The 5:2 Diet

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I haven’t posted on here for about a month, but my inspiration has been rejuvenated to the point that I can promise never to walk out on you again.

Last night I watched a very interesting documentary on the BBC, called Horizon: Eat, Fast and Live Longer. Presented by Michael Mosley, the programme investigated the power of fasting and what effect it has on things like life expectancy, weight loss and the decreasing the growth hormone IGF-1 (high levels of this accelerate ageing and low levels are protective to the body).

The Alternate Day Fasting (ADF) ‘diet’ was investigated amongst other things – where people could (literally) eat whatever they wanted every other day, but ate fewer than 600 calories on the other days. It didn’t matter what you ate on the ‘feed’ days – some people found success eating Big Macs and pizzas on their feed days, equally as much as those who ate more healthy options on those days.

Dr Krista Varady of the University of Illinois commented, “If you were sticking to your fast days, then in terms of cardiovascular disease risk, it didn’t seem to matter if you were eating a high-fat or low-fat diet on your feed (non-fast) days,”. Insane!

Michael Mosely found that ADF was too difficult and impractical, so instead took part in the 5:2 diet (an easier version). It meant eating normally for 5 days a week and eating 500-600 calories each day on the other two. He did the diet for five weeks, lost almost a stone(!) and said, “my blood markers, like IGF-1, glucose and cholesterol, improved. If I can sustain that, it will greatly reduce my risk of contracting age-related diseases like cancer and diabetes.”

If you fancy this diet, you should do so under medical supervision, as it could be dangerous for people who’re diabetic, pregnant or on medication.

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71 responses »

    • Hi Laura,

      I will soon be posting some recipe ideas for under 500/600 calorie meals. You can either spread the calories with small snacks throughout the day or eat one larger meal. For example, you could eat any of these meals (but nothing else) on your fast days: http://www.eatingwell.com/nutrition_health/weight_loss_diet_plans/diet_meal_plans/500_calorie_dinners_30_minute_dinners …another good website is http://www.goodtoknow.co.uk/recipes/pictures/27182/150-family-dinners-under-500-calories Make sure you don’t drink your calories in wine or coffee etc because these can all add up too!

      • I am thinking it might be easier to eat 5 bananas on each of the two ‘fast’ days and save the recipes for the rest of the week.

    • healthy foods are probably recommended, but as long as you stick to the 500 cals for women 600 for men , then the diet should still work, obviously eating healthier foods will mean you have more food to eat on the day. Bread is very high in calories (rolls i like brown seeded rolls from tesco, is as much as 242cals per roll, so thats just a no no for me .) Boiled egg is 85 cals. Its just being wise about what foods you chose to eat – 2 boiled eggs for breakfast would give you a substantial breakfast with enough to eat other food (over 400 cals) left to get through the day. Eating a small single burger might mean having 600 cal in one go therefore leaving you with no other food for the rest of the day. As always, dieting, healthy living is about planning and good choices.

    • My wife and I are our first 2 day fast. We have decide to eat in the week and fast at the weekend. Ready oats is quick and microwaveable. They vary but each sachet is approx 150 cal. Bananas are amazingly 100 cal. I’m a chewer and need my gum. Calculated Extra is no more than 1 cal. Canned Diet Pepsi or Diet Coke is 1 cal.
      Today, I’ve had, so far, up to 3:30pm. 1 banana (100), 1 sachet of ready oats (150), water (0), 2 cans of diet coke (2), 3 extra gums (3), 1/5 a punnet of grapes (approx 50). 2 mugs of green tea no sugar or sweetener.
      I suppose it’s just keeping the hunger at bay.
      I’m sure I dreamt about gravy last night!
      First thing, Monday morning it’s a coffee and finish off that apple pie, there’s a packet of Jaffa cakes in the cupboard but I dare’nt go near it, yet. I think it’s going to be Christmas every Monday, now.
      So…basically, you automatically start reading the nutrition tables on packets and boxes and if it fits into your 500 or 600 limit then go for it, but try to make sure it’s healthy. The hunger comes in waves and I do feel more alert. I had the headaches yesterday through detox and my wife has had them today.
      GO FOR IT!! The benefits are all positive. Mark and Emma

