What exactly constitutes 500 calories?
That was the question I asked myself about six months ago, when I first heard about intermittent fasting. I was watching a talk show, and the doctor who came up with the concept of the 5/2 Fast Diet, Dr. Michael Mosley, was touting its benefits. The idea is this: For five days a week, you eat what you normally would; on the other two days of the week, you consume only about a quarter of your normal caloric intake. For a woman, that’s 500 calories.
Fasting has long been a practice of many cultures —so it’s really nothing new. Proponents of this sort of fasting claim that it has many long-term health benefits, including reducing the risk of illnesses such as diabetes and cancer and even improved mental function. And, you should also lose weight —perhaps about 1 pound a week or so.
I decided to give it a try — for one day — just to see if I could get by on only 500 calories without feeling like my stomach was raw. The first day was pretty tough, I have to admit, but not unbearable. You can actually consume quite a bit of lettuce and other vegetables for 500 calories. The next day, I went back to my regular eating habits, but I wasn’t ravenous, so a couple of days later, I decided to try it again. This time, my stomach wasn’t bothered at all by the lesser amount of food it received. In fact, I felt pretty good.
So I kept it up, fasting usually on Mondays and Thursdays, with short hiatuses from the plan for vacations and other times when it wasn’t convenient. A few months later, I had dropped 15 pounds and had gotten into a fasting routine.
What I like about the plan is its flexibility —and that I don’t have to sacrifice all my favorite foods all the time. You just have to take it one day at a time: If I abstain today, I can eat what I like —within reason, of course —tomorrow. (The idea is not to gorge oneself five days a week, but to eat moderately on those days!)
Of course, fasting is not for everyone, and it’s always advisable to consult a doctor and/or dietitian before undertaking any such eating plan. I’m just sharing my personal experience with it.
And my personal experience includes being derailed a bit during the holiday season. With the new year —and those dratted resolutions —I, of course, am resolving to stick to it a bit closer in the weeks to come.
Which brings me back to the original question: What can I eat for 500 calories?
Most days —fasting or not — I start off with low-fat yogurt and an apple. For lunch, I have a glass of V8, a bit of lean protein or a hardboiled egg (a calorie bargain at 50 calories) and some raw vegetables. Supper is usually a large salad, piled with vegetables and again some lean protein. When I feel the need for a snack, I usually down a glass of ice water or chew on a carrot or celery stick. Soup is also a good option for a meal, with many varieties having about 100 calories in a cup.
Even when it’s not a fasting day, the program has improved my dietary habits for the better, I’ve noticed, as I’m more aware of the number of calories I consume.
There are many books and cookbooks now available related to the intermittent fasting trend, and one I’ve consulted is “The 5:2 Diet Cookbook” edited by Laura Herring. She suggests this yogurt parfait, with 164 calories per serving, as a good way to start off the day.
Fruit and Yogurt Parfait
In a pan, combine 1 tablespoon rolled oats, 1 teaspoon sugar, ¼ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice and 1 teaspoon slivered almonds; heat for a couple of minutes until the almonds have turned golden, the sugar has dissolved and starts to stick all the ingredients together.
Using 3½ ounces low-fat plain yogurt and an equal amount of in-season fruits, spoon half the fruit into a glass and top with half the yogurt and then half the oat mixture. Repeat to make another layer, then serve.