It's the diet that lets you have your cake – and eat it too. But what does the 5:2 diet really entail, and does it work?
Supporters of the craze claim that it does a lot more than just help with weight loss. According to its followers, the 5:2 diet can help you live longer, look younger and even ward off dementia as well as lose weight. Made famous by the BBC’s Horizon programme Eat, Fast and Live Longer, this diet has become a favourite of thousands - who like the simplicity of the plan as well as its many benefits.
Studies suggested that fasting once or twice a week can protect the brain against illnesses including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
The Fasting Diet
The premise behind the 5:2 diet is to eat normally for five days, while fasting on the other two days. It is suggested that you limit yourself to 500 cals (600 for men) for two non-consecutive days a week. But, the silver lining is that you are given a free reign on your choice of food for the other five days.
‘I think because, unlike other diets where certain foods are restricted, you know that you can have whatever you want, you’re just a bit more relaxed about things. I don’t go crazy on my feed days, but I might opt for a sandwich rather than having a salad, and have pasta, which in the past I might have avoided if I was trying to lose weight, but I don’t go over the top,’ she says.
How does the 5:2 diet work?
The plan promises to be the easiest fasting regime to adapt into your regular lifestyle, and food lovers have been turning to this diet in droves.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does the 5:2 diet work?
Many people have had great success with the 5:2, mainly those who struggle with the traditional concept of a diet, where food groups are cut out or banned completely.
In a study released in 2015, researchers found evidence to support theories that the fasting diet protected individuals against cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
However interestingly, the same study, carried out by the University of Florida, found that when so-called ‘super foods’ (such as chokeberries) were added into the equation, the health benefits of the feast and famine approach were reduced.
Is the 5:2 too good to be true?
You can have great success with this diet but it’s worth noting that you should try to eat NORMALLY on your 5 days - rather than bingeing because you know you’ll starve later.
This, in fact, is probably the diet’s biggest pitfall - as it can make you feel as though you should overeat because you’ll be so restricted at other times.
Always wanting to try things for ourselves before we endorse them, we asked two of our writers to give the 5:2 a go and tell us what happened.
Closer’s 5:2 Diet Review
Ellie says: ‘There’s no doubting the first couple of weeks of the 5:2 were really tough. If you’re used to eating three hearty meals a day (plus biscuits), there’s no doubting you’re going to struggle on the fast days - where I couldn’t even have my usual five cups of tea for fear of it pushing me over the calorie allowance.
Saying that, after just two weeks I had lost four pounds, and I was amazed that it wasn’t interfering with my social (and drinking) life. I do have concerns about whether the diet is actually good for you, but now I’ve got into the swing of things I don’t even really mind the fast days and am keen to see if it will help me reach my target weight.’
Sarah says: ‘I didn’t get on with this diet at all. I was excited to try it because I liked the idea of not changing my lifestyle completely, and I’d read good things about it working for everyone.
But the fast days were just way too intense for me. As a working woman who juggles a hectic job with taking care of my kids after work, I was completely drained of energy and useless on 500 calories.
Although after a week I had lost a couple of pounds, showing that it paid off, for me the sacrifice of those two days feeling headachy, miserable and useless was not worth it.’
5:2 and health implications
Does the diet cause constipation?
Some dieters have reported that they struggle with constipation on their fast days - and this seems to be one of the main draw backs with the method. This happens because not enough fibre and roughage is being consumed during those two days which means things can come to a stand still, so to speak.
The way round this, according to successful 5:2 followers, is to ensure the following:
- Drink plenty of water on fast days, aim for about 8 cups
- Get walking. People that walked a couple of miles a day reported feeling much better in themselves on fast days.
- Eat leafy greens that are good for your overall well-being but can also help get things moving
- Take a Magnesium supplement
- Drink prune juice which is known for it’s bowel clearing properties
Does the 5:2 cause diabetes?
There have been some reports in the media that the 5:2 can have dangerous health implications.
Despite lowering cholesterol, blood pressure and BMI for most, some health experts have claimed that the Fasting Diet could lead to Diabetes in women. However, as there are limited studies on the matter - this conclusion cannot yet be drawn.
