If you’ve researched weight loss diets or have any interest in intermittent fasting as a way to lose weight, you’ve probably heard of the 5:2 diet. It sounds complicated but it’s really very simple and an effective way to lose weight. It’s not for everybody but many people fall in love with this style of dieting because of the results they see and the health benefits they feel. I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about the 5:2 diet. We’ll find out exactly what it is, how to do it, how much effort is involved, how to prepare, what food to eat, and answer some frequently asked questions.
What Is The 5:2 Diet?
The 5:2 diet is a form of intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is where you only eat during certain times and fast at other designated periods of time. For example, I currently follow a form of intermittent fasting that means I skip breakfast and lunch and then have a feeding window between 2pm-8pm. The 5:2 diet, however, is a little more hardcore that that.
The 5:2 diet means you eat whatever you want five days of the week and fast (no food) for two days of the week.
Crazy, right? I can hear your questions already. Really, I can eat whatever I want? And then I have to eat nothing at all?
That’s right. You can pretty much eat whatever you want for five days out of the week. Then you have to eat basically nothing on two of those days. If you think this sounds like an extreme form of dieting, you’re right. But it can work for certain people. If you’re horrified at the sound of this diet, it might not be for you. However, if you think this sounds awesome, keep reading.
How Do You Do It?
Let’s clear up some confusion because the 5:2 diet isn’t exactly about eating whatever you want on five days and then nothing at all on two days.
On the five days, you simply eat normally without thought to calorie or food restriction. This doesn’t mean you go crazy and binge on cake, cookies, and cola all day long. But it also doesn’t mean you have to worry about something being ‘low-fat’ or ‘low-carb’ or ‘low-anything’. If you want to have dessert after your dinner, have it. If you want to have a couple of bagels and an orange juice for breakfast, go for it. Don’t binge but don’t restrict.
On the two days, you actually do eat something. You just don’t eat that much. You restrict your calories big time. Women reduce their calories to 500 for the day. Men reduce their calories to 600 for the day. This is based on the rule of thumb that women, on average, require 2,000 calories per day to maintain their weight and men require 2,400 calories per day to maintain their weight.
How Much Effort Is Involved? 5/10
Most diets require you to restrict your calories every day. That gets difficult very fast. It’s the number one reason why people fall of the wagon. Dieters become disillusioned and grumpy and hate the fact they haven’t had ice cream in two weeks, so they give up, binge, and go straight back to where they started.
Conversely, the 5:2 diet only has you restricting calories on two days of the week. And those two days are not back-to-back. On the other five days, you eat normally and shouldn’t worry about calories or whether you can have that extra slice of pie. For that reason, I personally think the 5:2 diet requires very little effort. You’re just eating normally most of the time and restricting your calories drastically on two days.
I actually think this is a great way of eating because you’ll notice a surge of focus, concentration, and well-being on the two low-calorie days. Many proponents of the 5:2 diet recommend having the calories on the fast day in the morning, but I would have them in the evening so you can sleep and benefit from the improved focus during the day. Why does your focus improve? Because your body is not expending energy digesting food, which makes you clear-headed.
However, the 5:2 diet might require more effort for you than me. Everybody’s different. I don’t mind fasting, particularly when I can eat what I want most of the time. But many people might actually prefer just eating smaller meals every day or going low-carb or going paleo. The key is to actually experiment for yourself and find out how your body reacts.
The first step to prepare for the 5:2 diet is to figure out what days will be your fasting days. I suggest choosing days where temptation to eat won’t be too high. Also choose days where you have stuff to do so you can distract yourself and use your new focus to get stuff done.
I would personally choose Monday and Thursday as my fasting days. You want to separate your fasting days by a couple of normal eating days to make it easier. Plus, you want to be able to eat pizza on Friday night and have a couple of drinks with friends on Saturday, right?
The next step is to set a goal. How much weight do you want to lose? Why do you want to lose it? Write it down. Your goal might be to lose 10 pounds to fit into a new dress or lose 50 pounds so you can play with your kids without getting winded. Whatever it is, write it down and refer back to it when you need motivation.
