Tips for starting the The 5:2 (Fast) Diet

I’ve seen a few people around lately asking about what diets worked for people, and even specifically about the 5:2 diet, also known as The Fast Diet. So I thought I’d write a little piece about my experience with the diet and some tips to help you if you decide to try it.

I first heard about the diet in February 2013. I had just returned to work after having my first son, and I weighed about 200 pounds (just over 14 stone). For me, that was not a comfortable weight. At lunch one day, some of my colleagues started talking about this diet where you eat just 500 calories (600 if you’re a man) for 2 days of the week, and eat normally (2000 calories/day ideally) the rest of the time.

I thought it sounded like such a ridiculous fad diet, and possibly even dangerous. I also thought I would be extremely grumpy if I didn’t eat enough in a day, and possibly even wouldn’t be able to function.

And because this is the sort of person I am, I decided to read a book about the diet. Just so I could tell my colleagues that I read it and still think it’s rubbish. So I bought the Kindle version of The Fast Diet by Michael Mosley. He is the guy off of the TV show, Trust Me, I’m a Doctor, and one of the originators of the 5:2 craze. He tested out the science of intermittent fasting by doing it on himself, and the book lays out his findings.

It was utterly convincing. I gave the book to my husband – who is the biggest sceptic you could ever meet – and he thought it was great too. We decided to do it together.

It took me about 9 months to lose 20 pounds (about 1.5 stone) the first time I tried it. Then I got pregnant with my 2nd son and gained it all back. I started again when I stopped breastfeeding my 2nd, and again lost the 20 pounds. So the weight loss is slow, but that is what makes it sustainable. You will also see from the book that there are other reported health benefits, such as lowering your risk of cancer and diabetes.

I don’t have much in the way of before and after photos, as like a typical mum, I’m not in many of the pictures, especially full-length ones. But here I hope you can see the difference in my face, from April 2016 to now.

So I’ll let you read the book for yourself – it’s a quick read – but here are two lists from me. One with the pros and cons of the diet (and I think the pros far outweigh the cons), and another with a few tips for getting started.

Pros & cons of The Fast Diet

Pros

  • It works around your social life. You don’t have to be the one who can’t drink or have anything on the menu on your night out. Just plan your low-calorie days to work around your life. Ideally, they should be on non-consecutive days of the week, but it doesn’t really matter.
  • It doesn’t cost a lot of money. So many diets require subscriptions, or for you to attend groups or buy specialty foods. This diet isn’t trying to sell you anything (except maybe the recipe books, but they’re not necessary). We found that we even spend less money on food generally because we are eating less!
  • It can work around your family. You don’t need to eat a separate meal from everyone else. The diet works on the premise that in order to keep yourself feeling good on your low-cal days, you should eat mostly plants and protein. So a fast day meal might be some chicken and vegetables. This can easily be adapted for the rest of your family by adding some rice or potato. And, once again, it’s only twice a week – so it won’t really hurt the non-dieters to just eat the same as you.
  • It resets your eating habits. I found that it changed the way I ate even on my “normal” days. I’m less hungry all the time and my appetite is smaller. I don’t get ridiculously hungry between meals and mostly forget to snack! I’ve found it’s easier now to ask myself if I’m really hungry before I eat, rather than just bored or emotional.
  • It improves concentration. You might think that not eating will make you tired or cause you to have difficulty concentrating. But I (and many on the diet) have found that I concentrate better on my fast days.
  • It’s a diet for people who love food. I haven’t had to give up a single food that I love. I’m still allowed cake, chocolate and alcohol! It’s only 2 days/week that I restrain myself. And there are still delicious things to eat on those days, with just a bit of effort. Just don’t totally binge on your non-fast days.
  • You don’t have to obsess over counting points/calories/planning meals, etc. I’ve tried loads of other diets, like Weight Watchers, and if anything they made me more obsessed with food. Constantly counting calories and thinking about everything I put in my mouth is not for me! On this diet, I just plan 2 low-cal meals per day for 2 days per week.

