MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Thu 05-Jun-14 12:45:08

Guest post: Mimi Spencer - 'Why 5:2 is the only thing that's worked for me'

Weight is a complicated business - pressure to be slim can make women uncomfortable with their bodies, but many of us are also conscious that slimmer can mean healthier.

Here, co-author of The Fast Beach Diet Mimi Spencer writes on why, after years of trying fad diets, she's evangelical about 5:2 as a sustainable way to maintain a healthy, happy weight.

Mimi Spencer

Co-author of The Fast Beach Diet

Posted on: Thu 05-Jun-14 12:45:07

(88 comments )

Lead photo

"When it comes to dieting and body shape, of course, we all know it's complicated"

It's hard to remember a time B5:2… Before the Fast Diet, before 5:2 emerged as the diet that changed the way we think about eating and weight loss, and parked itself firmly in the national conversation.

I'd always been one of those serial dieters who attempted any newfangled fad that came along, often in the interests of research. I've written about body shape and diet in the national press for twenty years or more - dieting was my schtick.

When it comes to dieting and body shape, of course, we all know it's complicated. We know that the (largely media-driven) cult of ageless thin has made many of us needlessly uncomfortable with our size, unhappy with our bodies, unhealthy in our approach to food.

But most of us would recognise, too, that being slimmer is generally healthier – not only as a guard against diabetes, heart disease and stroke, but also for the more subtle changes that occur: a renewed energy, a greater interest in exercise, a body confidence that can really make a difference to a day. These things, far beyond any desperate desire for weight loss per se, are what kept me searching.

I'd undertake new diets in the interests of womankind, ever hopeful, never satisfied as I bounced from regime to regime. I'd waded through the Cabbage Soup diet (remember that? Thermos flasks of gently rotting brassicas on your desk at work?). Through Atkins, with its foul breath and death knell for your social life. And Dukan. And that weird chilli/lemon drink that Jennifer Aniston or someone equally minuscule absolutely swore by.

None of it worked of course, not in the long run. Weight off, weight on, up, down, smaller jeans, ‘fat’ jeans. My life was precisely the life of many women in their forties - looking for the magic bullet that would make the roll top go away in time for the summer holidays.

I'd undertake new diets in the interests of womankind, ever hopeful, never satisfied as I bounced from regime to regime... None of it worked of course, not in the long run. Weight off, weight on, up, down, smaller jeans, ‘fat' jeans. My life was precisely the life of many women in their forties - looking for the magic bullet.


Then in September 2012, I encountered Dr. Michael Mosley in the course of writing a feature about intermittent fasting for The Times. 5:2 was just starting to gain attention. His Horizon programme for the BBC – Eat, Fast, Live Longer - had sparked interest in the relationship between fasting and longevity, and Michael's take on it was already beginning to find fans. Having spoken to many of the leading experts in the field, he'd come to the conclusion that what you really needed to make it work was a high degree of compliance. His approach hinged on achieving sustainability over time. Fasting occasionally, calorie-cutting rather than calorie-eliminating? Well, that might just work.

It worked for Michael, of course. He lost 20 pounds, his blood sugars – which had been threatening his health – returned to normal. And it subsequently worked for me too.

On the Fast Diet, I lost 22 pounds in six months. These days, I'm in Maintenance Mode, fasting only a day a week, if that. I'm still at my happy weight – which happens to be around nine stone, down from the upper tens. I have more energy, I do more exercise, I know I'm healthier and protecting myself against age-related disease. It's not all about looking good in a clingy dress. Though that helps.

So why has Michael's plan worked for so many? There's the science stuff of course – details of which are in the original book - but, for me and for countless others, there's the huge benefit of compliance: we do the Fast Diet, we stick with the Fast Diet, because most of the time, we're not dieting at all. There's something radical here, something ‘revolutionary’, as Michael said on TV way back at the outset.

It's easy to grasp, easy to follow, easy to modify to suit individual needs. And there's no guilt. You bust a Fast Day? So what? There's always tomorrow. You've got a dinner date? Great. Enjoy it.

Some people have, however, asked us for a ‘boot camp’ version of 5:2 to propel them off cruise control – particularly in readiness for summer's great reveal. So we've written The Fast Beach Diet – a souped up, six-week programme which includes techniques to change your habits around food, tips on how to eat healthily and well on any day, and ideas about how to negotiate the temptations and cravings of our food-fixated world. It includes an exercise plan too, based on Fast Exercise, the high intensity training book written by Michael Mosley and Peta Bee.

