Does the 5:2 Diet work?

I want to precede this blog post with one simple fact: I hate fad diets.

This blog is a testament to the fact that I bloody love food. My metabolism isn’t what it once was, yet my appetite continues to be a beast. I’m generally very good with what I eat and definitely have a balanced diet.  Despite appearances, I (sadly) don’t just eat burgers and cheese, and drink wine all the time. I’m happy enough with my body but there is a half stone I’d happily wave goodbye to!

I decided to try a method of weight loss which wasn’t going to restrict me too much. I won’t blether on about what 5:2 is as you can easily Google it, but here are the basic facts that were important to me:

  • You eat normally for 5 days and restrict calories to 25% (female: 500, male: 600) for two non-consecutive days – your ‘fast’ days.
  • You don’t need to restrict calories or calorie-count every day. I can’t and won’t live that way.
  • The effect of the ‘fast’ days increases insulin sensitivity (which essentially means it allows your body to dispose of excess – and often stubborn – fat). This appealed to me as I do generally eat well and do usually do light exercise, so my chub doesn’t move at all.  I don’t want to do the HIIT & calorie tracking I did before. Despite the good shape I was in, it wasn’t enjoyable so it  wasn’t sustainable.
  • It encourages a healthy and steady weight-loss and is encouraged as a lifestyle rather than a quick fix. When I reach my target weight I only need to fast once a week as a top up.
  • It isn’t unhealthy/putting your body into starvation mode/etc – there are many health benefits and many dietitians support its use for recalibrating your metabolism.

I despise making anything complicated, so I decided to be pragmatic and use mostly pre-made products to start off to ensure that calorie counting was easy and most importantly: accurate.

As I became more confident I amended it to suit me and my tastes. I did my fast days on Mondays and Wednesdays and all my ‘dieting’ was completed by midweek and I could get on with my life until the next Monday.

Here is how I did it (to start off):

Breakfast: A pint of water. Delicious. I’ve never been one for breakfast anyway as I’m not a morning person at all. I continued to drink water until lunch time to hold off and ‘save up’ my calories!


  • Hartley’s Light Strawberry Jelly (5 calories) – I was dancing around ASDA when I made this discovery as I originally was going to eliminate all sweet treats.
  • Babybel Light (41 calories) – eaten piece by piece and SAVOURED.
  • I often opt for a chunk of cucumber – not because I’m a dweeb but because I literally eat about 3 cucumbers a week for enjoyment. I did some online nutrition calculator research and some basic maths to find that my 69g chunk was 11 calories. Easy to work out if you weigh it and be careful to cut similar size pieces.
  • This Google find is a great resource for finding snacks!
  • Last but not least: I’m a genius. During the hot weather I made my own ice lollies using Cherry Coke Zero & Sprite Zero. Delightfully sweet and refreshing, yet calorie free!

PS. Let it go flat first.


Lunches & Dinners

  • My number one lunch choice which I very rarely deviated from has been discontinued by ASDA. Rage. I’ll be hunting for a similar product as it was full of puy lentils, butter beans, potato and carrot chunks! It afforded me the fuller-for-longer feeling so I could postpone and ‘save up’ calories later.
  • ASDA sushi snack pack (109 calories) – they’re more filling that they look! And it’s great because to avoid boredom those snack packs come in varying sizes (calorie contents), flavours etc between supermarkets.
  •  John West Light Lunch – Thai Salmon (191 calories)

Mmmmmmmm, I love me some cat food! It looks significantly better when placed into a bowl and heated! And it actually tasted lovely, which astounded me because it looked so crap.

  • As I became slightly more confident with managing my intake, I started experimenting and creating. Half the tub of chicken tikka (100g) with the salad was 173 calories and was really tasty!

  • I found these kids meals in Tesco. The most calorific one is only 191 calories! Pair them up with a side salad (usually below 40 calories) and you have a decent enough dinner! They’re quite flavourless because they’re for kids, but the only ones that really offended my tastebuds were the lasagne and the chicken & butternut squash pie.  I would only particularly recommend the cottage pie, fish pie and spaghetti & meatballs ones.

I totally recommend the spaghetti and meatballs ones with a chopped Babybel mixed in!

Soon  I became more confident in the running of my diet, so I ditched the tinned soup, kids ready meals and all that nonsense,  and started changing it up and having a snack for lunch and saving up calories to have a delicious dinner. It takes time to weigh and work out, but it was worth it to wean myself off convenience products.

Ok, down to business: Does it work?

Yes – the diet works. I lost my 1lb per week as promised, even if it was slow starting and inconsistent some weeks. I’m most impressed because I’m not overweight, so losing weight is much harder given that I’m inconsistent with exercise, and my exercise is just walking. That said: I have lost weight that wasn’t moving previously!

To start with I was tired and bloated on the Tuesday and Wednesdays and I didn’t see much progress. I guess my body had to recalibrate to my new system.

I didn’t manage to stay on the 5:2 during the summer holidays but as soon as I’m back to work I’ll be back on track – I need the structure!

What’s interesting is that a month after I fell off the wagon, I haven’t regained all of the weight I lost (I’ve only gained about 1/3 of it despite excessive gallivanting!) which tells me that it has changed the way my body is handling food.

My advice:

  1. Be strict! Don’t deviate from the 500 calorie limit or make excuses for things that “don’t count”.
  2. Be precise. I worked out calories exactly and knew exactly how many I had left each day. Absolutely zero guess work! I would find myself actually binning half of a Babybel Light because I couldn’t ‘afford’ the remaining 21 calories. Treat calories like cash – when it’s gone it’s gone!
  3. Drink plenty water – and in particular, drink when you think you’re hungry.
  4. If you’re not actually hungry don’t eat and save the calories up.
  5. Keep yourself busy and distracted. I’d sometimes go to bed early so I could fast-forward life to the part where I get breakfast.
  6. On Tuesday/Thursdays I made sure I had a really taste-satisfying breakfast and then a big, filling lunch. There is absolutely no point in eating small, calorie sparse foods and ending up binging on junk all day – which is the risk after (for me) the mental torture of not eating everything I want the day before.
  7. Keep yourself motivated and realistic, even when your weight doesn’t change. If I hadn’t treated this as an experiment I might have thrown it out early thinking it wasn’t working, when really, it’s very much gradual and it did work!
  8. Finally, here is a rough plan of how I eat on non-fast days.

Tuesday & Thursdays

Breakfast: Always an Actimel and a glass of smoothie. I went through an obsession with getting 2 McDonald’s Hash Browns on my way to work, it usually it’ll be a bowl of my blueberry wheat cereal and a cuppa. I felt absolutely no shame in indulging in my first breakfast – the beautiful feeling of ‘IT WAS WORTH IT’ as you smash a crispy hash brown into your face is priceless!

Snack: Houmous with pepper and cucumber.

Lunch: Something filling (pasta/small tart/quiche/some meat/cheese) with a big salad, or some food home made soup or a hearty sandwich. It’s the first proper meal since fasting and you need to ensure you’re (decently) full to avoid snacking like a pigeon.

Dinner: Whatever I felt like, but normal home cooked dinner food. Nothing phoned in/filthy. Unless I could justify it on a rare occasion.

Snack: I went for cups of tea, chunks of cucumber and tried not to go absolutely wild. I stayed aware of the fact that most people go wild purely JUST BECAUSE. And my new knowledge of the calories in everything helped keep me thinking carefully.

Friday – Sunday

I can eat and drink in my total normal fashion, not giving a single crap.


NB: This entire post is my experience and my opinion. Use common sense when applying any of this to your own life.

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