Cons

  • It still requires willpower. I’m not going to lie. It’s not always easy when, for example, your neighbour drops by on a fast day with a beautiful piece of chocolate cake. Or when you’re having a really bad day. But just try and wait until tomorrow to indulge. And if your willpower fails, you can always fast on a different day!
  • It still requires planning. You do have to be careful about what you eat on fast days. You need to eat vegetables and protein in order to feel full. Crisps, chocolate or other junk food is going to use up your calories quickly and leave you starving.
  • The weight loss is slow. I only lose about 2 pounds per week. And some weeks nothing. It did take me about a year to lose those 20 pounds. But they say that the most sustainable weight loss is when you’ve lost it slowly.
  • Sometimes I feel cold or get a headache. The headache means I’m not drinking enough water. You get lots of your water from food, so you need to drink more if you’re eating less. I think the cold is just par for the course. Cardigans and hot tea seem to fix it!

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Tips for getting started and carrying on

Think about when you’re going to eat on fast days

Some people have breakfast and then eat again at dinner time. Some people starve all day and eat all their calories at dinner time. I like to eat lunch and dinner. I find it easy to skip breakfast, and actually that eating breakfast makes me more hungry over the day. So experiment and see what works for you. Also think about what fits into your lifestyle.

Think about when you’re going to fast

As I mentioned already, this is totally flexible and can be different from week to week. Just consider whether you find it easier doing some things than others. I find it difficult when I’m with my kids because they’re constantly eating, but if I’m working I just focus on that and forget about food.

Think about what you’re going to eat on fast days

It’s good to start out with a few meals planned. If you’re having 2 meals in the day, it’s probably best to have one 200-calorie one, and another 300-calorie one.

You can get lots of recipes for free on the internet by searching for 5:2 diet recipes or recipes with the calorie value you’re looking for. The Hairy Bikers do some good ones. I also highly recommend the Fast Diet cookbooks, The Fast Diet Recipe Book and The Fast Cook. There are loads of other books out there though.

Finally, it’s also worth noting that you can eat convenience food on fast days. If I’m at home, my lunch will usually be two eggs quickly scrambled with 1-calorie cooking spray and no milk. I stick some salt and chili sauce on top for a quick 200-cal lunch. There are many tinned soups that are 200 calories (Baxter’s Hearty have a few nice chunky ones). You can eat a pretty massive amount of salad with chicken or tuna on top for 200 calories. And you can even get diet microwave ready meals.

I also work in London two days per week and buy lunch out. Pret a Manger, Itsu and Crush all list the calories of their food in the shop so you can pick something appropriate. Pret’s Tuna Nicoise salad with a squeeze of lemon and salt is very filling and less than 200 calories. You can also check most food shop’s websites to see if they have any low-cal options.

Drinking is your friend

No, I don’t mean booze on this occasion (sorry). I mean keep yourself hydrated on your fast days. Keep a bottle of water with you. You can even use one of those fruit infuser things to keep it interesting. Sparkling water with a dash of lemon juice is a good option. You can drink unlimited coffee, tea and herbal tea, as long as you don’t add sugar. If you add milk, try to be sparing as this can rack up the calories. You can use artificial sweeteners if you really need sweetener, but it’s better not to.

If I’m really struggling on a fast day, I do give in and have a diet (zero calorie) soft drink. This is not encouraged but allowed. The sugary flavour really helps me feel fuller.

Get support

See if your partner or a friend will join you at least in eating a fast day meal even if they don’t fast all day. It will be good for them too and great to have support. I also recommend The Fast Diet website. It’s got forums where you can connect with other Fast Dieters and even track your progress if you want.

Be kind to yourself

I’m not going to lie. The first 2 weeks can be tough. But if you stick with it for that long, it will get easier. And if you have a bad week or are sick and can’t do it, this diet has absolutely no guilt. Just pick up fasting again when you’re ready.

Are you convinced?

I should mention that I’m not trying to sell you anything here. This is NOT a sponsored post and I have nothing to gain from you going on this diet. I just wanted to share what worked for me (and is still working, albeit slowly), after years of unsuccessfully searching. I hope you’ve found this useful, and if you have any questions, I’ll be happy to answer them in the comments.