In fact, in one study carried out in 2010, it was found that the 5:2 actually reduced the risk of women developing type 2 diabetes.
If you fancy giving the 5:2 diet plan a try, here are some of our favourite fasting-day recipes! Good luck!
5:2 Diet Recipes All Under 250 Calories
What to have for breakfast on a 'fasting day'
Cheese & Tomato Breakfast Omelette – 170 calories *
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 6 minutes
Total time: 16 minutes
5 sprays of rapeseed oil (22 calories)
35g cherry tomatoes (halved = 6 calories)
1/4 red onion, peeled, and finely diced (about 40g = 8 calories)
6 or 8 fresh basil leaves (4 calories)
2 small Free-Range eggs (37g each = 54 calories x 2 = 108 calories)
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese (22 calories)
salt and pepper
Step 1 Heat up a small non-stick frying pan and spray the oil into it, then add the onions and fry over a gentle heat for 3 to 5 minutes or until nearly soft; add the halved cherry tomatoes and cook for a further 3 to 5 minutes or until the tomatoes are soft and just start to release their juices. Take off the heat and add the chopped basil leaves, Spoon the tomato mixture into a bowl and wipe the pan clean.
Step 2 Beat the eggs with a little water and then season to taste with salt and pepper. Heat the non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and then add the beaten eggs, swirling them around the pan and constantly tipping the pan and drawing the edges into the middle, to allow to runny egg to run out and set. (Use a wooden fork or Teflon spatula)
Step 3 When the eggs are nearly set to your liking, sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over one half and then spoon the tomatoes over the top of the cheese, flip one half over and cook for a further 1 to 2 minutes until the omelette is set.
Step 4 Slide the omelette out of the pan on to a warm plate and season with black pepper. Can be served as a light lunch with salad leaves, but add the calories on for that!
Boiled Egg with Ryvita, 123 cals
Creamy Garlic Mushrooms on Toast, 190 Calories *
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
Flora - Pro Active Margarine, 15 g
Garlic Clove, 1 Medium Clove (4g) (peeled and minced)
100g mushrooms, wiped and peeled if necessary (cut in to slices)
Philadelphia - Soft Cream Cheese - Full Fat - Garlic and Herb, 20 g
Warburtons - Medium Sliced White Bread, 1 slice (23.7g)
salt and pepper to taste
fresh parsley (for garnish)
Step 1 Put half the margarine into a frying pan and heat over medium heat, before adding the garlic; cook for 1 minute and then add the sliced mushrooms and cook over a low to medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes.
Step 2 Add the cream cheese and cook for a further 2 to 3 minutes, until the cream cheese has melted into the mushrooms. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Step 3 Meanwhile, toast the bread and spread the remaining margarine over it - cut into 4 triangles and spoon the creamy garlic mushrooms over the top, and garnish with fresh parsley.
Step 4 Serve immediately.
What to have for lunch on a 'fast day'
Fridge Salad, 230 calories
Total time: 10 mins
40g mixed salad leaves
1 small carrot, finely grated
2 spring onions, finely sliced
3 baby plum tomatoes, halved
8 slices cucumber
50g pickled baby beets, halved or quartered
38g feta cheese, broken into pieces
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
a good grinding of black pepper
Step 1 Layer your salad ingredients on your plate, starting with the salad leaves as a base.
Step 2 Top with baby beets and feta cheese.
Step 3 Finish with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and some black pepper.
Smoked Salmon Pitta Pizza, 194 calories *
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
1 pitta: Weight Watchers - White Pitta Bread (106 cals)
1 Tablespoon Philadelphia Cream Cheese - Low Fat - Chive and Onion - Low Fat Cream Cheese Chive and Onion, (35 cals)
25 g Smoked Salmon Slices (29 cals)
1/4 red onion, peeled and finely diced (8 cals)
1 teaspoon capers, drained (1 cal)
Lamb's lettuce leaves, about 40g (11 cals)
Fresh or dried dill (3 cals)
1 lemon wedge (1 cal)
Step 1 Preheat the oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas Mark 4.