Next, you want to plan ahead. What foods are you going to eat on your fasting days? You only have 500 calories if you’re a woman and 600 calories if you’re a man. That’s not a lot so choose them wisely. You should also plan when you’re going to eat those calories. Are you going to split them up? Are you going to have them at breakfast? Or at night? If you’ve already been through a number of diets, you probably know your body quite well and will know when is best to eat those calories. If you don’t know your body too well, you’re going to have to go through some trial and error and experiment to find out what is best for you.
You also want to elicit the support of friends and family. Tell your spouse, your parents, your kids, your friends what you’re doing and why. This will help them be supportive of your goals. The last thing you want is your spouse offering you pizza on your fasting day because they forgot you weren’t eating that day.
Make sure you have tons of water on hand. You want to stay hydrated and water can help you curb cravings.
Personally, I would also suggest having a tasty BCAA supplement too. They’re low calories (check the label) and they help preserve muscle, reduce hunger cravings, and power you through the diet. I recommend Xtend by Scivation (Blue Raspberry is my favorite).
Another thing that will help you on your fasting days is black coffee. This can give you an extra energy boost, curb your cravings, and help you power through. I recommend Koffee Kult beans.
In addition to the coffee, you might want to take advantage of green tea. Green tea can also help curb hunger cravings, it can relax you (essential for when you’re low on calories), and has tons of health benefits. I like Japanese teas personally and I have three favorite kinds:
- Gyokuro is great for bursts of energy without the crash.
- Sencha is great for cool, calm, relaxing focus:
- Matcha is great for feeling on top of the world and super happy about life:
Finally, you might want to try out a fat burner. This can also help give you extra energy on your fasting days. I recommend RED Burner by Red Supplements:
The great thing about the 5:2 diet is that there really aren’t that many rules. Diets that have pages and pages of rules have a really low adherence rate. It’s not practical. People will drop the diet if it’s two difficult to follow. So, the rules for the 5:2 diet simply boil down to this:
- Eat normally five days of the week
- Eat only 500 or 600 calories (depending on your gender) two days of the week.
The 5:2 diet is so simple it’s beautiful. That’s all you need to remember. I’ll answer some of your frequently asked questions in this guide but if you take just one thing away from this guide let it be those two bullet points. Then you will know how to follow the 5:2 diet.
Exercise And The 5:2 Diet
You can still exercise as normal when following the 5:2 diet. One of the biggest questions I get around the 5:2 diet is whether you can exercise on the fast days. I actually recommend that you do exercise on those days. But I have one modification: don’t do long steady-state cardio on fasting days.
Short bursts of anaerobic activities, like sprinting, cycling, jumping, lifting weights, will be very beneficial on your fasting days. They can help take your mind off any hunger you’re feeling and you will also burn more fat on an empty stomach.
My suggestion is to keep exercise short and sweet on your fasting days. You can do whatever your normal exercise is on the other days, but for fasting days, I would do a 20-30 minute workout that looks like this:
- ~15 minutes of weight training. 5-8 reps of slow and controlled movements and compound exercises like bench press, squat, and pull-ups.
- ~15 minutes of a couple of sprints alternated with fast incline walking.
Can You Follow The 5:2 Diet If You Already Have Food Restrictions?
Absolutely. The 5:2 diet has nothing to do with restricting certain foods. You can eat what you normally eat five days out of the week. Then on two days you only eat 500 or 600 calories of what you want.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a vegetarian, a vegan, or you need to eat gluten-free, the 5:2 diet can still work for you.
Pros Of The 5:2 Diet
- You can eat what you want most of the time. Isn’t that really what we want from a weight-loss diet?
- You only need to restrict calories two days out of the week. No need to restrict calories for weeks on end and feel miserable.
- Once you get used to the hunger pangs (it might take a couple of weeks) the fasting days will be your most productive days because your body won’t be using energy to digest food. You’ll get way more done on your productive days.
- It works. That’s the best benefit, right? You’ll actually drop the pounds super quick. You’ll be able to fit into that dress or show off those six-pack abs in no time at all.
- It’s convenient. A lot of diets, especially the ones that restrict certain foods, are super inconvenient to fit into your life. The 5:2 diet, however, is simple and you can eat like a normal person most of the time.
- You’ll have a greater appreciation of food. There’s no better feeling than tucking into your favorite dish after a day of calorie restriction.
- You’ll save money. Seriously, think about how much dough you can save when you’re not eating two days out of the week. You could probably have enough money for a new car or a nice holiday by the end of the year.
