‘After a long fast day of just water and lashings of green tea, I supped off Albacore tuna carpaccio with celeriac and preserved lemon with a side dish of Parsley peas’
Fashion and lifestyle journalist, mother and keen chef Mimi Spencer is a contributor to Queen of Retreats – but she’s far better known as the co-writer of the uber-bestselling book The Fast Diet. Mimi’s devised her own ‘Kickstart the Fast Diet’ package for guests at Constance Le Prince Maurice in Mauritius, for people who want to get the hang of 5:2 intermittent fasting at a cossetting tropical hotel. Why not, I thought? I’ve always loved how the fasts I’ve done on a detox have made me feel, so when Mimi asked me to try the package with her one January, I gave it a whirl.
Created by Doctor Michael Mosley and explained beautifully by Mimi in their co-written book, The Fast Diet involves cutting calories to a quarter of the usual intake for just two days a week (that’s 500 for women and 600 for men), with the other five days free to eat as normal and enjoy occasional treats. Such short term fasting can offer health and longevity benefits, cutting the risk of age-related diseases including diabetes, Alzheimer’s and some types of cancer – it’s also a damn effective way of losing weight or keeping it under control. I didn’t need to lose weight, but I liked the idea of keeping my weight in check whenever I needed to.
Le Prince Maurice is Constance’s flagship five star hotel in Mauritius – not a bad place at all to escape a cold British winter. It’s a grown up, rather elegant but very easy place to be, with marble-floored spaces open to the sea breeze, spacious, mahogany-lined bedrooms (for total privacy go for one of the over-water villas facing the mangroves) and a long, sandy beach filled with solidly-comfortable blood-orange loungers. The service is impeccable, and Mimi’s idea is that, away from life’s distractions and looked after by others, getting into The Fast Diet couldn’t be easier – making it more likely that you’ll continue it when back in your real world. Being hungry isn’t hard here – the weather is deliciously hot, which helps, and soothing spa treatments and fitness activities help divert your attention and chill you out.
The beauty of the Kickstart the Fast Diet package is that it’s available all year round and you don’t need to pre-book it – just ask for your pack on arrival and it will subtly guide you throughout the week. I had it easy, as Mimi was with me, and she’s an inspiring, intelligent and upbeat woman who’s a joy to be around. Her warmth and wit come out in her books, which I’d urge you to read while you’re out here for motivation – most especially when it comes to dealing with hunger.
‘There is no reason to be alarmed by benign, occasional, short-term hunger,’ writes Mimi. ‘Given base-level good health, you will not perish. You won’t collapse in a heap and need to be rescued by the cat.’
One of the main things I learnt from Mimi during the week was not to be afraid of feeling hungry. On the week-long juice fasts I’ve done there’s always been betanite clay available to keep hunger at bay, and I’ve been told countless times that it’s not good to feel hunger at any time, because your body panics and puts on fat. But Mimi says the 10-12 hour fast period advocated by The Fast Diet twice a week is too short a time for that to be an issue. ‘Your body is designed to go without food for longish periods, even if it has lost the skill through years of grazing, picking and snacking,’ says Mimi. In fact, our bodies are designed to fast – for we evolved at a time when food was scarce, and we are the product of millennia of feast and famine. The reason we respond well to the 5:2 diet – why it’s SO popular – is that Intermittent Fasting mimics the environment in which modern humans were shaped – far more accurately than three meals a day.
Fascinating stuff – which came as a relief to me. Though now, of course, I had no excuse not to not eat for longish periods. During my two fast days, it became clear to me when we do eat, something which Mimi explores in the book too – not just because we’re hungry, but also when we’re bored, thirsty, in company or just because it feels good. It felt good to focus my attention on other things – the view, for example, or the excellent book I was reading (a Kate Atkinson), or how comfy the day bed was on my balcony. All in the knowledge that the next day I could eat what the hell I liked from a choice of top notch restaurants – unlike during a week-long juice fast.
It’s certainly easy to decide what to eat here, for on all the restaurant menus The Fast Diet’s delicate green and lilac icon flags up nutritious, tasty, low calorie and low GI options you can eat on a fast day, as well as healthier ‘Mimi Recommends’ choices for a non-fast day. The drinks menus also show drinks and cocktails that have fewer calories – such as a Skinny mojito (mint, lime, soda but without the usual sugar syrup) or an ice-cold watermelon juice.
