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5:2 Diet: Learn the Best Protocol Plus Tips for Success

Written by Dr. Group, DC Founder
A woman cutting vegetables for a salad.

A popular form of fasting, the 5:2 diet involves eating five days per week — ideally, in a healthy manner, and fasting for two. Don't stress when you hear the word fast! You may not even experience hunger. But does the 5:2 Diet work? Yes, it does!

The 5:2 plan — sometimes called the fast diet — offers you the impressive, time-tested health benefits of fasting: sustained weight loss, lower blood pressure, better-balanced blood sugar, and a boost in heart and brain health. The 5:2 fasting diet also offers a lot of flexibility for the rest of your week.

Quick Tips to Start a 5:2 Diet

Try these tips for success:

  • Plan your fasting days around your schedule. Choose days that are less mentally and emotionally demanding.
  • If you're aiming to make this a weight loss diet, keep your body moving! Most people can do light exercise on fasting days; just be aware of your limits.
  • Focus on consuming a diet of whole, plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds when you are eating versus fasting.
  • On fasting days, stay hydrated! Drink at least half your body weight in ounces daily. Keep up this habit on calorie days, too!
  • Get more sleep and go to bed earlier. Take a nap if you feel tired.
  • Get a free PDF portion of Dr. Group, DC's The Power of Fasting book.

What Is the 5:2 Diet?

The 5:2 diet is a form of intermittent fasting: alternating between periods of fasting (going without food or drink) and periods of eating during the day.

The 5:2 part of the name comes from the fact that you eat as normal for five days and fast for two days each week. Which days you choose to fast is up to you.

On non-fasting days, you follow your normal eating routine and don't worry about calories. On fasting days, you either abstain from food, severely restrict calories, or eat only during a set window of time.

What Can You Eat?

Although you can theoretically eat whatever you want on non-fasting days, it is healthier to eat well. The most important thing for any eating plan is consuming whole, plant-based foods, particularly raw and leafy green vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.

Healthy, plant-based foods also provide your body with a variety of nutrients. Not only are vegetables and plant-based proteins more nutritious but they also contain more fiber and are more satiating than foods such as cake and chips.

If you are doing the 5:2 diet for weight loss, specifically, I recommend exercising portion control to some degree on non-fasting days.

Popular Low-Calorie Snacks

If you are hungry between meals on fasting days, consider snacking on healthy, low-calorie foods. Organic is best if you are able to, but use your best judgment.

Food Serving Size Calories
Cucumber ½ cup 8
Celery 1 large stalk 9
Red bell pepper 1 cup 24
Cherry tomatoes 1 cup 27
Plum 1 medium 30
Baby carrots 10 medium 35
Grapefruit 1 medium 41
Watermelon 1 cup 46
Strawberries 1 cup 46

Browse through an array of Dr. Group, DC's plant-based shopping list.

When & How Should You Fast?

On the two fasting days, restrict calories or eliminate them altogether. It’s not that different from skipping meals but in a more coordinated, consistent way.

It is acceptable to fast for two consecutive days, but most people find it easier to spread out their fasting days — in other words, non-consecutive days like Mondays and Thursdays. Here are the most common eating patterns for the 5:2 diet:

Restrict Calories

One popular way involves calorie restriction: Cut your calories on fasting days to 25 percent of normal calorie intake. This equates to about 500 calories for women and 600 for men during fasting days, but you can eat at any time of day. Most people following this plan eat small meals during the day. Consuming small amounts of healthy fats, carbs, and plant-based protein is ideal. Vegetable broth soup is a great option to help you feel full longer while providing your body with a variety of nutrients.

16/8 Protocol

Others like to follow a common intermittent fasting method called the 16/8 protocol. Eat a healthy dinner around 8 p.m., and then fast through the night until either 10 a.m. or noon the next day. This gives you 14 to 16 hours of fasting.

Juice Fasting

Some people find that drinking juice during their fasting days — or 16-hour fast periods — helps keep blood sugar and energy levels better balanced. Make sure to drink only 100 percent juice. Juicing fruits and vegetables for weight loss is a great option.

24-Hour Fasting

For a more advanced plan, try a 24-hour water fast. These longer fasting periods can offer a time of reflection; people have fasted for spiritual reasons throughout history. A water fast is an excellent way to reset your health.

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Sample 5:2 Diet Meal Plan

Here is a sample of a 5:2 diet meal plan that you could follow using the 16/8 protocol.

Day One

  • Eat as normal
  • Dinner: No later than 8 p.m.

Day Two (Fasting)

  • Breakfast: Water
  • Lunch and Dinner: Eat as normal

Day Three

  • Eat as normal

Day Four

  • Eat as normal

Day Five (Fasting)

  • Breakfast: Water
  • Lunch and Dinner: Eat as normal

Day Six

  • Eat as normal

Day Seven

  • Eat as normal

Health Benefits of a Fasting Diet

While the 5:2 pattern is newer, the health benefits of fasting are well documented!