Step 2 Spread the pitta bread with the low-fat cream cheese then top with the smoked salmon pieces. Scatter the chipped red onion over the top and then the capers.
Step 3 Bake for 10 minutes, or until the pitta bread is golden and crispy around the edges.
Step 4 Serve immediately with lemon wedge, and fresh chopped dill (or a little dried) as well as some fresh lamb's lettuce (mâche) leaves.
Minestrone soup, 198 calories
*Total time: 45 mins *
1 tbsp cold pressed rapeseed oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 fat cloves garlic, crushed
2 stalks of celery, chopped
2 medium courgettes (zucchini), chopped
8 medium carrots, chopped
100g spinach, chopped
3 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
2 x 400g tins cannellini beans
150g lubella strand pasta (or other)
5 pints/10 cups vegetable stock
2 tbsp tomato puree
a good grinding of salt & freshly ground pepper
a generous handful fresh parsley, chopped
Step1 Saute the onion in garlic in the rapeseed oil until soft and translucent. Then add the celery, courgette and carrots and cook gently for a few minutes.
Step 2 Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, beans, spinach and vegetable stock. Mix well and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and leave it to simmer gently for 15 minutes.
Step 3 Add the pasta and cook for another 15 minutes. Season and add the fresh herbs.
Roast tomato and garlic soup, 70 calories *
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes
Total time: 55 minutes
500g (1lb 2ozs) ripe tomatoes, quartered
2 red onions, peeled & cut into wedges
1 bulb garlic, divided into cloves, peeled
1 red pepper, de-seeded & quartered
low-fat cooking spray
600ml (1 pint) hot vegetable stock
1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
salt & black pepper
fresh basil to garnish
Step 1 Preheat oven to 220C/400F/Gas Mark 7 and put the tomatoes, onions, garlic and red pepper into a large roasting tin; season with salt and pepper and spray over some low-fat spray. Roast for 45 minutes until the vegetables begin to char at the edges and they are soft.
Step 2 Remove the vegetables from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. then purée all the vegetables in a food processor with the stock, vinegar and Worcester sauce.
Step 3 Tip the purée into a saucepan and heat through for 3 to 5 minutes before serving with fresh basil leaves scattered over the soup.
Step 4 This soup is also wonderful chilled, cook as above and allow to go cold, if there is no room in the fridge, serve cold with a few ice cubes in the soup, and the basil leaves as before.
Ramen soup, 222 cals
1 sheet (60g) Ramen or Chinese egg noodles (108 cals)
½ tsp sesame seeds (8 cals)
1 sachet of miso soup (27 cals)
1 tsp mirin (7 cals)
1 tbsp Japanese soy sauce (10 cals)
½ tsp grated root ginger (1 cal)
50g spring cabbage thinly sliced (12 cals)
50g beansprouts (14 cals)
50g carrot (15 cals)
50g shiitake mushrooms, sliced (20 cals)
Step 1 Cook the noodles according to the instructions on the packet, put them in a sieve and cool under the tap.
Step 2 Toast the sesame seeds in a hot dry frying pan until golden. Squeeze the gunky contents of the miso soup sachet into a saucepan with 500ml boiling water. Add the soy sauce, mirin and ginger and bring to the boil.
Step 3 Meanwhile, shave the carrot into long ribbons with a potato peeler.
Step 4 Add the cabbage to the soup pan and simmer for a minute. Add the carrot and mushrooms and simmer for another minute. Stir in the beansprouts.
Step 5 Drain the noodles and put them in the bottom of a large soup bowl. Pour over the contents of the pan. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and serve.
**What to have for dinner on a 'fast day'
Tiger Prawn Curry with Basmati Rice, 250 calories per portion *
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
Low-fat cooking spray
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
500g (1lb 2ozs) raw tiger prawns, peeled (or king prawns)
100g (31/2 ozs) low-fat natural yoghurt
small bunch of coriander
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 red chillies, de-seeded
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
juice of a lemon
Step 1 Make the curry paste by placing all the ingredients in a food processor with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water and blending until smooth.
