It’s that time of year when you might be thinking about weight loss goals or making New Year’s resolutions about health and fitness, particularly if you have had an indulgent Christmas. I thought it might be helpful to share my experience of the 5:2 diet, often referred to as the fast diet. I should emphasise that I am not in any way medically qualified and am purely sharing my personal experience. If you are going to start a weight loss programme you should seek professional medical advice.
My weight loss back story
Im very fortunate that didn’t really have too many issues with weight until I had my kids. I gained quite a lot of weight when I had my first child in 2008. To get in shape I signed up to run the London Marathon. All of the training was incredibly effective for losing weight and I didn’t really modify my diet too much. I literally trained my ass off!
I had twins in 2012. As you can imagine once they were born life went a bit crazy. There was very little time for any exercise other than taking walks with the pushchair. Twin pregnancy was not kind to my poor ab muscles. I had several months of out patient physio and did lots of post natal Pilates to get my body back into something like working order. My diet wasn’t too bad but it was heavily supplemented with stress chocolate plus treats to reward myself for getting through tough days. There was also plenty of mum and baby group coffee and cakes.
About a year after the boys birth I didn’t feel myself. My clothes were not looking like I wanted them to. I weighted about 2 stone more than my typical weight.
This photo was taken on a friends hen night (having a cocktail making class). It was the spur that made me decide to lose some weight. I just don’t look like myself here.
I was clear I wanted to lose some weight but I didn’t know what approach to take. I didn’t want to do a quick fix diet and then regain my lost weight again. I needed something manageable that would fit into my lifestyle. I only wanted to try something that was sustainable in the long term. I looked at a few different options and I wasn’t very inspired by what was on offer – points, syns, meal replacements, cutting out whole food groups. None of it really appealed.
I chanced upon the 5:2 diet in a magazine article written by India Knight and found it an intriguing concept. To find out more I watched a BBC documentary by Dr. Mike Mosley that explored the idea of intermittent fasting in various forms. There was a lot of scientific theory that appeared to be quite sound. There is a fast diet book which explains the concept in detail. I’ll be honest I haven’t read this. The idea is very simple. You eat 500 calories on 2 non consecutive fast days (600 if you are a man) and eat normally on the other 5 days of the week.
I started doing the fast diet towards the end of 2013. I decided to give it a go choosing Wednesdays and Fridays as my weekly fast days.
Making it work
There was a fair amount of trial and error involved to start with. Firstly I had to educate myself about calories, I had no idea the calorie content of anything! I find the my fitness pal app was quite helpful initially plus learning how to carefully read nutritional information on labels.
The first few fast days I tried to share out my 500 calories over three tiny meals. This didn’t work too well as it meant I ended up having three unsatisfying meals and would feel hungry by the end of the day.
I found that saving the majority of my calories for an evening meal was much more effective. I try and go as long as possible through the day without eating anything. I have the tiniest amount of food for a late lunch, the least I can get away with eating liked a single reyvita. This leaves me with the most of my calories to eat at the end of the day. This way I am not hungry in the evening or at bedtime.
I drink tonnes through out the day – hot water with lemon, black coffee or herbal tea. I find this stops me feeling hungry.
Are you hungry?
This was the main thing I wanted to know before doing the 5:2 diet. Saving my calories for the evening does mean I am somewhat hungry in the day but I find that the level of hunger is manageable. If I’m not busy it is more noticeable. If I’m busy I don’t really feel hungry, I’m vaguely conscious of not having eaten much but it is in the background. I consciously don’t do very vigorous exercise while fasting.
Not all calories are created equal
I very quickly learnt that some things fill you up way more than others and keep you feeling full for longer. Carbs are very calorific so I keep these to a minimum. Protein is king! It is satisfying, fills you up keeps you feeling full for longer. I really like thick hearty soups you seem to be able to eat a tonne of within your calorie allowance. If I’m short of time I will have a ready meal – I have noticed that some supposedly healthy ready meals often have more calories than regular ones so I now read the labels very carefully. I find spicy foods extra satisfying. Otherwise I will cook something healthy for the whole family and just have a small portion.
Things I like about it
It is flexible, you can switch your fast days around depending on what you are doing during the week for example if I am going out for dinner or want to have a special meal on a certain day I just switch my fast days around.
It makes you realise what real hunger feels like. It has made me understand how much of what I was eating on a regular day was out of routine or habit rather than hunger so has to an extent changed my eating habits on non fast days.
Similarly it has made me conscious of the amount of food it takes to satisfy my hunger – it is less than I thought which has influenced my portion sizes on non fast days.
You don’t need to think about counting calories or portion control all of the time, it is a part time strict diet. This is the main thing I like about the 5:2 diet. I like that it is very defined – just stick to 500 calories – I don’t have to make decisions about moderating certain foods. I quite like that I don’t have to exercise judgement over all of my food choices everyday.
It has made me more conscious of calories in general, including on non fast days. Knowing that a chocolate muffin is equivalent to a whole fast days worth of calories make it less appealing. Because fast days takes some effort I don’t want to undo the benefit by going crazy on non fast days.
Did it work?
This is the crucial question! I consistently lost weight every week, generally about 2 pounds per week. I did two fast days per week until I had lost 2 stone and was at my typical pre baby weight.
This photo was taken in May 2015 on a day trip to London with my husband.
Why I think it suits me
I work part time so am able to fast in my non working days. I’m not sure how easy I would find fasting on a work day particularly as I have a long cycle to and from my office. I’m not sure I could cycle 12 miles on 500 calories.
I am generally busy so have lots to take my mind off eating throughout my fast days. I just have to watch that I don’t go to extremes with physical activity on fast days.
I have a high threshold for hunger and find being hungry quite easy to tolerate. I know that people’s tolerance of hunger is very different. My husband for example hates being at all hungry, the 5:2 diet would definitely not work for him.
I’m not massively foodie. I love eating but I’m not very adventurous and could happily eat the same foods over and over again. I have a range of about 6 evening meals that I will eat on a fast day. I can see lots of people might find this incredibly boring, it really doesn’t bother me. I think if you had more time and were quite creative you could make amazing low calorie creations, I have t really done this due to time constraints.
Once I’d got to my goal weight I needed to decide what to do next. I didn’t want to continue to lose weight but I didn’t want to gain weight either. I decided to switch to fasting once a week instead of twice a week. I usually have my 500 calorie day every Wednesday. I’ve done this for well over a year and have stayed within a pound of my ideal weight. I find that I can stick to this, I’ve only missed a couple of fast days when I have been unwell. I will continue to have one fast day per week indefinitely. Effectively I now do a 6:1 diet which I think is sustainable long term.
I’d be very interested to see if you have tried the 5:2 diet and loved it, or hated it. It works for me but I know that it will not be for everyone. Please let me know what you think in the comments section below.