Mike Cunningham, 66, chose a fasting diet when a diabetes diagnosis made him realise he needed to take weight loss seriously
ever since i became a HEADMASTER back in 1996, I’d been struggling with my weight. I’d previously been very fit and had cycled a lot, but being a headmaster was very stressful. There was never enough time to exercise. I developed some terrible eating habits. I’d skip meals, then eat enormous dinners every night, such as spaghetti bolognese followed by chocolate.
By 2015 my waist measured 36in. I’d just bought a new suit and was horrified when I had to go up a size from a 34in waist. That’s when I decided to do something about my weight. By then I was almost 15st and had developed type 2 diabetes. My HbA1 c (blood sugar level) was up to 77, which is very high.
Because of that, I needed two insulin injections a day – one in the morning and one in the evening. I also had to take the diabetes drugs metformin and gliclazide. It was all really worrying.
I felt terrible and decided to take early retirement. At first, I felt very down and sat around the house. Previously, I’d been an active and busy person. I couldn’t believe the change in me.
Family medical history
I was terrified of developing complications from diabetes. This had happened to my sister, Angela, who died of sepsis when she was only 45. Like nearly one in 1 0 women, she’d developed gestational diabetes
during pregnancy. Most find their blood sugar level returns to normal after they give birth, but Angela’s didn’t.
She developed an infection in her leg – one of the common complications of diabetes – and the infection turned septic. Despite being prescribed antibiotics, it got so bad that Angela had to have part of her leg amputated.
She spent a further 16 weeks in intensive care as her doctors battled to save her life. Sadly, they couldn’t.
My partner Rachel was really worried about me and it was she who suggested I read Michael Mosley’s The Fast 800 and give the diet a try. I’d tried losing weight with very low calorie diets in the past – using meal replacement shakes and soups – but although they’d work initially, I always put the weight back on.
But the 800-calorie menu plan sounded good, with lots of Mediterranean-type foods such as fruit and vegetables, nuts, grains and fibre, and lean protein.
I liked the sound of it, so decided to give it a go.
Rachel and I loved the food – having steak or tuna with veg for dinner was no hardship. It didn’t feel like a diet at all and, in general, I had no problem sticking to the daily limit of 800 calories.
It was the memory of Angela and her life support being switched off that helped me get started on the diet and kept me going whenever it got tough.
I was determined that I’d never give into diabetes or simply rely on medication to keep me healthy.
Beginning to see a difference
After just four weeks my HbA1 c was down to 55, and after eight weeks my weight was down to 11 st 4lb (72kg).
I had a 32in waist for the first time since leaving school. It was incredible. My blood sugar was in the normal range (HbA1 c of 45). I’d put my diabetes into remission, so under advice from my doctor, I came off insulin and my other medication.
But it wasn’t just my physical health that improved. I’d previously felt mentally sluggish and low, I’d had very little interest in anything and was simply vegetating. Once on the diet, however, everything changed. I felt much quicker
mentally and my mood became brighter and more optimistic.
As my success with previous diets had only been temporary, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to maintain the weight loss, so I signed up to another version of the same diet. You eat 800 calories a day for two days a week and a normal, healthy, non-calorie restricted Mediterranean-style diet on the other days. You also do 10 minutes of High Intensity Interval Training (HUT) three times a week (but not on the 800-calorie fasting days). I used a static bike at the gym – I’d warm up for two minutes, go at a normal pace for 40 seconds, go hell for leather for 20 seconds, and then repeat the cycle.
How the fasting worked
We started eating earlier in the evening – between 6.30pm and 7pm – and then left a 12-hour gap until we ate again.
The food was so filling I didn’t feel hungry in the evenings or early mornings. The regime suited my natural body rhythms. Typical fasting-day meals were a full-fat yogurt with apple, pear and hazelnuts for breakfast, then soup, a shake or a two-egg omelette with spinach at lunchtime, and salmon with lots of salad for dinner.
I’ve had fluctuations. My weight did creep up a little over Christmas last year, for instance, but I was able to correct it by switching to a few extra 800 calorie days to lose the extra pounds.