Step 2 Heat a large wok or frying pan and the spray with low-fat cooking spray; add the mustard seeds and fry until they pop and release their aroma. Then add the curry sauce paste and fry for a further 3 to 4 minutes before adding 250 mls (9 fl oz) of water.
Step 3 Stir in the tinned chopped tomatoes and cook for a further 5 minutes. Then add the prawns and simmer gently for 4 or 5 minutes, or until they are firm and pink in colour.
Step 4 Check and adjust the seasoning if needed and then add the yoghurt and chopped coriander, gently stirring it in whilst the pan is off the heat.
Step 5 Serve immediately with steamed (or boiled) Basmati rice; a 60g serving is 95 calories. An average naan bread is about 350 calories and a mini Weight Watchers naan bread is between 98 and 107 calories, depending on flavour.
Vegetable & Lentil Stew, 242 calories **
Total time: 1 hour 20 mins *
1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 large carrots, chopped
½ butternut squash, chopped
8 chestnut mushrooms, chopped
150g puy or French lentils
100g frozen peas
250g frozen soya mince (vegetarian mince)
1 glass red wine
2 pints vegetable stock (4 stock cubes)
4 tbsp tomato puree
4 tbsp wholegrain mustard
a good grinding of salt & black pepper
Step 1 In a large pan, saute the onion with the olive oil, until soft. As you are using so little olive oil you may need to add a splash of water to prevent sticking.
Step 2 Add the carrots and butternut squash and cook gently for 5 minutes.
Step 3 Add the mushrooms and cook for another few minutes.
Step 4 Add the lentils, soya mince and red wine and stir well to combine.
Step 5 Add the stock, tomato puree and mustard. Give a good stir and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover with a lid and leave to cook for between 45 minutes and an hour. Stirring occasionally. The stew should be nicely thickened and flavourful.
Step 6 Season and serve.
Scallops with pancetta and leeks, 247 calories
2 paper-thin 8g slices of pancetta or bacon (70 cals)
85g scallops (three medium- sized ones) (75 cals)
50g sliced, washed leeks (30 cals)
80g peas (fresh or frozen) (62 cals)
fronds from six sprigs of dill (1 cal)
30g wild rocket leaves (9 cals)
Step1 Cut the pancetta slices in half and cook in a non-stick frying pan over a medium-high heat until the fat runs and the pancetta browns and crisps. Scoop out on to a plate and keep to one side.
Step 2 Cut each scallop into two discs and pat dry on kitchen paper. Cook in the pan with the pancetta fat for a couple of minutes on each side, until browned. Lift them on to the pancetta plate.
Step 3 Add the leeks to the pan and cook in the last of the scallop and pancetta juices until soft. Add the peas and cook, stirring, until the peas are hot through. Stir in most of the dill, then taste and season with salt and pepper.
Step 4 Put the rocket in the middle of a plate and arrange the scallops around. Mound the leeks on top of the rocket and lay the pancetta pieces on top. Scatter with a few fronds of dill and eat straight away.
Herb and Spice Crusted Baked Chicken Breasts, 180 calories *
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
2 x 150g skinless and boneless chicken breast fillets
a few sprigs of parsley, basil or oregano (very finely chopped)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
low fat cooking spray
250ml vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste
a little chilli powder (optional)
Step 1 Pre-heat oven to 200C/400f/Gas Mark 6. Make shallow cuts in the chicken with the tip of a sharp knife and place the chicken breasts in a non-stick baking tray/tin.
Step 2 Mix the herbs and spices together in a small bowl and then spread the mixture all over the chicken breasts with your hands, patting the mixture in to the cuts on the chicken. Spray a little low-fat spray over the top and then pour the stock into the tray around the chicken, but NOT over the top.
Step 3 Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the herb and spice mix is golden brown and slightly crispy. Cut the chicken into slices, and serve with salad. Or, serve with the juices poured around the chicken with seasonal vegetables, rice or pasta.
*Recipes and imagery courtesy of Lavenderandlovage.com