So, as you can see, much has changed since B5:2. I hope you benefit from it too – do let us know how you get on.

By Mimi Spencer

Twitter: @mimispencer1

Joules68 Thu 05-Jun-14 14:21:37

I think the 5:2 is just another 'fad diet' that the op was so scathing about in her post!

LivinLaVidaLocal Thu 05-Jun-14 14:38:25

I'd love to know how many calories you have to restrict yourself to on the 5 days 'off' because clearly they're not 'true' off days. You end up having to restrict yourself 7 days a week of which 2 of those are thoroughly miserable and the other 5 not so much!

ThaneOfScunthorpe Thu 05-Jun-14 14:51:49

Yep, total fad diet. Why do you even need a 'boot camp' to propel you into the 5:2? Why not just start the 5:2? It's much easier to do than the boot camp being touted here and results are sustainable as it's a slower, steadier weight loss.

The reason I like 5:2 is that it's easy to do, you don't have to restrict yourself, which is what has caused relapses for me on every other diet.

I don't see why it would not be classed as another fad diet. Most diets work if you can stick to them. All diets are based on restricting your eating in some way - by cutting out certain foods or by restricting calories. 5:2 does too, just with a different method. It's very popular atm and will probably wane in popularity after a while - this probably makes it a typical fad diet.

I tried it for a while and found it just as hard to stick to as any other diet. Plus I lost far less weight than on low carb, for example.

Mintyy Thu 05-Jun-14 17:05:53

Lots of people have tried 5:2 and failed with it, including hundreds of people on Mumsnet, so all I can say is "meh". I did it for 9 months, lost about 4lbs.

My husband is 4 stone overweight and has lost 2 stone but stalled for the past 6 months.

It is not a miracle and the fast days are unpleasant.

Mintyy Thu 05-Jun-14 17:09:19

But, of course, congratulations to you if you are happy Mimi. Don't wish to sound like an utter grump! And I can't help but admire the way you have made this into a money spinner for yourself. Very enterprising.

Abra1d Thu 05-Jun-14 17:49:24

I have been doing 5:2 since September 2012 and it definitely works for me. My trick is to have one little treat that I only ever have on a fast day and look forward to that. I've only once broken the fast--when I was coming down with a cold and felt unusually hungry.

My concern now is more to try and reduce my cholesterol and I am hoping that it may help that on at least two days of the year I am eating mainly vegetables and lean protein and little else. The only concern I have is the effect (good/bad?) on my adrenal and thyroid glands as I can't find as much information on this. I tend to be a bit over-stresed and don't want to make this worse.

catsrus Thu 05-Jun-14 18:20:06

I started 5:2 the day after I watched the original documentary in 2012 - joined the 5:2 group here on MN, lost 34 lbs and am now a maintainer. Currently just 2lb over my original target but <shrug> that will go after a couple of good fast days. I am a scientist and was interested in the evidence for the positive effects of fasting on the body - even when not being done for weight loss. I was convinced, as were many of my colleagues at work. I have never found such a simple way to keep my weight under control - effectively it's what many slim people do 'naturally', they are not wedded to the notion of 3 meals a day.

For the first time since my childhood I have total confidence that my weight will not gradually creep back up again and I literally can eat whatever I like without ever "being on a diet" ever again. Fat free foods have been banished, I have butter on my bread and if I fancy a desert I have one. When I have a fast day I now find it very easy to just eat in the evening, with the bonus of knowing that the fasting itself is doing my body good.

Joules68 Thu 05-Jun-14 18:27:50

Surely that mantra 'I can eat whatever I like' isn't healthy?

catsrus Thu 05-Jun-14 18:58:29

not really Joules - By "eat whatever I like" I mean that I honestly never feel deprived. As Mimi says, if you plan a fast day and plans change - someone suggests going out for a meal, then there is not that dichotomy of either feeling deprived or feeling a failure. I can go out if I want to and feel confident that I can simply do a fast day another day.

shelllouise Thu 05-Jun-14 19:42:56

I lost 98lb in 12 months doing slimming world and didn't have to have 2 miserable days a week!
I've tried the 5:2 diet but those 2 days with limited calories were really difficult for me and I didn't lose any more than I did on SW so I'll stick with that because it's easy and it works for me smile

Southeastdweller Thu 05-Jun-14 19:47:22

Minty 'Hundreds of people on Mumsnet have failed'? You're talking rubbish.

