Intermittent fasting: the 5:2 diet

 Since Dr Michael Mosley put it to the test on BBC's Horizon programme in August 2012, the 5:2 diet has been steadily gaining in popularity.

How it works is that across seven days you eat normally for five days and on two non-consecutive days you stick to 500 calories (600 if you're a man). The 5:2 diet is also known as intermittent fasting. 

As long as you don't binge on your 'feast' days, and make sure you stick to the calorie limit to your 'fast' days, many Mumsnetters say intermittent fasting has helped them lose weight, without the usual diet-related misery.

Very low-calorie diets usually come under fire from doctors as being bad for you and bound to fail: your body responds to restricted calories as if you're in a famine and your metabolism slows down, then once your calorie intake goes up, your body stores the energy as fat.

But the science seems to show that two days of fasting, non-consecutively, doesn't trigger this response and so you don't get locked into a demoralising fat-off, fat-on cycle. 

Fans of the 5:2 diet like its simplicity and flexibility. You can be veggie, vegan or omnivore. And if something unexpected comes up and you need to swap your fast day, you can. It also helps to ensure you have the recommended two alcohol-free days each week.

Tips for getting through fast days

Adapting to your fast days takes a bit of getting used to at first, with side-effects including grumpiness and, more obviously, feeling famished.

Here are tips gleaned from Mumsnet Talk for not making a meal out of your fast days:

  • Plan ahead so you know which days you're fasting on (and plan your menu)
  • Hot drinks will suppress your appetite, but remember to include milk in your calorie count
  • Soup, soup, soup! Some instant Miso soups are fewer than 20 calories
  • Avoid carboydrates, especially starchy foods like pasta and bread, which will make you feel hungrier later
  • Choose foods that take time to eat, and are bulky and low calorie, like vegetarian stews
  • Exercise can suppress your appetite and passes the time if you feel extra hungry
  • Remind yourself as you eye the biscuit tin that tomorrow you can eat what you want

Fast day food tips

  • MisoI recommend Marigold bouillon powder for fast days. It makes a really filling hot drink at 12 calories a cup, which I have when I'm bored, hungry or cold, and it stops me from thinking too much about food. I also don't associate it with food, while I struggle to have tea or coffee without wanting a biscuit to go with it. KateRuggles
  • Salad is great to fill you up and to bulk out meals, remember to still check the calories though. SchroSawMummyRidingSantaClaus
  • Make every meal as tasty as possible. Add chilli, fresh coriander, parsley and mint, lemon or lime juice, gherkins, garlic, mustard, black pepper, soy or Worcester as these all perk up your meal no end for very few calories. Laska42
  • Hellmanns do a 'lighter than light' mayonnaise, 10 cals per tbsp and it actually tastes great. SchroSawMummyRidingSantaClaus

What Mumsnetters say about following the 5:2 diet

  • It's so easy! All the energy and concentration is limited to two days per week - so simple. ErikNorseman
  • You can eat junk if you want to, drink wine or not, do low carb if it suits you, have restricted eating times or not. catsrus
  • We're not used to being hungry mostly, but it really is manageable once you stop fearing it. I'm always amazed that the morning after a fast day, I'm often just not hungry. Laska42

Fast day recipe suggestions

There are a surprising number of delicious recipes you can make that are relatively low in calories, and Mumsnetters have handily collated fast day recipes in Talk. Here are few examples to get you going.

Slow-cooked vegetable chilli

Serves 4
228 calories per serving

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 small aubergine
  • 1 small courgette
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 red chilli
  • 2 x 410g cans mixed pulses in water, rinsed and drained
  • 2 x 410g cans chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp dark chocolate, chopped

Put oil into slow cooker and spread around. Put rest of ingredients in and cook on high for four hours, or low for longer.

Butternut squash curry

Serves 4
300 calories per serving

  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 3 onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1 small green chilli, halved, deseeded and thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into 2cm chunks
  • 100g red lentils, rinsed
  • About 700ml vegetable stock
  • 400g tinned plum tomatoes
  • 1 big handful fresh coriander, tough stalks removed, leaves chopped

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onions and sauté for about 15 minutes with a pinch of salt until softened and turning golden, stirring frequently. Add the garlic, ginger and green chilli, and cook, stirring, for about five minutes. Add the ground coriander, cumin and garam masala, stir for a minute, then toss in the cubes of squash and lentils, and stir until well coated. Pour in the stock and tomatoes, crushing the tomatoes against the sides of the pan with a fork to break them up a bit.

Simmer, part-covered, until the squash and lentils are very tender, about 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. Stir in about two-thirds of the coriander, taste and check the seasoning. Add salt and pepper if desired.

Tuna rice

Serves 1
229 calories per serving (284 calories with stock cube and capers)

  • 3 squirts low-calorie spray oil
  • 2 spring onions, chopped
  • 1 small tin of tuna
  • 1 small tin of tomatoes
  • 28g rice (cooked)
  • Stock cube (optional)
  • Capers (optional)

Fry the chopped spring onions in the oil, and add the tuna, tomatoes, rice, and simmer until rice is cooked through, adding extra water if you need. Add a stock cube and capers for extra flavour if you like. 

Roasted carrot, red pepper tomato and lentil soup, with rosemary, thyme and chilli
Serves 4
180 calories per serving

  • 75g dried red lentils, rinsed
  • 2 onions, peeled and left whole
  • 3 red peppers, split and seeds out
  • Fresh tomatoes about 5-6, depending on size, or around 15 cherry tomatoes
  • 2 chilli peppers (to taste - add more if you like) 
  • 3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 6 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • Spray or 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 pints chicken or vegetable stock
  • Sprig of fresh rosemary and thyme, chopped (or use fresh parsley, but add at end)

Put all the vegetables in a baking tray. Spray or drizzle with around 10ml oil, mix to coat and roast in hot oven for about 45 minutes. You don't want the liquid to evaporate, so cover the tray once the vegetables have begun to cook. Simmer the lentils in a little water (just enough to cover) until tender. Add the stock, herbs and roasted vegetables. Leave skins on everything except the garlic cloves. Simmer for 15-20 mins depending on how cooked your carrots are. Blend and purée the soup until no lumps remain. Season with salt and pepper or soy sauce to taste.

Image: Shutterstock

Last updated: 07-Jan-2014 at 1:14 PM