What exactly is the 5:2 diet?
It is a type of intermittent fasting where you fast for 2 days every week.
And what exactly is intermittent fasting?
It is a pattern of eating that alternates between periods of fasting (usually meaning consumption of water only) and non-fasting.
Fasting is easy – you just don’t eat for a prescribed amount of time.
No complicated calorie counting, no avoiding of certain foods, no time consuming difficult recipes, no worries about low-fat or low-carbohydrate foods; a simple and straightforward ‘don’t eat’.
But you do have to avoid compensatory gorging on non-fasting days.
(If you are diabetic or on medication, I wouldn’t recommend fasting unless you have consulted your doctor and get the all clear).
Pros and cons of fasting
- Slows down ageing.
- Enhances memory.
- Prevents dementia.
- Aids weight loss.
- Improves blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- Improves fasting blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, (the latter appears to be key in preventing and treating many Western diseases).
- Gives you Superpowers.
(Last one isn’t true – my youngest son made it up. He has also tried fasting and is a convert. I’ve been fasting for decades, and it had no influence on my children; their father decides late in life to start fasting and within months all three of our sons are convinced of its benefits and take it up. I need to improve my persuasion skills).
- Hunger (usually only if you are not used to fasting – one does eventually get used to it and can ignore hunger pangs after a while).
- Might be construed as anti-social if you are invited out for a meal and don’t eat whilst all around you are eating yummy food.
- Difficult to institute if you are on certain medications.
- If you fast as well as restrict calories considerably, they could together impact fertility negatively.
My brand of fasting is slightly different to that of Dr Mosley, who popularised it on a BBC Horizon programme – his method involves calorie counting, whereas mine just involves not eating for between 18 and 24 hours.But remember to avoid compensatory gorging on non-fasting days.
Fasting has probably been the main factor that’s kept my weight more or less in check for most of my adult life – sadly probably more rather than less.
Why a minimum of 18 hours of no food?
Because science tells us that the benefits of fasting start kicking in after about 18 hours of abstinence from food.
My personal fasting regime
I fast on Mondays and Thursdays – Monday is good to atone for any weekend excesses, and Thursday is in anticipation of possible forthcoming weekend excesses.
The night before my fasting days I have a normal supper at about 7pm, and then on the fasting days I eat only one meal (of unlimited calories!) any time between 4pm and 7pm – I try and hold off until 7pm, but sometimes the hunger pangs take over and I give in earlier.
Or think of it as eating one meal in a day, and skipping two meals.
You can do whatever suits you – some people have a big breakfast and then skip lunch and dinner, but that wouldn’t work for me. I end up feeling hungrier all day when I have breakfast.
Occasionally I skip breakfast and dinner, and have just lunch, but I find it difficult to sleep on an empty stomach.
Also, I eat only vegetarian food on my two fasting days because originally my fasts started out as Hindu fasts; now it’s become a habit to be vegetarian on these two days. Probably not a bad idea to be vegetarian sometimes – recent evidence suggests certain types of protein restriction are associated with longevity – more on this to come in the ‘calorie restriction’ post. (Probably better to call it ‘methionine restriction’).
Final reminder – remember to avoid compensatory gorging on non-fasting days.
Every few years I try giving up on fasting for a month or so, and my weight goes up by a couple of kilos. I then see the error of my ways and go back to fasting and to my ‘normal’ weight. Now that all around me are fasting it is much easier to do. People don’t think I’m mad anymore when I decline lunch or dinner invitations because it’s one of my fasting days.
I wish I’d tried converting the Western world to fasting earlier…