My Weight Loss Journey with the 5:2 Diet

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5 2 dietAs many of you are aware, I’ve lost a significant amount of weight in the past 7 months. 15kg (33 pounds) to be exact, not including the just under 1kg loss of my recent breast reduction surgery. As someone who has not been easily slim since I discovered chocolate when I was 15, I’ve always been interested in finding out how others either maintain their weight or lose their excess.

Last year, just after my 45th birthday (what is it about birthdays that make you assess your life) I realised that my weight had crept up to an unhealthy 81kg. I knew I had to do something about it, but regular dieting just doesn’t cut it for me, I’d done it a couple of times before (most recently 2009) and lost weight, but struggle to maintain. The more I’m deprived of things, the more I want them. I needed to find a way to have my chocolate and lose weight too.  I could never cut out any particular food groups, I once looked at the quitting sugar diet and when I saw you had to give up balsamic vinegar, I decided it wasn’t for me!

Fortunately I stumbled upon it on a personal shopping trip with one of my lovely clients. I’d noticed that she’d lost weight (I’m aware of her clothing size and how it had decreased from our previous shopping trip) and so I asked her how she’d lost the weight. She told me that she was on the 5:2 “Fast” eating plan (it’s a way of life, not a diet) and had found it easy to shed the extra weight. I was interested to find out more, and then a week or so later, the documentary by Dr Michael Mosley came on TV and I watched and decided to give it a go. (You can watch the documentary here)

As I’m a researcher, I also bought the Fast Diet book (and The FastDiet Cookbook: 150 Delicious, Calorie-Controlled Meals to Make Your Fasting Days Easy for meal inspiration) and the weight started dropping off. It’s certainly the easiest “diet” I’ve ever been on, and has a built in “maintain” phase which I think is super important. I like that it not only helps me lose weight, but has additional health benefits that go with!

The crux of the ‘diet’ is that 5 days a week you eat a normal fairly healthy and varied diet of around 2000 calories (though I don’t count). Two days a week you eat 500 calories (women) or 600 calories (men).  It’s as simple as that.  You don’t have to worry about your body going into ‘starvation mode’ as you are not on a low calorie diet every day (regular diets have this as an issue, but not 5:2).  Your body is shocked, twice a week with the ‘fasting’ day so burns up your fat, but because on the other 5 days you feed it around 2000 calories, it doesn’t think it’s being deprived, so doesn’t start holding onto those calories or start eating away at your muscle.

As you can see from the picture at the top of this post, I’ve had some plateaus along the way, and I did have to give it up for a month after my surgery, but I’ve had a healthy and fairly steady weight loss the rest of the time.  The closer to my goal, the slower it went, but it has still gone.

5 2 weight loss

So now I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned over the past 7 months and what has worked for me.

Health

My health has improved.  Before 5:2 I was on cholesterol medication. Now I’m not.  My doctor feels that my cholesterol levels are now within a reasonable limit and there is no need to be medicated.  My doctor is very happy with me and this way of eating.

Exercise

I’m the fittest I’ve ever been (well since I was 20 anyway).  Losing the weight has helped me become fitter.  It’s much harder to run when you’re carrying extra kilos.  I do exercise on fast days, usually in the morning.  I do also exercise the morning after a fast day (it is definitely harder) but I figure my body has to start accessing my fat stores for the energy so it’s a win for me!

Exercise for me has never been something that I’ve loved.  I’m not a natural sportsperson, in fact, I hate team sports.  So I have to make myself exercise but I do try and mix it up a bit and so I:

  • Run the streets round where I live plus do some High Intensity Interval Training sprints (3 x 20 second per session read about it in Fast Exercise)
  • Yoga classes
  • Walk on the treadmill on an incline
  • Body Pump classes at the gym
  • Free weights at the gym
  • And I’m about to start tap dancing classes for some extra variety

I try and do some exercise 3-4 times per week.

One question people ask about exercise is if you say burn 300 calories on a fast day exercising, can you then eat 800 calories instead of 500? The answer is no.  Just stick with the 500 calories and consider those extra 300 calories burnt up a bonus!

