The 10 Rules of 5:2

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Laura Herring, author or The Fast Days Cookbook, gives us some handy tips for getting started on the 5:2 diet

22 Dec 2016 |

The 5:2, or the ‘fast day’ diet, is a diet for food lovers: no food groups are cruelly banished and most of the time you can continue to enjoy eating all your usual favourite treats – so you really can have that slice of cake on the Friday afternoon bakery run or indulge in that cheese toastie on Saturday morning.

So how does it work? Five days out of seven you eat like a normal person, and on the other two days you reduce your calorie intake to one-quarter of what you usually need. That’s it.

The 5:2 is very simple and that’s a big part of its popularity and success, but a few rules – or signposts – will help make everything a bit more enjoyable and easy to slot seamlessly into your lifestyle:

1. Get organised. If you remember only one rule, then this should be it. No one wants to be caught out come 1.15 p.m. after a dull finance meeting that overran, hungry at the sandwich shop. In one moment of weakness, you can derail your whole day. So PLAN AHEAD. Know exactly what you will be eating and when, so you don’t find yourself running through various food options and getting even hungrier while you work out how many calories your favourite sushi box has.

2. Make sure you have the right tools for the task. Getting organised also means investing in all the right kit – you don’t need a lot, but make sure you have a good set of scales to weigh things out so you get exactly the right number of calories, and also decent lunchboxes and soup flasks so you can take your meals with you.

3. Don’t eat depressing food.
As I’ve already mentioned, just because you are eating fewer calories, does not mean you should be wasting those calories on flavourless, soulless foods. Make each calorie work hard to earn its place. If you enjoy eating, then you should also enjoy eating on your fast days. Don’t suddenly stop eating real foods.

4. Figure out what works for you.
And by this I mean how you spread your calories throughout the day and what days are best for fasting. Give a few options a try: maybe you can get by on only a small lunch and save most of your calories for dinner time, or maybe you really need a solid meal in the middle of the day, but can have a snack in the evening. Maybe Tuesday is a busy day when you’re on your feet until you collapse on the sofa at 8 p.m.; if so, it’s probably not the best day to reduce what you eat. Make the diet fit into your lifestyle, not the other way round.

5. Don’t blow all the good work on non-fast days. One of the huge and lasting benefits of all those fast days is that you will become much more aware of when you are actually hungry even on non-fast days, instead of when you just fancy a snack or think it might be a good idea to have just a little bite to eat while you wait for dinner to cook. Having said that, one of the very best things about the 5:2 is that you know the next day you can eat what you want. Except that, if what you want is a family-sized pizza with extra cheese, then you won’t be seeing the weight loss you hoped for. Just be sensible – you know what you should be eating.

6. Avoid the oil. As soon as you start getting out the pans, you’ll probably also be thinking about using oils or other fats to cook with. When you’re making meals on the 5:2, piling up fresh ingredients is your best bet. But when you do cook – because sometimes you really need a hot meal – then steaming is the most obvious choice. (You can use a steamer, or make little foil parcels with a splash of some kind of liquid in the oven.) You’ll also find some of the recipes in the Fast Days book ‘fry’ things in water. Obviously this is not the most delicious way of cooking your onions, but if those ‘fried’ onions are part of a stew or larger dish that is packed with other delicious flavours, then you really won’t notice – well, certainly not enough to make it worth blowing a whopping 120 calories per tablespoon of olive oil. Occasionally it makes sense to commit a few kitchen crimes.

7. Learn what ingredients give you more bang for your culinary buck.
As you increase your intake of fresh vegetables, think about reducing your refined carbs, which as we all know cause blood-sugar spikes and ultimately leave you feeling hungry and tired again sooner. Opt for slow-release carbs, wholegrains, and lean proteins. It’s also important to think about how to balance what’s on your plate. So, as well as the above, aim for an interesting mix of textures – something smooth with something crunchy; a combination of flavours to keep your taste buds interested – and think about using lots of low-cal fresh herbs instead of regular salad leaves, adding a bit of chopped chilli or a grating of fresh ginger or lime zest to give you a flavour boost.

8. Stock up your store cupboard. As we know, being unprepared is not a 5:2 dieter’s friend. So that you are never caught hungry, keep some essentials on standby. Think strong flavours with few calories that you can add to most dishes to quickly boost their flavour profile.

9. Get to know your calories. This one is a bit boring, but once you have a rough idea of what’s what, then you will be well on your way to constructing your own diet day meals and will know in a flash what you should avoid and what you can add more of. Read the backs of packets and use online resources so you start to understand where those calories add up. Know what a teaspoon and tablespoon of those ingredients you use a lot of contain so you don’t have to keep looking them up.

10. Plan long term. Batch cook, freeze and make ahead.
These are all helpful when you’re dieting so you don’t find yourself wandering the supermarket aisles on the way home from work eyeing up the 2-4-1 deals on ice cream. Make sure you have all the right storage equipment and portion everything out carefully – and label and date them. There’s nothing worse than defrosting a mystery block of something to discover that it’s cherry pie filling and not a spicy tomato sauce.

There are loads of yummy recipes and helpful 5:2 tips in The Fast Days Cookbook - available from 29th December 2016 where all good books are sold. More info here.

And stay tuned throughout January as we share some of Laura’s delicious low-calorie recipes on our News & Events page.