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Tried and tested: the 5:2 diet

February 16th 2013 / Newby Hands


Newby Hands, Editorial Director at feelunique.com and Beauty Director at Large for Harper’s Bazaar, shares her 5:2 diet story

Last autumn, along with 2.5 million other people I watched Michael Mosley’s Horizon programme on the benefits of intermittent fasting, and found it so compelling, so simple that I decided to try it.

Five weeks and 10 fast days later I had lost six pounds and my body looked as though it had been wrung out; every millimetre of puff and bloat was gone, and for the first time in years my limbs looked lean and smooth again.


So, of course I did what every successful dieting woman does; I started eating normally. But even during a Quality Street-filled Christmas I only put half the weight back on; and now mentally refuelled at the brilliance of this eating plan, I’m back on it. Three weeks in and with three pounds lost, I now know this is the way I will control my weight for many years to come.

While there’s confusion over its name (the fast diet, the 5:2 diet, the feast:famine diet...), the premise remains the same. For five days of each week you eat what, when and where you like, then for two days you eat very little; 500 calories for a woman, 600 for a man. Stick with it and you lose an average of a pound a week. Other diets may promise more, but remember the body can only lose a pound of fat a week; anything more is water and the like.

It sounds easy, and to a degree it is. But there are some simple truths I’ve learnt along the way. Firstly, there’s no twiddling around with the calorie count and 500 calories equals very little food. I focus on eating fat-free, as that gives me the most filling bang for my calorie-limited buck. I’ve learnt to eat only to curb the worst of the hunger, not to feel full; when the pangs hit, a glass of water or cup of skimmed milk tea usually works. If it gets to the gnawing level I have a little bit of a small apple. I’ve also found that three baby meals (porridge made with water, fat-free tomato soup, tiny baked potato and plain salad) works for me; for others one medium meal or two small ones work better.

This is about eating normally for some days, and eating very little on others: that’s it. The fast days are not about food, and yes it’s boring but fasting on work days is easier for me than over a weekend. Having three colleagues doing it with me (and each is losing weight) helps tremendously. We all faced that first tough day, the woolly-headed slump in week three, and the sudden ease as you hit your stride by week four. We take it in turns to make fat-free soups for lunch, and we can recite calorie counts with more ease than a teenage girl can recite the lyrics to a One Direction hit.

After decades of cleverly marketed, overly complicated multi-million dollar diets, this stripped back, gimmick-free diet comes as welcome relief. Do it and you lose weight, because you are eating 4,000 less calories a week and it takes a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose a pound of weight.

But the one big surprise is that while you may plan your ‘feast’ for the non-fast days, you rarely actually do it. In fact, as my stomach gets smaller I’m eating noticeably less, not more, on those other five days.

Two more weeks (and two more pounds) and I’ll move to the 6:1 maintenance programme (that’s six normal days and one fast day), and that’s me and diets done for many years to come. It’s simple, do-able, and with no DVDs, books or programmes to invest in (the most I’ve done is Google a few calorie counts), it’s one diet that puts us totally in charge of our weight loss, which is possibly why it’s captured so many people’s interest.

The only voice of dissent I’ve come across is from one friend who also happens to make his money from writing diet books.

Keen to know more about the 5:2 diet? Take a look at our diet plans and weight management features for our guide to intermittent fasting.

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