Mindset

The 5:2 diet and fasting is about a mindset.  We are trained into thinking that being hungry is terrible.  Every diet you see will promote that you “won’t feel hungry” on it.  But in fact, feeling hungry is good.  Feeling hungry means that our body has to start burning up our excess fat instead of accessing energy from food.  Every time I feel hungry on a fast day, rather than feel “poor me” I just remind myself that my body is now burning my fat.  Have you noticed that hunger comes in waves?  Once that wave of hunger is gone, your body has just accessed some of your fat stores to keep it going.

The easiest way to have a positive mindset about this way of eating for me has been;

To call them ‘5’ days and ‘2’ days (not feast and fast).  I find when I think about a feast day, then I think well it’s all great and I can completely gorge myself on all sorts of high calorie foods, rather than if it’s a ‘5’ day, I just think about eating well, 5 days a week, and I can have some wine or a biscuit and not feel guilty.

On my ‘2’ days I just remind myself when I feel like eating the cake or the ice-cream or even the crispy chicken skin, I can have it tomorrow.  This is only for one day.  This is not like other diet’s where you’re depriving yourself of everything you love that isn’t so healthy all the time, it’s just one day.   It does become easier the longer you do it.  Your body learns to ride the hunger waves, and you get psychologically stronger as you see results.  In fact, after a glutinous weekend, I look forward to a ‘2’ day as I let my body recover from over indulging!

Keeping busy really helps.  I won’t fast on days I have something social planned, the whole point of this way of eating is that it can work around your lifestyle.

Hot drinks such as herbal teas are great when you’re feeling hungry.  Apparently there is some research that shows that drinking something hot helps to fool your brain into thinking you’ve eaten.

diet advice

 

Eating

Each person will figure out on this eating plan what works for them.  I’m fortunate that I’ve never been a big breakfast person (I’ve never particularly liked cereal, if it was dinner for breakfast, that would be a different story), so I find it quite easy to forgo eating til lunchtime or later.  I found when I started that I had to eat twice a day, but now I’ve trained myself to go the whole day (most days) without eating til dinner time, but some days I will still have a light lunch of some soup at around 100 calories.  I generally find it more satisfying to have all my 500 calories in one big meal, rather than split into 2 or 3 very small meals.   Sure I get hungry during the day, but I really keep my liquids up which does help combat the hunger pangs.   Honestly, it’s a mindset more than anything.  Just keep telling yourself and you’ll get past it.  What is amazing, is often the day after a fast, I don’t want to eat that treat that I was thinking about the day before.

 Food

The problem with having kids is that I have to prepare them food even when I’m fasting.  Staying out of the kitchen as much as you can does make it much easier!  I will often try and pre-prepare food (particularly when I first started I found this made a huge difference) so that I wasn’t tempted when in the kitchen.

Soups are great, they are often low in calorie, but filling and can be made in many different flavours!  Some of my favourites are:

  • Beef Pho
  • Cheesy Cauliflower
  • Tomato and Roast Capsicum

On ‘2’ days I don’t eat bread, potatoes, pasta or rice, they are high in calories!  Instead I eat meals that are made from lean protein (meat and eggs) and lots of plants – vegetables and some fruit (1 medium strawberry is only 5 calories), and low fat and sugar yoghurt.

But I also will eat:

  • Burgers (home made with turkey mince, no breadcrumbs and no bun) with salad
  • Dumplings (pork mince, with lots of bok choy and Chinese chives) that I make myself
  • Chicken rice paper rolls (I leave out the rice vermicelli and add in bean sprouts
  • Lamb cutlets and steamed vegetables

I use an app (Calorie King) on my phone to calculate calories of anything I’m making, and I do weigh everything on a fast day, so I can keep proper track of my calories.  There are lots of great resources for recipes if you’re feeling uninspired.

I don’t bother counting calories on my ‘5’ days, but be careful not to overeat too much as it won’t help you lose weight!

Here are some links to 5:2 recipe websites:

5:2 UK

Under 500 calorie meal plans

Lavendar and Loverage recipes

5:2 Recipes on Pinterest

There are so many resources and recipes on the internet you can find plus I just look at normal recipes and think about if I can substitute something low calorie for something higher (such as Stevia for Sugar when called for in recipes), and figure out what is in the recipe using  my calorie counting app!