Please note that this is not medical advice and you should check with a doctor before starting a new diet plan.

Life According to MrsShilts
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Losing the baby weight: Myths vs reality

Once you get pregnant, not only do people start telling you what is safe and unsafe to eat, they also keep reminding you not to “eat for two”. Well, sod that. If I can’t drink and I can’t eat the best cheese, if I’m sick, tired, hormonal and my boobs hurt, you know what I’m going to do? Eat cake. During both of my pregnancies, I ate cake and ice cream and mountains of curry, pizza and peri-peri chicken. And both times I did gain weight which took a lot of time to lose. Plus, I wasn’t exactly skinny to start with. But I don’t regret a single mouthful of sugary goodness, because pregnancy made me feel awful and the cake helped me cope. If you feel the same as me, then you should cake away. Tell any judgemental friends or family that someone on the internet (clearly an expert) said it was fine.

Once you have the baby, the health police stop banging on about how not to poison your baby and gain loads of weight, and start banging on about how to lose the baby weight. Luckily, these days celebrities are being a little more honest about how bloody difficult it is. But there are still countless articles trying to give you “realistic” tips about how to use the weight-loss tricks of celebrities. I’ll tell you how celebs lose baby weight. Two things:

  1. They have bottomless pits of money to hire personal trainers and diet chefs and nannies to look after their babies all night.
  2. It’s their job to lose the weight.

So I’m here to tell you a real person’s view on losing baby weight. I think there are loads of myths about losing the baby weight that are propagated even by our well-meaning friends and family. These conspire to make new mums feel worse about their shape. And the worse you feel, the harder it is to make the changes you want to make. So here are my biggest baby weight-loss myths and some tips (from my humble experience) to help you actually lose the weight in real life (if you want to).

Biggest baby-weight loss myths

“9 months on and 9 months off”

This one has a good intention behind it, implying that it takes as long to lose the weight as it does to gain it. But in my experience, 9 months is not long enough. It took me the best part of 2 years to lose the baby weight after my first, and I’m still working on the weight gained from my 22-month old. The problem is, raising babies is hard work. It’s physical, emotional, mentally straining and you don’t get much sleep. These factors combine to make you reach for the nearest chocolate-y sugary fatty-fat-food full of energy to help you get through another day. You might not have time to cook proper meals or if you do cook them, you may never eat them. My first son used to cry like clockwork whenever I sat down for a proper meal. As a result I used to eat like I’d been stranded on a desert island living on coconut water for the last year.

“Breastfeeding helps you lose the baby weight”

This is a big one that they like to roll out in those wonderful guilt-trip pamphlets and signs as displayed in hospital and given you by health visitors. Now, as I’ve explained in my breastfeeding story, I was only able to achieve mixed-feeding with both of my children. So perhaps that is why breastfeeding didn’t do jack for helping me lose weight. But whether or not your baby is fully, partially, or not-at-all breastfed, don’t feel bad if it has no correlation to you losing weight. Breastfeeding makes you produce all sorts of hormones that you don’t normally produce. Plus, if you’re on the pill, there are only certain pills you can take when you’re breastfeeding and one of the side effects of progesterone-only pills is weight gain. I have never been able to achieve any significant weight loss until I’ve stopped breastfeeding.

“Just eat a bit less”

Someone actually said this to me when my baby was only 3 months old. I was tucking into a fairly modest plate of pasta and he’s all like, “maybe you should have a smaller portion?”. Pfffft. I had my stomach cut open 3 months ago. I was up all freaking night with a baby hanging off my boob. You try it and see if you want to eat less sodding pasta.

“Try some postnatal fitness classes”

I actually highly recommend these. But not because they will necessarily help you lose weight. They might, or they might not. I did baby yoga with both children, walked miles and miles pushing buggies around, and tried some more difficult mum fit classes too. None of these resulted in weight loss (any calories burned were replaced with sleep-deprived-chocolate-binges). However, the exercise improved my mood and I met other mums for potential friendship/coffee drinking/joint chocolate binges. The baby yoga was also a lovely way to bond with my baby.