5:2 has worked for most people here who have the discipline to do it properly.

However, a few folk like (IIRC) Minty struggle for months on every diet, but just can't lose weight. They aren't (all) Secret Eaters; some have very low TDEE, PCOS, post-meno, thyroid, stress-adrenal fatigue .....

They desperately need a specialist book with detailled and scientific advice for THEM, not for the rest of us who can generally lose weight with a bit of effort.

I'm a scientist and I found out about 5:2 while reading research on hormesis, anti-aging, HIIT.
IF / 5:2 has a good science base.

Eatriskier Thu 05-Jun-14 20:27:46

I started 5:2 in April 2013 and lost 6 stone. I'm maintaining easily and my health is vastly improved. I rarely feel deprived on either a fast or non fast day. I am not miserable on fast days either, in fact the detox feeling is wonderful though I will admit tiring easier on them. For those asking you need to restrict yourself to 'normal' eating, that changes from person to person depending on height, weight, age and activity - but in my case I average around 2500 calories on a non fast day (and I'm under 9 stone now). My appetite has completely changed. I can switch off and stop eating when I'm full. I never had to give up wine or crisps or chocolate. And those 500 calories (which I also don't stick to anymore) - well if you put some effort in you can eat a hell of a lot of not just salad for just 500 calories.

Eatriskier Thu 05-Jun-14 20:30:45

DH started in August 2013 after seeing my success too and has lost 4.5 stone himself. He agrees that fast days are enjoyable and give you a feeling of cleansing yourself. Though not so enjoyable that you'd want to do it all the time grin. He also hasn't had to give up his favourite things, just perhaps lessen them and/or have them less often.

RoLoh Thu 05-Jun-14 20:40:13

I think the principal of it is sound, though they made it gimmicky to sell books. Basically to lose weight consistently you work out how many calories you need to restrict yourself to each week in order to lose your target no of pounds and then keep track if it throughout the week. If you've eaten some real crap on a couple of days you just spread your remaining calories out over the remaining days. It kind of helps to change the way we think about food and diets for an overall healthier lifestyle

SpringItOn Thu 05-Jun-14 20:41:39

I've been on 5:2 since January 2012 after reading an article written by Mimi in a Sunday magazine. I knew from the start that it would work for me. I actually look forward to the fast days even though I've been maintaining now for several months. I've lost 2.5 stone and like catsrus, am two pounds up on my target but I'll be rid of that in a couple of fasts.

It works. It's easy. I'll be on it for life, there's no need for a 'beach' version IMO. The thing about 5:2 is it doesn't cost you anything therefore there's no money to be made, no shakes, pills, weigh-ins or membership.
I guess journalists have to try and make their living smile

Mintyy Thu 05-Jun-14 21:24:31

Southeastdweller
How many Mumsnetters do you think have started 5:2 on the 49 x 1000 post threads about it? I'd be really surprised if there are not hundreds among those who have given up.

For me to lose a pound a week on 5:2 I need to have no more than 1700 calories on nfds - its hardly eat whatever you like.

I am happy for the people who have had success with it - one of my best friends has lost 2 stone - but, you know, it really is just another diet.

Southeastdweller Thu 05-Jun-14 21:49:33

I'd say hundreds have started it mintyy but I have no idea of how many have 'failed' and neither do you.

I agree "Eat what you want" on NFDs is misleading. Stupid PR slogan.

However, eating to your TDEE is what is required on any scheme to maintain current weight, never mind losing.
So, anyone who can't do that has problems on any WOE

Everyone who is overweight got that way by eating their "normal".
So they can't lose, or maintain a lower weight, while eating & exercising the same as before.

Joules68 Thu 05-Jun-14 22:42:53

So it's not 'radical' or 'revolutionary' .... It's a fad diet, like the others?

I see!

Mintyy Thu 05-Jun-14 22:57:14

How many calories do you need to over eat to gain 1lb?

Why do you keep going on about 'fad' diets ?
IF (intermittent fasting) uses the principles of hormesis and is backed up by a large number of science papers and human trials. Have you studied them ?
Some of the world experts on anti-aging, like Dr Mike Mattson, do IF purely for health benefits.

On 5:2 you don't cut out food groups. You have a calorie deficit from 2 fast days of 500 cals, which causes weight loss.
If you prefer your 3000 deficit as 430 cals each day, fine. That's not faddy either.
Faddy is thinking its ok to stay fat and unhealthy.

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