- More control. Being able to control how much you eat two days out of the week will have a strong impact on your ability to control yourself in other aspects of your life. It’s quite common to see your behavior improve as you won’t be so quick to act on impulse and you can think long-term.
Cons Of The 5:2 Diet
- After depriving yourself of food, you might be inclined to overeat the next day.
- Hunger pangs on the fasting days might result in insomnia and irritability.
- Restricting food two days out of the week might lead to a deprivation of essential minerals and nutrients. Make sure you’re getting enough vegetables and monitor your body for any changes that might be due to imbalances.
- You might have no focus or energy on the fasting days. This is a particular concern if you’ve never fasted before. My suggestion is to start off light. Get used to fasting by skipping breakfast and lunch. Once you can deal with that, you should give the 5:2 diet a go.
- The 5:2 diet might exacerbate problems for those prone to eating disorders. If you’ve ever suffered from anorexia or binge-eating issues in the past, the 5:2 diet might incite those problems again.
Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting
At the end of the day, the 5:2 diet is really just intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting has been an established practice in cultures all over the world for thousands of years. It has many established benefits that include:
- Improved fast loss
- Increased life-span
- Improved heart health
- Reduced inflammation
- Improving blood sugar levels
- Lowered risk of type 2 diabetes
- Increased human growth hormone
- Improved focus, energy, and clarity
- Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease
5:2 For Weight Loss – Does It Work?
Yes, the 5:2 diet does work for weight loss. The average follower of the diet will lose a pound a week. However, how much you lose will depend on your current body fat level and how much you need to lose. If you’re very overweight, you might lose more than a pound a week on this diet. If you don’t have too much to lose and are already relatively lean, how much you lose can be quite a lot less. It also depends on your unique body and what you eat on your normal days. The goal to quality weight loss is losing fat steadily and consistently.
How Does It Work?
Simply put, the 5:2 diet is a calorie restriction diet with an intermittent fasting twist. You don’t eat low calories every day but because you’re eating drastically low calories on two days out of the week, your weekly calories are less than the amount of calories you burn. Added to this, intermittent fasting has many fat-loss benefits. That’s how the 5:2 diet works.
How Should I Eat On Fasting Days?
If you’re a woman, aim to eat 500 calories on your fasting days. If you’re a man, aim to eat 600 calories on your fasting days.
These calories can be in one meal or spread out through the day. Some people like to have all of their designated calories at breakfast, others like to have all of the calories for dinner (like me). Some people like to split their calories up into two meals. Find out what works for you. As long as you stick to the calorie amount, you’ll be fine.
As for what foods you should eat on fasting days, make sure you have foods that contain protein because these are the most satisfying, will keep your fuller for longer, and will help preserve your muscle mass while you burn fat. You should also eat lots of vegetables because vegetables are low in calories but high in essential minerals, nutrients, and fiber. Here are some examples of foods you could eat on your fasting days:
- Tuna, Salmon, Tilapia
- Broccoli, Caulifower, Beetroot, Carrots, Spinach, Peas
Should I Fast 2 Days In A Row Or Split The Days?
You could fast 2 days in the row if you’re a crazy masochist. But I highly recommend you split the days up. For example, I would fast on a Monday and Thursday. That way I have some normal eating days between the two fasting days. This will keep me sane and more likely to stick to the diet and experience less unwanted side effects (like not being able to sleep or feeling irritable).
Who Shouldn’t Fast?
Don’t fast if you fit any of these profiles:
- Under 18-years-old
- Have Type 1 Diabetes
- Recovering from surgery
- Pregnant or breastfeeding
- Unwell or recovering from sickness
- Having underlying medical conditions.
- Underweight or suffering from an eating disorder.
- Those who are on medications and uncertain about effects.
Isn’t It Bad To Cut Calories So Drastically?
You’re only cutting calories drastically on two days. On the other five days you are eating normally. This results in a moderate calorie deficit if you look at it as weekly calories. This isn’t very drastic. Plus fasting has been proven to have many health benefits. In short, it’s generally not bad to have two low-calorie days a week.
What To Do If You Feel Uncontrollably Hungry/Unwell?
If you feel unwell, you should eat something and stop the diet. You should also speak to your doctor to find out if you have any underlying medical conditions that preclude you from following the 5:2 diet.
