Over the years we’ve been repeatedly told that rapid weight loss is ineffective and futile: that if you lose weight fast you will put it back on even faster. But that thinking is now beginning to change.
A number of recent studies have shown that very low calorie diets can be a great drug-free way to reverse type 2 diabetes and the evidence is so compelling that the Government is planning to trial 800-calorie rapid weight loss plans for people with type 2 diabetes.
But even if diabetes is not your primary concern, there is still much to be gained by cutting right back on your calorie intake for a while.
If you’ve got quite a lot of weight to lose, and if you want to reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia and other diseases linked to ageing, then cutting your daily food intake back to 800 calories may be the way to go.
Recent research points to 800 calories as a ‘magic’ number — it is low enough to trigger beneficial changes in your body, but high enough to ensure you get the nutrients you need and are not tormented by hunger.
I’m so convinced of the power of 800 calories in terms of health and weight loss that I’ve updated my 5:2 plan to incorporate it, and I’ve written a new book, The Fast 800, which is being serialised all this week in the Mail.
On Saturday, I launched my new approach with a 32-page magazine packed with delicious calorie-counted recipes to get you started.
All this week, I will be revealing new research behind intermittent fasting, in information-packed daily pullouts, each featuring healthy recipes to make sticking to the plan easier.
The focus for today’s recipes is quick and easy — because not everyone has a partner willing to rustle up healthy, calorie-calculated meals like me!
I’m fascinated by the science behind intermittent fasting and have been lucky enough to be able to tap into the thinking of some of the best researchers in this field.
So I’ve updated my 5:2 plan to encompass the latest findings, and to make it as doable as possible. When I introduced the concept of 5:2 in 2012, it was an instant hit. But some dieters found cutting down to just 500 or 600 calories a day, even if only for two days a week, could be tough.
However, the studies showed that even if you cheat a bit and go up to 800 calories, the diet still seems to work.
Since rapid weight loss can be very motivating, I’ve incorporated a fast-track kick-starter that involves sticking to 800 calories a day, every day, for at least the first two weeks.
Some people may want to use meal replacement shakes and bars, at least to start with (visit thefast800.com for my recommendations).
You can also whip up your own shakes and smoothies from the recipes that were in this week’s Mail on Sunday.
I would prefer you to diet with real food, so you’ll find sections in the Mail all this week packed with nutritious recipe ideas — all calorie-counted so you can pick and mix, confident that you will be sticking to a daily 800-calorie limit.
If you have health problems, do check with your GP before embarking on a fast-track diet.
The benefits of rapid weight loss for people who are seriously overweight were shown in a recent trial by Oxford University. For this study, 278 obese adults were allocated either an 800 calorie-a-day regime (soups and shakes), or given standard slow and steady weight loss advice.
Those on the meal replacement regimen were asked to stick to it for eight weeks, before gradually switching to real food. After 12 months, the 800-calorie group were found to have lost an average of 10.7kg, while those in the standard group had lost 3kg.
Susan Jebb, professor of diet and population health at Oxford University and the lead researcher of the trial, was delighted by the results: ‘It’s phenomenal — like nothing we’ve seen before.’
She thinks one of the reasons that the rapid weight loss group did so well is because rapid weight loss is so motivating.
‘The excitement gets them through the first few difficult weeks,’ she explains. ‘We need to capitalise on all that enthusiasm people have at the beginning to really lose weight and get off as much weight as they possibly can.’
Some people think meal-replacement diet shakes are ‘cheating’, others find they really help, particularly at the start, because you don’t have to think about what to cook, or worry about counting calories, or getting in all your essential nutrients for those meals.
I’m pragmatic about this. They suit some people, not others. But a lot of meal replacement shakes contain added sugar, taste artificial and are surprisingly high in carbohydrates, so pick carefully.
Aim for something low-carb, with plenty of protein, enough fat and decent amounts of fibre.
fast tracking is not suitable if you’re under 18; if you’re breastfeeding, pregnant or undergoing fertility treatment; if you are underweight, have an eating disorder or a psychiatric disorder; have had recent heart problems, uncontrolled heart disease or high blood pressure; if you are unwell or recovering from significant surgery. Discuss it with your GP if you have a medical condition, including diabetes, low or high blood pressure, retinopathy, or epilepsy.
