Six years ago, I wrote an article for The Mail on Sunday about a new diet I had put myself on. I called it the 5:2 diet. Instead of eating less every day, as you would on a normal weight-loss diet, I just reduced my calories – albeit quite drastically – twice a week.
The plan was based on a growing body of scientific evidence that suggested this way of eating, known as intermittent fasting, was not only one of the most effective ways to control weight but could also help us live longer, healthier lives.
The way I was
Before starting on the 5:2 I was overweight: 13st 5lb, with a 36in waist. More than a quarter – 28 per cent – of my total body weight was fat, which means I was carrying around about 52lb of fat. An acceptable range of body fat for a non-athlete is 18 to 25 per cent for a man and 25 to 31 per cent for a woman. Looking at pictures of me at the time, I was definitely carrying a bit of timber. But, shockingly, my score meant I was obese – the medical term for body weight that is so great, it starts to cause medical problems. And it had. I had recently discovered that I was a type 2 diabetic, like my dad, and my cholesterol level was way too high.
How it worked for me
I put myself on the 5:2, which I found surprisingly easy, and after 12 weeks I had lost 19lb – almost one and a half stone. My body-fat levels went down to 21 per cent and my waist shrank by three inches. I stopped snoring, which delighted my wife, and I felt much more active. Even better, my blood indicators had improved in a spectacular fashion, with everything, including my blood sugars, returning to healthy levels.
The amazing benefits
I signed off that article with this: ‘I believe that with intermittent fasting I can extend my healthy years and perhaps even undo some of the damage that has already been done to my body. So I plan to stick with it. And I’ll let you know if I succeed.’ The short answer is, I did, and I have. And the millions of dieters across the world who have also lost weight and vastly improved their health by following the same regime have too.
Now simpler than ever!
This week in YOU, I am unveiling my latest version of the diet – the simplest 5:2 I’ve ever devised, with brand new recipes. The core principle is the same: cut down to 800 calories a day for two days of the week on so-called Fast Days and eat a balanced, Mediterranean-style diet for the rest of the time. And, as ever, there is the science. Today we have more hard evidence than ever that the 5:2 is one of the best ways to get slim and stay slim – as well as reduce your risk of illness. But this time there’s also a clever twist.
Just 5 ingredients
The calorie-controlled dishes we have created use no more than five main ingredients, meaning Fast Days are easier than ever to shop for and prepare. It’s also handy if you’re watching your wallet as well as your waistline. We’ve included 22 new recipes for delicious and filling breakfasts, quick lunches, family favourites and even a few sweet treats (I advise people only to have these for non-Fast Days) in this pullout, and there will be more featured each week in my regular column in The Mail on Sunday.
The science to back it up
Before getting started, it’s worth reminding ourselves why the 5:2 really is the fastest way to a healthier life. Evidence shows that the 5:2 could cut your risk of breast cancer, bowel cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart attack and stroke. It could reduce your blood pressure, improve your sleep, boost your sex drive and may help fight dementia. Plus it’s easy to stick to. So you see, there really is even more reason to give this diet a go!
I’ll continue to bring you all the latest research as it develops in my column in The Mail on Sunday every week. Be sure to follow me there.
5:2 diet: The basics
It’s very simple: for five days a week you don’t calorie count, then for two days a week you cut down your calories to 800 a day. Your Fast Days can be consecutive or you may prefer to split them – whatever works for you. You will get much more benefit out of intermittent fasting if you switch to a low carbohydrate, Mediterranean-style diet both on the days when you are fasting and when you are not. That means more olive oil and nuts, as well as plenty of eggs, full-fat yoghurt, oily fish and vegetables. Make sure you fill up on protein and veg on your fasting days. Protein is very satiating and you can eat a lot of vegetables for very few calories.
On your 800 cal fast days
Follow the Mediterranean principles outlined below, restricting your Fast Day calories to 800, whether by using the recipes in this week’s pullout or taking them as inspiration to create your own. For some people this will mean just having two meals a day; for others, it could be three smaller ones.
The Mediterranean way
Cut right down on sugar, sugary treats, drinks and desserts. That includes most breakfast cereals, which are usually full of sugar, as well as most commercial smoothies. Minimise or avoid starchy carbs – meaning the white stuff: bread, pasta, potatoes and white rice. Switch instead to whole grains including bulgur (cracked wheat), whole rye, wholegrain barley, wild rice and buckwheat. Brown rice is OK. Legumes such as lentils, kidney beans and chickpeas are healthy and filling, too.
Focus on high-quality protein
Including oily fish, prawns, chicken, turkey, pork, beef and eggs (and vegetable sources including soya, edamame beans, Quorn and hummus). Limit processed meats such as bacon and salami to no more than a couple of times a week.