If it’s just an issue of hunger, my biggest recommendation is to do the following:
- Drink a big glass of cold water. This can really cut down cravings.
- Have some BCAAs. I recommend Xtend because they are tasting and do wonders to stop hunger pangs: Xtend BCAA
- Have some coffee or green tea in the morning and early afternoon.
Can I Exercise When I Fast?
Absolutely. Just make sure it’s not too strenuous. I’ve put my exercise recommendations above in this article. I would suggest you stay away from long endurance exercise and keep things short.
How Long Can I Stay On The Diet?
As long as it’s working for you. If you love the 5:2 diet, experience loads of results, remain healthy, and don’t see many downsides, you can stay on the diet as long as you want.
What you decide to eat five days out of the week is entirely up to you. That’s the beauty of the 5:2 diet. But what should you eating on the fasting days when following the 5:2 diet? I’ve got you covered. Here are some meal ideas and recipes that I’m sure you will love.
This meal plan comes from GoodToKnow.com:
- Breakfast – Spinach Omelette: 1 medium egg and 60g of fresh spinach = 94 calories.
- Lunch – Leek and Potato Soup =134 calories.
- Dinner – Chinese Vegetable Chow Mein = 170 calories
- Snack – Two satsumas = 42 calories
Following that meal plan on your fasting day will keep you just under 500 calories.
The next two recipes come from BBC Good Food:
Spiced Chicken and Pineapple Salad = 176 calories
- 227g can pineapple in juice
- 40g pack of cooked sliced chicken breast
- 1 red onion
- 90g of mixed leaf
- Handful of cherry tomatoes
- 1 red chilli
- 2 tbsp of white wine vinegar
- 1 small bunch of coriander
- 1 tbsp of sweet chili sauce
- Drain the pineapple, reserving the juice. If in rings, chop into chunks. Mix with the chicken, onion, leaves, coriander and tomatoes, and divide between 2 containers if taking as lunch.
- For the dressing, whisk 2 tbsp of the pineapple juice, the red chilli, vinegar and sweet chilli sauce with some seasoning in a small jam jar or lidded container, and toss this through the salad before serving.
Taken from BBC Good Food Site
Mushroom, Spinach & Potato Pie = 215 calories
- 400g of baby spinach
- 1tbsp of olive oil
- 500g of mushrooms
- garlic gloves
- 250ml of vegetable stock
- 300g cooked new potatoes
- 1 tbsp of grain mustard
- 1tbsp grated nutmeg
- 2 heaped tbsp of light crème fraîche
- 2 sheets of filo pastry
- 300g of green beans/broccoli, steamed
- Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Wilt spinach in a colander by pouring a kettleful of hot water over it.
- Heat half the oil in a large non-stick pan and fry mushrooms on a high heat until golden. Add garlic and cook for 1 min, then tip in stock, mustard, nutmeg and potatoes. Bubble for a few mins until reduced. Season, then remove from the heat; add crème fraîche and spinach. Pour into a pie dish and allow to cool for a few mins.
- Brush filo with remaining oil, quarter sheets then loosely scrunch up and lay on top of pie filling. Bake for 20-25 mins until golden. Serve with vegetables.
Taken from BBC Good Food Site
Here’s another great recipe that makes a nice dinner. I got this recipe from Marie Claire and think it’s perfect for those who want to eat their calories in the evening as a form of a big dinner. This meal is very satisfying:
Spicy Mexican Bean Burgers = 459 calories
- Cooking spray
- 1/2 red onion
- 4 spring onions
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 large red chili
- 2tsp Mexican spice mix
- 11/2 x 400g tins of mixed beans
- 1 egg beaten
- 50g fresh breadcrumbs
- 2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- 75g low fat feta cheese
- 80g of halloumi cheese
- Salt and pepper
- 1 granary burger bun
- 1tbsp gaucamole
- 10g rocket leaves
- 1 sliced tomato
- Spray a non-stick frying pan with a little 1-cal cooking spray. Add the onion and spring onions, season with salt and pepper and fry over a low heat for about 5 minutes, until softened but not coloured.
- Add the garlic, chilli and Cajun spice, then fry for 2–3 minutes. Tip into a bowl, add the beans and roughly mash.
- Leave to cool slightly, then add the egg, breadcrumbs, coriander and lime juice. Season well, then mix to combine. Gently stir in the crumbled feta.