I’m confident I can maintain my weight by eating a healthy Mediterranean diet most of the time, staying active and switching to 800 calories a day if my weight starts to increase. Since I’ve lost the weight, I’ve been renovating a barn, cycling three times a week and I’m in the gym twice a week. My weight seems to have settled at around 11 st 71b, which is the perfect weight for me and the same as I weighed when I left school.
I’m feeling better than I’ve felt in years and have bags of energy. I don’t feel my age any more and am looking forward to a long and active retirement. I hope I’ve added some extra years to my life expectancy. If I hadn’t lost all that weight, though, I could have been looking at a very different future.
TWO RECIPES TO TRY FROM THE FAST 800
Goto healthyfood.co.uk and search (by recipe title) for these nutritious options from Michael Mosley’s book – devised to be satisfying despite being low in calories
Dr Michael Mosley’s TIPS FOR SUCCESS
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably made a firm resolution to achieve your weight-loss goals this year. So how will you stick to it? The Fast Diet expert shares five tips to help ensure you succeed in your goal
- Try a new recipe each week Our mind holds out against constraint and, for the same reason, it loves novelty. So pick out one new Mediterranean-style recipe to try each week. As your taste buds adjust, you’ll be amazed at how much better fresh food tastes compared to junk.
- You will also find that you quickly build up your recipe repertoire and have a whole range of healthy, delicious recipes to follow whenever you need one.Remember, it’s much easier to follow a healthier diet when the food tastes great and you aren’t eating the same thing over and over again.
- Eat more soup We’ve all been told to drink more fluids. Not many of us, though, are aware that eating soup actually helps you to lose weight.
- A number of experiments have shown that people who start a meal with a low-calorie soup go on to take in fewer calories not just at the meal, but throughout the rest of the day.
- This is because our sense of fullness depends, in part, on the extent of stimulus to the stretch-receptors in the walls of our digestive system. So a meal that starts with soup delivers more volume for fewer calories.
- As well as helping you to lose weight, soups are easy to prepare in bulk, reheat and eat on the go. So put away your worries and get out your blender.
- Go for sensible swaps To maintain a healthier diet, high-sugar foods have to go. Cutting down on sugar is not only good for your waistline, but also for your overall health. If you can’t quite imagine a world without sugar, start slowly.
- Cut down on the obvious sources first, such as soft drinks and sweets, and make sure you have a healthy alternative for these (sparkling water with lemon wedges for lemonade or a handful of berries for a pack of jelly babies).
- Your tastes will adapt until the taste of sugar in your coffee becomes unbearable! Once you get through the initial ‘hump’, you won’t want to go back.
- Have plenty of protein in the mornings In 2014, researchers at the University of Missouri found that when volunteers ate a moderate amount of protein with breakfast, they experienced fewer food cravings later in the day.
- Preloading with protein also preloads your brain with dopamine, the chemical that powers your reward-circuits. This, in turn, means sugary food is less capable of delivering an external ‘hit’, making it easier to choose a healthier diet. Nuts, seeds, eggs, dairy and quinoa based foods are good sources of protein. Put a protein pot on your breakfast table this year and watch your whole diet improve.
- Create an ‘anchoring routine’ for junk food At some stage, you’ll undoubtedly succumb to the allure of junk food.
- But rather than holding out as long as you can, then falling off the wagon, resolve now to follow a mindfulness routine every time you’re faced with temptation Mindfulness emphasises the close link between decision-making and how we feel, physically, in the moment.
- In order to steer towards a healthier diet, we need to be alert to the cues in our body that makes it seem like a good idea.
- Next time you’re feeling positive about your body, remain with the thought. Perhaps you’ve just been for a walk or a swim – you’re feeling strong, alive and capable. Hold the feeling in your memory. This is your anchor. Now, picture the next scene. You’re at the supermarket, feeling hungry, and a packet of chocolate biscuits is saying ‘EAT ME!’ Before you act, cast your mind back to your anchor.
- Think about eating the biscuit, and how your body will feel after the first one, then the second, and then the rest of the packet.
- Cut out the visual cue to eat by closing your eyes, and think about the discomfort at your waistband, the loss of appetite for your next meal, the sugary drowsy feeling. And then make your decision.
- Whether or not you pick up the biscuits is less important than practising the anchor-routine each time you have to decide. Stick to it faithfully and in a few months you’ll be following a healthier diet with a little less effort each day.