Intermittent fasting works with the principle of fasting for a few days of the week rather than calorie restriction, but there are many ways to implement this kind of diet. One example is the 5:2 diet, a popular form of intermittent fasting which many people claim is effective for weight loss and improves their overall health. In this review, we share everything you need to know about the 5:2 diet, including its benefits, potential risks, and how it can be a solution for weight loss.
How Does 5:2 Intermittent Fasting Work?
Also known as the two-day reset diet, 5:2 intermittent fasting allows you to choose two fast days over a one-week period, where you can eat anything you want for the remaining five days. While fasting, people on the diet must dramatically cut their calorie intake to just 25% of their regular needs, which means they can only eat 500-600 calories each day. Some people will schedule their fasts on alternate days, while others will fast for two consecutive days.
Studies show that in these intermittent fasting diets, followers are able to see fat loss in just six weeks. However, there was no significant difference between 6 to 12 months, which makes it a viable weight loss program, but only for the short term. Even so, many people choose this diet plan because it only asks for time-restricted eating two days a week, compared to other diets that require you to eat fewer calories each day.
During non-fasting days, you can eat normally without any restrictions, which is why many people succeed on the two-day reset diet. But for some people, the two low-calorie days where you may only eat 500 calories (some people consume zero calories altogether), can be too much of a calorie deficit, which is where most people fail.
5:2 Diet Potential Health Benefits
When structured carefully, the 5:2 diet can yield many benefits, which can lead to a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, people will often be influenced by wrong information from the internet or various social media platforms, most of which don’t follow intermittent fasting protocol. One study found that the 5:2 diet is a type of intermittent fasting method that can help with weight loss goals.
During fasting days, the low number of calories can help to manage our body weight. Moreover, being in a fasted state can boost metabolic health, lower high blood pressure, and reduce inflammation. When combined with a Mediterranean-style diet, a fast diet can also help to regulate insulin levels and improve insulin sensitivity.
A Mediterranean diet encourages healthy choices when it comes to food and promotes the use of lean meat, leafy greens, and fresh fruits. While this diet will count your food intake, it can work well with intermittent fasting methods — it may even help with a chronic condition such as heart disease.
Other Benefits of Intermittent Fasting Diets
The main benefit of this body reset diet is that it’s both simple and flexible. If two back-to-back days are too difficult for fasting, you may choose to do it on non-consecutive days. Unlike with most diets, the 5:2 eating plan lets you stop stressing about caloric intake for five days each week and doesn’t implement too many strict rules.
As such, the 5:2 diet is much more promising for those who have limited budgets and high stress levels compared to traditional diets. By focusing on what time you eat rather than what you’re eating, you may be able to achieve a more balanced diet. Those on a fast diet find that it’s easier to adhere to their routine when they can fast any time they want, which is a plus for people who have regular social events on weekends.
Potential Health Risks
There are scientific studies that confirm how fasting isn’t the best method for a healthy weight for pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding. Make sure to consult a registered dietitian before starting a 5:2 diet if you suffer from gastric reflux, diabetes, kidney stones, or other medical conditions. Below are a few possible side effects as a result of the 5:2 diet:
- Eating disorders
- Loss of muscle mass
Like with any other diet, the 5:2 fasting method comes with drawbacks along with the potential benefits it presents, which are listed below.
Difficult to Get Started
Once you get used to it, the 5:2 diet can be a sustainable option, but before you reach that point, you will need to put in serious effort when you get started. You may need to handle a range of side effects such as irritability and fatigue during the first few weeks. Only when you make it past the initial phase of the fast will your body be able to adapt and go back to feeling normal.
Risk of Overeating
There is always a risk of overeating when restricting yourself from calories. Not only will you experience the side effects outlined above, but you may also lose the chance to lose much weight or you could add a few pounds instead.