- Wet your hands lightly, then shape the mixture into 4 large patties. Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up.
- Preheat the grill to medium. Spray a little more cooking spray in a grillproof frying pan and heat over a medium heat. Add the burgers and fry for 3–4 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Top each burger with a slice of halloumi, then cook under the grill for 3–4 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and melted.
- Serve in toasted buns topped with guacamole, rocket leaves and sliced tomatoes, if desired.
5:2 Diet Results And Success Stories
If you want to get a glimpse into how powerful the 5:2 can be, all you need to do is check out some of the amazing success stories over at the Fast Diet forum: https://thefastdiet.co.uk/forums/forum/soul/before-and-after/
Here are a few of my favorites:
“Size 12 to size 6/8 in 10 weeks!”
10 weeks in, 23lb down (10st to 8st 5lb) and very happy! Feel so much more confident in my own skin and for the first time in my life it has been hard earned (other times I’ve weighed this much have been through depression and/or anxiety)...It really works! Good luck and keep going everyone.
“15 weeks later… 10kg lighter!"
Today is a happy one for me, I have now lost 10kg since I started the fast diet. I started the 9th of November, so I worked out that makes it 15 weeks, but it should be more like 12 because I had a week off for exam week and I didn’t do any fasting over Christmas for two weeks...
It shows how much fasting actually changes your eating habits that during these weeks “off” I didn’t put on any weight, I just stayed the same.
“From Skinny-Fat with Prediabetes to Skinny-Skinny with optimal glucose control”
Just wanted to share my story of how the 5:2 helped me get my health on track. I’m 37 with a family history of diabetes and dementia. I have PCOS but have never considered myself at risk for diabetes because my labs have always been great, and I’ve always been thin with a BMI between 20 and 21. I had a stressful year and gained 5 pounds, mostly around the middle (weighed 127 at 5’6). A life insurance exam showed that my HbA1c was 5.6, with a fasting glucose of 105 mg/dL (equivalent of 5.8 mmol/L for all you guys in the UK). This put me in the category of prediabetic.
I resolved to do something about it and started the 5:2. My goal was not to lose a certain amount of weight, but to be healthy again. So I bought a glucometer and starting tracking my glucose. Sure enough, it came in at slightly over 100 every morning. After a couple weeks on the 5:2, I started getting readings in the 90’s. Now, 3 months later and 10 pounds lighter, I have optimal glucose readings (in the 70s every morning). I switched to 6:1 a couple of weeks ago and am feeling great with no issues maintaing so far. I don’t crave carbs the way I used to, and the one fasting day each week is so easy. I have to hold back from telling everyone about this diet!
Where Can I Find Out More?
There are a bunch of fantastic resources for the 5:2 diet. Be sure to check out my following recommendations if you want to learn more.
Websites And Forums
The Fast Diet Forum–This is where you can learn more about the 5:2, see success stories, ask questions, and interact with other followers of the diet. https://thefastdiet.co.uk/forums/
The Fast Day Forum – This is another great forum for anyone interested in the 5:2 diet or intermittent fasting. https://forum.fastday.com
The 5:2 Diet Plan – This is a blog that explores the long-term effects of the 5:2 diet. There are a lot of gold posts stuffed with great information here. http://www.the52dietplan.com
The 5:2 Diet Facebook Forum – This is the best Facebook forum on the subject of the 5:2 diet. https://www.facebook.com/52fastdiet/
The Fast Diet by Mosley and Spencer
The Fast Diet by Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer – This is the best book on the subject of the 5:2 diet. If you’re going to take this diet seriously, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of this book so you can understand exactly what you’re doing.
5:2 Diet Recipes by Gina Crawford
5:2 Diet Recipes by Gina Crawford –This cookbook is bursting with delightful recipes that will help make your 5:2 diet super simple.
5:2 Diet Recipes by Diana Clayton
5:2 Diet Recipe Book by Diana Clayton – This is another great source of fantastic recipes to help you during the 5:2 diet.
You’ll either love the 5:2 diet or you’ll hate it. You won’t know until you try it. But one thing is for sure: the 5:2 diet is very simple and easy to follow. It also works! Remember, all you have to do is eat normally for five days of the week and eat 500 or 600 calories on your two fast days. Good luck!
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