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What is Alex Salmond’s celebrity 5:2 diet?

There are many ways to watch your weight. Picture: Alamy RF

There are many ways to watch your weight. Picture: Alamy RF

Murder, isn’t it, when you take your favourite tartan trousers out of the cupboard and, despite all the breathing in and wrestling with the fabric, they just... (huff) ...won’t... (puff)... fit...(sigh).

Worse too, when you know that all eyes will be on you. Not a good time for the trouser seams to finally succumb to extreme overload, exposing your man Spanx.

Not saying that’s exactly what happened to First Minister Alex Salmond, but something prompted the larger than life leader of the nation to jump heavily on the latest diet bandwagon. Perhaps Beyonce’s 
recommendation was an influence.

He’s shed two stones after swapping his normal eating routine for the 5:2 diet. And he’s not alone. For the diet plan, which allows five days of normal eating followed by two days of near starvation, seems to have become the diet of choice for a few of Scotland’s MSPs.

Labour leader Johann Lamont is said to be a 5:2 follower, along with SNP’s Aberdeen Donside MSP Mark McDonald. A few more and we may be tempted to rename it the Holyrood Diet.

The eating plan involves sticking to just 600 calories for two “fasting” days a week. For the rest of the week, slimmers can virtually gorge on a perfectly normal 2500 calories a day. Women have fewer calories to play with, just 500 on their “skinny” days, 2000 on the rest.

It might sound tough, yet it’s become the weight loss plan of choice for many, ever since physician and science journalist Dr Michael Mosley presented an episode of Horizon which focussed on the fasting method. His subsequent book, The Fast Diet, has topped the Amazon book charts for almost a year.

Certainly it seems to be working for some. The First Minister is said to have lost two stones over three months on the plan.

“It works for me because I love food,” he is reported to have declared. “It is difficult as I am at functions every day but I can say to myself ‘I’m not having this delicious meal now because I can have it tomorrow’. It is easier psychologically. It can be a struggle but I’ve dropped about two stone and two collar sizes.”

So is fasting like this the answer to all our weighty woes? How does it work? And, if you’ve a pair of tartan trousers screaming to be worn again, could you do it too?

WILL IT DO ME HARM?

FASTING can impact on the hormones of the menstrual cycle and, according to Tracy, studies suggest it could affect fertility.

Amanda agrees that it’s not suitable for anyone trying for a baby, anyone pregnant, with diabetes, or with a history of eating disorders. “As long as people choose good food to eat that keeps them full, then it’s fine and it’s healthy,” she adds.

WHAT’S THE SCIENCE BEHIND IT?

EDINBURGH nutrition expert Amanda Hamilton’s new book, Eat Fast Slim, explores various types of fasting eating plans – including a variation of the 5:2, the 16:8 which involves fasting 16 hours a day and only eating within an eight-hour window.

“Studies on animal longevity found that fasting intermittently rather than long-term calorie restriction has beneficial effects not just on fat loss but also on helping maintain lean muscle mass more efficiently and maintaining healthy cholesterol. It has long-term benefits on the inside as well as the outside,” she says.

Some argue that failing to go hungry means fat doesn’t get the chance to burn away. And fasting is believed to trigger the release of growth hormone that prompts the body to hunt out other fuel for energy rather than chewing away on muscle stores.

“We’re so surrounded by food we never get empty and the body doesn’t burn its reserves,” she adds.

OK, BUT WHAT ELSE IS OUT THERE?

THE world of ­celebrity is rich with many a weight-loss plan, some of which will even work.

Reese Witherspoon, pictured, and Desperate Housewives’ Marcia Cross embraced the Baby Food Diet, in which two meals a day are replaced with pureed food.

Beyonce turned to the Maple Syrup Diet to help her shed a stone for her role in Dreamgirls. It involves maple syrup drinks and fasting.

Uma Thurman is said to be a follower of the raw food diet, chomping on nature’s harvest without the need for a cooker. Raw food is supposed to contain energy-boosting live enzymes

New Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Carmichael, meanwhile, lost four stones on the meal replacement Cambridge Diet.

WILL THE WEIGHT STAY OFF?

MICHELLE MacDonald, of Edinburgh Dietetic Practice, believes the 5:2 plan is unlikely to give long lasting results.

“These kinds of diets are basically a quick fix,” she warns. “The main issue is whether or not it actually leads to a change of behaviour.

“People who lose weight on it might find the weight just creeps back on again. It’s not really challenging long-term behaviour.”

 

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