Eating for two: while her husband was on the 5:2 diet, Sue Willams was on a 7:0 regimen. Photo: Sascha Eisenman/trunkarchive.com/Snapper Media (posed by models)
My husband, rather too heavy for his height – or a tad too short for his weight, whichever way you'd like to look at it – announced that he'd decided to go on the 5:2 diet.
I was full of encouragement. He'd tried a number of different girth-control measures over the years, but none with much long-term effect. The 5:2 diet, where devotees consume a restricted number of kilojoules two days a week, and whatever the hell they like for the other five, sounded a perfect extra-large fit. He could eat and drink to his heart's content most of the time, and just man up to the pain of 2500 kilojoules a day for two non-consecutive days. I assured him he'd easily measure up to the challenge.
Unlike other diets, such as the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet and the Dukan Diet, it seemed to be able to bend and flex with our lifestyle. We'd simply schedule in regular chocolate cake for the five, while the two, with their plates of poached white fish and boiled kale and broccoli, would coincide with nights in on the best TV evenings.
So far, so good. After four weeks on the 5:2, he's lost three kilos and is on a steady descent through the 80-kilo range. His clothes are looser, he's lost half his chin, and he's looking sleeker by the day. I, however, am making up on the scales for what he's losing. Since he started the diet, I am two and half kilos heavier. My clothes are straining at the seams and I'm starting to eye his cast-offs with real interest.
This isn't meant to be happening. For years, we've heard about partners being co-dependents as far as weight loss is concerned: one person suggests eating more, and the other goes along with it, vindicating their partner's bad choices. It should follow, therefore, that if one person is eating fewer kilojoules a week, then the other would be doing the same. But it's here that the 5:2 diet stomps horribly in the face of reason.
On the two restricted days, the dieter eats incredibly sparingly, diligently measuring the diameter of each mushroom, weighing a sliver of salmon and counting the peas on a plate to make sure they haven't inadvertently busted their limit. In between, they groan and moan about how hungry they are.
As their partner, you feel for them. Often too much. Seeing the care with which each potential kilojoule is accounted for makes me yearn for a peanut-butter sandwich, a cheesecake, packet of chips ... until I remember, with a yelp of unbounded joy, that I'm not on that diet, that I'm free to eat my own weight in all of them, should I so wish. Then, far more regularly than I care to admit, I do.
Tragically, it doesn't end there. As they sit on the sofa in the evening, complaining about the gnawing hole in their belly and speculating about the number of chocolate ads on TV it might take to fill it, I can't help stealing away for a snack. Thoughtful, I know, but it feels so much better to do it out of their sight. And, of course, you need to eat extra so you won't go back for more.
As the next day dawns, the feasting begins. "Let's go out for breakfast," he says to me. "We deserve a treat." After lunch, he smiles. "Cake?" he suggests. "Come on, I really suffered yesterday." Recalling the agony, I happily agree.
So on it goes, along with the extra kilos. In the five days off the diet, I eat much more than I'd normally consume. There's the nice big breakfast of porridge and fruit, or scrambled eggs, mushrooms and toast, just because we can. There's the hearty lunch, too, just because we know the next day he might not be consuming much more than a thimbleful of miso soup. Then there's a dinner that spreads, like my own muffin top, over the sides of the plates, followed by dessert and even sometimes – oh joy! – cheese and biscuits. Then, on the two worst days, I empathise too much with the agony, and go way too far to appease it. He might be on the 5:2, but I'm on the 7:0.
So, is there a solution to all this? Yes, I know I could have gone on the diet, too, but I never did – as I didn't have a weight problem. Didn't.
But the answer is rapidly presenting itself. I just hope that by the time I'm ready to go on the 5:2, he won't have lost enough weight already to have abandoned it. That way we'd simply end up back on the weight merry-go-round, with a combined weight of exactly the same as when we started this agony.