The 5:2 diet has been a sensation worldwide, but is it right for you?
Since UK doctor Michael Mosley tried it out successfully for a BBC documentary there has been a slew of fasting guides, cookbooks and celebrity endorsements.
All you have to do is eat no more than 500 calories on two non-consecutive days each week, and enjoy whatever you like the rest of the time.
Fasting is a very traditional practice throughout the world, many cultures still observe fasting rites such as Lent or Ramadan. Most of us have had to fast on doctor’s orders at least once or twice – “nil by mouth” from midnight on the eve of an operation – and it hasn’t done us any harm.
But is it safe to severely restrict food two days a week, every week? Britain’s National Health Service has investigated the 5:2 diet, and believes it can be done safely. But there are some guidelines it’s important to follow.
1. Get the greens in
Focus on salads and not only will you easily stay within your limit but you’ll probably be eating way more vegetables than usual. You’ll have to ditch the sweet, oily dressings but lemon juice or even a dash of soy sauce can liven things up.
2. Plenty of water
Your digestive system keeps going even when you fast so keep your water intake up so your kidneys have something to work with! You also need to replace the water that you’re not getting from food. Unsweetened tea and coffee are ok, though herbal tisanes and decaf are even better.
3. Focus on fish
Fish is one of the best proteins to have if you’re trying to keep calories down since it’s highly nutritious and modest in calories when grilled. There’s no reason you can’t start your day with a piece of grilled fish rather than bacon, after all, kippers are a traditional breakfast food.
4. Whole foods
It’s definitely time to farewell sugar and processed foods even if you can squeeze it in to your calorie limit (which won’t be easy). Better to eat a generous portion of steamed green veggies than a tiny bite of junk food. And a big part of the 5:2 diet – or indeed of any diet – is to reeducate your tastebuds and make deeper, longer-term lifestyle changes.
5. Keep exercising
You may feel a bit weak and wan the very first day you fast but after a week or so you should feel pretty normal. It’s important to keep up your exercise routine even if you switch the heavier stuff to non-fasting days. Exercise gives a big boost to any weight loss plan – even a gentle walk is fine.
If enduring two days of restriction week in, week out just isn’t for you, there are other ways to fast. Some people advocate interval fasting where you only eat during a certain time frame every day, for example 4pm to 8pm. Another option is to try a tougher five-day fast every two months.
The most important thing is to tip the balance of what you’re eating away from highly processed, high calorie food towards fresher, nutrient-packed whole foods.
As with any new health plan, it’s wise to consult your GP first before making major dietary changes.