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You’ve more than likely heard of the 5:2 diet, whether you’ve skim-read articles touting its benefits, or have a friend who’s become a complete 5:2 convert.
It burst onto the scene in January 2013 when everyone was feeling the effects of an overindulgent Christmas. While intermittent fasting has been a well-known nutritional tool in the fitness world for years, the 5:2 diet, also known as The Fast Diet, presented itself to the masses as an easy-to-follow eating pattern that promises to let you tuck into your favourite foods and still lose weight.
Easy to see why so many people jumped on the bandwagon, right? Who doesn’t want to hear that they don’t need to sign up to a gruelling post-Christmas diet in order to shift those extra pounds?
While statistics about the 5:2 diet in particular are fairly scarce, intermittent dieting has been studied in depth with the practice of fasting gaining momentum as a healthy lifestyle choice way back to the 1940s. And if you want to go even further back, then consider this: Hippocrates, Plato and Aristotle were huge fans of the dietary pattern.
It has been linked to a variety of health benefits, from reducing the risk of heart disease to alleviating symptoms of asthma – the perks appear to be plentiful, and it’s not just about weight loss.
With celebrity advocates including Miranda Kerr, Jennifer Lopez and even Benedict Cumberbatch, its popularity four years after Dr Michael Mosley released The 5:2 Fast Diet book proves that it’s not just another fad diet.
But what is the 5:2 diet plan? Does the 5:2 diet work? How can you find or devise your own 5:2 diet recipes?
Here’s everything you need to know about the world famous plan.
What is the 5:2 diet plan?
The principle of the 5:2 diet is intermittent fasting. You eat the coveted 2,000 calories five days a week – although you don’t have to consciously count calories – then on two days you slash your intake by three quarters.
On fast days, this works out to be around 500 calories for women.
Many people find the 5:2 diet easier than traditional calorie counting diets, with studies showing that both methods tend to result in the same amount of weight loss.
To help you feel full on your fast days, you’re advised to go for foods high in protein and fibre like fish, meat and veg. You can also choose to do your fast days back-to-back or spread them out over the week.
But be careful; while there is no list of things you can and can’t eat on your ‘normal’ days, don’t reach for a 12-box of Krispy Kremes to treat yourself the day after a fast. Overeating or overindulging will result in all your hard fasting work flying out the window, so if you fancy a cookie have one–but try to eat intuitively, and as you usually would.
In pudding mode? Try these 4 desserts under 150 calories. Win.
Does the 5:2 diet work?
According to Dr Mosley, the 5:2 diet can help you lose around a pound a week if you stick to it rigidly, and studies appear to agree with this healthy loss.
Research has shown that fasting can lead to a significant reduction in belly fat in particular, with participants of one study showing a 4-7% decrease in their waistline circumference.
Results to sink your teeth into.
Teamed with exercise and strength training, the results of the 5:2 diet can be even better. Early morning fasted cardio can burn more fat than a workout later in the day, but don’t overdo it on your 500 calorie days as The Fast Diet website advises: “Exercise can be a useful distraction if you begin to feel peckish.
“Don’t, however, attempt to do a lot of endurance training on a fasting day, and if you feel uncomfortable, stop.”
The 5:2 diet benefits – intermittent fasting
Evidence suggests that the wealth of health benefits linked to intermittent fasting actually outweigh weight lost. With this in mind, read on for the pros and cons of the the 5:2 diet.
Pros of the 5:2 diet:
- Some people find it easier to follow than a traditional low calorie diet
- Reduces coronary artery disease
- Alternative day fasting could help alleviate symptoms of asthma, seasonal allergies, heart arrhythmias, and menopausal hot flashes
- Improves brain function
- Reduces risk of cancer, heart disease, and strokes
- Improves cholesterol levels
- Increases life span
- Protects against alzheimers and dementia
Cons of the 5:2 diet:
According to the NHS website you can also expect some less than savoury side effects from cutting the calories. They can include:
- Feeling faint
- Uncomfortable hunger
- Bad breath
5:2 diet recipes
The idea of a measly 500 calories could make your stomach churn, so prep for light living. Whether you decide to restrict your calorie consumption at breakfast, lunch and dinner or eat in one go, there are many healthy meal ideas online.
5:2 diet meal plan
Need some ideas for fasting days? No problem.
5:2 diet recipes – breakfast
It’s important that your first meal of the day keeps hunger at bay. Choose nutritious foods that are high in protein and fibre to keep you feeling full past 9am. Whether you want something sweet or savoury, with these 5:2 diet breakfast recipes you’re covered.
- Low calorie flapjack recipe
- This breakfast food formula will ensure you stay full until lunchtime
- Healthy breakfast recipies: carrot, honey and rye porridge
- 10 healthiest breakfast buys
5:2 diet recipes – lunch
Bookmark these hearty 5:2 diet recipes that are high in protein. Eat at lunch and there’s less of a chance you’ll want to face plant the free cake table at 3pm.
- Low calorie spaghetti bolognese
- Low calorie cottage pie
- Healthy slow cooker recipes
5:2 diet snacks
Yes, that’s right – if you calculate your calories carefully, you will find that there is room for snacks in your 500 calorie window. The official The Fast Diet website advises that ‘fresh, raw ingredients like almonds, carrots, celery sticks, apple slices’ make the perfect 5:2 diet snacks, but if you want to shake it up a bit you fit in everything from popcorn to ice cream sundaes (yes, really).
- Healthy snacks under 100 calories
- 5 popcorn recipes under 150 cals
- Low calorie healthy ice cream sundae
How to manage hunger cravings on the 5:2 diet
Dr Mosley admits that during the first few weeks of the 5:2 diet, you may find it particularly difficult to overcome the hunger pangs during a fast day.
However, lots of 5:2 dieters with impressive success stories have shared their tips for managing a growling stomach though the following distractions:
- Go for a short walk
- Drink a calorie free drink
- Take a shower
- Read a book
- Declutter your wardrobe
- Pamper yourself with a hair mask, or paint your nails
New Years Resolutions – How to 5:2 Your Life also offers some amazing motivational tips to keep you on track
Who should avoid the 5:2 diet
While most people can reap the benefits of the 5:2 diet, it might not be an option for some.
It is advised that pregnant women and diabetics consult their GP before starting the plan, and anyone under the age of 18 is discouraged from intermittent fasting as it may not provide you with sufficient nutrients for growth.
The official website also advises that it is not suitable for individuals who are on medication (particularly Warfarin), those who are underweight, or anyone who has an eating disorder.
Even if you do not fall into any of the above categories, you should always consult your GP before starting a new exercise or diet plan.
What do the experts say about the 5:2 diet?
It sounds easy enough, but does the 5:2 diet work as a realistic weight loss plan in the long-term? Dr Mosley suggests moving on to a 6:1 pattern once you have reached a healthy weight – but what do the experts say?
“This is a great way to lose weight not too quickly, and recent research has suggested that the diet also offers health benefits such as greater metabolic efficiency, improved brain function and improved glycemic control,” explains Lovisa Nilsson, nutritionist at health and fitness app, Lifesum.
“Intermittent fasting supposedly promotes more fat than muscle loss, not to mention that this diet is super simple – as long as you can calorie count you can tailor it to your taste and still eat foods that you enjoy.
“You can’t deny this diet is effective for a weight-loss fix, but I certainly don’t think it’s sustainable. Plus, you’re depriving yourself from a lot of essential nutrients two days a week, leaving you with less energy.”
Looking for even more 5:2 recipe ideas? Why not try this Low Calorie Thai Green Curry or this Low Calorie Caesar Salad Recipe.