When it comes to diet fads, the public doesn’t discriminate. Cabbage soup, high-fat, liquid-only…we’ll try anything if it promises to give us Gisele’s long, lean figure afterwards. The latest diet craze? The 5:2 diet, or what people call “the fasting diet.” The concept of fasting has been around for thousands of years, usually with religious associations. Fasting to lose weight, however, is a fairly new concept—and the 5:2 diet makes it sound incredibly appealing, mainly because you have the freedom to eat what you want the majority of the time. In other words, it’s a diet without the “dieting”—except on weekends. Piqued your interest? Keep scrolling to read all about this trending diet, as well as a nutritionist’s thoughts on its effectiveness.
Here’s the basic gist of the 5:2 diet: you eat what you want (reasonably) for five days, then cut that calorie intake to a quarter of the normal level for two days. This usually means around 500 calories for women, and 600 calories for men. On the FastDiet website, creator Michael Mosley says he tried different forms of intermittent fasting before settling on the 5:2 regimen. “If you stick to this plan then you should lose around 1 pound a week if you are a woman, slightly more for a man,” he explains. But before you go about really letting yourself go on the five non-fasting days, know this: Mosley says success depends on not over-eating on your normal days. Other benefits of intermittent fasting include lower blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and insulin sensitivity, according to the website. Mosley’s book, The FastDiet: Lose Weight, Stay Healthy, and Live Longer with the Simple Secret of Intermittent Fasting has a 4.5 star rating on Amazon, over 1,560 customer reviews, and has been on the best-seller list for months. Suffice to say, we were intrigued.
Scientists have been studying the effects and benefits of intermittent fasting since the early 1900’s. More recently, this study found that restricting calories for monkeys may extend their life and health, while this one found that meal skipping helps mice resist diabetes and brain damage. More recent studies have shown that deceasing your calorie consumption by 30 to 40 percent can extend the life span of many animals by a third or more. Chronic fasting is supposed to extend longevity by reprogramming metabolic and stress resistance pathways—you can read more about it in this 2014 study by Longo and Mattson.
This all sounded entire appealing, we admit, but also kind of scary. The idea of cutting our calorie intake to 500 twice a week is a daunting thought, considering a snack usually falls around 200 calories (and we snack—a lot). With this in mind, we reached out to Meryl Pritchard, holistic nutritionist and founder of organic meal delivery service Kore Kitchen to hear her thoughts.
“If done right, fasting can be very beneficial to your health,” Pritchard says. “It allows your body to repair and rejuvenate. This is what your body does when you're sleeping. If you're constantly eating, your body doesn't have the opportunity to do this.” However, she does see some holes in the 5:2 diet mentality—namely, the part where you are allowed to eat what you want “in moderation,” which she says is hard to define, and the two days where you need to count calories. “Most people don't even know what a calorie is, let alone how to measure it,” she says. “What we tell our clients is that it's really not about the quantity of calories—you should focus more on the quality. If you're eating high quality, nutrient-dense foods, then you don't need to consume as much, because your body is able to recognize and utilize all the calories you are taking in.” She does agree that it's important to keep the "in moderation" part in mind on the days you are allowed to eat what you want, mainly because if you let yourself go, you'll feel like crap. "If you are allowed to eat pizza and cupcakes 5 times a week, no matter what you do on the weekend isn't going to reverse that, and the effects of that low quality food will add up," she warns. "If anything, the two fasting days will cause you to experience extreme detox symptoms."
Her final conclusion? There’s no such thing as an overnight success, and a quick fix will usually land you right back where you started. Instead, she suggests making the best choices you can on a daily basis, and doing something sustainable that’s going to have a healthy effect on you over time. “Our bodies are amazing machines,” she says, “When given the right fuel, they’re capable of working things out and taking care of themselves.”
What do you think—have you ever heard of the 5:2 diet? Would you try intermittent fasting? Sound off below!
Click here to check out Pritchard’s food delivery service and cleanse program, Kore Kitchen.