  1. Hi Sherol. No, as far as I can tell, the two fasting days do not have to be consecutive. If I do the 5:2 diet I will do it consecutively as I’ll find it easier to keep track of the days, but as long as you ‘fast’ for any two days out of your seven then it will work. Heather

    • Hi Heather i also wanted to know if the 2 days had to be consectutive , your answer was not as far as you can tell any idea where i can find out for sure as i wonder if it makes a differents to the whole thing.

      • Hi Keith. I have just looked on Michael Moseley’s Twitter feed and he said that in the scientific trials the days were consecutive, but when he filmed the TV programme he didn’t do consecutive days. It worked for him, so I think I would suggest that it’s down to personal preference.

      • From what Michael Mosely said, while fasting, is that the second consecutive day is the time when the body jumps into repair mode and also starts to use the fat reserves. Personally 2 consecutive days would be more beneficial.

  2. After watching that episode of Horizon I was equally surprised and inspired. But as a 23 year old male with a BMI of 19.7 I’m not sure what it means to me. The health benefits gained from this way of eating are quite substantial, especially those linked to growth hormones and age related disease. However it seems to also cause weight loss, which isn’t so good as I have very little body fat.

    I was wondering whether any of the benefits from the 5:2 fast would take greater effect in later life if I started now rather than waiting until I reach 40 or 50.

    • Hi Graham.

      My background is not medical at all so I am not in a position to give any firm medical advice. I would suggest asking your GP whether this kind of diet may work for you. You could perhaps increase your calories on ‘feed’ days – so that your calorie intake overall would still be enough, but you would still gain the benefits of fasting. I assume the benefits would take greater effect if you started now – particularly those effects such as increased ‘brain power’ as mentioned on the TV programme.

      Hope that helps.

      Heather.

    • Hi Graham,

      Look into the intermittent fasting programmes Leangains (a 16/8 hour fast) or Eat Stop Eat (one or two 24 hour fasts in a week). These are geared for people who weight train, but also, once the weight is off, for people who want to maintain their weight. Research shows you can put on lean muscle while fasting, according to Martin Berkham of Leangains and Brad Pilon of Eat Stop Eat. Google them.

      D.Edwards

  3. I have started doing it. I fasted Tuesday and have eaten normally today. Thursday is my fast day. All i ate on tuesday was a 50 calorie slimmer soup and one slice of bread. Lets see how it goes.

  4. Hi, I have also started the diet today and today has been my fast day 500 calories 😦 I am looking forward to eating tommorow 🙂 Nothing was mentioned on the programme about excersise?

    • Hey, thanks for the comment. What did you eat for your 500 calories? I’m going to find out information about whether exercise is recommended or not and hopefully post about this soon.

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  6. My partner and I started this straight after the show, with Tuesday and Wednesday being our first fast days. Tuesday was tough, but Wednesday not so bad. Normally I find being hungry very distracting, but by the second day I was fine. However I did dream about food last night.
    Michael said he was going to keep it up, but less often. Any ideas what that means?

    • Hi Toby, thanks for the comment. It’s interesting that a lot of people say that the second day is a lot easier. Maybe he meant that he’d do the diet every other month or every other week, or maybe just a couple of fast days in a week every now and then. He’s actually on Twitter so it could be worth asking him 🙂

  7. Hi. I think the two days of fasting are consecutive. After about 24-36 hours of fasting the body starts to consume body fat/waste/dead cells etc. I assume therefore that if you interrupt the fasting by having separate 24 hour fasts this mechanism wont start or be as effective.

    If Michael, in the programme separated his 2 days I’d be interested to know how that worked ‘internally’.

