Demystifying A diet

  1. I’ve never been one to diet. Most of the time fads come and go leaving me bobbing behind largely undisturbed in their wake. There have been one or two notable exceptions, including Nathan Pritikin’s diet which arrived, hellfire-and-brimstone-style, during my teenage years. My parents were early adopters in an effort to curb their cholesterol and I remember Pritikin brought on so many plates of steamed vegetables, small portions of boiled meat and outlandish desserts. In Year 12, it was not uncommon for me to open my school lunchbox and find a pear coated in cottage cheese where a Vegemite sandwich should have been. Then, after leaving home, I may once have briefly prescribed to eccentric songstress, Fiona Apple’s diet (because I freakin’ loved her so much). Oddly, that meant orange-food-only and lasted mere days; there’s only so many Cheetos, mandarins and carrots you can eat before you turn the shade.

Later on, when I was doing the audition rounds in L.A., surrounded by actresses who seemed ever thinner, younger and prettier, I succumbed to the lures of The Zone Diet at the insistence of a friend. Although I dropped a kilo almost instantly I felt so very sad without my friend, Bread, to keep me sane throughout the long weeks of screen tests and meetings. And, of course, I would always put the kilo I’d lost straight back on when Pancake Day, my free-for-all Sunday, rolled around.

Fast forward to the present and I’m a diet-shy mother of three. Like many women my age, I prefer to walk when I can, eat sensibly during the week and treat myself a little on the weekend (dark chocolate is a weakness). This ethos, combined with a hectic schedule of horrendously early starts to counter my daughter’s swimming routine, seem to keep added kilos at bay. But lately I’ve been plagued by nagging health issues and as a result have discovered that chronic pain can really mess with mind, body and spirit. This, coupled with the prospect of taking long-term medication had me feeling desperate.

“Although I dropped a kilo almost instantly, I felt so very sad without my friend, Bread, to keep me sane throughout the long weeks of screen tests and meetings.”


  1. Recovering after a bout in hospital one particularly teary Monday, a friend gently steered me down a herbal path. At her suggestion I sought the advice of a Chinese herbalist, having hitherto been firmly entrenched in the Western medicine camp. After explaining my problems to the kindly practitioner, she suggested a radical elimination diet to see if the root of my health problem could be tackled head on. I was ready to try anything to shake the pain that had been dogging me for months; there are only so many anti-inflammatories a girl can take before her stomach begins to protest.
  3. For a week I stuck to an austere diet, depriving myself of any acid-inducing foods: protein, dairy and sugar were out. Rosé and dark chocolate were too, along with most other things that excite me. What was left were leafy green vegetables and tap water. But by the week’s end I felt strangely energised and was trotting up and down my many stairs with manic glee. Considering how few calories I’d consumed, this struck me as odd. I knew, however, that I couldn't sustain this spartan existence much beyond the week without losing it completely and reverting to bad habits. Then I remembered the book my mother had given me which was sitting unread in a stack on my bedside table: its title, The Fast Diet, by Dr. Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer, had initially set alarm bells ringing; fasting and dieting hold little appeal to me. But in the wake of my broccoli week, I devoured Mosley’s words one afternoon, motivated by the promise of his regimen's many health benefits.
  5. I’ve long been convinced that at the first sign of hunger one should respond with a snack. I believe it’s always in your best interests to nibble small meals throughout the day to avoid ... what? I’m not even sure now. I would respond to even the slightest mid-morning rumblings by reaching for a muffin or muesli cookie to have with my latte, while the hunger pains that accompanied afternoon slumps saw me rummaging for the Clif bar stowed in my handbag. If I was peckish in the evening while making the kids' dinner before I’d had my own, then crackers, dip and a little cheese provided the antidote. But this book changed the way I thought about hunger. It taught me to be unafraid of it and to view it as a positive.
  7. The 5:2 Fast Diet claims to offer a way in which to extend your life, keep cancer and Alzheimer’s at bay and, as added benefit, shed a few kilos along the way. The premise is that intermittent fasting tips your body into hormesis or repair mode. Like the cave man of old, our bodies have supposedly evolved to survive periods where food is scarce as opposed to being able to freely consume fat, sugar and protein-laden snacks constantly throughout the day. For most of us, by eating at very regular intervals seven days a week we are forcing our bodies into constant go-go mode, pumping insulin and digesting food or in my case generally flagellating the pancreas. Dr. Mosley, a father of four, had experimented with fasting for four consecutive days, which had proven, through before-and-after blood tests, to have an extremely positive effect upon reducing his blood sugar. As he was in danger of developing Type 2 diabetes he was motivated to explore the idea of incorporating fasting into his lifestyle long term. He concluded that while four-day fasting or two-day consecutive day fasting was a daunting prospect for most of us, alternate-day fasting was eminently doable.
  9. So, how has this Fast Diet changed my lifestyle? I usually fast on Monday and Thursday although it’s easy to swap a day if a birthday or celebratory lunch crop up on the calendar. Dr. Mosley advises a small breakfast and a small dinner with lots of water, black coffee or herbal tea in between. On a Monday morning I might have a boiled egg or a green smoothie and then at dinner time a large bowl of healthy vegetable soup that I have made myself and know to be in low in calories. My first week was tough and it helped that my husband was in it with me – I’d firmly encourage you to find a Fast Buddy if you want to embark on this yourself. At first I worried about the hunger that would arrive in waves by mid-afternoon but I soon found if I distracted myself with a walk or work I soon forgot about it. Making the kids’ lunches and dinners provided temptations but by my eighth week of intermittent fasting I switched my focus to the positives. Mind you, I do dream about cinnamon buns. Around 7pm on a Fast Day I get a mysteriously unexpected but welcome energy boost. And the day following a fast I always wake naturally around 5am feeling positive and energised, a bonus when it comes to driving my daughter to swimming training and generally being in an encouraging mood to counteract her occasional grouchiness.
  11. I’m fasting again today and find it especially challenging during cold, rainy weather when my alarm has bleated at an ungodly hour. But my fast-buddy, Jo, has kindly made me a green smoothie and I have a stock of freshly made carrot, ginger and coriander soup in the fridge ready for an easy dinner tonight after a long day of meetings, a screen test and book-ended kids’ activities. The thought of endless cups of water and black coffee yawns ahead but you know what? I have been pain-free for about six weeks and although I’m not desperate to lose weight I certainly have done so. Above all, I’m keen to try and preserve my memory and encourage activity in my repair genes, so when I’m hungry this afternoon I’ll picture my pancreas sporting a Hawaiian shirt. This is one diet that feels worth it.
  14. Fast company: portrait of the author at home wearing Zimmermann, photographed by Carine Thevenau. Food For Thought: main image, top, Summer Tomato food collage by Julie Lee, can be ordered as an unframed print on archival pigment from Julie's KitchenReaders should consult a doctor before making any health changes or commencing any diet and exercise program.