Ok before I get into this, I know that there can be a lot of negativity around diets, diet culture, and even just using the word diet. A diet can be good or bad, and if you’re going to give me hate or get judgy on me for wanting to lose weight, to feel better about myself then this post isn’t for you. I’m not offended, just get on your merry way. I did the 5.2 diet religiously in January, and in four and a half weeks I lost a stone. Here’s what it involved, as well as more information on the 5.2 diet in general and how I’ve incorporated it into my lifestyle.
I first wrote this a year ago but never published it, so some references to eating out and being at work date back to then. I’m absolutely not a nutritionist or PT or anything like that this is just my personal experience. Sorry this one is pretty text heavy, there’s definitely no before or after shots!
What is the 5.2 diet?
There are a few variations around this, but essentially the 5.2 diet is a fasting diet, where two days a week you ‘fast’ by eating substantially less calories than normal, and the remaining five days a week you eat normally, but healthily, with occasional treats thrown in.
This schedule of two fast days, and five normal days goes on for four weeks, with fast days being separated by at least one day of normal eating. I first did this diet about five years ago, and since then I’ve done it once a year, usually at some point after Christmas in the first half of the year.
I’m the first to admit that isn’t really how the diet should be used. Rather than a quick fix crash diet for a month, it should be used as an overall lifestyle change that you carry forward beyond the four weeks. I had zero willpower previously and once the 4 weeks of 5.2, or specific occasion had passed I just went back to my old habits of takeaways and family size bags of Doritos. It never lasted, and I never really got the mindset change they say you need.
This time though, I think I have, but more on that later.
The first time I did it, I purchased this 5.2 book by Jacqueline Whitehart (affiliate link) – and it has formed the basis of every 5.2 diet I’ve done since and the recipes I’ve made. I’m not going to go into the science of how fasting and this form of diet works, as I’m not a professional and don’t think I’m best placed to, but if you want to know the book does give you all this information and background science.
All I’m saying here really is that it’s worked for me, every time I’ve done it with real results. I’ve adapted bits of it to suit my lifestyle and tastes too, so the key is to make it work for you, and accept that it might not. Everyone is different.
I know a handful of people who have tried it and just can’t stick to it, not for lack of willpower but it just doesn’t suit their lifestyles, and that’s fine. The fasting days can be tough especially at the start, and there are situations when it’s really not doable.
If you plan carefully when to do it initially for the first week, then the rest seem to follow and it quickly becomes a new lifestyle norm.
Why do the 5.2 diet?
My personal reasons are that it fits into my life, I have always lost a minimum of half a stone when I’ve done it depending how strict I’ve been, it doesn’t mean I have to give up eating out which is one of my favourite things ever, and it’s only two days a week of calorie counting. I don’t think I could hack any more, but 2 days is fine – easy almost once you get past the first week.
I’ve found it to be a good way to shift a bulk of weight initially, which is usually necessary for me in January before I feel comfortable exercising, but then it also fits into your life ongoing as a maintenance diet that you can dip in and out of.
The First Week of 5.2
This is by far the hardest week, as most first weeks are, but at the end of it the results will definitely make you feel good, so for me it’s worth it. I always start on a Monday, to get the first fast day of the week out of the way early on, and I always try to do my second one on a Wednesday – in keeping with the rule of not doing them one after the other.
Where possible, I keep the routine of Monday’s and Wednesday’s, but this year I also added in a Friday some weeks so it was more of a 4:3 diet. In the past, restaurant week at the end of January has been my downfall, or work travel which usually kicks in at the end of January too. The one and only benefit of everywhere being closed is I haven’t been tempted.
What I ate on Fast Days
By choice, I prefer to save as many of my 500 calories for the end of the day, but this can be really difficult for some people, so the other option is to eat little, low calorie snacks frequently throughout the day. I prefer to keep going as long as possible and have them in bulk.
I didnt cut coffee or tea out completely at any point throughout the diet, but I did cut down on how much I had. I limit myself to two a day, and this was nearly always in the morning. I dont have sugar in tea, but I do in coffee so I swapped sugar for sweetener instead.
For lunch, I either have an Alpen cereal bar, or a Heinz cuppa soup (this was last year when I was working in the office), both of which are less than 70 calories, and I kept this up on fast days through the whole diet. This year I have been more adventurous while working from home and have made some of the less than 100 calorie snack or small meal recipes from the book. People are often horrified when I tell them this is all I have, as it can be really difficult for people who are more active than me through the day. For me though it’s mind over matter, and as long as I can distract myself I can go for a longer period of time without eating something big.
