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Home arrow Nutrition arrow Intermittent Fasting arrow The 5:2 Diet: What Is It, and How Does It Work?

The 5:2 Diet: What Is It, and How Does It Work?

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: October 17, 2023
8 min read 1555 Views 0 Comments
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The 5:2 diet is a calorie-restricted intermittent fasting method that is considered an effective tool for weight loss. Find out how it can help you lose weight and improve your overall health here.

5:2 diet

Intermittent fasting (IF) is a method of time-restricted eating that has been shown to promote weight loss. There are several different methods of this eating pattern, but all include periods of prolonged fasting with shortened eating windows.

The 5:2 diet is a method of IF and is one of the only types of this diet that imposes a calorie restriction. This method involves eating a normal calorie intake on five non-fasting days while significantly restricting calories on two non-consecutive fasting days a week.

This method can help you lose weight and comes with a long list of other health benefits too.

In this article, we are going to explore the 5:2 diet plan further, looking at what it is, how you can apply it, what you can and cannot eat, and what the benefits of this diet are. Keep reading to learn more.

What Is the 5:2 Diet?

The 5:2 diet plan is a calorie-restricted method of intermittent fasting. It involves fasting for two non-consecutive days while eating normally for the other five. Unlike other methods of IF, you may eat a small number of calories on fasting days.

For women, the fasting day calorie limit is 500 calories, and for men, it is 600 calories.

The 5:2 method is favored by those with busier lives and more hectic social calendars as it allows for regular eating the majority of the week with specific days selected for detox. It can be fitted easily around a busy schedule.

How to Do the 5:2 Fasting for Weight Loss

The 5:2 method requires a little more planning than other methods of IF, and it is best to be organized. Below are a few ways you can successfully lose weight on the 5:2 diet.

#1 Plan ahead

Planning the days of the week you will be fasting will keep you on track. By planning, you can organize your social and work obligations around days when you will be eating at a reduced caloric intake.

Eating at such a reduced-calorie rate can be hard on your body, and so you need to ensure you’re eating enough nutrient-dense foods to sustain it through these fasting days.

You should thoroughly plan the meals you will eat on your fasting days. Some people choose to eat their 500/600 calories in one sitting, whereas others choose to split them into two meals, having a small breakfast and lunch each day.

Whatever choice you select, knowing what meal you’re going to eat and how many calories it contains can help you remain on track. 500 calories is a small number of calories, and you will likely reach this limit much sooner than you think.

You should also plan the first meal you will have after a fasting day to ensure it is gentle on the digestive system. You need to begin with small meals before moving to meals of a more generous portion.

#2 Use an intermittent fasting app

With the popularity of the intermittent fasting method of weight loss, a range of apps are designed to support you on your fasting journey.

The DoFasting app is a great option if you want guidance through the 5:2 diet. It can provide you with a variety of healthy recipes suitable for both the fasting days where you eat fewer calories and your normal eating days.

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The app also lists hundreds of workout routines suitable for a range of fitness levels and can be done at home to try while you follow this eating plan. It also offers motivational boosts and space for support within a flourishing online community.

DoFasting’s app allows for the personalization of your fasting regimen and can be catered to a range of dietary restrictions, too, making intermittent fasting accessible to everyone.

#3 Have a goal

Having a weight loss goal can make the days when you have to carefully count calories feel worth it. With something to aim for, you are more likely to feel motivated to stay on track.

Your target weight must be realistic and healthy. Set goals you know you will be able to achieve, and don’t push yourself too hard.

A good way to set your first target weight is to aim to lose 5% of your overall body weight. So, if you weigh 140lb, you would aim to lose 14lb.

Remember that healthy weight loss is between 1–2lb per week, and anything more is considered rapid weight loss and can be dangerous for your health.

Benefits of the 5:2 Diet

The 5:2 diet, like all intermittent fasting plans, is known for its health benefits that include weight loss, reduced risk of chronic illnesses, and increased autophagy. Below we have summarized some of the top benefits of the 5:2 diet.

#1 Weight loss

For most people, weight loss is the main goal of the 5:2 diet, and it promotes weight loss in a few ways.

Firstly, the diet imposes a restriction on your calorie intake for two days each week. This restriction means you take in fewer calories than you burn off, creating a caloric deficit. A calorie deficit is integral for weight management.

The 5:2 diet may also boost your metabolic rate. With an increase in metabolism, the body begins to use energy more quickly, meaning you burn off calories at a faster rate.

Lastly, the fasting days of the week induce a metabolic state called ketosis. This state pushes the body to burn stored fat for fuel instead of blood sugar, promoting fat loss. Fasting for at least 10–12 hours is thought to induce this state.

Losing weight comes with many benefits, including an improvement in heart health, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and general well-being.

#2 Reduced risk of chronic diseases

The 5:2 diet is thought to reduce your risk of developing a chronic disease.

This IF method is known to promote cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels and reducing blood pressure. This can help prevent the development of a range of cardiovascular conditions, including heart disease and stroke.

