Fast twice a week. Eat regularly the rest.

That is the essence of the 5:2 diet and why it has gained widespread popularity in recent years.

One of the attractions of this diet is that it breaks the traditional model of dieting where you have to be conscious of everything you eat, all of the time. Counting every calorie or avoiding weight gaining food can be quite wearing, so for those choosing to adopt the 5:2 diet for the first time, this change of tack can have a positive mental effect. Being able to eat the food you enjoy without suffering guilt for five days per week helps to build morale for the two days of fasting. This approach becomes a realistic and manageable way of life that avoids the feeling of deprivation that most diets are based on. After all, a diet that is more enjoyable is more likely to achieve long term success.

So how does it work?

On fasting days you consume a quarter of the calories you would eat on a regular day, so that equates to 500 calories for women and 600 for men. The type of food consumed is not restricted and it is expected that women lose one pound (roughly half a kilo) a week and men the same if not a little more.

Simple this may seem, yet fasting twice a week requires some discipline. Fasting clearly can effect concentration and energy levels whist some can suffer headaches and dizziness so it is important to take this into consideration from the outset. Also the idea of eating whatever you like on non-fasting days would seem counterproductive if it was just chips and ice-cream so eating well on these days is important. Consuming plenty of water with nutritious food such as fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and dairy foods will set you up not only for a successful diet but a healthier lifestyle.

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding or a diabetic on medication it is important to seek medical advice before attempting this or any other method of weight loss. In addition, all forms of dieting should be avoided by teenagers and children as important nutrients will likely be missed and are needed for growth. There is also a risk involved of developing unhealthy eating habits.

Even if you do not fall into the above categories, a general health check by your GP before dieting is recommended in order to preclude certain health conditions such as diabetes or high cholesterol which may further influence which types of food should either be avoided or consumed. For example avoiding fatty foods for those with high cholesterol. After all weight is only one facet of health and wellbeing.

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