I’m on holiday with my family in Turks and Caicos, and maintaining my current weight is proving difficult. Regular readers will recall that I lost about half a stone at the beginning of 2018, after an army of offence archeologists started sifting through everything I’d written, dating back more than 30 years, looking for evidence that I was an unsuitable person to be involved in education.
Since then, this type of inquisition has become much more common — scarcely a day passes without someone being defenestrated from public life on account of having said or done something imprudent in the past — but 18 months ago it was sufficiently distressing to cause rapid weight loss. I called it the ‘public humiliation diet’ and went on to lose another 20lb, bringing my weight down from 13 to 11 stone. This feels like the one redeeming feature of an otherwise unpleasant experience, and for that reason I’m determined not to put the weight back on.
To date, the key to keeping it off has been to cycle through lots of different diets and in that way stave off the boredom of having to stick to the same one. I initially embarked on what I dubbed ‘modified Atkins’, which meant no carbohydrates apart from almonds, dark chocolate and alcohol. I thought of these as ‘good carbs’, but it doesn’t take a genius to spot the flaw in this scheme. It became clear it wasn’t working when I found myself using the Ocado app on my phone to order 30 packets of Blue Diamond smoked almonds, 20 bars of Divine Deliciously Dark smooth hazelnut chocolate and 12 bottles of Louis Latour red burgundy every week. Watching the effect of this ‘diet’ on my waistline, Caroline dubbed it ‘Fatkins’.
The prospect of giving up the ‘good carbs’ altogether was too grim, but I knew that if I didn’t start exercising some restraint I was done for. So I switched to the 5:2 diet. This is a form of intermittent fasting where you’re allowed to eat normally for five days a week, provided you limit yourself to just 500 calories on the other two. You can choose any two days you like so long as they’re not consecutive. On paper that looks easy enough, but staying under the 500 calorie limit is fiendishly difficult. I ended up using an app called MyFitnessPal which tells you exactly how many calories there are in everything. If you start the day with a skinny flat white (54 calories) and a banana (105) and end it with a can of Heinz tomato soup (204) and a glass of Chardonnay (121), that leaves you with 16 calories to play with. That’s approximately three raw almonds.
I then discovered a more manageable form of intermittent fasting, whereby you don’t eat for 16 hours a day. You’d think that would be more difficult, but it isn’t. You skip breakfast, have your first meal at 1 p.m. and then don’t eat after 9 p.m. The only impossible bit is that you’re not supposed to drink alcohol for the rest of the evening, but even ignoring that I found myself able to maintain my current weight. At least, I did provided I ran at least two miles a day.
But this was before I arrived in Turks and Caicos. I’m staying at a Beaches resort and one of the big selling points is that everything is included in the price. That means 21 different restaurants where you can order as much as you like without having to pay any extra. And the breakfast buffets, with big metal bowls full of scrambled eggs, sausages and bacon, not to mention the platters of fresh fruit and sideboards groaning with pastries, are too tempting to resist.
Intermittent fasting has become intermittent feasting, and my kids never stop torturing me about it. ‘How many calories d’you reckon there are in that?’ my 12-year-old son asks, as I wolf down another chocolate croissant. ‘Why don’t you look it up on MyFatnessPal?’
In order to avoid putting on a stone over the course of a week, I have had to increase the amount of exercise I’m doing. That means a three-mile run along the beach every morning at 7 a.m., followed by a day of swimming and then a trip to the gym. Judging from my kids’ reactions to seeing me in my trunks each day, it’s not working. Just this morning my 11-year-old son asked Caroline whether he’d have ‘moobies like Dad’s’ when he’s 55. Caroline has stopped joining in this banter and now just hisses at them to shush, which is a really bad sign. Houston, we have a problem.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator