Besides Weight Loss, The 5:2 Diet May Even Help With Your Blood Sugar And Cholesterol
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Intermittent fasting is currently one of the most popular weight loss diets. ICYMI, that's when you alternate between fasting and feeding regularly. With so many iterations like the 16:8 diet, you really can choose the one that best suits you and your lifestyle. Another method you may have heard of is the 5:2 diet. It allows you to eat whatever you want five days a week, but you have to limit your intake on the other two days.
More specifically, you're eating about 25 percent of what you would normally eat two days a week. “The daily calorie requirement for women is between 1,600 and 2,400 per day. However, if a woman is physically active, she likely needs higher amounts,” says Roxana Ehsani, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian in Miami, Fla. Based on these numbers, this would result in a 400-600 calorie consumption on fasting days.
And the other five days of the week you do your normal thing. The idea is that if you follow the 5:2 diet, you'll burn fewer calories overall.
Technically, you can eat whatever you want to get those calories — but the 5:2 Diet Book recommends eating lots of vegetables, as well as small portions of lean meat, fish, and eggs. And soups! Low-calorie soups (which tend to be filling) are clutch.
Meet the experts: Roxana Ehsani, RD, is a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She regularly appears on morning shows in Baltimore and Washington, DC. Previously, she was the Nutritionist for Athletic Performance at Georgetown University's Department of Physical Education, Division I.
Katherine Brooking, RD, is a recognized nutritionist and was listed as a "Top 50 Influencer" at Expo West, a major natural food fair. She is also the co-author of The Real Skinny: Appetite for Health's 101 Fat Habits and Slim Solutions.
Does the 5:2 Diet Really Help You Lose Weight?
Probably - there's a lot of research to back this up.
Healthy weight loss should be around 1-2 pounds per week, which is usually the case if you are in a 3,500 calorie deficit per week (or cut out 500 calories per day)," explains Ehsani. "So if you were to follow the 5:2 diet, you're probably going to hit that 3,500-calorie-a-week deficit by going very low on calories on just two of those seven days a week."
A study in the journal Cell Research found that intermittent fasting can help you lose weight, speed up your metabolism, and burn fat more efficiently (though beware: the research was done on mice). A 2021 study published in PLOS ONE found that people who followed the 5:2 diet lost about the same amount of body weight over the course of a year as those who used the traditional diet approach - five percent of their body weight. However, the study also found that participants who followed the 5:2 diet were more positive about their experience than those who followed the traditional diet.
Most people should lose some weight in one to three weeks on the 5:2 diet.
Whether it is a good long-term weight loss plan is ultimately a question of your personality. Some people find fasting a few days a week to be perfectly sustainable, says Katherine Brooking, RD, a New York City-based nutritionist. But others don't agree with just eating 500 calories a day two days a week — or they overcompensate on "normal" days by eating more than usual. "It really depends on the person," she says.
Does the 5:2 Diet Have Other Health Benefits?
In addition to weight loss, the 5:2 diet also has several other important health and nutritional benefits.
It can help protect against Alzheimer's. An animal study published in Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience found that intermittent fasting protected mice from developing Alzheimer's disease by restoring an important part of the blood-brain barrier. And of course, if you're overweight or obese, losing weight could certainly lower your risk of developing heart disease and certain cancers.
It can help you eat more fruits and vegetables. "On days when a person is fasting, one might look for lower-calorie foods," says Ehsani. "Hence, you may be able to consume more fruits and vegetables and stick to your daily recommendations as they are our lowest calorie foods."
It can help your blood sugar levels. Several studies have shown that fasting is beneficial for people's blood sugar levels as it can help normalize fasting blood sugar and lower your hemoglobin A1c. "It can help a person with diabetes or prediabetes better control their fasting and average blood glucose levels," says Ehsani. “But one caveat: if you're diabetic or prediabetic, you too are at greater risk of low blood sugar drops (known as hypoglycemia), especially on fasting days. So be careful and monitor your blood sugar closely throughout the day. "
It can improve cholesterol levels. Some people who followed this diet after 12 weeks in a 2015 study by Nutrition Reviews found that it improved some of their heart health markers and lowered both their triglycerides and LDL (the bad) cholesterol.
So is the 5:2 diet safe?
It depends. "If you're going to follow this fasting method, 500 calories is pretty small and essentially one meal a day," says Ehsani.
However, Brooking says the 5:2 diet is safe for otherwise healthy people. It's definitely not considered safe for children (since they need fuel for their growing bodies) or pregnant women, who also need the calories, she says.
The 5:2 Diet is best for people who already have healthy eating habits, Brooking notes, adding that if you've had a history of binge eating or restricted food intake, you should take this diet hard. The same is true if you suffer from migraines (skipping meals can trigger headaches) or if you tend to work out hard at the gym as you may not be consuming enough calories to fuel your workout.
And while it's okay to back-to-back your fasting days, you shouldn't do more than two days in a row. (Note: Most people find it easier to spread out their fasting days throughout the week — but you can do them whenever it suits you.)
What is the difference between the Fast 800 and the 5:2 diet?
These diets are quite different. The Fast 800 in particular includes more restrictions. "At Fast 800, you follow an 800-calorie diet for at least two weeks or longer, depending on your weight-loss goals," explains Ehsani. "When you're close to your goal, eat 800 calories two days a week and follow the Mediterranean diet the other days of the week."
The Fast 800 is not only more demanding, it is also more restrictive at launch. "It also promotes rapid weight loss, which is never permanent weight loss," she says. "I would say the 5:2 diet is probably easier to follow and maintain long-term than the Fast 800."
Conclusion: The 5:2 diet might be a good thing to try if you want to lose weight. However, it's still a good idea to check with your doctor to make sure there aren't any potential problems if you try it.
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