Fitness Friday – Trying The 5/2 Diet

~700 words, ~3 min reading time

So, I’m in the midst of a “cut”, and I’m trying a new technique: the 5/2 diet. Let me compare it with what I’ve done in the past.

Previously, I followed the Kinobody cutting diet. So, five days per week, I’d eat in a calorie deficit, and two days per week, I’d eat at a slight surplus. After some experimenting, I’ve found that 1600 calories on my low-calorie days and 2500 on my high-calorie days was about right to hit my weight loss goals. This approach basically has “diet breaks” built in on those two high-calorie days per week, and diet breaks have been shown to have positive effects on things like maintaining lean body mass and metabolism. Greg O’Gallagher at Kinobody also suggests taking explicit diet breaks whenever weight-loss stalls.

The 5/2 diet, though, reverses things. Rather than five days of deficit and two days of surplus, you eat five days at maintenance and two days at a very sharp deficit. After doing the calculations, that means I’m eating 2300 calories per day five days per week, and 800 calories per day two days per week. Yes, 800 calories is VERY little – but it is fairly easy to hit simply by fasting for most of the day, and just eating a reasonable dinner. (Note: the original Fast Diet – which the 5/2 diet comes from – says to eat “normally” – that is, don’t bother tracking – for 5 days, and to eat 500-600 calories for two days of the week. I’m following the modified version that I linked above.)

In terms of weekly calorie intake, the two diets are very similar. 1600×5 + 2500×2 = 13,000 calories per week. 2300×5 + 800×2 = 13,100.

The big difference is in the eating pattern. For me, the 5/2 diet has been significantly easier, because I don’t feel like I have to track quite as closely. On maintenance days, I keep track of what I eat, try not to go overboard, and then make sure I hit fairly close to my calories by adjusting my evening snacks after the kids are in bed. In contrast, during my 5 low-calorie days per week under my previous diet scheme, I had to pay a lot more attention to what I was eating each meal to make sure that I was (1) not using up too many of my calories, but also (2) hitting protein goals along the way. That was a lot of attention having to be paid to what I was eating. The 5/2 diet reduces that significantly.

Another big benefit that I’ve found for the 5/2 diet is that I can keep doing it – or something close to it – even when I’m traveling. On my previous diet, I would simply abandon the diet if I went on a trip, simply because it’s too hard to control food intake. I figured 7 days wouldn’t do any permanent damage – and this is correct, as far as that goes. But, it does set you back a bit. But, I’m out of town this week for a seminar – and I’m mostly sticking to the 5/2 diet despite that, even though I’m not tracking calories exactly. 5 days, I’m eating “normally” more or less (so, probably near, but slightly above maintenance, I would guess), and two days, I’m just eating dinner and maybe a smaller snack. In any case, not eating until dinner time basically ensures that I won’t be eating maintenance-level calories those days. So, while I may lose some ground from not tracking calories precisely, I don’t expect I’ll lose much ground – and that’s something.

One downside, though: I am definitely hungry on my 800 calories days – where I hadn’t really experienced that as much on the 1600/2500 split. But, it’s not that big a deal. Drinking lots of water helps, and you do get used to it on some level. Plus, it’s just one day – then I know I get a couple days eating normally.

Naturally, there are some people who absolutely should not do this – it’s particularly dangerous for diabetics. Children and pregnant or nursing mothers should also do something else, most likely. But, it seems to be going okay for me so far – sadly, it’s too early to report results.

Marx’s Capital Volume III – Chapter 5 – Economy in Employment of Constant Capital

~700 words, ~ 4 min reading time

Summary

Since workers create surplus value, it makes sense for capitalists to minimize how much they spend, relatively, on non-labor. (That is “constant capital” in Marx’s terminology.) In general, they can do this by increasing working hours. Since the same building can operate for 8 hours or 24 hours, a greater profit margin will be attained if work happens for more hours. In addition, capitalists look for ways to use the “excretions of production” – that is, by-products or “waste”.

Marx goes a bit deeper on a couple of examples. He discusses savings on labor conditions – pointing out that capitalists can decrease their expenses by tolerating unsafe or uncomfortable working conditions, and presents data showing that disease and mortality are more common among workers in industries where conditions are particularly bad. Marx also observes that large-scale production is encouraged, in part, by the way that power works in industrial machinery. It is often more economical to operate one large plant than multiple smaller ones. These economies of scale (to use the modern phrase) allow capitalists to economize on constant capital. Marx goes a bit deeper into the “excretions of production”. Strangely, he criticizes capitalism for not putting human feces on fields to use as manure. Finally, Marx observes that new inventions are often not economical – so that the first to buy a new product end up paying far more than when the product gets more developed.

Why It Matters

Here we’re getting much more to the practical criticism of the capitalist system that Marx provides. The most important part here is the criticism regarding requiring long working hours and the one about unsafe and unhealthy working conditions. These are the two activities that look the most like “exploitation”, and, I would suggest, are often at the heart of criticisms of a market system.

Where Marx Goes Wrong

Here, Marx’s wage theory is what creates the biggest problems. Since Marx buys into the classicals’ iron law of wages – that is that wages will stay at the level of subsistence – Marx misses the actual dynamics of what is happening. For example, people will trade off wages against other features of a job. So, for example, people may be willing to accept worse conditions – but they only do so if they are compensated for it financially. Conversely, it can sometimes be cost-saving for a company to offer more benefits but pay less – in fact, Marx himself points out a case where a business ended up saving money by installing safety equipment. Marx’s argument then, in this section, relies on the existence of two “irrationalities” – one of which Marx is explicit about, the other of which is missing from the explicit argument, as it is ruled out by Marx’s wage theory. The first irrationality: that capitalists habitually seek to avoid certain kinds of costs – specifically for safety devices. Marx reported one case where a group of manufacturers spent more paying lawyers to fight the imposition of safety regulations than it would have cost to simply implement the regulations themselves. A second is that workers care only about wages and pay no attention to the conditions of production. But these are unlikely to be true. There are systematic differences in certain wages which are explained by differences in job characteristics – sometimes explicitly. This makes perfect sense – people would be willing to be paid less for safe, comfortable jobs, other things equal – but doesn’t fit the iron law of wages which suggests that wages will fall to subsistence levels. In addition, employers take this fact into account when making decisions about safety procedures and the like. Do they get things wrong sometimes? Of course. But, it hardly seems accurate to suggest that employers regularly, irrationally avoid measures that are actually cost-saving – in a competitive world, such decisions put you at a disadvantage compared to your competitors. Which brings us back to a central issue with Marx – for Marx, competition between competitors seems to exist sometimes, but is not worked into the logic consistently. So, competition keeps prices of products in check – but doesn’t let wages rise above subsistence. Competition leads to capitalists being cost-minimizers – but they do so very poorly.