“You can get back to jogging 6 months after birth”

Maybe if you are Jessica Ennis-Hill or Paula Radcliffe. My dabbling in running before both of my children was not fortifying enough to get back to it easily. I tried to start jogging again when my youngest was 6 months old. It lasted for about a week before I put my back out and caught the latest virus that was going round Eldest’s preschool. Get back to your usual exercise when you’re ready, but don’t feel bad if it doesn’t work out, because babies are hard work. You will eventually be able to resume (vaguely) normal service.

“You have to lose the baby weight”

You may actually be comfortable in your skin post-baby just the way you are. If you are, then chill. Don’t let anyone tell you what your body should look like. The way you feel is the only thing that matters.

Things that helped me lose baby weight

What works for me might not work for you, but I’m going to tell you anyway in case it does.

Finding the right diet

When you’re ready to watch your diet, that is. Based on my experience, I wouldn’t recommend dieting before baby is at least 9 months old, sleeping well at night, and until you’ve stopped breastfeeding.

There is no magic bullet for dieting, but what I’ve found is that each person can find something that works for them. I’ve had friends who’ve lost the weight and kept it off successfully with Weight Watchers, the South Beach diet and Slimming World. But for me, it was The Fast Diet. Even before I had kids, I could never stick to any sort of diet or even so-called “just eating healthy”. But The Fast Diet, also known as 5:2 or intermittent fasting, has been a miracle for me. You limit your calories to 500/day for just 2 days a week and eat reasonably (i.e. whatever you want without totally bingeing) the rest of the time. After both children I’ve lost around 2 stone (24 lbs) with this diet, after never being successful with any other. It sounds crazy but if you read the book it makes sense, and there are loads of other health benefits from fasting. It’s made me crave healthier foods. I’m currently obsessed with avocado, and that’s a phrase I never thought I’d say.

Finding a realistic exercise programme that fits into mum life

The only thing that has worked for me for getting fit and keeping fit is the Couch to 5K programme. It’s a running programme where you gradually work up, through interval training, from being a “couch potato” to being able to run 5K. It seriously works, no matter how unfit you are. It helped me get over a dislike of running. And it’s a great solution for a mum, because you can do it any time and with no special equipment. However, you may find something else is your thing. The biggest thing is to remember is that any exercise is good. Even if you aren’t consistent, one gym session a month is better than none.

Getting your brain on your side

I’ve found that I’m enjoying my exercise sessions more lately and I think it’s due to things that I’ve changed in my life that keep my mind busy while I’m exercising. In the past, I found exercise so boring! But since I’ve started blogging, I’m coming up with post ideas in my head the whole time I’m running and the time flies by. I forget I’m running. I’ve also subscribed to a music streaming service, and it’s really helped to always have fresh, new music to listen to. It’s also helped me to set a goal/reward to look forward to. For me, I’m hoping to look and feel awesome in time for my 20-year highschool reunion next summer.

Enlist support from your family

If your partner resents the time you spend exercising, or hates the food you cook on your diet, you are not going to succeed. Talk to your partner and explain how important it is to have his/her support. Support your partner’s diet and fitness goals as well, and see where you can cooperate in meal planning and family scheduling. If you have older children, you can also get them to join in on your exercise. My 4yo loves a bit of stretching or calisthenics.

Accept setbacks

Being a mum is a bloody hard job. If your child gets sick, or you get sick, or you have another life emergency, or a bereavement, or you get injured during your exercise efforts (I’ve had a hundred bad back or twisted ankle incidents), you might end up having to take a break from diet and exercise. Try not to let it get you down. It’s real life. As long as you keep trying whenever you realistically can, you’re doing great.

As for me, I’m doing okay. My youngest is not yet two, and I have about 5 more pounds of baby weight to lose. Then I can tackle what I like to call my “beer and burrito” weight.

Are you eager to lose the baby weight or are you happy just how you are? Do you have any weight loss and fitness tips you’d like to share?

Cuddle Fairy
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