Not for Everyone
Unfortunately, intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone, and there are certain groups of people who will need to avoid the 5:2, such as:
- Pregnant women
- Those with an eating disorder
- Teens and pre-teens
- Those with nutrient deficiencies like iron-deficient anemia
- Couples with fertility issues and those trying to conceive
- Those who have type 1 diabetes
- Those who have hypoglycemia
Is the 5:2 Diet a Good Idea?
The answer to this question isn’t as straightforward as you might think — for many people, using the fast rules discussed here is safe but this isn’t the case for everyone. Furthermore, intermittent fasting is quite similar to many other calorie-restricted diets. But for others, the 5:2 diet is a much more simple and more manageable way to change their eating habits.
There are also studies that found a connection between intermittent fasting, acid reflux and kidney stones, which is why people with these conditions should avoid intermittent fasting. The 5:2 diet may also have an adverse impact on an infant’s growth, which is why pregnant and breastfeeding women shouldn’t try it. Moreover, women may not gain as many benefits from this diet as most men do.
Underweight women may suffer from irregular menstruation after they complete a 5:2 diet. At the same time, women suffering from menstrual irregularities may reap benefits from starting a 5:2 diet. As such, women will need to carefully assess their situation first before they begin intermittent fasting, and should immediately stop if there are any adverse effects.
What to Eat on a 5:2 Diet
The biggest challenge for people on this meal plan is having to plan a meal that contains only 500-600 calories per day for two fasting days. The good news is that you can eat whatever you please during the rest of the week. Some people will follow a ketogenic diet during their non-fasting days to help them restrict intake.
But whenever you’re fasting, it’s best to have a continuous supply of nutrients to support the body’s core functions by eating fiber, protein, and nutrient-rich foods. For instance, vegetable soup and boiled vegetables are great options because they don’t contain much fat and have a low-calorie count compared to animal products, and are perfect for small meals.
Salads made with dark and leafy greens can promote feelings of fullness without any added calories to your diet. Soft-boiled eggs and a small serving of white fish along with salads containing fresh vegetables are a top choice for many. Because the 5:2 diet promotes a simple rule without any food restrictions, many people have been able to stick with their routines for longer periods of time.
It focuses on consuming low-calorie food items during the two-day fasting period while allowing people the freedom to eat as they please during the remaining days. Just like with any diet, protein, and vegetables should be included to promote fullness and to help control your appetite. Below are just a few examples of what you should stock up on when looking for starting a 5:2 diet:
- Whole grains
- High-fiber foods
- Healthy fats
- Red meat (occasionally)
- Lean protein
Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, sweet potatoes, squash, and leafy greens are all great sources of nutrition while on the 5:2 diet. Be sure to load up on veggies with different colors to get the most out of items you’d usually find at the grocery store.
Whole grains can help you feel satisfied and fuller for longer, while also providing a wide range of vitamins and lots of fiber. These complex carbohydrates are also excellent for the brain, so be sure to load up on pasta, whole-wheat bread, quinoa, brown rice, and many other kinds of grains during your 5:2 fasting diet.
Legumes, beans, sprouted grains, oatmeal, and lentils are just a few examples of high-fiber foods that can fuel up your body with essential nutrients. They’re also great for fasting days because they can keep you full when you haven’t eaten for some time.
Whole fruits such as strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, and apples are not only sweet fruits that provide a wide variety of flavors and vitamins, but you can use them for desserts too. However, steer clear of fruit juices because these will contain added sugars that could throw all your weight loss efforts out the window.
Make sure that you include a wide range of omega-3 and omega-6 fats in your 5:2 diet plan. You can get these from sources such as seeds, nuts, avocados, oily fish, olive oil, and others. These will serve you well when your body runs out of glycogen stores by providing you with backup energy.
Food items like ground turkey, chicken breast, fish, and eggs are a great source of protein and energy sustenance that the body will need for cellular repair and muscle growth. While all kinds of meat can provide you with the protein you need, lean options are best if you want to lose weight and improve your overall health.
