What I did on my summer vacation

[Originally ran in the September 2015 issue of The Village.]

In the footsteps of George C. Scott.
In the footsteps of George C. Scott.

Sure, we saw Hadrian’s Wall and the Cavern Club, met the brother of a former Beatle, witnessed gleeful children learning how to fly broomsticks at Alnwick Castle, caught “The Merchant of Venice” at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and visited Ebenezer Scrooge’s grave in Shrewsbury, but what might stick the longest with us after our trip to northern England is a diet.

Sorry, scratch that. Not a diet. A lifestyle choice.

Toward the end of our two-week sojourn we scooted over to Wales to hang with our friends Harry and Heather, and it was during this lively and humorous visit that we learned they were on the FastDiet, a.k.a. the 5:2 Diet, so named because one fasts for two non-consecutive days of the week, and eats whatever one wants the other five.

The diet – that is, lifestyle choice – exploded onto the scene during the 2012 Olympics, when the BBC aired a special in between coverage of the London games. It caught the public’s fancy, and the diet garnered international acclaim. Harry and Heather had the book (which we now have) by Dr. Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer, and – without proselytizing – they told us about it.

Nor am I going to try to convert anyone; that’s the most effective way to turn people off. Seriously, there’s nothing worse than hearing the details of someone’s diet when you’re not on it. Except perhaps a hangnail. All I’ll say is that it’s simple and doable and painless and shows results. If you want to learn about it, you can learn about it.

So why am I saying this? Well, as it says in the book, “Do tell friends and family that you’re starting the FastDiet; once you make a public commitment, you are much more likely to stick with it.”

We’re all friends here, right?

My intention was to disclose my weight and waistline and other stats of that nature, so that in a few months I could share my progress. Instead, let’s all just stipulate that shirts are great. That, and I could stand to lose four inches around my belly.

And to be clear here, I don’t consider myself to be dangerously overweight. Anyone who’s seen my arms and legs could attest to that. I’m one of those people who’s been carrying around an extra fifteen pounds amidships for decades and has done pretty much nothing about it for just as long. I’ll be good for a while, lose a few pounds, and then there I am again, sucking down a bag of mint Milanos as my eyes roll back in my head like a feeding shark.

That’s why I believe this diet – sorry, lifestyle choice – will work. Because I can still satiate my sweet tooth, as long as I practice self-discipline two days week. Of course, having seen favorable results on fast days, I don’t pig out on the non-fast days – why flush all that effort down the toilet? Besides, I actually don’t feel the urge to make up for lost eating time. Sometimes I surprise myself.

I dreaded my first fast day (which isn’t a complete fast, as it allows men to consume 600 calories), but it was a breeze. A few tummy rumbles and perhaps the desire to drive up to Rapid Ray’s and trample anyone foolish enough to stand between me and the counter. But otherwise, fine.

I’ve always hated the word “diet.” To me, it’s always meant “deprivation.” And there have been hundreds of them, each one proclaiming to be the one that’ll finally work. My mother did Weight Watchers during the Nixon Administration when I was an impressionable little boy, which is why – to this day – I enjoy cottage cheese and Melba toast. I’m not kidding. There’s a tub of Oakhurst cottage cheese in my fridge right now. I understand that just the thought of its texture makes the majority of adults gag, but there it is. Thanks, Mom.

This isn’t simply about losing weight, even though I admit to harboring a desire to wear that ‘70s-era double-ring leather belt that’s been hanging forlornly on my closet door ever since I outgrew it in 1987. More importantly, it’ll help in my lifelong quest to achieve immortality. I have long held to William Saroyan’s famous quote: “Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case.” His only error was that the exception would be made in my case, not his.

At any rate, there’s evidence that occasional fasting improves cholesterol numbers (the bane of my existence, along with people insisting on driving in the middle lane of the turnpike when the right lane is wide open) and decreases blood sugar levels as well as the likelihood of heart attack, stroke, and cancer.

I figure it’s worth a try. Even if it means two days a week without mint Milanos.

Oh, and about Scrooge’s grave. It’s real. The 1984 George C. Scott version – my favorite – was shot there, and the prop remains in the graveyard at St. Chad’s Church. And yes, that’s why we went to Shrewsbury, even though I’m sure plenty of interesting non-fictional events happened there.

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Dana Pearson is a writer living in Kennebunk, Maine.
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