It's the new diet sensation, so Simon Ward had a go at eating just 500 calories on two days of the week.
The 5:2 diet (also known as intermittent fasting) has been attracting more and more coverage recently. The premise is simple: on two days of the week, you only eat 500 calories, while the rest of the week you are free to eat your normal diet.
I’d been looking for a diet to tackle for a while (shamed by my colleague Charlotte’s attempts at all kinds of food-related challenges) and so I thought I’d give this one a try. After all, it sounded fairly straightforward. Here’s how I got on over the course of a month.
The first thing to say about the 5:2 diet is that, when you actually look into the calorie counts of various food, 500 calories doesn’t give you too much room for manoeuvre in terms of meal planning.
I decided to use the diet as an excuse to do less cooking as well as less eating and drinking, meaning cooked meals were out on my ‘on’ days.
I stuck fairly rigidly to similar foods over the course of my diet days. So a typical day’s meal plan looked something like this:
Banana or toast with low-fat spread
Salad of cucumber, tomatoes, carrots and grapes
Obviously there are far more exciting meal options out there but I kept it very simple. I drank water all day, with the exception of one cup of tea in the morning.
How was it?
My diet days were generally Tuesdays and Thursdays, as I just couldn't face dieting on a Monday. The first couple of days were very tough. Restaurant and cafe windows took on a mocking reflection and I couldn't go into supermarkets.
But after the first couple of weeks my body and mind seemed to adjust to the new regime and I was OK. I think I slightly overdid it on my off days to compensate, which probably helped, but we'll come to that shortly.
The expert's view
I asked nutrionist Azmina Govindji for her verdict on my efforts and the 5:2 diet in general. She told me:
"There is little evidence for this way of eating. In practical terms, the conscious thinking that goes into planning the week and not exceeding 500 calories over two days helps to engage your brain. When you do this, you are more aware of what you are eating and this conscious awareness could help you to be more careful on non-fast days, which can result in an overall reduction in calories over the week, helping you to lose weight."
I found this to be true, at least in the sense that it made me far more aware of how much I had been eating and also, although it sounds somewhat trite, how lucky I am to have the choice of what I eat and when I eat it.
In terms of a meal plan, she said: "Make sure you have lots of fruit and veg, choose whole grains, and enough protein. 500 calories is not a lot so this could be tough for people who are less aware of good nutrition."
And in terms of the safety and possible health risks of the diet, she commented: "Long term weight management is about finding a healthy lifestyle that you can keep to, won't get bored of, and that meets your nutritional requirements. If you eat a good variety of healthy foods, it's possible you could sustain this. There are no studies on the long term effects so I can't really comment on safety."
In the end, I lost around four pounds (1.8kg) over the month. I asked Azmina why I didn't lose more. Her reply: "Perhaps you over-compensated during the other five days?" And I think that's true. I was more inclined to 'treat' myself for my good work over the two diet days during the rest of the week. So, obviously enough, making this work depends on your willpower on the non-diet days as well.
It's certainly a less extreme diet than many of the other regimes out there. And it did make me think hard about my food choices. But, overall, I think the more sensible option is to temper what I have every day of the week, not just on two.
Have you tried the 5:2 diet? Did it work for you? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments box below.
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