The 5:2 diet or similar alternate-day fasting produces similar heart health benefits to calorie reduction It can even lead to more weight loss than people who simply restrict calories![1, 2, 3, 4]

Below are some of the benefits that fasting offers:

Supports a Healthy Brain

Any form of intermittent fasting may protect your brain against free radicals and environmental toxins; these harmful compounds otherwise cause aging. Fasting also boosts production of natural compounds in the brain that support a healthy nervous system.[5]

Restricting calories periodically may even reduce your risk of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.[6]

Boosts Heart Health

High blood pressure, low heart rate variability, and metabolic disorders all increase the risk of heart disease. Intermittent fasting is known to offer cardiovascular benefits that counteract all these conditions, thus supporting a healthy heart.

Fasting may reduce triglycerides and blood pressure in both healthy and overweight individuals.[3, 7] It's a heart-healthy habit we all should get behind!

Decreases Risk of Diabetes & Blood Sugar Issues

Intermittent fasting improves blood glucose and insulin levels, and the diet may even protect against type 2 diabetes.[8]

Fasting has a positive impact on insulin and blood glucose levels in both healthy adults as well as overweight and obese individuals and those with diabetes.[3]

Individuals with diabetes need to be particularly mindful to keep a steady blood sugar level throughout fasting days. Check with your healthcare provider before starting any fast.

Helps You Lose Weight

Almost any pattern of intermittent fasting can help you shed pounds.[9] It appears that the 5:2 diet has the same health and weight loss benefits as restricting calories every day.[2, 10]

If it's easy for you to abstain from breakfast and late-night snacks, you may have better luck with the 5:2 diet than reducing calories every day.

Is the 5:2 Diet Safe?

Yes. If you are healthy overall, it's safe to try the 5:2 way of fasting.

The following individuals should avoid the 5:2 diet:

  • Women who are pregnant, nursing, or trying to conceive
  • Children and teenagers
  • Anyone with a history of eating disorders

You will find your best success if you make a plan for your weekly meals and create a support network. If you have a medical condition or illness, please seek advice from your healthcare provider before trying the 5:2 fast.

Points to Remember

A style of intermittent fasting, the 5:2 diet simply means you eat as you normally do five days a week and restrict your calories or abstain from eating for a certain period of time on the other two days.

The overall health and weight loss benefits of intermittent fasting are impressive and well-known — most notably, it boosts your heart and brain health!

If you choose to fast using the 5:2 plan, eat healthy, plant-based foods every day rather than eating junk food or making poor food choices.

Vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, and gluten-free grains will keep you satisfied, improve your health, and may help with weight-loss and provide a boost for your overall health and wellness. For more tips on the incredible health benefits of fasting, you can get a free PDF pre-release copy of The Power of Fasting book.

References (10)
  1. Conley M et al. Is two days of intermittent energy restriction per week a feasible weight loss approach in obese males? A randomised pilot study. Nutr Diet. 2018 Feb;75(1):65-72.
  2. Harvie M, Howell A. Potential benefits and harms of intermittent energy restriction and intermittent fasting amongst obese, overweight and normal weight subjects—a narrative review of human and animal evidence. Behav Sci (Basel). 2017 Mar; 7(1):4.
  3. Trepanowski JF, et al. Effect of alternate-day fasting on weight loss, weight maintenance, and cardioprotection among metabolically healthy obese adults: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2017;177(7):930-938.
  4. Van Praag H et al. Exercise, energy intake, glucose homeostasis, and the brain. J Neurosci. 2014 Nov 12;34(46):15139-15149.
  5. Mattson M. Lifelong brain health is a lifelong challenge: from evolutionary principles to empirical evidence. Ageing Res Rev.. 2015 Mar;20:37-45.
  6. Mattson MP et al. Impact of intermittent fasting on health and disease processes. Ageing Res Rev.. 2017 Oct;39:46-58.
  7. Brandhorst S et al. A periodic diet that mimics fasting promotes multi-system regeneration, enhanced cognitive performance, and healthspan. Cell Metab. 2015 Jul 7;22(1):86-99.
  8. Patterson RE et al. Intermittent fasting and human metabolic health. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015 Aug;115(8):1203-1212.
  9. Sundfør TM et al. Effect of intermittent versus continuous energy restriction on weight loss, maintenance and cardiometabolic risk: A randomized 1-year trial. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2018 Jul;28(7):698-706.
  10. Collier R. Intermittent fasting: the science of going without. CMAJ. 2013 Jun 11;185(9):E363-E364.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.


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