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

ShotgunNotDoingThePans Thu 05-Jun-14 23:37:37

There was an American woman on Woman's Hour earlier this year; she was the author of yet another book about IF.
JM was trying to get to the bottom of why or how this woe produced the results it seemingly does (reductions in chesterol, steadying blood sugar etc). The reply from the horse's mouth as it were, was that it was merely the fact of losing the weight that gave the health benefits; she said herself that the fasting in itself didn't cause these.
I'm old enough to remembercthe F-Plan diet; that one ran and ran (pardon the pun), and was arounmd for years with one book after another coming out, each with a 'new' take on it. Don't hear about it at all any more, but I'm sure its proponents praised it to the hilt as yhe ultimate successful weight loss method.
I don't see this as any different, and when the very 'inventor' states there's no health benefits to the method per se, I think, no thanks.

WilsonFrickett Thu 05-Jun-14 23:48:25

I think one of the reasons it doesn't 'feel' faddy is because it's so simple. And yes, Mimi Spencer and Michael Mosley have no doubt got rich off the back of it, but actually, one of the really revolutionary things about 5:2 is its free. You don't have to go to meetings, you don't have to buy branded food, you don't have to buy scales, you don't have to buy anything really. I have one of the recipe books but honestly, all you need is an internet connection to set yourself up for 5:2.

Voter101 Fri 06-Jun-14 06:58:01

I'm a 5:2 failure, but actually when I was doing it, it wasn't that hard. I hated the fasting days (which is why I failed) but loved the feeling of freedom once they are done. I also loved the fact that every day wasn't dominated by food and weighing stuff and counting up points etc like it was when I was on weightwatchers. I'm going to go back to it when I can pull myself together.

violetina Fri 06-Jun-14 07:22:14

I've found 5:2 is the only thing that works for me now I am in my 50s and only want to shift 7lbs of middle aged spread.

It's very easy to follow, I feel well on it, and it's the cheapest diet you can follow. I am eating less and more heathily now on non fast days - as someone else said, it's what naturally slim people do anyway.

The big problem in our society in my opinion is the stranglehold of big food companies and processed food everywhere. Add to that large portions (I think many of us have become used to over-eating even healthy foods) and that's why so many of the population are over weight
I am heartened to see the scientists here saying 5:2 has a solid basis as it's a woe I plan to follow for the rest of my life.

TroyMcClure Fri 06-Jun-14 07:33:20

is this just a glorified advert for her book then mumsnet?

an informercial?

Joules68 Fri 06-Jun-14 08:17:04

Yes it is I think!

Just another book about yet another fad diet, dressed up as being 'scientific' lol

Southeastdweller Fri 06-Jun-14 08:30:49

How very boring and lazy to bang on about 5:2 bring a fad diet. Would there be so much research into it if it was? Would so many people have been successful on such a 'short-lived' diet, for so long, like myself and Mimi??

Mintyy Fri 06-Jun-14 08:33:59

So, anyway, how many calories does the average person need to not eat in order to lose 1lb?

WilsonFrickett Fri 06-Jun-14 08:35:35

Having thought more on this last night, I do agree that presenting 5:2 as a six week beach 'fix' is disingenuous to say the least. Those of us who have had success with 5:2 see it as a long term way of eating - something you do for life. Yes, if you fast for six weeks you will see results - but if you go back to your normal way of eating after six weeks then weight will go back on, just like any 'diet'. So actually, I'm disappointed in the premise of this book.

Eatriskier Fri 06-Jun-14 09:03:42

From what I'm reading here, people go on diets and lose weight but unless they change their lifestyle they won't maintain it which makes the diet a fad. Which means diet = fad.

But there's nothing new in any method of weight loss, ultimately you need to eat less and move more regardless of which rules you follow. And to maintain the loss you need to eat at an acceptable level for your body, not your want.

What I liked most about 5:2 and the GI diet (no doubt a fad despite being the plan a type 2 diabetic has to live by...) was that from the outset they start to educate you about keeping yourself healthy long term. Not just about losing weight with a small bit of maintenance tagged on because there's no money if you keep it off.