What Not to Eat
While there aren’t any food items that are off-limits, technically speaking, it’s better not to drink any sugary beverages or alcohol of any kind. Apart from black coffee, herbal tea, or water, you shouldn’t drink too many beverages, especially during fasting days.
5:2 Diet Sample Grocery List
What you choose to eat and how you choose to eat it will vary from one person to another. However, consider the best foods that can help you throughout your fast, especially for the first few days, which may include the following:
- Non-starchy vegetables
- Dark berries like blueberries and blackberries
- Lean meat
- Tea or coffee
- Legumes such as peas, lentils, and beans
If you’re trying to avoid excessive fats and oils, you may boil, roast, or grill these dishes instead of frying them. Water is also an essential part of your 5:2 diet since it can significantly extend the amount of time between meals by helping you feel full while you’re fasting. Alternatively, you can also use herbal tea, which offers a great way to increase your intake of water.
How to Do The 5:2 Diet
Because the 5:2 diet will call for a regular diet five times a week and fasting for two days a week, you might not get used to it straight away. There’s also no timing strategy for your meals, which means you have complete freedom to do as you please every day. As such, there are many interpretations of the 5:2 diet, but a commonly used strategy is to fast two consecutive days per week.
Your 5:2 diet could look something like this:
- Monday: Feast
- Tuesday: Feast
- Wednesday: Fast
- Thursday: Fast
- Friday: Feast
- Saturday: Feast
- Sunday: Feast
Wednesday Fast Plan
- Breakfast: Low-fat yogurt and sliced bananas – 177 calories
- Dinner: Tofu and edamame salad – 300 calories
- Snack: 10g plain popcorn – 59 calories
- Total calories: 536 calories
Thursday Fast Plan
- Breakfast: Instant oats with blueberries – 255 calories
- Dinner: Spinach and beetroot salad – 125 calories
- Snack: Sliced apple with nut butter – 145 calories
- Total calories: 525 calories
Because there are no rules for when or what to eat during your fast days, it will boil down to your preferences. Some people choose to start their day with a simple breakfast, while some will function better when they eat late at night. People will typically follow two different meal plans, which are:
- Three small meals which include breakfast, lunch, and dinner
- Two bigger meals which include lunch and dinner only
During the two-day fast, calorie intake is cut down to just 500 for women and 600 for men each day, it only makes sense to plan your calorie budget carefully. Look for options that are high in fiber and protein, while also providing a lot of nutrition. These will often help you feel satisfied without having to consume too many calories.
You may want to consider trying soups which are a great way to push past fasting days. Studies show that they could be even more filling than the same ingredients used in their whole form, or other food items with similar calorie content. Below are great options you can try to help sustain you during fast days:
- Berries with natural yogurt
- A heaping portion of vegetables
- Baked or boiled eggs
- Grilled lean meat or fish
- Cauliflower rice
- Low-calorie soups (tomato, miso, vegetable, or cauliflower)
- Black coffee
- Sparkling or still water
Because there’s no one correct way to eat during fasting days, you’ll need to experiment and find out what will work for you.
What Happens if You’re Unwell or Hungry?
During the first few days of your fast, be prepared to experience episodes of hunger. You will also be a little slower and weaker than usual, but this is normal. However, you might be surprised at how fast you’ll get over these feelings, especially when you try to distract yourself with work or errands.
Most people will find that with each passing week, their fast days become much easier as they progress. But if you’ve never fasted before and aren’t used to it, a small snack may come in handy for the first few weeks.
Reset Your Body with the 5:2 Diet
Intermittent fasting offers an alternative to the usual calorie-restricting diets that are simpler and more feasible in the long term. Consisting of five days of regular eating and two days of fasting, it limits women to 500 calories per day and men to 600 calories during their fast. For many of us, this eating pattern is completely safe, but it isn’t for everyone.
Before undergoing any kind of intermittent fasting, be sure to consult your doctor and stop immediately if you feel any side effects during your fast.
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