How to do the 5:2 diet

Woman eating food in restaurant looking out of window

Jon Johnson 
by Katherine Marengo LDN, RD
What is the 5:2 diet?, Benefits, How to eat on fast days, Examples of meals on fast days, How to eat on regular
days, Is the 5:2 safe for everyone? 
The 5:2 diet is a popular form
of intermittent fasting that involves eating regularly for 5 days and eating
very little for 2 days.
Intermittent fasting is any
diet that includes regular periods of not eating, or fasting.
This article will explain the
5:2 diet and give a basic example of how to eat on each type of day.
is the 5:2 diet?
The 5:2 diet gets its name
because it involves eating regularly for 5 days of the week while drastically
limiting caloric intake on the other 2 two days.
While the 5:2 diet is a
popular form of intermittent fasting, the term fasting is slightly misleading.
Unlike a true fast, which
involves eating nothing for a set amount of time, the goal of the 5:2 diet is
to cut caloric intake on fasting days to 25 percent or just one-quarter of a
person’s regular intake on the remaining days.
For example, a person who
regularly eats about 2,000 calories per day would eat 500 calories on fasting days.
Importantly, fasting days are
not consecutive because it is vital to give the body the calories and nutrients
it needs to thrive.
People typically space their
fasting days out, for example, by taking their reduced-calorie days on Monday
and Thursday or Wednesday and Saturday.
Part of the diet’s appeal is
this flexibility. Instead of severely restricting the foods a person can eat,
the 5:2 diet focuses on strict caloric restriction on only 2 days of the week.
This may help some people feel more satisfied with their diet, as they will not
feel that they are missing out all the time.
The 5 normal days of the 5:2
diet should still involve a healthful diet, however. Loading up on sugary or
processed foods for 5 days and then having a small break may not be as helpful
as keeping a trend of clean eating during the entire week.
are the benefits?
The 5:2 diet can have several
benefits, including:
For the most part, people who
follow the 5:2 diet plan are looking to lose weight.
To lose weight, a person
typically needs to eat fewer calories than they burn. Nutritionists call this a
caloric deficit.
When someone follows this
correctly, the 5:2 diet may be a simple, straightforward way to cut calories,
which may help burn extra fat.
While there are not many
studies on the 5:2 diet specifically, initial studies on intermittent fasting
seem promising.
A review in the Annual Review
of Nutrition noted that in animal studies, a similar intermittent fasting diet
led to a reduction in fat tissue and the cells that store fat.
A 2018 review and
meta-analysis compared intermittent fasting to simple calorie restriction
diets. This research noted that intermittent fasting is as effective as calorie
restriction when it comes to weight loss and improving metabolic health.
the risk of type 2 diabetes
Initial studies also suggest
an intermittent calorie diet may also help reduce the risk of diabetes in some
Research from 2014 suggests
that both intermittent fasting diets and calorie restriction diets helped
reduce fasting insulin levels and insulin resistance in adults who were
overweight or obese. The reviewers did call for more research to confirm these
This does not suggest that
intermittent fasting is a better diet, just an equally effective alternative
for people who find calorie restriction diets difficult.
to eat on fast days
There is no correct way to eat
on fasting days, as each person’s body may respond differently to fasting. The
principle is that on fast days, a person consumes just 25 percent of their
normal calorie intake.
For instance, some people may
need to start the day with a small breakfast to get their body moving. For
others, eating breakfast immediately may make them feel hungrier throughout the
day. These people may want to wait as long as possible before having their
first meal.
Because of this, everyone’s
meal plan may look slightly different. Some fast day meal schedules include:
  • eating three small meals such
    as an early breakfast, afternoon lunch, and late dinner
  • eating an early lunch and
  • eating a small breakfast and
    late lunch and skipping dinner
  • eating a single meal at dinner
    or breakfast

The main focus of these days
is for a person to drastically reduce the calories they eat.
If an individual regularly
eats 2,000 calories per day, they should only consume 500 calories on fast
A person who usually eats
1,800 calories a day should reduce their intake to 450 calories on fast days.
to include
It is vital to keep the body
satisfied on fast days by eating foods that are rich in filling nutrients, such
as fiber and protein.
and fiber
For people who are just
getting started on the 5:2 regimen, eating more vegetables may help them feel
as if they are not lacking during a meal. Vegetables can be very low in
calories compared with animal products and grains, meaning more vegetables can
fit into a small meal.
Dark, leafy greens and salads
can be a great way to add bulk to a meal and help people feel fuller without
eating extra calories.
Another example of this is to
use a spiralizer to turn zucchini or carrots into noodles, making a low-calorie
base for a sauce as an accompaniment.
Protein is vital for staying
full during fast days. People should focus on lean sources of protein without
too much fat.
Add small portions of lean
forms of protein on fast days, including:
  • white fish
  • lean animal cuts
  • eggs
  • beans, peas, and lentils
  • tofu

Importantly, people can avoid
extra oil and fats by boiling, grilling, or roasting these foods instead of
While most fruits are rich in
natural sugars, dark berries, such as blackberries and blueberries, may fulfill
sweet cravings without adding many calories.
foods to include
  • Soup: Soup is a great tool for
    fast days, as the added water and spices from the broth may help a person feel
    more satisfied without eating too many calories.

  • Water: Water is vital every day, but during fast
    days it may help stretch the time between meals and keep a person from feeling
    hunger pangs.

  • Coffee
    or tea:
    Plain, unsweetened
    coffee and tea are acceptable during fast days. However, some people find that
    coffee or tea stimulates their digestive system, making them feel hungry.
    Herbal tea is another option and is a great way to increase the person’s water

to avoid
To avoid extra calories or
using up the daily calorie limit on foods with fewer nutritional benefits than
some other, more nutrient-dense ones, a person may wish to avoid the following
foods on fast days:
processed foods, which are
typically refined and high in calories
refined carbohydrates, such as
breads, pastas, and white rice
excess fats, including cooking
oils, animal fats, and cheese
of meals on fast days
of smaller meals for fast days include:
  • a generous portion of steamed
    vegetables with spices and salt
  • vegetable soup
  • two hard-boiled eggs
  • a small cut of steamed white
  • a generous portion of salad
    with fresh vegetables

to eat on regular days
On regular days, a person eats
as they usually would. It is essential to note that these 5 regular days are
not “cheat days.” For this reason, it is still helpful to stay within
the recommended calorie limit and eat a variety of nutritious foods.
A person who eats lots of
processed, packaged, or unhealthful foods will likely notice less change in
their weight from fasting.
the 5:2 safe for everyone?
The 5:2 diet may be a helpful
alternative to some people looking for a less restrictive diet plan, but it is
not for everyone.
People who are prone to low
blood sugar or easily feel dizzy or fatigued if they do not eat may not want to
follow a diet that involves fasting.
Pregnant or breastfeeding
women must also avoid fasting. Children and teenagers should avoid fasting
unless under the direct guidance of a doctor, as their bodies are still
Anyone with a chronic
condition, such as diabetes, can consult a doctor before trying any diet that
includes fasting.
The 5:2 diet offers people an
alternative to basic calorie restriction, which could help many people stick to
their diet and lose weight.
Fasting days can take some
time to get used to. Hunger pangs or feeling faint may be more common when a
person is beginning a 5:2 diet than when they are used to the regimen. Many
people who continue the diet say these effects lessen as their body adjusts.
Some people should not do this
type of diet, however. Anyone who is uncertain about their specific dietary
needs should consult their doctor or dietitian before starting the 5:2 diet.
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.