words by Francesca Londono-Brasington
A year on and 5:2 is still the diet and life plan of the moment. There are numerous books, websites and apps dedicated for recipes and inspiration. Everyone I know has either tried it or knows at least one other person doing it. It has become one of the most talked about and hotly debated subjects and definitely a topic of conversation in the kitchen at work.
After my initial enthusiasm for the 5:2 plan (read about it here) and the compelling science behind it, I decided I would attempt this plan for a period of 4 months, long enough for a proper trial. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to do any medical testing during this time so everything I have based this on is purely down to my personal experience and how I’ve felt.
Firstly, let me get this out there straight away, no I didn’t lose any weight! And yes that was the most frequently asked question along with ‘why are you on a diet, you don’t need to lose weight?’. But that was never really the point for me, I wanted to try the plan from a health perspective and to see what effects it had on my daily life. Just to reiterate, I’ve never formally ‘dieted’ before however I was intrigued to see if weight loss would be a consequence of the 5:2 plan but interestingly it wasn’t.
For someone who eats a lot, I did find the 5:2 a challenge; I had to re-train my body and fight the urge to snack every couple of hours, which wasn’t an easy feat! However, the hardest part was factoring my fasting days into a busy schedule especially if I wanted the weekends ‘off’. Realistically that meant fast days needed to fall Mon-Thurs (who really wants to fast on a Friday?!) and having a sociable job with a lot of client entertaining involving regularly eating out meant some weeks were a real struggle. That inevitably meant fasting at the weekend meaning my social life would take the hit. On top of this, I do a lot of exercise and the fasting made me feel lethargic and devoid of energy. I could get away with something like pilates but trying to swim 4km after a day of 500 calories was tough and I felt my body needed more fuel to get through my training sessions. Some people don’t find exercising when fasting an issue but I imagine this depends on your training schedule and hard training does require more fuel in terms of calories.
I also found the day following a fast I’d be absolutely ravenous especially if I’d been exercising and I wanted to eat everything in sight. Some weeks I felt as though I’d developed an eating disorder and was trapped in a constant cycle of yo-yoing between fasting and binging! But I couldn’t seem to stop myself despite the book telling me things would improve and I’d stop wanting to eat so much on my days off. Each week I thought maybe I’d turn a corner and things would be different but it never changed. No wonder I didn’t lose any weight! I began feeling less healthy than I normally do and I didn’t feel the plan was doing my body any favours. I hated obsessing over calories and checking every single thing I ate. Plus, I don’t believe all calories are equal especially in terms of their benefits. Personally I feel healthier eating fresh, natural produce at 1,500 + calories a day rather than restricting my calorie intake and then wanting fat laden, high calorie food the next day. I watched so many other people on their fast days drinking diet coke and eating a chocolate kitkat finger as part of their 500 calories and I really felt this was missing the point. It’s supposed to be about health so it should be important to feed your body the most nutritious food within the calorie limit; diet coke and chocolate really don’t cut it.
However, despite all this negativity, I did find the 5:2 experience a fascinating one and it really made me assess my eating habits. I have learnt that constant snacking or grazing isn’t necessarily good for me and it’s something I do a lot less frequently. And also the discovery that my body isn’t going to starve after missing one meal! But I also realised that I probably naturally adhere to a bit of indulgence along with a bit of holding back and that’s how I’ve maintained roughly the same weight all my adult life. And Mosley believes that the 5:2 plan is what most thin people naturally do anyway.
Perhaps if I’d been able to see some of the internal benefits I may have been persuaded to continue but physically and mentally it wasn’t for me. Ultimately everyone is different and will therefore experience varying degrees of success. Although how you measure success really depends on what you were looking to gain in the first place. I know a lot of people who have lost weight and feel it is a plan they can stick to and easily maintain. I would recommend that if you’re intrigued by the plan then try it and see whether it works for you. And then let us know your thoughts!