And here’s a speedy recipe to get going…
Cals per serving 398, SERVES 2
l 80g mixed baby leaf salad
l 400g can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
l 1 tbsp fresh basil pesto, from a tub
l 4 thin slices Parma ham or prosciutto
l 15g mixed nuts, roughly chopped
l 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
l 10g Parmesan shavings, or freshly grated Parmesan
1 Scatter the leaves into two lidded packed lunch containers or plates. Mix the cannellini beans with the pesto and divide between them.
2 Add the ham, sprinkle with the nuts and drizzle with the oil. Scatter the Parmesan on top. Season with freshly ground black pepper.
Cals per serving 369, serves 1
1. Scatter the salad leaves into a bowl or lidded container. Cut the cucumber in half lengthways and scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon. Thickly slice the cucumber and toss with the leaves.
2. Add the tomatoes and red onion, then scatter the cheese and olives on top. In a small bowl, whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle over the salad just before serving.
Cals 380, serves 4
1. Heat the oil in a large, non-stick sauté pan, or wide-based saucepan, and fry the chicken and sliced onion over a medium-high heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring regularly until the onions begin to brown.
2. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the curry paste. Cook for a minute, stirring constantly. Add the frozen vegetables and stock. Bring the liquid to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
3. Add the rice and cook for about 3 minutes more, or until steaming hot, stirring regularly. Sprinkle with roughly chopped coriander, if using, and serve with Greek yoghurt.
For a vegetarian alternative, fry 200g sliced chestnut mushrooms with the onion in step one and serve the biryani topped with halved hard-boiled eggs and a sprinkling of toasted flaked almonds.
Cals 220, Serves 2
Tinned sardines, while healthy, are not to everyone’s taste. This is a delicious way of serving them, with the peppers providing a sweet and succulent foil to the salty fish.
1. Preheat the oven to 180c/160c fan/gas 4.
2. Place the pepper halves on a small baking tray and divide the sardines between them. Drizzle the oil from the sardine tin over the peppers.
3. Sprinkle over the cherry tomatoes, capers and garlic and some seasoning.
4. Place the tray in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until the peppers start to brown around the edges.
5. Serve two pepper halves on top of each slice of sourdough toast (if using).
TIP: Tins of sardines don’t always contain the same amount of olive oil. You need a total of about 2 tbsp to drizzle over the peppers.
Cals 339, SERVES 2
1. Preheat the oven to 200c/fan oven 180c/gas 6. Put the onion on a baking tray and toss with 1 tbsp of the oil.
2. Bake for 10 minutes. Take the tray from the oven, turn the onion wedges with a spatula and add the mushrooms to the tray, stalk side up. Drizzle the remaining oil over them.
3. Cut the goat’s cheese into small pieces and place on the mushrooms. Scatter the almonds on top and season with freshly ground black pepper.
4. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the mushrooms are cooked. Sprinkle with thyme leaves, if using, and balsamic vinegar.
Cals 382, Serves 2
1. Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a large non-stick frying pan or wok. Stir-fry the chorizo over a medium heat for 30 seconds, or until beginning to brown. Add the stir-fry vegetables and cook with the chorizo for three minutes, stirring regularly.
2. Drain the beans in a sieve and rinse under cold running water. Drain well and tip onto the vegetables. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
3. Cook together for 1-2 minutes more, or until the beans are hot and the vegetables are tender, stirring constantly. Squeeze over the lemon juice and adjust the seasoning to taste.
Cals 357, Serves 2
1. Cook the curry paste and tomatoes in a large non-stick saucepan over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes, or until the tomatoes are softened, stirring constantly.
2. Add the lentils and stock and bring the liquid to the boil. Add the spinach, a handful at a time, and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until the leaves are soft and the liquid is well reduced.
3. Stir in creme fraiche and season with freshly ground black pepper. Remove from the heat and serve with warmed pitta bread, if using.
When I started investigating intermittent fasting, I had a strong personal reason for doing so.
I was only a little overweight, but to my shock a routine blood test revealed I was in the early stages of type 2 diabetes.
I was delighted when the experiment I conducted on myself — by going on the 5:2 — effectively reversed my diabetes and took me out of the high-risk category.
