 5:2 diet might not be the best option for women. Most of the research around intermittent fasting has been done on men, and when Glamour asked nutritionists about it, they said it could have a negative effect on women’s blood sugar levels, insulin, and long-term even their fertility. An Express article also warns that this type of dieting could risk diabetes in women.
While other studies have suggested intermittent fasting may reduce the chances of dementia and boost the immune system, it is clear that more research is needed around 5:2, especially as it becomes more and more popular.
The NHS recommends: “If you are considering it then you should first talk to your GP to see if it is suitable for you. Not everyone can safely fast.”
1600: Things I can’t eat today
Credit: James Bowe
It only takes seven McVitie’s chocolate digestives to take you over the 600 calorie mark, six for women. They come in at 90 calories each according to MyFitnessPal, which makes me feel quite guilty about the number of times I have gone through a whole pack of 18 in one sitting.
Drinking lots of water and green tea this afternoon and it’s kept any serious hunger at bay so far. I was expecting a “fast day” to be a lot harder than it so far has been if I’m honest, which should be encouraging to anyone thinking of trying it.
5:2: The Twitter verdict
Despite what polling companies may say, Twitter is definitely a representative sample of the wider population. In an attempt to distract myself from the returning hunger, I took to the social media site to get the lowdown on what you think about the 5:2.
2 weeks on the the fast diet and lost 5lb!! #fastdiet #5:2
City student and Chat Politics media tycoon Oscar Pearson yesterday appeared to doubt my chances of successfully completing a “fast day”, comparing it to Peter Serafinowicz’s humorous “Butterfield Diet” sketch.
It’s 1400, who’s doubting who now? #ThereWillBeHaters
Would you 5:2?
It’s barely gone lunch time but I must say there’s been something weirdly rewarding about my 5:2 attempt so far. We want to know at altFit – would you ever try it? Vote in our poll.
Remember you can tweet us @altfitlondon to tell us about your experiences, or what you think of the liveblog so far.
One notable beneficiary has been Chancellor George Osborne. Here he is in 2011 looking a bit like a schoolboy who’s gone for too many seconds:
Credit: UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office
And here he is post-5:2, enjoying a pint on one of his five normal days of the week. You’ve earnt it, George!
Trimming his waistline like he trims the welfare state, another happy 5:2 customer.
The run was a mistake. I was trying to hold off eating lunch for as long as I could but my stomach is groaning furiously.
On the plus side, the omelette was actually nice and surprisingly filling.
Less than 200 calories
It won’t revolutionise the world of healthy eating, or even my kitchen, but it’s done a job. Let’s see how long I can hold out until dinner.
1110: Things I can’t eat today
Green pesto by Sainsbury’s
I’m usually pretty liberal with my pesto servings, but I’ll be swerving this stuff today. A 190g jar is packed with 656 calories – who knew that oil and cheese could be so bad for you?!
Judging by its poor reviews (25 unhappy customers have averaged it at 1.8/5), perhaps it’s best I stay away.
1050: Searching around for recipes has led me to the good folks at Good to Know, where a spinach omelette – literally one egg, some spinach – is 94 calories.Even if I go crazy and have a whole TWO eggs it should still come in at under 200 which leaves me on track for the day.
There’s a surprising amount of good looking fast day recipes, particularly at Elle Bloggs, but I have eggs and spinach to hand, so spinach omelette it will be.
I don’t know what it says about my self-control that I’m pleased I’m still on track at 1020, but, despite all my recipe searching, I’m actually not feeling too bad at the moment.
One 5:2er Debi, told the Daily Mail: “I survived my first fast day on a pear, hard-boiled egg, chicken and vegetables. By bedtime, I was so proud of myself that I could barely sleep with excitement.” I wonder how excited she was at 1020.
0950: Things I can’t eat today
No chance. A McDonald’s breakfast would set me back 818 calories.
In all honesty I wasn’t expecting this to be under, but it’s a tad depressing to think that the breakfast menu is still on and I’m already hungry. I’m going on a run now which is almost certainly a mistake, but at least there are no calories in water.
“Breakfast like a king pauper, lunch like a prince pauper, dinner like a pauper.”
I’m using MyFitnessPal to make sure I stay below 600 calories today. Tracking my calories is something I rarely do, if I’m honest, and I got a bit of shock at breakfast making a 200 calorie bowl of porridge (with water rather than milk of course).
Look at that sad, sad little bowl. I tried adding some cinnamon to spice things up a bit but the sprinkle I put on has completely dominated the bowl, only highlighting the measly portion I’m allowing myself.
It’s been less than 12 hours since I was seeing away a Gu pudding, some Ben and Jerry’s, and a tonne of poppadoms, but I’m already starving. More effort is clearly needed to find a lunch that will actually see me through the day.
Please Sir, can I have some more?
What it the 5:2 diet?
If you’re asking what the 5:2 diet is – where have you been the past year or so? It’s become the current go-to choice for Brits and celebs trying to lose weight, with Benedict Cumberbatch, Miranda Kerr, and err… Philip Schofield apparently keen on the regime.
Simply put. the 5:2 diet involves eating normally five days of the week, and then cutting your intake down (500 calories for women, 600 for men) for two of the remaining days. More research needs to be done around its effects, but one study has found it to be as effective as a calorie-controlled diet – and, of course, you only have to watch what you’re eating two days a week.
There’s something beautifully British about finding a diet that allows for the minimum possible change to our eating habits with the maximum return, and that seems to explain it’s soaring popularity.
Morning. I’ll be documenting my attempt at a 5:2 “fast day” today, to show that if I can manage it, you most certainly can too.
Here I am in happier times, at an unlimited ribs and wings restaurant. I’m pretty sure they’d laugh at you if you asked whether they had anything on the menu containing less than 600 calories, but that’s all I’ve got to get by on all day.
Over the past few months, AltFit has brought you all you needed to know in preparation of this year’s London Marathon.
AltFit has brought you up to date with the fun facts, build-up and tips for aspiring runners. This year it was the 35th anniversary of the London Marathon and each and every year more and more people take part.
But what actually happened on the day, I hear you ask? Well, if you didn’t head out to the streets yourself, Vicki-Jane was AltFit’s roving reporter. She went to the Cutty Sark at Greenwich to look out for all the weird and wonderful alternative ways people were running it.