    Additionally, if people start getting headaches its possible it is because their body is starting to purge ‘settled’ toxins. An enema or colonic irrigation can help. It removes toxins/plaque (not dental plaque!) from the colon and allows better absorption of the 500/600 calorie meals’ nutrients.

  8. Thus diet sounds great but it’s not clear on when to eat on thd fast days is it only one meal of 500 cals if your a woman ?? Or can you eat two as long as the cal in take doesn’t exceed 500??

    • Hey, thanks for your comment. You can eat whatever you like as long as it doesn’t exceed 500 calories for a woman. You could eat five 100 calorie meals or one 500 calorie meal. It’s really up to you and whatever works best for you.

  9. Hi there. I watched the Horizon documentary on Iplayer this morning, and i found it extremely interesting. I myself have struggled with my weight my whole life and this summer i decided once and for all to sort it out. In general i eat healthy, and since the start of summer i have taken up running and attending exercise classes. Despite this, i have failed to loss any weight. Therefore, i will be starting to follow the 5/2 fasting diet, as the idea of giving your body a rest during those two days, appeals to my senses. I’ve have decided my fasting days will be Sundays and Mondays. I an very excited about the prospect and want to get started straight away. However, i am concerned about some articles i have read online about the affects of fasting on Women:

    http://www.marksdailyapple.com/women-and-intermittent-fasting/#axzz23SxomMv0

    This seems to suggest that it may have an effect on menstrual patterns, this does concern me, has anybody else heard about this?

  10. On my second week of trying this now, on day two (consecutive days). Couple of interesting things to note here. Firstly is that I’m finding the second day the hardest. Last night I dreamt of food for possibly the first time in my life. 🙂 Today I keep finding myself wandering to the kitchen and scanning the shelves self-consciously. Thankfully I’m resisting temptation, and more easily than I would trying to diet normally on a day-to-day basis. The thought of treating myself tomorrow helps with that!
    The other interesting thing is that on my fast days, I smell. In fact, I smell really bad! I assume it’s my body getting rid of toxins. Quite embarrassing when you’re doing a Gym programme in close proximity to the poor Gym staff… 🙂

    I seem to be getting very quick results. According to Wii Fit, I’ve lost 5 pounds in just over a week, starting BMI was nearly 27. On my “normal” days I’m eating exactly how I did before, where I typically gained a pound every 3-4 weeks. Incredible stuff.

    • Hi Pete

      Interestingly yesterday was my second fast day and my mouth tasted foul all afternoon and I wondered whether I had bad breath or not (did not have the guts to ask anyone though to check) and I noticed when doing exercise I sweated much more than I did 3 days before – although it was very hot yesterday. I will have to see what happend next week.

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  12. My husband and i start this diet tomorrow,it sounds good have totally plat-ode with W/Watchers so i am hoping this will kick start my weight loss , as well as the health benefits for both of us.I thought we would start with scrambled eggs in the morning and steamed fish and green veg for dinner.Any other menu idea’s would be great.

  13. I am on my second week of the 5:2 diet, and I must say the results are fantastic, I feel less bloated, my waist has already dropped a belt notch and I feel great. When I first started the “diet” I thought it would be really hard, but it’s not, you will need to plan your day’s food intake on your 600 calorie days, but with planning it can be done. Yesterday was my third 600 day, I had a lovely big salad with sweetcorn for lunch and a very healthy homemade vegetable soup with 1 slice of wholemeal bread for dinner.

    I thought I would over eat on the other days but you do not, you feel good and realise if you stick to 2,500 calories per day you WILL lose weight, it’s simple. I just keep telling myself I am under eating by around 4,000 calories per week, this equates to 8 hours in the Gym!

    I am looking forward to my first weigh in, although I am not going to do this until I have completed 1 month of the 5:2 diet. I would suggest you give it a go….

    • Hey Larry – yeah let me know how you do on the weigh in! It seems like you’re doing really well! That’s astounding that if you under eat by 4,000 calores, it’s the same as eight hours in the gym! Wow!

