With so much information out there about different diets it can all be a bit overwhelming, so here, nutritionist Rebecca Saady, founder of Embrace Nutrition explains what the 5:2 diet is really all about!
The 5:2 diet is an increasingly popular diet plan that came to fruition last year. The diet became mainstream via a BBC Horizon documentary called Eat, Fast and Live Longer, broadcast in August 2012. The 5:2 diet is based on a principle that is known as intermittent fasting. This is where you eat normally at certain times and then fast at other times. The diet itself is relatively straightforward – basically you eat normally five days a week, and fast on the other two days. By fasting I mean you eat a diet with no more than 600 calories in a day.
So what does a 600-calorie diet look like?
A 600 calorie diet could consist of a slice of ham and two scrambled eggs for breakfast and then some grilled fish and vegetables for dinner. One would drink nothing but water, black coffee and /or green tea.
Fans of the 5:2 diet claim that apart from weight loss, the diet can bring other health benefits, including an increased life-span, improvement in cognitive function, and protection against conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
However the when all the evidence is weighed up, the 5:2 diet and intermittent fasting is limited in comparison to other types of weight loss techniques.
What is unknown about intermittent fasting (IF)? Despite this diet’s increasing popularity, there is a great deal of uncertainty about it with significant gaps in the evidence. It is unclear what pattern of IF is the most effective for improving health outcomes – 5:2, alternative day fasting, or something else entirely different.
What is the ideal calorie consumption during the fasting days? The 5:2 diet suggests 500 calories for women and 600 for men is best, but these recommendations do not have clear evidence to support them.
What are there any side effects from intermittent fasting?
Not much is known about possible side effects as no proper studies have been undertaken. However anecdotal reports of effects include:
More research would be needed to confirm these side-effects though.
Is it sustainable and practical? If you are fasting, you may want to think about how fasting will impact on your life during your fasting days. You will be very hungry and have less energy and this could affect your ability to function (such as at work). In particular it may affect your ability to exercise, which is an important part of maintaining a healthy weight, so it almost seems like a vicious circle. Intermittent fasting may not be suitable for pregnant women and people with specific health conditions, such as diabetes, or a history of eating disorders. This diet is a fairly radical approach to weight loss, if you are considering trying Intermittent Fasting for yourself, I suggest you speak to your GP first to see if it is safe for you.
Despite its popularity, the 5:2 model of intermittent fasting is limited.
In a 2010 study, researchers found that women placed on a 5:2 diet achieved similar levels of weight loss as women placed on a calorie controlled diet. A further study in 2012 showed that the 5:2 model may help lower the risk of certain obesity-related cancers, such as breast cancer. There is the possibility that this might have happened anyway though. I believe with the increasing popularity of the 5:2 diet there should definitely be further research. Compared to other types of weight loss programs the evidence of the safety and effectiveness of the 5:2 diet is limited. Not everyone can safely fast. I am of the impression that until more research is done it would be safer and more reliable to follow other methods of weight loss including:
– Eating a healthy balanced diet with at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
– Taking regular exercise.
– Drink alcohol in moderation.
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