Maintenance

Now that I’m in my healthy weight range I’m moving to the maintenance phase of this way of eating.  It’s called 6:1 and basically, you eat normally 6 days a week and do the 500 calorie fast 1 day a week.  Pretty simple!  This gives you the health benefits of fasting, plus helps to stop you putting the weight back on (which is what most commonly happens after you finish a regular ‘diet’.  Should I start putting on weight, it’s easy just to go back to the 2 days of fasting a week for a while.

The reality is, I don’t love fasting, but I find it easier to do that diet or count calories 7 days a week.  I love that I can happily go out and eat and drink on a weekend without the consequences.

It’s a plan that’s worked for me.  Honestly, the idea of fasting is harder to get over until you’ve done it a few times, than the reality!

If you’re currently on a weight loss journey, or thinking of starting one, don’t forget that Jill Chivers and I wrote an ebook to help you through the style challenges it can create.

Svelte in Style: how to look and feel great while losing weight

 

You can grab your copy here or find out more about it here

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29 Comments

  • Well done on your great results.

    I hope you don’t mind me sharing my own experience. I am late 20s, I have never been overweight or had any health problems connected with my extra padding and have only ever fasted for aesthetic reasons.. Already rather slim I actually preferred my body a few kilos lighter so inspired by old photos of a slimmer me, thought I’d get back to that state. The thinner you are, the harder it seems to shift that little bit of extra flab, I’ve grown tired of kcal counting (I am amazingly good at that though) and I decided to try the 5:2 diet for the experience and ‘the let’s suffer once rather than many times’. I could never eat just one meal per day (even on normal days I snack throughout the day, lots of small meals) so on a fast day I would eat 3 protein-y meals of 150kcal plus three half-bananas in between (50kcal each). For me there were no real hunger pangs and my stomach seemed to shrink rapidly, but there was a huge problem with my mood plummeting, first into irritation then in the afternoon into total depression and ‘don’t care about anything in the world’ mode. I also found my mind unable to concentrate, so I do wonder, how you can actually work on a fast day…? How do you focus? Impossible in my experience.

    As for this:
    ‘I do also exercise the morning after a fast day (it is definitely harder) but I figure my body has to start accessing my fat stores for the energy so it’s a win for me!’
    if it’s the kind of effort which sees your performance diminish I doubt that’s good for you. Weight loss is simple, less kcals out than in is weight gain, more kcals out than in is weight loss. Again perhaps it’s the amazing feature of bananas but I have found that half a banana, altogether 50kcal only can make such a difference in terms of how intensely I can exercise straight after,so I often have that before a session, esp when I fasted the day before and I know my energy stores (it’s actually your glycogen stores) are not fully replenished.

    • Having seen pics of you Susie I don’t think you need to lose any weight at all! You don’t have all the excess fat the likes of me do that keep you going on a fast. Some people do have to eat more frequently than others, but I have found that it gets easier not to eat all day the more frequently you fast. You do get used to it and your insulin/sugar levels doesn’t go up and down.

      I would avoid sugary fruit like banana on a fast day, that will make you hungrier (or hangry as we call it – hungry/angry), instead go for more protein and vegetable as it will keep insulin levels more stable, so less of the hangry. I don’t worry about having a diminished performance on exercising after a fast. I”m not competing for anything, it’s just me, and if I can’t do as much some days as others because my glycogen stores are down, that’s completely fine. The whole point for me is that I’m using my excess fat to produce energy, rather than relying on more food to exercise.

  • Hi Imogen,

    Just out of curiosity, when you had your breast reduction, how much weight was taken? I feel that it should be mentioned as the amount taken with the surgery wasn’t lost due to the diet. Having said that well done in losing the weight you are looking sensational (although I personally preferred you with darker hair, though the blonde looks good). I think I might do some research into this diet/lifestyle program it sounds like one that would be easy to keep up with

    • Hi Janine
      Breast reduction took just under a kg so rally a very small portion of my total weightless

      I loved having dark hair, but sadly it is too high maintenance for me these days. I have to move with what nature is changing on me!

