Besides weight loss, the 5:2 diet may even help lower your blood sugar and cholesterol.

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Intermittent fasting is one of the most popular diets for weight loss right now. ICYMI is when you alternate between fasting and eating regularly. With so many iterations like the 16:8 scheme, you can really choose the one that’s best for you and your lifestyle. Another method you may have heard of is the 5:2 diet. It lets you eat whatever you want for five days a week, but you have to limit your intake the other two days.

To be more specific, you eat about 25% of what you usually 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 will likely need higher amounts,” says Roxana Ehsani, RD, LDN, registered dietician in Miami , in Florida. Based on these numbers, that would translate to consuming 400-600 calories on fasting days.

And for the other five days of the week, you do your normal thing. The idea is that you end up consuming fewer calories overall by following the 5:2 diet.

Technically, you can eat whatever you want to get those calories, but the Diet Book 5:2 recommends filling up on vegetables, along with small portions of lean meat, fish, and eggs. And the soups! Low-calorie soups (which tend to be filling) are excellent.

Meet the experts: Roxana Ehsani, RD, is national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She regularly appears on morning shows in Baltimore and Washington, DC. Previously, she served as the Sports Performance Dietitian for Georgetown University Division I Athletics Department.

Katherine Brooking, RD, is a recognized nutrition expert and was named one of the “Top 50 Influencers” at Expo West, a major natural food trade show. She is also co-author of The Real Skinny: Appetite for Health’s 101 Fat Habits and Slim Solutions.

Will the 5:2 diet really help you lose weight?

Probably – there’s a fair amount of research to back it up.

Healthy weight loss should be around one to two pounds per week, which generally equates to a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories per week (or a reduction of 500 calories per day),” says Ehsani. “So if you were to follow the 5:2 Diet, you’d probably hit that 3,500 calorie deficit per week by following very few calories on two of those seven days of the week.”

A study in the journal Cell search found that intermittent fasting can help you lose weight, speed up your metabolism, and burn fat more efficiently (though, caveat: the research was done on mice). A 2021 study published in PLOS ONE found that people who followed the 5:2 diet lost roughly the same amount of body weight over the course of a year as those who used the traditional approach to the diet, or five percent of their body weight. However, the study also indicated that participants who followed the 5:2 diet had a more positive view of their experience than those who followed the traditional diet.

Most people should lose weight in one to three weeks on the 5:2 diet.

Whether this is a good long-term weight loss plan ultimately comes down to your personality. Some people find that fasting a few days a week is totally sustainable, says New York-based nutritionist Katherine Brooking, RD. But others aren’t okay with eating just 500 calories a day for two days a week, or they may overcompensate on “normal” days by eating more than usual. “It really depends on the person,” she says.

Does the 5:2 diet have any other health benefits?

Besides weight loss, the 5:2 diet also has other major health and nutrition benefits.

It may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease. An animal study published in Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience found that intermittent fasting protected mice against the development of 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 definitely reduce your risk of developing heart disease and certain types of cancer.

It can help you eat more fruits and vegetables. “On days when someone is fasting, you might be looking for more low-calorie foods to eat,” Ehsani says. “Therefore, you may be able to eat more fruits and vegetables and follow your daily recommendations as these are our lowest calorie foods.”

This can help your blood sugar values. Several studies have shown that fasting benefits people’s blood sugar levels because it can help normalize fasting blood sugar levels and lower your hemoglobin A1c. “It can help someone with diabetes or pre-diabetes better manage their fasting and average blood glucose values,” says Ehsani. “But, one caveat: if you are diabetic or pre-diabetic, you are also at higher risk for drops in blood sugar (called hypoglycemia), especially on fasting days. So be careful and monitor your blood sugar carefully throughout the day. “

It can improve cholesterol levels. Some people who followed this diet in a 2015 study in Nutrition advice after 12 weeks, he found that it improved some of their markers of heart health, lowering both their triglycerides and their LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol).

So, is the 5:2 diet safe to follow?

It depends. “If you were looking to follow this method of fasting, 500 calories is enough low and essentially equivalent to 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 calories, she says.

The 5:2 diet is best for people who already have healthy eating habits, Brooking notes, adding that if you have a history of bulimia or restricting your food intake, you should skip this one. Ditto if you suffer from migraines (skipping meals can trigger headaches) or if you tend to exercise, as you may not be consuming enough calories to fuel your workouts.

And while it’s okay to put your fasting days back to back, you shouldn’t do more than two days in a row. (Note: Most people find it easier to spread their fasting days throughout the week, but you can do them when it suits you.)

What is the difference between Fast 800 and the 5:2 diet?

These diets are quite different. Specifically, the Fast 800 involves more restriction. “The Fast 800 is where you follow an 800 calorie diet for at least two weeks or more depending on your weight loss goals,” says Ehsani. “Once you get close to your target goal, you eat 800 calories over two days a week, and follow the mediterranean diet other days of the week.”

Not only is the Fast 800 more difficult, but it is more restrictive at the start. “It also promotes rapid weight loss, which is never lasting weight loss,” she says. “I would say the 5:2 diet is probably easier to follow and stick to in the long run than the Fast 800.”

The bottom line: The 5:2 diet might be good to try if you want to lose weight. But it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor to make sure there aren’t any potential issues with your trial.

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