The 5: 2 diet has never tempted me. The fifth part looks fine, but the two not so much. The news that the government is being pressured to adopt essentially the same strategy to contain the coronavirus was therefore not entirely welcome.
For those not following the twists and turns of the fads, the 5: 2 method is to eat normally for five days and then cut your intake to around 500 or 600 calories for the other two.
Its proponents include Benedict Cumberbatch, George Osborne, and apparently Jennifer Lopez, although some reports say their regime is more akin to clean eating, which is believed to have to do with washing your food. Anyway, they all swear by it – and Osborne especially looks amazing for his age. Or maybe it was Jennifer Lopez.
Those who can cope with the two days of fast report miraculous benefits. In fact, they report you every time you see them and several times during each meeting. A good friend lost a lot of weight on his "2" days, fasted into the night and then dined on grilled fish and mountains of vegetables. If it works for you, it will have more power for your will, but I struggle to see the appeal of coming home to eat withered spinach. There are a number of restaurants that offer all-you-can-eat options. Very few of them have a spinach bar.
In any case, all of this seems pretty relevant when talking about two week "breakers" where everyone goes back into the lockdown state to slow the spread of the virus. At the moment the conversation is only for a single fortnight, pretty soon. But privately, some politicians acknowledge that a circuit breaker might be required every five to six weeks if a vaccine fails to materialize.
The allure of this idea is that you can schedule it around or near school holidays and that businesses and people can function more normally in the open weeks as it is predictable. Companies may even see a pickup when people wrap up all the things they want to buy or do. Indeed, there are panic buying concerns, especially when a no-deal Brexit is also possible. Ministers are considering emergency legislation to force consumers to indicate whether they are hoarding for Brexit or Covid-19.
Even so, I'm concerned about the 5: 2 model for the pandemic. First of all, if you binge on your normal days, it doesn't work. I don't mean people are going to be spending these weeks literally shoving hobnobs down their throats. You can do that in lockdown. But metaphorically, that may be exactly what they do. If you know you can't see your friends, go to the pub, or have sex with someone you can't prove you've known for at least 20 years, you can get as much of it as you can during the open weeks wrap up. A 5: 2 Covid-19 diet requires not only two weeks of social spinach, but also five weeks of self-discipline.
Others say circuit breakers should be limited to places that need them. If you are turning an area with a very low infection rate into an area, tell your slim friends that they must also be on a diet for the benefit of your group. (Actually, that's how I see the case; there's nothing worse than a smug, thin, chocolate cake in front of you for "just having a fast metabolism".)
Still, the 5: 2 diet can be better than some other options. Tier 2, also known as the South Beach Diet, has restrictions. People from different households can meet – but only outside and only if they don't eat pasta or bread within a two-meter radius.
Nevertheless, as they say, all these terms are based on at least some scientific findings. The real concerns are the rather fancy lockdown plans. The diet that is not consumed in public after 10 p.m., also known as dry darkness, has been shown to have few proven benefits. And the face mask diet still provokes arguments about its success in preventing Covid-19 – although wearing a diet definitely reduces the amount you eat.
Follow Robert on Twitter @robertshrimsley and email him at email@example.com
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