  14. Me and my partner have finished first two days of “fasting”. Monday and Tuesday being our choice as it is easier to occupy your self at work (not to think about it too much) and we like a glass of wine at the weekend : ) Our plan is to have 250 calories in the morning and 250 in the evening. Start with ready porridge oats with skimmed milk and black coffee. Then just 0 calorie drinks throughout the day (green tea, water) and when at home we have dinner. First night it was fish with parsley sauce (the ones you buy frozen) with broccolli and carrots (all weighted to ensure we do not go over), last night we had tin of tuna (spring water) each with fresh tomatoes and mixed bean salad (two spoons each) with splash of balsamic vinegar. There are a few calories left over so we fit in an apple or few raisins if you have to snack (plus he adds a coffee or tea with milk as men get the extra 100 calories). It wasn’t too bad – I got a lot of work done! Once you start looking at calories it makes you realise how much you actually eat normally. This morning I went to shop to buy myself a treat and walked out with skimmed milk as I wasn’t really that bothered. In the end had cereal and toast which was heavenly! Went into my local library and got few low fat cookbooks – they have calorie counts and it shows that there are plenty of tasty meals that you can have on this diet. One question – Michael has done it for 5 weeks to see the results, is this meant to be something you do forever or once you reach your target weight can you then do this every two weeks and still have the same health benefits?

    • Hi Gabs! Sounds like you’re dong great 🙂 I find it pretty amazing that instead of people wanting to pig out on the ‘feed’ days, people seem to be eating less than they would on a normal day anyway. I suppose it really does make you aware of calories overall rather than just on the fast days.
      In response to your question, I really am unsure about whether you should do forever or whether every now and then would be okay. Because the diet is still a relatively new concept, there are no guidelines at all on what you ‘should’ do. I think it’s just a matter of seeing what works best for you and adapting it as you need to.
      I’m going to post some more recipe ideas very soon, so stay tuned 🙂

  15. Hi

    Just found this blog. I also watched the program last week and found it very interesting. I have been on weight watchers for the last year and in the first 3 months lost 3 stone just dieting. Then between January 2012 and now (august 15th) I have lost a stone and 2 lbs. I seemed to plateau between April and now. It has been frustrating. Decided last week that I was going to follow this and checked with the doc and my bloods etc showed no problems so they said it was ok. Weight watchers for my weight (13 stone 10lbs) roughly equates to about 1400 calories. I have just done my first 2 day fast (chose Monday and Tuesday as best for me) and it worked fine. I made a very low veg curry that worked out at just under 100 calories a portion and then then had this in the evening with a small portion of brown rice and had miso soup at lunch time and coffee and yogurt for breakfast. It was not at all hard to stick to at work (did have to battle the munchies during the evening – particularly craved ice cream) but it worked and has given me my first good weight loss for a while (2lb). It means that it reduces my average calories to about 1200 a day. I will still follow the WW on the other 5 days and record my points so that I know where I am, but those days are easy to stick to anyway. Obviously it is early days, but will post again in a few weeks time. I am asthmatic and have found that since being on WW that has improved to the point of disappearing, which ties in with the theory that keeping calories below 1600 a day reduces inflamation too. I think that this is something I could live with for the rest of my life quite easily. The only issue that I found with the fast day was that I did Bodyattack in the evening at the gym (high intensity 45 minute aerobic session) and I did flag a little during the session. The lack of food when doing exercise may have been the reason so I may have to move my fast day for the Tuesday to a Wednesday and split the two days. Anyone have any experience like this?

    • Hi Mickey. I think it’s great that you got checked out at the doctors before starting on the diet! 🙂 Glad to hear you didn’t find it too hard to stick to. That’s amazing that it seems to have improved your asthma! I haven’t started the 5:2 diet yet, but I’ll let you know about whether it affects my workouts. Keep up the good work!