Not sure how OK I am with this beach diet version but in fairness it's not necessary to buy into it. My personal view is that whilst people will try to make money out of anything, a diet that requires fees or purchases are faddy. Those that you can do off your own back are simply a case of personal choice.

ShotgunNotDoingThePans Fri 06-Jun-14 09:10:13

Mintyy, since I don't like seeing your pleas unanswered,
here's one version of an answer to your question.
Seems to make sense to me.

ShotgunNotDoingThePans Fri 06-Jun-14 09:11:58

Sorry meant Mintyy.

Eatriskier Fri 06-Jun-14 09:17:56

mintyy most people need to under or overeat by 3000-3500 calories per week to lose or gain a lb. Most people can plug their details into an online calculator or use a fancy pedometer to get their 'normal' calories. But not everyone is most people, myself included in that.

Mintyy Fri 06-Jun-14 09:38:46

In theory, in order for me to lose one pound per week, I need to restrict my calories to 8050 per week. If I eat 1000 on 2 fasting days I then have 7050 for my 5 non-fasting days. 7050 divided by 5 = 1410 per day. Hardly "eat what you like" territory.

I don't think 1lb per week is over-ambitious, either, given that I am 35lb overweight.

Mintyy Fri 06-Jun-14 09:42:11

I am short, small-framed, sedentary and over 50. This is why my tdee is so low, but it will only get lower if I lose weight.

What gets my goat about all this is that is sold as easy, simple and suitable for everyone when, ime, that is not the case.

I did not find it easy being very hungry for 2 days per week and I know dh still does not and it certainly affects our family life.

BUT as I keep saying, I am genuinely happy for everyone for whom it has worked.

Mintyy Fri 06-Jun-14 09:43:28

And, sorry, I will stop hijacking the thread.

Apologies blush.

Eatriskier Fri 06-Jun-14 10:40:19

I honestly have to question where this eat what you like thing has come from. I've never seen it in the 5:2 books or websites - I've only ever seen 'eat normally' which is completely different. The only place I've ever seen unlimited eating mentioned is with alternate day fasting. But burying your head in the sand about what's normal for you will make any plan fail, 5:2 or otherwise.

Not saying that's your issue mintyy. I remember you from the threads and know you struggled whilst doing it as prescribed. But rallying against it because it's not a free for all when it's not prescribed as that seems odd to me.

MollyBdenum Fri 06-Jun-14 11:15:01

I think that when people say "eat what you like" they really mean "eat the way you would eat if you were a person with non disordered eating who was maintaining a healthy weight". So on non fast days, If I go to the beach and want an ice cream, I can have one. I might even choose to have fish and chips on the beach, too. I wouldn't see that as cheating, just as having a one-off day off less healthy eating, which is unimportant in the overall scheme of things. But eating a whole cake every time I have a bad day would obviously not leaf to weight loss or good health.

I see it more a way of relearning to eat for pleasure and nutrition and lose the obsessive love/hate relationship with food that many dieters have while also getting back to a healthy level of fat.

Mintyy Fri 06-Jun-14 11:16:16

Sorry, I should have been clearer. I don't literally mean "eat what you like", of course not, I have 40 years of careful eating behind me and I have never just blown caution to the wind and eaten whatever I like (except perhaps on Christmas day!).

I mean, the mantra that you can relax and eat what you fancy (obviously not a stuff your face blow-out) and not weigh, measure or count calories. If you are restricted to 1450 calories on nfds then you probably do need to do a bit of measuring and counting, don't you think?

When my dh fasts he earns extra calories to have on his nfds (over and above his tdee) because he has high calorie requirements as he is 6'4 and 17 stone.

When I fast on 500 calories for 2 days I do not even earn enough to have a little over my tdee (which is 1650) on non-fast days. I still need to be quite restrictive and go below that.

Do you see what I mean?