      • So most of the weight loss was through following this program, that’s awesome! Congratulations. Meanwhile I think I’ll be madly googling this now 😉

        Totally understand what you mean about higher maintenance with dark hair. So far, at age 40 I still only have minimal greys and I’m able to keep coloring myself. Not sure what I’ll do when more greys come through. Maybe I’ll get lucky and have beautiful silver grey hair like my mums, which will work for me as I’m a True/Cool Winter

        • Janie – it would have been nice to lose 10kg from the anti-boob job, but sadly, even though they felt like a mill-stone, they only took a bit! That would have been the easiest diet ever!

          My hair started greying at 15 so now it’s 80% or more grey, but I’m just not ready to go there at my age. Maybe in 10 years time!

  • How awesome. My friends and I have been 5:2 -ing for about the same time but I haven’t been able to get back into it since Christmas. And of course I realise that is 6 months ago. I would be in a much better place in my head if I had. I will make sure I give me 6 month on self a gift now and kick start again. Thanks for the reminder and prompt. It’s a wonderful way of life and way of eating that suits my body. Danielle

  • Good for you and thanks for sharing your positive experience. I’m 43 and have been the fittest I’ve ever been in my life, though I’ve always been the sporty type.

    I don’t weigh myself or count calories, and put on weight easily. But I have been able to add a lot of muscle (I’m around 17% body fat) by following the “Primal Blueprint”. I don’t eat sugar, but I do eat fruit and do add balsamic vinegar in my cooking. I eat a high fat low carb diet of unprocessed food with about 20% calories from protein. And I do some intense martial arts and kettlebells. If you ever tire of counting calories or dealing with hunger pangs, check this out.

    http://www.marksdailyapple.com/definitive-guide-to-the-primal-eating-plan/#axzz35zXl51b4

    I don’t get any incentive for endorsing this lifestyle. It just works for me.

  • I love the sounds of the 5:2 plan. I think you nailed it when you said it’s all about mindset and this idea that being hungry is a bad thing. At 167cm I have now reached 82kgs. Not massive, but definitely overweight. I’ve gained 15kgs since marrying and having two kids.

    I find myself in a constant dilemma – on one hand I think I should accept myself the way I am. On the other hand, I think i’d be much healthier and more energetic if I dropped 10-15 kgs. I’ve yo-yoed over the last few years and would LOVE to lose weight again, but this time keep it off for good.

    What was it that made you commit to the idea of losing weight? Did you have single thought that you kept telling yourself? What was different this time?

  • Hi and well done. Very inspiring. I am getting head into gear to start this way of life! Can u pls tell which app is that , that u used to track ur weight loss journey? Thx!

  • I’ve tried the 5:2 but I’m so unproductive on 2 days, I just can’t do it. I’m also a runner and I exercise every week day and it’s really dangerous to do hard core exercise on fast days. You look amazing though and well done! You’ve inspired me to give it another go!

    • It’s definitely easier early in the day when you’ve eaten the day before. Much harder the morning after a fast before breakfast. I’d never call my exercising hardcore!

  • Thank you for sharing your 5:2 experience, Imogen. It’s great to hear the pros & cons from someone else’s perspective. I had very positive results from following this regimen last year (12 kilos in 6 months with minimal daily exercise), but have backslid slightly into bad old habits. Your testimonial has inspired me to reinstate this formula and pursue the healthier post-40 me. My mum, who is in her early 70’s, suffers from multiple physical ailments due to gradual muscle loss and an over-indulgent diet. I don’t want this to happen to me—I plan to be sprightly well into my twilight years! Two days of pesky pangs makes me appreciate the taste and effect of foods so much more, and the extra energy on the other five days is an amazing reward. Thanks again for the pep talk!

    • Ruby – great that it worked for you before. You can try the ‘lite’ version which is fasting 2pm to 2pm one day to the next so not quite so arduous!

