The 5:2 style of intermittent fasting isn't for everyone, but the way of eating — which allows for five days of regular consumption and two days fasting — is having a moment. Restricting calories down to 500 for women and 600 for men on the fasting days, followers don't have to worry about counting calories or macronutrients on the others.
But what's the right way to approach this niche style of eating if weight loss is your goal? We give you the rundown on everything you need to know about the 5:2 diet plan for shedding pounds, plus highlight a few example menus for low-calorie days.
Using 5:2 Fasting For Weight Loss
Intermittent fasting can reduce your overall calorie consumption throughout the day by restricting the time you are allowed to eat. An October 2014 study in Translational Research found that intermittent fasting one to three days a week (following the same model as a 5:2 fasting plan) is equally effective as calorie restriction for weight loss.
Intermittent fasting may also help dieters avoid the metabolic process that cause your body to stop losing weight during a weight loss attempt, often referred to as a weight loss plateau. A February 2018 study published in the International Journal of Obesity found alternating periods of fasting with periods of energy balance — or normal eating — allowed research participants greater weight and fat loss. So, while more research needs to be conducted, intermittent fasting does show promise for weight loss hopefuls,
Fasting Day Meal Plan
We know what you're thinking: There's no restrictions on what I can eat, so this has gotta be a breeze! Well, your calories are restricted, so what you do choose really matter. With minimal calories allocated two days per week, it's important to make sure you're getting the most nutritionally balanced meals within those limits. Making sure you have adequate protein and a balanced source of carbohydrates while fasting is key to maximizing your energy. Plus, sufficient protein will help to maintain your muscle during the fast, which will help maximize your weight loss efforts.
A helpful tip? Use herbs and spices — like crushed red pepper, garlic, rosemary, ginger, basil and salt — to increase flavor and satisfaction in your meals on the low-calorie days. Sauces, fats and oils should be avoided as they add additional calories, quickly pushing you far past the 500-to-600 calorie limit per day. When cooking meats, baked or broiled is optimal to limit any extra calories, and vegetables should be steamed for best results.
How to Handle Normal Eating Days
While there are no restrictions on your normal eating days, it's still important to make sure your non-fasting days provide balanced nutrition. Consuming meals made from whole food sources like whole grains, lean meat or fish and fruits and vegetables without added sweeteners will maximize your nutrition throughout the week.
Incorporating physical activity is also super important to maintain muscle mass and endurance during the 5:2 fasting plan. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend 150 to 300 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes to 5 hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity each week. Scheduling workouts on normal eating days will ensure your energy levels and workouts are not effected by the others.
Sample Fasting Day Meal Plans
Here, you'll find a few different sample plans for the fasting days. You can easily add up your total daily calories using the MyPlate calorie counter. As with any new diet or exercise plan, make sure to consult with a physician or registered dietitian before beginning a 5:2 fasting diet.
Vegan Sample Day
Breakfast: 1/4 block scrambled firm tofu, 1/2 cup green peppers, 1/2 cup raspberries
Lunch: 1/2 cup canned chickpeas mixed with 1/4 avocado, two romaine lettuce leaves (for wraps)
Dinner: 1/2 cup quinoa, 1/2 cup broccoli, 1/2 cup red peppers
Total calories: 549
Vegetarian Sample Day
Breakfast: Three slices non-fat Swiss Cheese, 1 cup raspberries
Lunch: Four egg whites and one slice whole wheat toast
Dinner: 1/4 block Firm Tofu baked with herbs and spices, 1 1/2 cups broccoli
Total calories: 521
Low-Carb Sample Day
Breakfast: Three scrambled egg whites with one slice non-fat Swiss cheese and 1/2 cup green peppers
Lunch: 3 ounces lean grilled chicken breast mixed with 1/4 of a avocado, two romaine lettuce leaves for wraps
Dinner: 3 ounces lean London Broil Steak, 1 cup cauliflower
Omnivore Sample Day
Breakfast: Four egg whites and one slice whole wheat toast
Lunch: 3 ounces canned white tuna (water packed) mixed with 1/4 avocado, two romaine lettuce leaves (for wraps)
Dinner: 3 ounces lean grilled chicken breast, 1/2 baked sweet potato
Total calories: 527
- Translational Research: "Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings"
- International Journal of Obesity: "Intermittent energy restriction improves weight loss efficiency in obese men: the MATADOR study"
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC): "Chapter 4. Active Adults"