All the evidence at the time pointed at the benefits of intermittent fasting and shifting excess weight.
Then, in 2014, I came across what seemed like a crazy claim: that people who follow a rapid weight loss diet not only lose a lot of weight fast, but also clear fat out of their livers and reverse their type 2 diabetes.
This audacious claim was being made by Dr Roy Taylor, professor of medicine and metabolism at Newcastle University and one of Europe’s leading diabetes experts.
When we first met, he showed some of the studies he’d done — showing that type 2 diabetes (the sort you get when you are older) can be put into remission, perhaps even ‘cured’, by a rapid weight loss diet.
As he explained, the reason most people get type 2 diabetes is because they have too much fat around the tummy, called ‘visceral fat’, which also infiltrates the liver and pancreas and stops them ‘talking to each other’. This can, in time, lead to type 2 diabetes.
Roy told me I’d managed to get my blood sugars back to normal by doing the 5:2 because I had lost more than 10 per cent of my body weight, thus draining fat from my liver and pancreas.
The implications of what Roy said were huge: this was a massive breakthrough. Type 2 diabetes is the fastest-growing chronic disease, worldwide.
There are more than 400 million people with the condition and though drugs help control symptoms, they have limited impact on the underlying disease.
However, for a long time doctors remained sceptical. ‘They don’t believe patients will do it,’ Professor Taylor told me. ‘And they don’t believe it will work.’
H e teamed up with Professor Mike Lean of Glasgow University to run a huge study called DIRECT (DIabetes REmission Clinical Trial). Patients were randomly allocated to either an 800 calorie-a-day diet, made up largely of meal replacement shakes, with behavioural support, or asked to follow the best conventional diet advice and support.
The results, published in February 2018, were astonishing. The 800-calorie dieters lost an average of 10kg, compared with 1kg in the control group, and nearly half managed to bring their blood sugars down to normal, despite coming off their diabetes drugs.
Mike told me: ‘Given our results, it should be considered unethical not to give people with type 2 diabetes access to the necessary support for at least a good try at a remission.’
Two other studies, also published in 2018, support this. One, dubbed the PREVIEW study, hoped to find out whether people with PRE-diabetes (ie, elevated blood sugar levels that put them at risk of getting type 2 diabetes) could stick to 800 calories a day for long enough to reduce their risk.
More than 2,000 volunteers from eight countries stuck to the 800 calories a day for eight weeks. They lost an average of 11kg (nearly two stones) in that time and many got their blood sugar levels back to normal.
So if you have type 2 diabetes please do talk to your GP about trying my new 5:2/FAST 800.
You might need a little supervision or support because the diet’s effect is so powerful.
Remember, rapid weight loss is challenging, so if you are not suited to fasting you may prefer to follow the Med-style low-carb recipes in these pullouts without significantly reducing calories.
You can also double up the quantities or add extra vegetables for non-fasting days.
Cals 335, Serves 2
For the dressing:
1. To make the dressing, put the yoghurt, garlic, herbs and olive oil in a bowl, add 2 tbsp cold water and mix well. Season with a pinch of salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper.
2. Divide the leaves between two shallow bowls, or lidded containers, and scatter with the tomatoes.
3. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and place on top. Sprinkle with the sunflower seeds and Parmesan. Drizzle with the dressing, season with freshly ground black pepper and serve.
4. If taking as a packed lunch, put the dressing in a small lidded pot and drizzle over the salad just before serving. Keep the salad and dressing chilled.
Cals 337, serves 1
1. Break the mackerel fillet into pieces and place in a small bowl. Add 2 tsp of the lemon juice and the yoghurt. Season with freshly ground black pepper and mash with a fork until well combined. Add a little extra lemon juice to taste.
2. Spoon into a small lidded container and sprinkle with the seeds. Add lots of vegetable sticks for dipping. Keep chilled.
Michael will be doing his first ever live tour of the UK in February and March, sharing stories from his time in TV working with Jeremy Clarkson, John Cleese, David Attenborough and others.
He will also be sharing what he’s learned about the best ways to diet, exercise, reduce stress and so much more. The talks will be informative and entertaining, with opportunities to ask questions and chat afterwards. To find out where he will be and when, see michaelmosley.co.uk