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.


  • I think I am pretty good with this

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  • yeah still gotta lose weight right or it comes back.

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  • This was an interesting mini article. Thanks for posting!

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  • wow i don’t think that i could fast for 5 days and exercise

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  • I wonder being a FT mum to 3 youngsters if I really could fast with having to prepare food for them. I know if it was just me I could do it no problems.

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  • My sisters are having success doing this diet. I’m not sure that I could sustain it though.

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  • I did this and it slowed my Metabolism – whilst my male friend lost weight and was generally a lot healthier – when I looked into why our results where so different I found information that suggested that being a woman my body reacted differently- I would do more research if you are thinking about doing it – took me ages to get my metabolism back into gear

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  • Not diabetes friendly, so not for me

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  • This sounds easier than it might be!

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  • I bought the book, “The Fast Diet”, initially out of interest after hearing about this diet. I am not overweight but wanted to see if it could benefit a genetic tendency to have high cholesterol. My doctor had indicated that he wanted me to take Statins to control this problem and I was looking for a natural way to do so. I started this diet regime a week after I had a blood test so I could monitor the outcome. I changed nothing else in my diet, which is pretty healthy anyway, and fasted every Tuesday and Thursday for 12 weeks. My Dr had agreed to this, saying that he would only give me that amount of time because he believed I really needed to start on medication fairly soon. I was thrilled, and the Dr was a lot less skeptical when my follow up blood test showed my bad cholesterol levels had dropped by 3 points and the balance of Good V Bad had improved.

    I have continued with this eating pattern and now, nearly 18months later, my cholesterol is no longer a problem. The added bonus is that I did loose a few kilos but even better, my energy levels increased, my skin and hair improved and I am feeling great. Oh, by the way…I am in my mid sixties, so age is no barrier for this diet. If you are concerned about fad dieting don’t be. Humans (and animals) have been surviving on this feast or famine type eating for millions of years. The only thing that has changed is that we have conditioned ourselves to eat more often because food is so readily available. As Chloe advises, always consult your Doctor before starting any diet, especially if you have an existing medical condition.

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  • Sensible eating, limit or cut out completely processed foods.

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  • I have been doing this diet this year and lost 7 kilos in 7 months doing nothing different than fasting for the two days a week. Love it!

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  • I don’t trust them at all, I can’t see it being safe, just everything in moderation, small portions, smaller plate, plenty of water and plenty of exercise, have treats but don’t go overboard and cutting out junkfood is a great idea goes for takeaways too.

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  • So many diets these days

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  • My husband tried this and has lost half his body weight. He stuck to this diet for over a year and he said he will never stop. He walks only on the weekends and he is healthier than he has ever been.

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