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  17. Day two of the second week and it’s really tough. First week was easier than this. I really want to eat something tasty – like a KFC! Beginning to wonder if it’s worth it. I’ve definitely lost weight as my trousers keep slipping down. I guess I’ll keep it up. But 1 egg for breakfast, another for lunch, and then a bit of fish and a bowl of salad for dinner is getting frustrating – I keep the food low so I can still get in a couple of G&Ts (just 50 cals with slimline tonic). How come the two fast days drag by and I’m struggling with the delayed gratification of knowing I can eat normally tomorrow?

    Body analysing scales on the way. Maybe they’ll help keep up the motivation.

    And I am getting headaches on the evening of the first day, not so much on the second day.

    It would be great to get a definitive answer on whether you need to do consecutive days or not??

    And how you can adjust the routine after the 5 weeks??

    I tried Twittering Michael but Twitter’s beyond me.

    • Saw on another site that Michael is only doing one fast day a week because he was losing too much weight!!! Great motivation for me – have just started my second week but haven’t weighed in yet – trousers are looser though!

      • Also Michael did not do consecutive days and split his meals with 300 cals for breakfast and 300 for dinner

      • Hi Irene – that’s really interesting! Maybe once you’ve reached your ‘ideal’ healthy weight then doing one fast day per week would be enough 🙂 (Very good news).

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  23. I’m going to try this. I assume, even though I used up over 1000 calories on exercise this morning, that this does not add calories to the “bank” and I still have 500-600 calories to eat today, unlike a calorie-based diet where I could now pig out all day and still lose weight. We’ll see how it goes, I am not good at being hungry and don’t know how I will cope in the evening after my modest dinner, possibly the best course of action will be an early night.

    • I’ve completed three weeks now. And, like Tavis, I am not good at being hungry. In fact I’m terrible at being hungry. I get very short tempered, and find it incredibly distracting. But I have, this last week, found that if I eat nothing for, breakfast and lunch, saving all calories for the evening meal, then I don’t get grumpy with it. Maybe something to do with blood sugar settling rather than going up and down???

      • Well, last night was interesting. I didn’t sleep that much, I definitely woke up quite a lot. When I got up to go for a run, my head felt a bit weird and I felt tired, but the run itself was pretty easy and I managed more sit-ups and press-ups than I normally can, which was odd. I was toying with the idea of fasting today as well, as I was strangely reluctant to start eating. However I thought I’d better feed myself up today, then fast again tomorrow, as I have a long run planned in the morning. Total calories yesterday were a little high, I shouldn’t have had a slice of toast for breakfast.

  24. I’m trying this and blogging it too. It’s been very easy to do so far. What I haven’t done yet is also reduce my protein intake. Mosley, in the writing around the programme does mention that you also need to reduce your protein intake to be in line with RDA across all days of the week in order to get the full benefits.

  25. Hi i have been wondering about the protein intake,my husband and i started the diet two weeks ago because of high cholesterol for him and weight loss for me.We have done two consecutive days each week and split the calories between two meals,Breakfast/Evening meal, scrambled eggs and ham or smoked salmon with cherry tomatoes for breakfast,fish and green veg ,prawn stir-fry made with spray oil for dinner,loads of water and green tea,it has not been easy but not as hard as constantly watching what you eat,feed days ate normally wine with our dinner and the odd treat,we weighed in this morning i lost 5 lbs and my husband lost 8 lbs,we were amazed and delighted,can not wait to get blood readings done.We are sticking with it,and feel we are making up on carbs on feed days.If anyone knows about protein v carbs i would be interested to hear.

  26. I tried the “Fast Day” of 600 calories. I was amazed by how hngry I wasn’t during that 24 hour period. Yes I felt hungry from time to time, but I just ignored it and it went away. The next morning, I just got on with life as usual. Try it and see. It’s so simple. No complexity, just reduce severely what you eat for 2 days.