I went back to work (from home) in January, and I think this probably did help as it was a distraction from the long lockdown days where the only journey you can make really is to the fridge. I’d have a coffee at 8am and again at 11am, then at lunch I’d have a cereal bar or a poached egg with spinach and then go for a long walk in the afternoon. The current situation of lockdown, working from home and the flexibility it gives means I am walking a lot more anyway, which has obviously also helped.
For dinner in the evening, I made a cous cous salad recipe that I got from the 5.2 book. It includes 40g of cous cous, mixed into a homemade dressing (of 1bsp white wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp mustard, 1tsp extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper), and left to set with cold water rather than hot water. Add to this 100g chopped cucumber, 1 red bell pepper chopped, and a small chunk of feta cheese and mix in, which gives you quite a big cold cous cous salad.
On particularly cold, snowy days when you want a hot meal, I would have one of the M&S Count on Us low calorie meals which are actually really tasty. There are loads of low calorie recipes in the book that you could have as your fast day dinner, and they also taste good but when it came to the food shop every week it was easier just to stick to one or two things to avoid waste.
How I felt
More tired than hungry, as I think I outdid myself over Christmas and it kept me feeling full for at least half of the first week. It also felt like a really long week, with long days, and I was going to bed early, at 9ish and sleeping right through. I did feel better in the mornings though, and a lot less sluggish getting out of bed.
What I Ate on Non fast days
The main thing I’ve noticed with none fast days, is that you go to bed after fasting all day thinking you’re going to be so hungry the next morning, and plan to eat loads. When you wake up though you actually aren’t, but I still make sure I have three good meals through the day. You definitely have more energy in the morning too.
For breakfast I have low fat yoghurt, with blueberries or raspberries and granola, for lunch I’d usually have either the same cous cous salad I had the day before on a fast day or poached eggs on 50/50 toast. I find the salad easy to make two batches of and for your non fast day lunch you can add all sorts of extras in – ham, egg, chicken, salmon etc, without worrying about how many calories are in it. For dinner, you can basically eat anything within reason, but for this diet the first couple of weeks I really tried to cut out pasta and rice.
Our mid week meals included bolognese with stuffed peppers one night, chicken and vegetables another, and stir fry with a home made dressing another. We’ve also had fajitas, meatballs, and the hairy bikers Spanish chicken recipe. Some of my favourite recipes from the book are great on non fast days, including roast sweet potato with spicy veg, stuffed chicken breasts, peppered egg, and fish. I can’t list all of them, but the book is full of them for every meal – breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack options.
Weekends, Treat Days and Alcohol
Pretty much my favourite things at the moment. Last year I did dry January which was the biggest mistake of the year for me, so I didnt want to do it this year while we are stuck in lockdown. I think that would have just been a step too far. So I allowed myself a drink throughout on Friday and Saturday nights. I bought light tonic, which was the only change I made to my drinking habits and I’ve had either G&T’s or wine.
For the first two weeks I stayed healthy at weekends, and avoided pastries, cakes, chocolates, crisps, biscuits and any form of takeaway. This was the hardest part of the whole diet especially when Kieran was having them. A Chinese is my guilty pleasure, along with Doritos. I held out though and the first Saturday night takeaway I had was a couple of weeks in and we had sushi, so a healthier option. We had Nando’s twice in January as well and that’s a good one as you can choose healthier options from their menu. It’s not like a big plate of greasy fish and chips.
So the first two weeks went like that, and the first week I lost 5lbs which was probably mostly water retention, and the second week I lost 3lbs. It does slow down as the weeks go on but that’s obviously normal, and it does feel good when you get on the scales and see how it’s paying off. It becomes fairly consistent if you stick to it.
I feel like I should say here that this is the only time I ever weigh myself. I know it can be triggering for some people and some get really obsessed with the scales which I just dont think is healthy. I do it to track my progress. In normal life I really dont care what I weigh, I very much care more about how I feel and how my clothes fit much more than the number the scales show. I hate feeling sluggish or tired, and a bad diet does that to you. The way I feel now is a much better high than seeing the number drop, even if that is motivation to keep going.
Week 3 – 4 of 5.2 Diet
In some ways it’s a lot easier by this point, the fast days are easier to get through and you’re in a routine of what you eat and when so it doesn’t consume your thoughts as much. I’m really not one for obsessing over calories or feeling guilty for treats, but when I’m serious about wanting to lose weight and feeling better about myself I do become more aware of it. Moderation is definitely key.
