Sitting in a Brighton coffee shop enjoying sourdough toast, marmalade and a long black with hot, not cold, milk on the side, I am reading The Guardian. My mid-morning pleasure is interrupted by a loud female voice. She enunciates so the whole room can be involved, “I’ve never done it that way before, but I’m up for anything so I thought ‘try it’ and do you know it’s doing me the power of good. Some days it’s punishing but afterwards I feel great.”
‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ I think peering surreptitiously over the ‘Comment’ section. She’s a hefty woman in her fifties with coiffured rumpled hair and is dressed in beige linen and leather boots as if she’d just walked off a chic town farm after shampooing sheep. And she’s loud. It would take a brave bloke to manacle her to a bed post.
“I do it alternate days, what do you do?” she bellows at her smaller male companion.
“I’m trying 2 days without and 5 days with.” He looks nervous, “like the presenter did.”
Ah, they’re talking less about kinky sex and more about the latest fitness fad. Everyone I know in Brighton appears to be hooked on ‘fasting’. It has become a topic of conversation that over-rides the debate on wind farms, whether Nick Clegg will survive as leader of his party or if we might get a sunny autumn to make up for the grey summer. Fasting has replaced dieting, and probably sadomasochism, as the new way to drop a few pounds and get fit.
This is all down to ‘Eat, Fast and Live Longer’, a Horizon TV documentary, in which the presenter talked to scientists about the health and longevity benefits of drastically reducing your calorie intake. As Mike Mosley and the scientist gazed at the difference between a chubby mouse plodding around a small perspex box and a lean mean mouse running round in circles, we learned that the lean, food restricted, mouse would live significantly longer than the fat, eat all you like son, mouse – although as their lives were confined to going round and round a perspex box in a laboratory, I felt more sympathy for skinny mouse.
Apparently, like the mice, not only will regularly giving up food prolong my life and reduce my BMI and cholesterol levels, it also encourages new brain cells to grow as my body and brain go into survival mode while I work out where I might hunt down the nearest mammoth. We may like to believe we’re sophisticated, highly evolved beings, but our Palaeolithic ancestors are in reality, standing right behind us. Perhaps that’s why Victoria Beckham has been successful. She’s permanently hungry which gives her the survival edge that most of us, ‘go on then, just one more pastry’, lesser beings are missing.
Cutting back on calories could be the pathway to a longer life
Living a high quality of life for a longer timeframe and dodging the gremlin of dementia is a goal most ‘fab after fifty’ year olds aim for. Cutting back on our calorie intake could be our pathway to delay heaven.
Fasting used to be the prerogative of Indian gurus, drought-stricken Africans who have no choice, and fragile vegetarians. But now fasting is fast becoming a way of life for many of us. Friends I’ve spoken to recently swear by it, are obsessed by it and are one step away from eating air. “Once you get past lunchtime without eating,” Chris smiles at me, “you can do all day easily.” Will the health sector find itself moving from a national obesity problem to a national anorexia problem? There seems to be no middle path.
I worry about Waitrose. Their food sales will plummet if this spreads. Can’t be good for the country. David C won’t be happy if we all stop eating one day a week as Mosley advises. How’s that going to help the economy grow? Farmers would have to give up factory farming because we wouldn’t need so much meat. Asda would have to stop their giant buy everything under one roof supermarket expansion. I’d be able to wander around Morrisons’ food aisles without getting rammed in the back by a shopping trolley. Mmm…..perhaps I’ll make this slice of toast my last until tomorrow.
Penelope Young is a writer and coach who specialises in supporting over-50s to throw out negative beliefs, be colourful and enjoy their senior years.
An ex-BBC radio journalist, Penelope has spent over 20 years living in New Zealand as a health manager and strategy planner.
Now she’s back in the UK, living in Brighton, and re-inventing life to be more fabulous than it has ever been before.