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Could an ancient diet help you to slim down?
Perched atop a rugged coastline on a small Greek island sits one of the world’s healthiest communities – the Mount Athos monks.
They have followed the same routine inside the monasteries that scatter the island for thousands of years. And, as the authors of The Mount Athos Diet (Richard Storey, Sue Tood and Lottie Storey, £10.99; Vermilion) explain ‘the monks live very long lives, largely free of cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s…Their way of eating also carries with it an enticing by-product: natural weight loss’. They also live an average of 10 years longer than the average Greek! So perhaps it’s no surprise that the wider world now wants to know their secret.
The authors behind the Mount Athos Diet are quick to point out that this routine is ‘a way of life’ for the monks, which forms part of their religious observance.
‘They don’t count calories’, they say. ‘Nor do they suffer any deprivation commonly associated with the ‘fad’ diets of the western world.’
‘They eat good food and drink good wine, and by following age-old principles of using wholesome ingredients, eating in moderation and exercising regularly, they are amongst the fittest and healthiest people on earth.’
Sounds like a pretty good life to us! But for those of us who don’t have the desire to become a monk on a mountaintop, what can we do to emulate this healthy lifestyle?
Well, it turns out that there’s no need to move to the Med and devote yourself to a religious life in order to live like the Mount Athos Monks. New book, The Mount Athos Diet, is here to show you how to eat and be healthier, without counting calories.
Discover out how this no-calorie counting regime can help you look and feel great…
'All the food eaten within the monasteries is fresh, organic and seasonal', the authors say. 'No ready-meals or processed foods ever enter a monastery.
'Their pattern of eating remains constant: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are regarded as Fast Days when the diet is esentially vegan - no dairy or animal protein, no wine or olive oil. Fast Day cooking is done with water, rather than oil. The remainder of the week is given over to Moderation Days (unless there is a feast day looming) when the daily menu expands to include fish, cheese, eggs, yoghurt and red wine.
'Feast Days are joyous occasions, when home-caught fish dominates the menu, cakes, sweets and even ice-cream may be served. These are seen by the monks as 'treats', but even so - always consumed in moderation.'
Fasting on the 5:2 Diet means restricting your calories, but the Mount Athos approach is far easier.
'Fasting doesn't always mean no food', the authors explain. 'You are eating only what your body needs and no more.'
In the Greek Orthodox Church, the monks abstain from meat, fish and dairy products (cheese, milk, yoghurt) and avoid oil and alcohol. Meals are simple and small on the three fast days, and they don't snack. This gives the stomach a chance to rest.
'The natural reduction in calories on Fast Days brings with it many health benefits. However, it is our belief that fasting alone does not contribute to the monks' health record', the Mouth Athos Diet authors explain.
'Fasting (and moderation) let the body rest and cleanse itself', they say.
So how does a 'moderation day' differ? The daily menu expands to include fish, cheese, eggs, yoghurt and something not allowed on many diets - red wine.
'The monks aren't teetotal. Over half their meals are accompanied by their home-produced red wine, decanted from huge storage vats into bottles for the table.' Poured in moderation though, obviously!
Exercise is crucial to any weight loss plan, and the Mount Athos Diet is no different but the monks approach to getting moving doesn't involve boring gym sessions.
'The life of a monk might be contemplative and spiritual, but it is also kept busy with an endless rota of daily chores', the diet authors say.
'Whatever task has been assigned to a monk, a third of his day is highly active, whether on the land, in the kitchens, fishing, restoring buildings, making beds or cleaning.'
How can we mimic this? Start by moving a little bit more everyday, whether that's walking home from work or leaving your desk at lunchtime for a stroll. Then try to incorporate an exercise class in to your weekly routine, it could be yoga, zumba or pilates.
Most fad diets don't make allowances for keeping the weight off. That's where this plan is different.
'The underlying reason why the Mount Athos Diet will help make sure you don't pile on the pounds after you have reached your target weight is that within a matter of two to three weeks it leads you to automatically reassess what you eat', the authors say.
'It is not so much a diet but a step change in the way we think about food and how we consume it.'
The monks may follow a strict routine around their religious commitments, but that doesn't work for us day to day.
'For the diet to work ourselves we must accept that it is impractical to follow the monks' way of life and eating patterns to the letter', Richard, Sue and Lottie say.
Instead, you follow the principles of the monks routine - fasting on three alternate days, eating moderately for three and enjoying a 'feast day' once a week.
Buy The Mount Athos Diet (£10.99; Vermilion)