As a nutritionist I have always been a keen fan of fasting. So when the 5:2 diet hit the headlines a couple of years ago, I happily embraced this form of intermittent fasting for the sake of my health as well as my waistline! I prefer to call it a version of fasting rather than a 'diet', we all know they don't work, in the long run, for weight loss. But this one does and the health benefits go way beyond losing a few pounds.
'EAT, FAST & LIVE LONGER' - THE SCIENCE.
When I was training, we were encouraged to fast once a week to give the body a chance to rest and mend itself. There wasn't much science attached to it in those days but, thanks to the research that's being carried out in the U.S. by experts such as Professor Valter Longo, Professor in Gerontology and Biological Science at the USC, and Director of its Longevity Institute, there is growing evidence that calorie restriction can help you:
Improve your brain function
Professor Longo's tests published in the journal Cell Metabolism in June 2015, found that old mice placed on cycles of a four-day, low-calorie diet reduced visceral belly fat, lived longer, and had increased numbers of young stem cells in several organs, including the brain, where neural regeneration was boosted, as was memory.
In humans, he refers to intermittent fasting as a chance for your body to get to work mending itself, much like a car service, instead of driving non-stop with your foot on the accelerator! (Those of you in the UK can hear more from him on the BBC TV Programme 'Eat, Fast & Live Longer.)
There is obviously a lot more research to be carried out on humans but I can tell you that after my first year of the 5:2 diet, my cholesterol levels reduced two points, my belly fat disappeared, my immunity strengthened, my energy levels improved and so did my memory!
WHAT IS THE 5:2 DIET
The simple premise is that for five days a week you eat what you like, including puddings, alcohol and treats. Then for two NON-consecutive days a week you restrict yourself to just 500 calories a day, if you're a woman, and 600 calories a day, if you're a man.
Dr. Michael Mosley, introduced the UK to the 5:2 plan as an easier version of Professor Longo's 4 day fast, in an article for the Telegraph, and the BBC Horizon TV programme, 'Eat,Fast, & Live Longer.' After he followed the plan for five weeks, he had lost 14 lbs in weight, his body fat had reduced by 8%, and his blood sugar and cholesterol had dropped to normal levels after he had been deemed border-line diabetic. That was enough for many thousands of us to follow suite, including my own doctor!
The sheer joy of eating what you like for five days a week, and fasting for two, has made this a very do-able health regime.
TOP TIPS FOR EASY FASTING.
Anyone who is on medication or suffering from health issues such as diabetes should seek medical advice before embarking on any form of fasting.
Buy or download a calorie counter app.
Download some low-calorie, but healthy recipes. You don't have to live on smoothies & juices for the whole day. There are plenty of recipes on my blog.
Chose two days to fast when you haven't got a lot to do, either physically or socially. Mondays and Wednesdays are the best for me as I usually have a quiet day working at home broken up by a Pilates class and a gentle dog walk.
If you have never fasted before, start slowly by extending the time between your supper and your first meal the next day. If you eat at 7.00 pm and have breakfast at 11.00 a.m the next day you will have accomplished a 16 hour fast without even trying!
The when and how you eat your 500/600 calories a day is up to you. Experiment. Some prefer a proper breakfast, such as egg on toast and then use up the rest of their calories at supper time, eating nothing in between. Others need to eat three times a day, and will have low calorie snacks such as a crisp bread with low calorie cream cheese and steamed veggies in the evening.
Drink plenty of water and hot drinks throughout the day. A glass of room temperature water usually stops my hunger pains in its tracks. A cup of miso soup is only 25 calories so is also a great filler. But water is the very best if you want to avoid those detoxing headaches.
THE WAY I DO THE 5:2 DIET
I eat a healthy but not calorie restricted meal the night before my fast day by 7.00 pm latest. Something like baked salmon and greens keeps me full for the evening and avoids those bed-time hunger pangs.
The next morning, I have black coffee and plenty of water till 11.00 a.m. and then have my daily smoothie. If you like all your health in one glass this recipe will help keep you going for hours and it's 250 calories max.
Between 3-4 pm. I have a snack, such as a banana or a boiled egg, at 80 calories.
Then by 7.00 pm I eat my other 150-200 calories in the form of loads of vegetables, either on their own or with a small piece of grilled chicken, fish, tofu or an egg white omelette. Or go for an even better detox...........
Make your fast day plant-based meals only. The only thing I don't like about the 5:2 diet book & the many articles written, is the emphasis on protein based meals. Make it a fruit & veg day and you can eat far more & give your body a huge health boost.! My very low calorie recipe for ratatouille is a good example of health in a bowl.
That's it! In 24 hours you will have survived a pretty painless fast by spending eight of those hours asleep whilst, hopefully, giving your body a chance to carry out those essential internal repairs that intermittent fasting encourages.
Let me know if you do intermittent fasting, or the 5:2 diet. I would love to hear about your experiences.