The 5:2 diet: everything you need to know to get started

Thinking of trying the popular diet? Read this first.
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  • We've all heard the stories about the legendary 5:2 diet.

    Way back in 2013 the 5:2 diet flew to popularity and became the number one diet craze of the time, not just in the UK, but worldwide. It even became a top weight loss plan for celebrities including Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Lopez. But the 5:2 diet plan, which lets you eat normally for five days out of seven, is still proving just as popular all these years later.

    Whether you’ve already tried the diet and need some inspiration to keep going, or you’re thinking of joining the hype and trying it for the first time, we’ve explained the 5:2 diet below, including what you can and can’t eat on your fast days, and we’ve even put together some 5:2 meal plans that will make your fasting days a piece of cake. So if you’re determined to lose weight this coming year, read on…

    5:2 diet

    Credit: Getty

    How the 5:2 Diet works

    In short, the 5:2 Diet is a part-time diet. It means that you can eat normally for five days of the week, and fast for just two. As you can imagine, this has huge appeal for many people who don’t like the idea of being on a diet full time and not being able to enjoy a good feed from time to time.

    On your two fasting days, you can only eat 500 calories per day of your recommended 2000. Because of the very low intake of calories on these two days, it’s recommended that you spread them out, rather than do them consecutively.

    MORE: The most effective ways to burn fat and how body shape affects weight loss

    The diet works by limiting your calorie intake to just 25 per cent of your usual intake, but only for two days of the week, which still delivers results. Reader Beth Ivory told us on our Facebook page that after just two weeks on the diet, her husband had shed 6lbs. Not bad when you think that’s only actually four days spent dieting!

    What can I eat on the 5:2 Diet?

    While the calorie restrictions are strict on the two days spent fasting, the diet is actually very flexible. It’s up to you what you eat on your fast days, as long as it comes in at no more than 500 calories for the whole day. You will need to be committed and pretty strong willed as you’re cutting your calorie intake by 3/4, but if you keep busy and plan what you’re going to eat – it’s definitely achievable.

    You can eat whatever you like, but the below foods are some of the most sensible as they’re low in calories so you can eat more throughout the day than if you eat smaller, high calorie foods:

    When can I eat on the 5:2 Diet?

    You can split your 500 calories as you wish, into just one meal, two, or three, for breakfast, lunch, or dinner – but the healthiest way is to eat little and often throughout the day.

    While it’s allowed, filling up on a croissant at breakfast will use up most of your calorie allowance and you’ll be starving for the rest of the day. Experiment a little with what times work well for you on your fasting days. You might find skipping breakfast and having 2 small meals for lunch and dinner works well for you. Or having a larger, more satisfying meal in the evening and a few snacks during the day might be better – it’s really down to personal preference.

    What can I drink?

    Plenty of water! You can drink as much water as you like, and you should aim to drink as much as possible during your fasting days, it’ll keep you hydrated, and may help you to stave off hunger for a little longer.

    You’ll need to watch out for drinks with milk in, as these will use up calories that could be otherwise put towards a meal.

    5:2 Diet meal plans

    5:2 diet

    Sticking to just 500 calories a day on your fasting days can be tricky to work out, so we’ve done the hard work for you. All these delicious meal plans come in at under 500 calories, and include breakfast under 100 cals, lunch under 200 cals, dinners under 300 cals  and snacks under 100 calories.

    Is the 5:2 Diet healthy?

    Fans of the 5:2 Diet say that not only will it help you to lose weight but that it can increase life-span and protect against diseases such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer. However, fasting can have some nasty side effects, noteably, dizziness, lack of energy, irritability, headaches and trouble sleeping, so make sure you’re prepared for this!

    While it’s thought that the 5:2 Diet can also help to prevent type 2 diabetes, it is not suitable for people who already have diabetes, who need to regulate their sugar levels.