On fast days the idea is you eat early morning, then have a 10-12 hour gap without food till the evening. I breakfasted off poached eggs with smoked marlin (175 calories) on my first fast day, and off an Omelette with herbs (140 calories) on the second – then after a long long stretch of just lots of water and lashings of green tea (caffeine is allowed), I supped off Albacore tuna carpaccio with celeriac and preserved lemon (112 calories) with a side dish of Parsley peas with onion pickles (64 calories) on the first fast day, and off Tarragon Scallops (113 calories) and Green beans with garlic and salted lemon (52 calories) on the second. I confess each fast day evening I also had a cup of hot milk when going to bed, as I felt hungry and I wasn’t here to lose weight, merely ‘keep it in check’ (Mimi said this was ok).
Of course I only had to wait till the following day till I could have lunch, wine and puddings again – and my my, the food is good here. I ate lavish buffet breakfasts at L’Archipel, the main restaurant, I ate in my villa sometimes (aromatic soaked prawns and crispy veg with a cup of lemon grass tea) and I ate in the laid back Asian Corner (tuna sashimi, bang bang chicken, seaweed salad, yum). You must make sure you save a night for dinner at Le Barachois too, the resort’s floating restaurant set over a lagoon (here I loved my catch of the day and a to-die-for Hazelnut & Praline mousse).
Enough already of the food. Between eating and not eating I stayed busy with laid back yogic stretching on the beach, lots of swims in the lap pool and the sea, and lying about reading on the beach – where staff served us cold water in natty orange ice bags, cleaned our sunglasses and bought us tubs of Haagan Daas on non fast days. It’s all very relaxed. Even a bit of topless sunbathing is allowed.
One morning I got a bit restless, so asked one of the trainers, a lovely guy called Rajev, to take me out on a bike ride through the sugar cane fields. We cycled to the local giant market at Flaque for coconut water and a spot of shopping – if you don’t want to move, the resort will probably have a pop up shop during your stay so you can buy the fab locally made baskets and other stuff on offer. I could also have done private Pilates or fitness training (in or outside the fully equipped gym) or played tennis.
At the spa, I lay for ages on the violet-cushioned loungers listening to the wind rustling the trees. The whole space is centred around a charming courtyard with a cooling pool flanked by sitting stone Buddha, and there’s a sauna, steam room and cold pool for you to use too. On the spa menu a special ‘Mimi recommends’ icon suggests the best treatments for fast days including a digestive massage, a lymphatic drainage or a detoxifying wrap.
My treatments were consistently good, and especially useful on a fast day to make me feel better and forget about eating. I had a hydrating Sisley facial (ask for Volena), a Shiatsu in an open thatched shala (Darje is excellent) and a thorough medical pedicure with Parisienne Podiatrist Franck Douni, who has been trained by celebrity Podiatrist Brice Nicham. This treatment does all the hard work a very good medical pedicure does but has a touch of glamour too – before the treatment you’re asked to breathe in the scent of a eucalyptus and herb essential oil to help you relax, for example, and at the end, a Sisley floral spray for your face was rather a delicious way of waking me up.
So the verdict? This was a super-relaxing and indulgent way of understanding what The Fast Diet is all about, and I picked up tips I could use when I got home – a reminder that mushrooms are great to use in cooking when you want a healthier alternative to meat, for example, that lime and soda is good for drinking on a fast day, that the best low-calorie alcohol choices include champagne (yay!) and vodka and (slimline) tonic.
at Le Prince Maurice
By the end of the week I’d decided that if I did want to continue The Fast Diet, I’d probably do it on Mondays and Thursdays (which is apparently when Mohammed fasted too). So did I continue? I confess I did not – but that’s mainly because I don’t want to lose weight. Instead, I’ve done what Mimi now does, which is a 6:1 programme to help you keep your weight in check, fasting one day a week. Do I do it consistently Er, I confess I do not – I just do it when I feel a little ‘full’ one week and I want to give my body a rest. But you know what? I know a hell of a lot of people who do.
What, where, how, when…
From £2033 per person for 7 nights with Audley Travel (includes return flights, transfers and seven nights in a Junior Suite and is valid for travel in October; 01993 838 250 www.audleytravel.com/beaches). Find out more about Constance Le Prince Maurice or book at www.constancehotels.com. For UK readers, the flight time from London to Mauritius is 11 hours.
Find out more about The Fast Diet at www.thefastdiet.co.uk.
© Queen of Retreats