  27. My wife (56) and I (59) started the 5:2 straight after watching the Horizon prog. I only weigh 11.5 stone, so I started it for the age related benefits, my wife for both weight loss and the age related benefits. I`ve never been on a diet in my life, if want to eat some choclate, I eat some chocolate. Anyway, we are now half way through week 6 and finding it surprisingly easy. I`ve read and agree with loads of the comments by other people.
    When it comes the the glass of wine at night, we now have a slimline tonic with lots of ice and lemon and this appears to satisfy the drinking habit.
    Incidentally, I have lost half a stone even though I just eat anything on non-fast days. My wife got a cholestrol level of 2.4 from her doctor today; he was well impressed.
    I am taken by the whole thing that this is the time I have ever followed a blog never mind joined in one!

  28. Hi

    I started this regime on Monday I did alternate days:

    Monday – Fasting
    Tuesday- Feeding
    Wednesday – Fasting
    Thursday – Feeding
    Fri – Fasting
    Sat/Sun – Feeding

    So far in less than a week I have lost 4 pounds, I need to lose 2 stone so I will keep going. The great thing is although you are starving on the fast days you know the very next day you can feed and phsycologically you do not feel like you are on a diet and being told you cannot have this and that…because we all know what happens when we are told that we want it all the more:)

    Give it a go, it seems to be working for me 🙂

  29. Hi
    I also watched the Horizon programme and thought I would give it a try. My main aim was to lose a few pounds, although the longterm health benefits are a bonus! I fast Monday and Wednesday, I take in about 600 calories rather than 500, and still go to the gym on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday as normal, with no problems. I chose to fast on the days when I was not at the gym to avoid hunger and fatigue on my exercise days. I have been on it about five weeks, with a couple of heavy weekends included and have lost half a stone. I eat normally, but do not overeat on my normal days and also continue to have a glass of wine on the days at the weekend, I have always done.

    I have breakfast about 10am usually toast and spread about 250 cals and then a banana mid afternoon, and then a calorie controlled tea. The first couple of times it is hard dealing with hunger pangs, but when you start to see the results you get in to it, and also start to think about what you are eating on the normal days, so that you don’t undo the good work.

    hope this helps
    Sue

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  31. When the Horizon programme about fasting described it as not keeping your body constantly in drive mode, it made sense to me, and I am now on my third week of a 5:2 regime. (I found this site while checking if I could eat a banana). I am a vegetarian and not really overweight, but I will be pleased if I lose a little around the midriff. My main reason for doing it is to have a reason not to drink a glass or two of wine every evening and to maintain my health as I get older.

    On my first fasting day one of the things I discovered is that I snack, not from hunger but when I pause between activities – make a cup of coffee, why not have a chocolate biscuit too. I begin my day with decaffeinated green tea (as I always do) but nothing else until lunchtime. Then I have a bowl of homemade vegetable soup (I know what is in it). In the evening I usually have a vegetable salad (with a tiny amount of dressing), or for a hot meal, rice noodles with vegetables. Last week I did add a boiled egg to my salad. In between I drink one black coffee, a cup of vegetable stock, water and green tea. That is it. I also eat opposite my husband who is tucking in as usual but this bothers me less than I thought it would.

    I do not count calories, as that would focus my attention too much on food. I busy myself with tasks as much as possible, although I have found myself wishing the day away sometimes. I have also found I am much more appreciative of the food I am eating and consume it more slowly. Last week I had problems finishing my salad – surely I couldn’t be full? I realised what I was needing, rather than craving, was something sweet.

    I am also exercising a little more, so maybe the regime helps towards a better awareness of healthy living. Although I do not eat that much protein anyway, I would have found fasting very difficult if I was still working full-time, and I didn’t feel too good after a hectic stint of housework one day.

    This week I am going to try fasting on non-consecutive days. I do hope fasting becomes part of a life-long habit for me, as I certainly feel less guilty eating and drinking the wrong things on the other days, when I know my digestive system is going to get a rest every week.

    Kafe

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