“So I’m on this new diet…” The number of times I have said this throughout the course of my 33 year old (and counting!) life at this point is unbelievable. Actively battling body dysmorphia issues in my youth, I started my very first “diet” at the tender age of 10 and have been on dozens more at one point or another in the last 20 years of my life – the 2-day diet, the cabbage soup diet, the Atkins diet, the Perricone diet, the South Beach diet, the Zone diet, the “Master Cleanse” (arguably the most insane of them all) and the ketogenic diet just to name the most memorable. And I’m hardly alone in that; one recent study found that women will go on roughly twice as many diets (average of 16) over the course of their lifetime as they have lovers (average of 8). Wowza.
So when I was recently discussing my plans to diet (yet again) with a colleague in preparation of an upcoming beach vacay and she told me she was on the “Fast Diet” (more commonly known as 5:2), I was immediately skeptical. Eat what I want for 5 out of 7 days each week? Yay, sign me up! Oh wait….eat only 500 calories for 2 days each week? No way, that sounds batsh!t crazy. Granted, when I think of “fasting” I generally think nothing but water/0 calories so 500 calories/day is definitely better than that but, for the record, this still sounds completely bat sh!t crazy.
As it turns out, 5:2 isn’t really a diet at all; it’s a way of eating (WOE). In essence, you eat 500-600 calories worth of whatever you want on your 2 fast days and as much as you want of whatever you want within your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) on the remaining 5 non-fast days. Unlike what I had envisioned in my mind as being an unsustainable period of full-on fasting – i.e. eating absolutely nothing for a prolonged period of time – intermittent fasting (IF) involves eating less only for a short period of time before returning to normal eating. There are no diet meals to make, no list of “approved” foods and no incredibly obscure ingredients to buy which I have to admit sounded pretty great. In addition, after reading the list of pretty impressive health benefits including more fat (vs muscle) loss, mental clarity, improved metabolism and a lowered risk of cognitive disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, I was – dare I say excited – to try it.
All of this being said, I’ve been on (and off) enough diets in my life to know that I’d be completely hangry on the low-calorie days and per traditional diet wisdom, I was concerned that my body would immediately start shutting down and going into “starvation mode” after the first skipped meal. However, because I was intrigued and honestly at a loss for how I was ever going to drop a few lbs before our Mexican beach getaway, I decided to give it a shot, hanger and all.
Here’s what I learned after fasting for two weeks:
I hate waiting for the punch line as much as the next person so I’ll just tell you what you really want to know: yes, I lost weight. Over the course of two weeks, I lost nearly 5 pounds in fact. My pants started feeling looser almost immediately and I definitely noticed that my belly was flatter – score! Now I do want to caveat that by saying that yes, I imagine some of that initial weight loss was water and on an ongoing basis, I would not expect to continue losing at the same rate. According to 5:2 authors Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer, an average loss is about 1 lb per week. However, that initial loss is certainly very motivating when the going gets tough.
If you believe the authors of the 5:2 fast diet book, people who try intermittent fasting commonly report that they feel a greater sense of mental clarity as their brains are being fueled by body fat vs carbs/most recent meals. While naturally not everyone who does any given thing will have the same results, I can honestly say that I did experience improved mental clarity. Generally, I felt calm, in control and even happy if you can believe that. Very rarely did I feel really hungry and even then I was virtually never “hangry” as I had anticipated I’d be.
There really is nothing that’ll kill any attempted lifestyle change faster than failing to mix it up. If you’ve ever eaten a lot of plain chicken breasts on a diet you know what I’m talking about. This is where spices come in! Your fast day meals don’t have to be boring or tasteless; as a matter of fact, you’re unlikely to stick to it long-term if the food doesn’t taste good. I can truly say I *almost* looked forward to my fast days and it’s because I made several different 5:2 fast-friendly recipes that were full of flavor without packing on the calories. Spices are the way to go to keep it fresh, particularly those with very bold flavors like cumin, curry, lime juice, vinegar and hot sauce.
For decades I’ve had it drilled into my brain that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I was made to believe that if I skipped it, I’d instantly get fat, make poorer food choices, have no energy and eat more overall. While research does support that some of these things are likely true thanks to circumstance – for instance, if you skip breakfast you’re more likely to buy food that’s inherently unhealthy before lunch – but in practice I realized it doesn’t really matter. It just seemed like a waste on fast days when I had such a limited calorie budget (500) to spend it on breakfast if I wasn’t incredibly hungry in the morning. Some days I *was* incredibly hungry in the morning so I did eat breakfast (usually cheesy dill egg whites – yum!) but other days I just wasn’t and I didn’t notice a drop in energy or even a lot of hunger pangs before lunch time on those days.
