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How to Survive the 5:2 Fast Diet

Updated on June 6, 2013
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I'm a girl who like to EAT! Everything from fine dining in upscale champagne bars, to pizza and wings with the family, to a big bag of chips parked in front of the TV. You name it, I'll probably eat it. So when one of my British friends told me about the "5:2 Diet," Britain's latest craze, my first thought was "No way! Not for this girl!"

The problem is (or so I thought), the 5:2 Diet is based on intermittent fasting, in which one eats most days and fasts (at least to some extent) on others. Me, fasting? That means no food, right? Well, as it turns out, not exactly.

With the 5:2 - developed by Britain's Dr. Michael Mosley as an eating plan to promote health, anti-aging, and weight loss - you eat normally for 5 days each week and reduce your calories to 500 (600 for men) on the remaining days. That's it!

But still, only 500 calories for an active adult female who digs her food? Could I survive?

The 5:2 Diet: 5 Keys to Survival

While the ease of the diet was attractive (I'm an admittedly lazy dieter, too much fuss and I lose interest), the thought of a meager 500 calories was off-putting at first. I get very spacey if I go too long without food and I just couldn't see how to follow the 5:2 without zoning out two days each week.

But my friend continued to tout the health benefits of the 5:2 - a lowered risk of age-related cancer and dementia, as well increased energy and vitality - so I decided to give it a go and see what would happen. The first couple of fast days were rough, but I gradually learned how to make it work. And the payoffs have been outstanding. After about 3 months, my energy level is through the roof and my skin looks fantastic. I haven't measured any biomarkers or stepped on the scale, but I feel healthier and my pants are definitely looser. Here's what worked for me.

1. Planning is everything!

Plenty of people seem to wing their meals on fast days, logging their calories throughout the day and cutting off the food supply when they hit 500/600. But for me personally, my somewhat irrational fear of being hungry (it's only for the day, after all), and the corresponding crankiness, convinced me to plan out my entire day's calorie allotment before I dug in. And it works wonders!

Since my energy level can dip dramatically without sustained eating, I plan out 4 main meals and supplement with tea, broth, and water. My optimal caloric distribution is about 100 for breakfast, 150 for lunch, 100 for afternoon snack, and 150 for dinner.

To make sure each small meal is filling, I plan out the details in the morning, for example: oatmeal for breakfast, green salad with chicken breast for lunch, yogurt for snack, and a veggie frittata for dinner. I've also noticed that by setting up my meals in advance, I focus less on hunger. At the appointed mealtime I just make what's on the plan and be done with it.

2. Fill up with fluids.

It's hard to feel full on the fast days, I readily admit that. But keeping hydrated helps enormously and seems to stave off fatigue and headaches. It took me a while to get into a hydration groove because it's just not something I consciously do, but once I found a method that works for me, it's been an enormous help in keeping to the plan.

On fast days, I fill a reusable water bottle in the morning and sip it throughout the day. I add to this about 2-3 cups of black coffee in the morning, a cup of broth in the afternoon, and a cup or two of decaf green tea sweetened with stevia in the evening.

3. Weigh your fruits and veggies.

Using weights to calculate calories instead of volume for many fruits and vegetables can help to insure accurate calorie counts. You can pack way more sliced mushrooms or sliced strawberries into a one-cup measure than leaving them whole, right? Simply looking up the calories per cup, unless you specify whole or sliced, is likely to put you over your limit or leave you shortchanged!

So get yourself a cheap food scale if you don't already have one, and weigh out everything before you cook it. I like to weigh to the nearest gram then multiple by the weight-per-gram (you can look up online) to get the total weight.

4. Season it up!

I've found that kicking up the seasoning level on fast days really seems to trick my brain into finding the smaller meals more satisfying than they probably are! The calories in the seasoning still have to be counted, but they're usually very minimal, around 5 or so per teaspoon. My current favorites are:

  • Fajita seasoning: I use Penzey's but any brand should work. I sprinkle this on plain baked chicken breast that I've cubed for a salad.
  • Tony Chachere's Original Seasoning: The label reads "Great on Everything!" and it is! I especially like it on scrambled egg whites.
  • Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce: Another seasoning that goes with almost everything. I'll swirl a teaspoon into a bowl of pureed cauliflower soup to really kick it up a notch.

5. Choose fast days that work for you.

Use the flexibility of the 5:2 diet to your advantage! Rather than designating the same two days each week for fasting, choose your fast days to fit your schedule. I like Mondays for fasting because I like the "fresh start" feeling to the week, but if I have a lunch meeting or too many after school activities, I simply switch my first fast day to Tuesday.

For the second day, I try not to fast on the weekends because of food-related activities. So I'll consider my schedule for Wednesday and Thursday (and occasionally Friday) and choose the one that works best.

Also, if you slip off the wagon early in the week, you've got the rest of the week for a do-over. And because the fast days aren't fixed, it's not cheating at all!

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