The diet may reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes too. IF dieting methods are thought useful in blood sugar regulation and increasing insulin sensitivity. Insulin resistance is linked to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, so preventing it may reduce your risk of developing these conditions.

Intermittent fasting is also thought to boost metabolic health. Good metabolic health can reduce your risks of a range of chronic illnesses.

#3 Increased lifespan

Autophagy is the process by which the body’s cells recycle themselves into new, healthier ones. A reduction in the rate of autophagy can be linked to age-related health conditions, neurodegeneration, and heart disease. It also has an important role in our lifespan.

Short-term fasting is thought to be one of the best ways to induce autophagy in cells as the time spent fasting and eating much less allows the body time to heal and repair itself. The 5:2 method can therefore be linked to an increased lifespan.

#4 Improved cognitive function

Though peer-reviewed studies are limited at present, there is evidence to suggest that the 5:2 IF method can improve cognitive function and protect the brain against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

There is also preliminary research from wellness professionals that suggests that fasting has a positive effect on mental health too. It is thought to alleviate stress and anxiety as well as reduce the symptoms of depression.

What to Eat on the 5:2 Diet

The 5:2 diet involves days when you may eat normally and those when you must stick to a daily calorie restriction. On the days when you can eat normally, it is advised that you continue to eat a healthy and balanced diet.

Good, nutrient-dense foods to consume during the 5:2 method include:

  • Vegetables, especially leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens
  • Fruits
  • Slow carbs, like whole grains, nuts and seeds, peas, beans, and legumes
  • High-fiber foods
  • Protein-rich food, like tofu, lean meat, and fish
  • Healthy fats, like those found in nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, and avocados

On the days when you adhere to a reduced caloric intake, it is important you eat from as many of the food groups as possible to avoid developing nutrient deficiencies or low blood sugar.

You can ensure you do not eat too many calories during your days of calorie restriction by using an app that tracks your food intake. You should also ensure you consume zero-calorie beverages, like water and herbal tea, on fasting days to stay hydrated.

Foods to Avoid on the 5:2 Diet

While there are many foods you can consume on this intermittent fasting method, there are also some you should totally avoid. These foods tend to be calorie-dense but nutrient-poor and offer little in the way of nourishment.

Eating them may cause you to still feel hungry, leading you to overeat and potentially gain weight.

Foods to avoid include:

  • Sugary beverages, like soda, other fizzy drinks, and sweetened tea and coffee
  • Sugary foods, like candy
  • White bread and other foods that use refined carbohydrates
  • Overly-processed foods
  • Fast food

Though you should avoid these empty-calorie foods, you can technically eat what you want on the 5:2 method, as long as you maintain the recommended calorie restriction. However, if you wish to lose weight, avoiding these foods is a good idea.

Is This Diet Safe?

Intermittent fasting comes with many overall health benefits, but there are also some risks involved, and the 5:2 method is no different.

The 5:2 diet may cause a disordered eating pattern and binge eating due to the long periods with very few calories. This could lead to the development of an eating disorder. It is for this reason that the 5:2 method is considered unsafe for anyone with a history of eating disorders.

There may be some side effects on fasting days, including irritability, hunger cravings, headaches, nausea, and sleepiness. Most people find that these negative side effects reduce in frequency the longer they follow an intermittent fasting diet.

The 5:2 method also comes with some risks of nutritional deficiency due to the extreme calorie restriction on fasting days. This can be overcome by ensuring you eat nutrient-rich foods on these days and planning meals ahead of time.

A Word From Nutritionist

The 5:2 diet plan is a form of intermittent fasting and is an effective tool used to lose weight. It is one of the only methods of intermittent fasting that restricts calorie intake.

Throughout the diet, it is recommended that you eat whole and healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein-rich foods, and healthy fats. You should also avoid processed and refined foods which cannot offer you proper nutrition.

The 5:2 method is a good option for those with busier lives as you can fit fasting days around social and work commitments. It allows for flexibility but does require some planning to ensure you are getting all of the nutrients that you need.

The diet comes with some risks, including extreme hunger, nausea, sleepiness, headaches, and irritability, but most of these side effects will go away after a few weeks of the diet.

The diet is not suitable for people with conditions that would be exacerbated by fasting, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and anyone with a history of eating disorders. For everyone else, the diet is considered a good and healthy way to lose weight.

Speak with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian if you are concerned about anything before beginning any of the intermittent fasting diets.


The 5:2 fast diet is an effective method of reducing body weight. It involves fasting days where you restrict calories and non-fasting days when normal eating is allowed.

The method has shown significant benefits for health and is a good fit for those with busy schedules.

If the 5:2 method feels like too much of a challenge, try other intermittent fasting diets first, like the 12-hour fast, the 18:6 method, or the Warrior Diet.

Whatever method you choose, the DoFasting app can support you in your progress. With guidance from clinical nutrition professionals, healthy recipes, and workout routines suitable for intermittent fasting diets, this app is a great tool for beginners to fasting.

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
The article was fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: October 17, 2023
8 min read 1555 Views 0 Comments

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