The 5:2 diet has been billed as the ultimate food lover’s diet: a way to have your cake and eat it, at least most days per week. Celebrities including Liv Tyler, Ben Affleck, Beyoncé and Christie Turlington are rumoured to have tried the diet, also known as “intermittent fasting”.
The diet, which sounds too good to be true, became a global sensation after Dr Michael Mosley tried it with surprising success on the BBC documentary Eat, Fast and Live Longer. All you have to do is restrict your food intake to 500 calories for two non-consecutive days, and five days of enjoying whatever you like.
Fasting is an ancient practice but not without its critics, so should you give intermittent fasting a try? The UK’s National Health Service has investigated the 5:2 diet, and believes it can be safe and effective if carried out sensibly. But it does caution that as with any new diet, there’s still limited research into it.
So here are 5 DOs and 2 DON’Ts to make the 5:2 diet work for you:
DO – Drink water
Even when you’re not eating, your kidneys and digestive system will still be working, so stay hydrated. We get a lot of our daily water intake from food, so when you reduce food, it’s wise to increase water consumption. You can also drink black, unsweetened tea and coffee, though it’s good to try and give your body a caffeine break as well.
DO – Ban sugar
Many items marketed as “low-fat” also contain sugar, which will quickly push you past your daily limits. Make sure foods like yoghurts are low-fat and sugar-free.
DO – Focus on salads
You can eat a surprising amount of salad vegetables for 200 calories, but you do have to avoid sweet and oily salad dressings. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice is a good substitute, and freshly cracked black pepper.
DO – Fill up on soups
“Zero point” soups do have some calories, but very few. A big bowl of vegetable-based soup is a great way to feel nourished, take in fluids, and sate hunger.
DO – Fish supper
Fish is extremely nutritious and when grilled, quite modest in calories. Grilled fish is also a great, high-protein way to start the day, and a lower carb option than cereal.
DON’T – Go processed
There are many calorie-counted snacks and ready meals available, but avoid these. A big part of the 5:2 diet is teaching you to get back to fresh whole foods and develop healthier tastes and habits overall.
DON’T – Neglect exercise
There’s no reason to laze about even if you’re fasting. Even if you don’t feel like the gym, take a gentle walk. Exercise gives a big boost to any weight loss plan, and is important for your overall fitness.
These are healthy suggestions for any eating plan, and hopefully you’ll find some of them spill over into your eating days as well. There are also lots of recipe suggestions online. But the most important thing is to get into a pattern that suits you, doesn’t leave you feeling faint or headachey, and – critical for every diet – feels sustainable.
If you feel the 5:2 isn’t working, you want to get past a plateau or you’d like faster results, you can try 4:3. Once you’re happy with your weight, reduce to 6:1 for ongoing maintenance. As with any new health plan, you should consult with your GP first.
Chloe Quin is wellness expert with online health insurance provider Health.com.au, whose mission is to help Australians access affordable healthcare that’s easy to understand. Also a qualified yoga instructor, Chloe is passionate about empowering women to boost their health and fitness in fun, family-friendly ways.