Because vegetables are a lot less calorie-dense than meat, it follows that veggie vs meat-based dishes are going to be easier to fit into a 500 calorie/day diet. In particular, I was loving mushrooms in two delicious dishes – tacos with Barbacoa Mushrooms and Overflowing Stuffed Portobellos – that made excellent fast day dinners. Cauliflower “rice” and zucchini noodles (aka zoodles) would also be a natural fit for fast days.
As far as soups are concerned, scientific research actually supports that soup is more filling than eating the same ingredients as solid food because it takes the body longer to digest food that is blended with water. So take advantage of science and fill up on soups on your fast days! This Turbo Atkins Diet Soup is crazy filling and also crazy low in calories (132!) which makes it a great fast day lunch. I also made a delicious bean and ham soup that clocks in just under 200 calories that even hubby loved. There’s just something about eating a nice hot bowl of soup on a cold winter day that is so satisfying.
Drinking a lot of water is really important especially on fast days but drinking glass after glass of plain old water gets pretty old fast. Drinking water infused with fruits, herbs and/or spices not only amps up the flavor factor but can also help curb your appetite – score! Some of my favorite combinations include strawberry/basil, cucumber/mint and pineapple/ginger. Find a variety of infused water combinations here to get your creative juices flowing.
Science has fairly conclusively established that traditional “diets” do not work in the long-run. Shockingly, 85 percent of dieters end up regaining the weight they lost, and through the dreaded “yo-yo dieting” effect, some even add on a few more pounds. This tends to happen not because the diets themselves don’t help you shed weight because in essence, any regime you keep up where you’re in a calorie deficit will be effective in that regard. The reason most diets fail is that they’re so incredibly restrictive that they’re just not sustainable over the course of a longer period of time.
Perhaps the primary reason why 5:2/intermittent fasting works for many people is that it isn’t a diet per se – it’s a way of eating – that only requires you to be really restrictive on 2/7 days, i.e. less than 30% of a given week. While I would never claim that it’s easy to resist a handful of Thin Mints (oh.em.gee – love them!) or a nice tall glass or red wine on your fast day for example, you don’t experience the same feeling of deprivation when you know you can eat what you want (within reason of course) tomorrow vs a traditional diet where those types of treats will always be equally off-limits for as long as you stay “on plan”. You’re also not restricted as to the types of foods you can eat on your fast days (though obviously some choices are much wiser than others) which is incredibly freeing.
Finally, because you’re not constantly in a cycle of starting and failing over and over again with a diet, you’re more likely to maintain your momentum and motivation over time vs becoming completely downtrodden and discouraged with each subsequent failure. One additional benefit that I liked about this way of eating is that since you’re not plagued with guilt after indulging in a favorite treat on a non-fast day, you can truly savor your food which makes it all the more satisfying.
In summation, despite my initial thinking about the 5:2 way of life, I actually did find that it worked well for me in the short-term with the goal of dropping a few vanity pounds before an upcoming vacation. While I didn’t find it difficult to maintain over the longer term, I did find that my weight loss plateaued fairly quickly and thus I returned to my normal way of eating. Though I did not personally sustain this way of life over a longer period of time, I believe that it could fit into most lifestyles fairly easily.
While intermittent fasting is not “easy” per se, it also isn’t as difficult as you might initially believe when you’re paring down or eliminating meals when you’re not even truly hungry, experimenting with nutritious and filling veggie-based meals and soups, incorporating lots of spices into your cooking for pops of flavor and drinking calorie-free infused waters to keep you hydrated as well as keep hunger pangs at bay.
After it’s all said and done, my advice is to try it for yourself which is the only way you’ll ever really know if 5:2/intermittent fasting could be a good fit for you. Read Dr. Mosely‘s book as a first step to learn more and feel free to comment here with any questions I might be able to help answer for you as you embark on your 5:2 journey.
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Hi! I’m Lisa, creator and owner of SuburbanAF.com, a women’s interest/lifestyle blog for women living a suburban lifestyle. This blog is the natural evolution of earlier blogs I managed, including Becker it Yourself, centered primarily around DIYs. Join me on the suburban journey to Master Mrs. with Style with topics including friends, family, fashion, home, food, travel, fitness and health/beauty, all in good humor.
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