  • FULL-FAT DAIRY is the key in addition to a balanced diet and a multi-vitamin.
    Since I have reached menopause, I have been having a hard time with weight gain. A few years ago I found out (too late to avoid a 20 lb. weight gain) that I have a hypo-active thyroid. Unfortunately, thyroid replacement does not help weight loss; it only helps to prevent problems that can result in weight gain.
    Until a little while ago I had been buying fat-free and fat-reduced milk. One day I decided to look up the calorie counts for full-fat and reduced-fat milk. There really is not too big a difference in the calories. I thought to myself, “WHY DO WE DO THIS TO OURSELVES!”
    I love coffee. I had been using fat reduced milk in my coffee; and I must admit that I do not enjoy it nearly as much as when I use whole milk.
    Look at the whole picture to get the nutrients that are needed. The body CRAVES what it needs. I think that I have stopped my craving for ice cream and chocolate by giving my body the fat that it needs to function in the form of whole milk. Instead of being ‘penny wise, and pound foolish’, enjoy food.
    And…….I AM LOOSING WEIGHT AGAIN! TRY IT; YOU’LL LIKE IT. ….. AND, YOU WILL LOOSE WEIGHT.

  • I must congratualate yoy Imogen on your weight loss and you determination to carry on and not give up. Well done. I know someone else(male) who followed this same eating plan that you followed 5:2 and he loss an incredible amount of weight. He needed to lose the weight, put in the effort with great results, he now runs marathons. I am not naturally slim, watch what I eat but also enjoy food and dont diet. Not sure if I would try the 5:2 eating plan but it does appear to have great results for those that put in the effort, and to those people I say well done, you earned it.

  • Hi Imogen! I have had the same results as you, although at 48 years old it took me a little longer. In fact it was last year on July 4th that I was getting dressed for a party and felt heavy and like none of the clothes I tried on were flattering. Now I have lost 33 lbs and am in the middle of my healthy weight range! I agree with all of your observations and want to add one more: I prefer healthy food now, especially vegetables and fruits. Spinach, snap peas, broccoli, bananas, berries, mushrooms, green beans — all of these are foods I seek out now when I am hungry. I am committed to this way of life and I am so grateful that I learned about it. Best regards and congratulations on your success!
    P.S. I really appreciate your efforts to educate women on how to dress well and feel good. I especially love your capsules for people on a budget or moms with young children at home.

  • Hi Imogen – I cannot thank you enough for this post about 5:2. I have been doing this since late August, have lost 15 pds and feel better than I have in years. It has been such a relief to finally find something that works and has become a lifestyle. It’s a slow go…but a post on the “5:2″website (http://thefastdiet.co.uk/) reminds me that it’s not a sprint but a marathon and to not despair when the inevitable plateaus come.

    This has been a life changer. Thank you! And it really IS a mindset on my “2” days!

  • Congratulations. You look wonderful. I am glad you found a program that works for you. I have tried everything and the only one that works for me is Dr. Barry Sears’ “The Zone” – 56 lbs in 3 months and never felt deprived. My weakness is mint chocolate chip ice cream and I have it almost every day. My only deviation is that if I am not hungry, I don’t eat. Some days I may have one snack and one regular meal. Other days I have all three meals and the two snacks. I have come to realize there is no one plan fits all when it comes to losing weight. You found what works for you and you look great. Congratulations.

  • I also believe that our body needs some time to recover from over indulging. Especially in the current ‘fast and easy comfort-food mindset’. I totally agree when you say ‘diet and fasting is about a mindset’. Still I’m convinced that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
    I wonder if you have enough energy till lunchtime?

    • I don’t have a problem not eating breakfast Laura – I’ve never been a big breakfast person so for me it’s not hard to miss. You can still eat breakfast on the 5:2 diet – you just count the calories and make sure the total day doesn’t go over 500 calories. I personally like one big meal rather than a few small ones.

  • Great resultsts and thanks for a very helpful post! I have about the same amount of weight to lose and I’m currently trying out the 5:2 diet since I’ve read a lot of good reviews. Today is my first day of fasting and so far this weight loss approach looks promising.

  • The 5:2 diet is flexible and you can eat whatever you want (within reason) on non-fasting days and even on fasting days as long as it does not exceed to 500 calorie limit. The 5:2 diet is one of the more popular intermittent fasting programs and lots of people are already engaged with this kind of diet. It works well for lots of people as well as for me. I’m happy with this kind of diet and I’m glad you are too. Congrats on your efforts. Well done!

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