Eatriskier Fri 06-Jun-14 11:47:30

molly I think you have that spot on.

mintyy I do get what you mean however it still boils down, as all diets, to eat less move more. If one can't happen then the other needs to regardless of diet plan.

The thing with the magic 3000 figure doesn't mean you won't lose if you have less that that as a deficit, just maybe you won't lose 1lb. Maybe you will, maybe you'll lose 1/4lb. Weight loss isn't linear either regardless of that touted figure. You could attain it and seemingly gain 2lb because other crap is going on in your body or life.

Personally I think anyone overweight should count their calories for a while. Not restrict them, just count them even. Keep a food diary for a week and tot it up at the end. It can be pretty darn illuminating. As a former obese person with nothing to blame than my own poor eating I can tell you how much that alone has educated me.

I think Mimi and Michael Moseley's biggest mistake was labelling it the fast diet. Its anything but quick but people think it will do it quickly, because they see the word fast and don't equate it with fasting. I can't see this bikini fast diet not causing a similar effect.

Mintyy Fri 06-Jun-14 11:59:10

"mintyy I do get what you mean however it still boils down, as all diets, to eat less move more. If one can't happen then the other needs to regardless of diet plan."

Yes, as with all diets. But I thought this wasn't a diet?

Aaargh, I really am going now! Sorry.

Eatriskier Fri 06-Jun-14 12:28:24

A diet is just a way of eating. A weight loss diet is a diet intended to see you lose weight. If you use this plan to lose weight then yes, it's a weight loss diet. It was a weight loss diet for me but now it's just my how I live diet.

Though not how it was originally intended it is being touted as a weight loss diet and I think it's short sighted to claim it's not. However it is upfront in that to remain successful with it you will probably have to adopt it as a how I live diet.

Itsfab Fri 06-Jun-14 12:38:18

5:2 worked for me in that I lost a stone but as with everything else I have tried in the past I lose a stone and then stick. Currently tried 3 plans, lost 2 stone and want to lose another.

This just popped up on Active Threads.

Over on twitter, MN Blog network is promoting their blog of the day, which is about the pressure women are under to diet even when pregnant.

I know some people genuinely need to lose weight to be healthy (though this diet sounds like a gimmick to me). And I know the OP isn't suggesting doing it while pregnant, ok.

But isn't this a bit contradictory? Surely, if MN want to promote good health they shouldn't be promoting fad diets at the exact same time as they're promoting someone speaking out against the pressure to diet?

emsiewill Fri 06-Jun-14 13:01:30

I started 5:2 in March 2013, and have lost (I think, but can't be sure as I never used to weigh myself) around 2.5-3 stone. I have been maintaining at my "after" weight now for at least 6 months if not more. I now do one or two fast days per week, depending on what's going on in my life.

In the interests of openness, I should also say that I took up walking (did a walking marathon last year) and then running (doing a half marathon in August - gulp) so of course that will have had an effect on my weight as well.

On non-fast days I do eat pretty much whatever I fancy and don't do any calorie counting on those days. I really love the guilt free way I can eat, and as many people have said, I don't feel the need to stuff my face to "make up" for the fast days.

I've also stopped drinking as much as I used to, which I guess must make a difference. I didn't stop as a weight loss aid, just because as I've got older I've started to feel worse and worse if I drink too much, and have just as good a time when I'm out and not drinking. Again, though, I don't tell myself "you can't drink" just don't bother.

I've gone down from a size 16-18 to a size 12-14. I honestly can't remember when I've ever been less than a 14 as an adult.

I don't find fast days particularly difficult, so see this as my way of life now, rather than a "diet". To get my BMI to "normal" rather than at the bottom of the "overweight" band that it now is, I really need to lose another stone, but I'd rather maintain as I am than "force" my body to lose a stone that I think would just come back on again over time. I feel like I've reached equilibrium.

My mum died of heart disease when she was 52, as did her dad. I am looking at this as my way to ensure I have more than another 8 years left...

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