All About The 5:2 Diet + How It Differs From Other Types Of Fasting
Intermittent fasting (IF) describes a pattern of time-restricted eating. The diet has been studied for its ability to manage weight and lower risk of metabolic diseases. There are several ways IF can be executed, but they all have the same basic principle: "abstain from eating during certain time periods and eat during others," integrative internist Vincent Pedre, M.D., says. If fasting every day seems too difficult, you may prefer the 5:2 diet.
What is the 5:2 diet?
The 5:2 diet is a form of intermittent fasting that was made famous by British broadcaster and author of The FastDiet Michael Mosley. The diet was developed in response to Mosley's own health issues. After following the meal plan, he noticed a decrease in his cholesterol.
During the two "fasting" days, integrative medicine doctor Amy Shah, M.D., says to eat about 25% of your normal caloric intake (about 500 to 600 calories). On the remaining five days, you eat a normal, healthy diet.
Practicing the fast on selected days of the week makes the 5:2 diet unique from other variations of IF, which confine eating to 12-hour, eight-hour, or six-hour windows every day.
What can you eat on the 5:2 diet?
According to integrative physician Bindiya Gandhi, M.D., you can eat "normal" food on the 5:2 diet, and that includes drinking alcohol, too, meaning, unlike keto or paleo diets, you don't have to eliminate or restrict any food groups.
However, in order for the diet to be healthy and effective, you should stick with nutrient-dense foods.
"On the restricted days, the type of calories consumed is just as important as the number of calories," Pedre says. "The focus needs to be on whole foods: protein, healthy fats, and vegetables." More specifically, the focus should be on low-glycemic whole foods.
Benefits of the 5:2 diet.
The 5:2 diet specifically shows protective benefits against breast cancer, according to one small study. And aside from that, "the benefits of intermittent fasting are all the same," Gandhi says.
Some of those benefits include healing the gut and calming inflammation, Shah says. Periods of fasting show these proven anti-inflammatory responses:
- Positive changes in the overall composition of gut microbiota.
- Reduction of insulin resistance.
- Increased immune response in cells.
- Production of a compound (β-hydroxybutyrate) that blocks part of the immune system involved in inflammatory disorders like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or Alzheimer's disease.
- Significant reduction of inflammatory markers (cytokines, C-reactive protein).
Is the 5:2 diet a healthy way to lose and manage weight?
The 5:2 diet can lead to weight loss, Shah says, assuming you're not overeating on the other five days. Though, it's generally not sustainable long term.
The two restrictive days may be hard to adhere to, Gandhi explains, and sometimes people will overeat when the fast is over, which can inhibit weight loss.
Eating a 5:2 meal plan may be a good way to kick-start a healthy weight loss journey. Learning to transition to a healthy, long-term eating plan afterward, however, is essential.
According to Mosley, IF offers the same benefits as calorie restriction, without the limitations of a consistently low-cal diet. So while there's no single way of eating that works for everyone, if you're hoping to manage your weight, the 5:2 diet may be a good place to start.
To better understand various types of fasting, these five books may help. Always consult your physician before radically changing your diet.
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.