Eat more healthy fats and oils
As well as oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel), include more olive oil on salads and vegetables. Use olive, rapeseed or coconut oil for cooking.
For spreading and seasoning and avoid margarine. Full-fat yoghurt is good and cheese in moderation is fine.
Eat plenty of different-coloured veg
Ensuring a wide variety from dark leafy greens to purple beetroot and bright red and yellow peppers. Add flavourings such as lemon, butter, garlic and chilli. A splash of olive oil on your veg improves the absorption of vitamins.
Avoid too many sweet fruits
Berries, apples and pears are fine, but limit tropical fruits such as mango, melon and pineapple. Go easy on the bananas.
Drink plenty of fluid
If you don’t drink enough fluids then you may well develop headaches and constipation when fasting. How much is ‘enough’? The magic figure that is often quoted is 2 litres or 8 cups a day. Tea and coffee count towards this.
Watch the alcohol
A large (175ml) glass of red wine contains about 120 calories. No need to give up entirely, but a couple of days a week without is good for your health as well as your waist.
Your pantry basics
The recipes below couldn’t be simpler. Each contains just five main ingredients, printed in bold coloured type, with only the most basic pantry staples:
- salt and pepper
- olive oil
- extra-virgin olive oil
- red or white wine vinegar
- dried mixed herbs
Add sides of leafy greens or salad leaves, all very low in calories, to any meal. Or try cauliflower ‘rice’ (30 cals per 100g) – small florets, minus tough stalks, whizzed in a processor to resemble grains, then steamed for a few minutes.
Save these for non-fast days. Resolve to cut right down on sugar and sugary treats seven days a week. Have desserts only very occasionally – once or twice a week at most, preferably less – and try to wean yourself off your sweet tooth.
Build your own 5 ingredients
Fast starts, grab-and-go meals, healthy snacks
When short of time, pick and mix from our calorie-counted basics to assemble a quick breakfast or light meal. Eggs make a great start to the day. Boiled, scrambled or as an omelette, they’ll keep you fuller longer than toast or cereal (and they contain all eight essential amino acids, which are important for body maintenance and repair).
Full-fat yoghurt is also good – add a handful of berries and a sprinkling of nuts and seeds. Keep some hard-boiled eggs, hummus and vegetable crudités (such as sticks of cucumber, carrots and peppers) in the fridge for snacking. Nuts make good snacks, too, but try to avoid the salted or sweetened kind, which can be moreish. Go for things such as unsalted almonds or walnuts that you know you can stop eating after a small handful.
1 medium egg: 79 cals
30g slice of lean ham: 32 cals
45g slice of turkey: 46 cals
50g cooked peeled prawns: 34 cals
45g smoked mackerel: 135 cals
45g smoked salmon: 92 cals
70g tuna tinned in oil: 111 cals
50g sardines tinned in oil: 110 cals
1 x 65g tomato: 7 cals
50g uncooked mushrooms: 4 cals
50g uncooked spinach: 25 cals
50g lettuce: 7 cals
20g rocket leaves: 4 cals
¼ avocado: 67 cals
2 tbsp guacamole: 63 cals
2 tbsp hummus: 92 cals
125g natural yoghurt: 99 cals
50g cottage cheese: 52 cals
25g cream cheese: 62 cals
25g cheddar cheese: 104 cals
25g feta: 63 cals
25g goat’s cheese: 80 cals
25g parmesan: 104 cals
10g almonds: 61 cals
10g cashews: 57 cals
10g walnuts: 69 cals
40g blackberries: 10 cals
40g blueberries: 16 cals
40g raspberries: 10 cals
80g strawberries: 24 cals
1 x 85g apple: 37 cals
1 x 100g pear: 45 cals
Health advisory: Read this before starting
As with any weight-loss plan, always see your doctor first. Seek medical advice if you have a history of eating disorders; are taking prescribed medication; have a significant medical or mental health condition; are pregnant or breastfeeding. Don’t go on the diet if you are under 18; are very lean or underweight (BMI below 21 for a woman); are recovering from surgery or are generally frail.
Be sure to read my column in The Mail on Sunday every week. And do write to me (email@example.com) and let me know how you get on with our exclusive new 5-ingredient 5:2 diet recipes. My website, thebloodsugardiet.com, has a friendly and helpful 5:2 forum where people offer advice and support.
Recipes and food styling: Amy Stephenson. Nutritionist: Eleni Thoma. Prop stylist: Rebecca Newport. Stylist: Rachel Gold. Grooming: Oonagh Connor. Food stylist: Mitzie Wilson. Trousers, Oliver Brown. Shirt, Burton Menswear.