The fast days gradually fit into your life and come and go without much drama, you feel lighter, more energetic and it’s easier to get up in the morning. You can fit them around occasions without feeling guilty.
But I find that this is when I start to really crave things, and it’s always something sugary and sweet. Usually I’m much more of a crisps or savoury person so it’s weird that in week 3 of 5.2 I’m dreaming of a big stack of chocolate pancakes, or cake or donuts. (I wrote my cakes and bakes in the North East blog post round about this time because I was so obsessed).
My weekends did start to change then, as I would allow myself a proper treat day on a Saturday not just one meal. You might have seen I ordered a bakery breakfast box from Batch in Jesmond, full of amazing pastries and I’d let myself have a few chocolates from the leftover Christmas tins that are packed away in the cupboard.
I didnt have a proper Chinese takeaway until the 4 weeks of 5.2 were done and I’d lost a stone. It was the best reward ever, but the next day although I didnt regret it I thought I really need to keep going with this or I’ll slip back into weekly takeaways or constant snacking and I’m pleased to say I haven’t. It might sound ridiculous but I love eating out, convenience, and trying food from new places. I can still do those things and do the fast days to balance it out and maintain the weight loss.
I’ve continued with the fast days beyond the four weeks, and I’m actually enjoying it. I definitely appreciate a weekend treat a lot more, we had Lolas burgers last Saturday which were incredible. So I think I’ve found a way to just keep up with being healthy and the fast days through the week, as I know I can have something in moderation at the weekend to treat myself.
It is continuing to work for me, with consistent if not drastic weight loss, more maintenance really which is exactly what I want to upkeep this year.
Things that help
Be under no illusion that it’s easy, it really isn’t and if you aren’t 100% committed then it’s easy to fall at the first hurdle in the first week. Here’s some things that I find help me stick to it:
Meal prep – I dont meant you have to pre cook, freeze and make up 7 days worth of Tupperware boxes (unless you want to), I just mean decide on a weeks worth of meals and do a shop for everything you need and nothing more. We have saved a lot of money over the past month by doing this as we’ve only bought what we need so there’s been no waste.
Use click and collect – If you dont set foot in the supermarket not only is it currently safer, but it also means you wont be tempted by any extras, or treats that you just throw into your trolley. It’s been life changing for me both in terms of the amount of food I buy but also how much I’ve saved.
Decide on your weekly treat early in the week, so you can look forward to it all week and it will keep you going.
Don’t assume all takeaways are bad, there are a lot of healthy options about and again it’s something to look forward to.
Learn about your food choices, replacements and swapping things can be a good idea. Educate yourself as much or little as you like on what’s in the food you consume. I don’t follow any nutritional accounts because I prefer to go looking for things like that when I want them, but I do love this Instagram account for low calorie treat choices.
Don’t compare yourself. I will never be the sort of person that becomes obsessed with exercise, or calorie counting as a way of life outside of those two fast days. I dont follow any fitness accounts or anything like that as it can be a rabbit hole of comparison and pressure. I’m 5.2 and will never be stick thin, but I want to feel good for myself and I know what weight that is for me. Only focus on what you are doing.
One thing I did do though was download Strava. I dont run, but I do walk a lot and I’ve started to monitor the walks I do and track my daily activity using the fitness app on my iwatch. Doing that has definitely made me keep it up as I compete against myself and it pushes me to keep going to hit the targets and distances.
Share your wins with people close to you, no matter how big or small. I will never criticise anyone for sharing on social media either, as it’s amazing how much support you get and that can be a really big boost of encouragement knowing people are supporting you.
For the first time in a long time, now I’m almost at the weight I want to be (another half a stone to go) I really feel the need to get back in the gym. Like I said I will never be fitness queen of the century, but I do want to keep up what I’ve started and take it further than just a quick fix. This is new for me so something must have changed in my mindset, and the 5.2 diet technique of fasting for two days is something I’m continuing with beyond the initial month.
My favourite thing about the 5.2 diet by far is how you can be flexible with your days, two days out of 7 isn’t that many to be calorie counting, and it doesn’t stop you having carbs, treats or takeaways as long as it’s in moderation.
If you do decide to give the 5.2 diet a go then always happy to talk to anyone about it, only do it if you think it’s right for you and do your research first. The main thing for me is to feel better about myself, much more so than the figure I actually weigh and I think that is the most important thing.
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