With fasting diets enjoying boom time, nutritionist Gaby Taylor explores one of the latest in-vogue eating plans.
Fasting diets are seemingly growing in popularity in Dubai every week. The controversial 5:2 diet – where you eat normally for five days a week, but fast for two – in particular has got people talking. We delve ever deeper and look at the ins and outs of what, on paper at least, sounds like the solution to all our dieting dilemmas and ask: is it actually a long-term way of maintaining a healthy body and weight?
What is the 5:2 diet?
First popularised in the UK in 2012 by Dr Michael Mosley, the 5:2 diet is based on five days of normal eating and two days of fasting each week – though not consecutively – eating about one quarter of your recommended normal calorie intake, so 500 for women and 600 men.
It works by sending your body into ‘repair mode’ rather than storing fat (starvation mode), which can happen when you just cut down on calories altogether. This ‘repair mode’ causes the body to restore damaged cells, which uses more energy. It also claims to help shift your body from burning sugar and carbs to burning fat as its primary fuel.
To be clear – this is not about gorging on fast food followed by a period of starvation; you will need to eat healthily on your non-fast days for the diet to have a chance.
How does it work?
Supporters of this new diet claim it’s great for weight loss – women can lose up to half a kilo a week, and men even more. It can help you live longer, look younger and can protect the brain against diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Additionally the diet helps to reduce cravings for sugar, increases your metabolism and seems very easy to integrate into a busy lifestyle. You can move your fast days around to suit your diary, and you can still enjoy meals out and socialising on non-fast days. The majority of people who try it say you don’t get the boredom of restricting calories on a daily basis.
Individuals also report that once they are into the swing of things, they are generally more aware of what they are eating on non-fast days and claim to eat healthier on these days than before they started the diet.
But as a disclaimer – this diet is still at the experimental stage with limited evidence and research on its safety and effectiveness. So if you plan to attempt the diet, it is recommended to consult your GP.
Some people actually claim they have put on weight on the 5:2 diet. As the diet dictates that you can eat anything you like on non-fast days, people often binge on fatty, sugary foods even more than they did before they dieted. To ensure this doesn’t happen to you, it is suggested you do two weeks initially of just eating healthily, so that you become more aware of the foods you are eating and their calories. You will then be in a better position to fast and stay healthy in between.
The 5:2 diet suggests breaking your fasting days into two meals – so a breakfast and lunch or breakfast and dinner – depending on what suits you and when you exercise. You will need to be aware of portion control and counting calories too, as your meals will be considerably smaller so watch your labels. Download a smartphone app such as Meal Snap (mealsnap.com) to check the calorie content on the meat, fish, fruit and veg you eat.
Initially, fast days are said to be hard. Expect hunger pangs, loss of energy and teenage mood-swings.
‘I’m still a little sceptical about this diet, after considering all the above. Although the science behind it does makes sense and the results sound amazing. But can it really work for those who aren’t already eating healthily? Moreover, a healthy diet is not just about calories – it is about eating foods rich in vitamins, minerals, essential fat, fibre and the like, and on fasting days it is very unlikely that the body will get its recommended nutrient intake.
‘Also, what happens when you stop? Does the weight pile back on? Can you actually maintain this long term? I guess the only real way to find out if it works is to fast myself. ‘And I’ve decided to take the plunge this summer. Just keep your distance everyone!’
For more information on the 5:2 diet, contact Dubai-based lifestyle and nutrition consultant Ahlaam Ali of Powwereat, www.ahlaamali.com (055 840 7679).