The 5:2 Diet Guide: How It Works + Meal Ideas To Try Out

Intermittent fasting diets have become particularly popular, with quite a number of variations and approaches to controlling when you eat and when you fast or restrict.

The 5:2 diet is a specific dietary approach to an intermittent fasting diet. It involves restricting your caloric intake two days a week and following a normal diet on the other five days.

In this article, we will discuss the basics of the 5:2 diet, how to follow the 5:2 diet, and sample 5:2 diet meal ideas.

We will cover: 

  • What Is the 5:2 Diet?
  • How to Do the 5:2 Diet
  • Sample 5:2 Diet Meal Ideas

Let’s get started!

A variety of vegetables and a diet plan.

What Is the 5:2 Diet?

The 5:2 diet, which is also known as the Fast Diet, the 5&2 diet, or the 5/2 diet, is a popular iteration of an intermittent fasting diet popularized by UK journalist Michael Mosley.

The 5:2 diet is so named because it involves following your regular diet and caloric intake for five days of the week and then severely restricting calories (to 500–600 per day) the other two days of the week.

Like other versions of intermittent fasting, such as alternate day fasting or 18/6 intermittent fasting, the 5:2 diet does not have specific stipulations about what you can eat. Differentiating itself from some of the time-based restricted-eating intermittent fasting diets, there aren’t necessarily defined windows of time in a day that you have to consume your calories. 

Rather, more along the lines of alternate day fasting, the 5:2 diet involves restricting the total number of calories you eat during two days of the week. Again, how you consume these calories—your food choices—are not dictated by the diet; it’s up to you what you eat when following the 5/2 diet.

For this reason, some people consider the 5&2 diet to be more of a lifestyle change than a weight loss diet, as to qualify as a “diet,” many nutrition professionals say that there needs to be specific foods to eat or avoid. With that said, as a dietary approach, the 5:2 diet is generally adopted as a way to lose weight.

Additionally, many people who try out the 5:2 diet find the inherent flexibility in what you can and cannot eat improves the adherence to the diet. Because no foods are “off-limits,“ dieters don’t have to abstain from eating their favorite foods as long as they can stick within the daily calorie limits on the low-calorie days.

A scale with a post-it that says lose weight.

How to Do the 5:2 Diet

Following the 5:2 diet is extremely simple in theory.

All you have to do is eat normally for five days in the week without the need to restrict your calories. During the other two days in the week, you are to reduce your daily caloric intake to one-quarter of your energy needs, which is simplified to be 500 calories per day for women and 600 calories a day for men. 

Although most people following the 5:2 diet stick with the 500- or 600-calorie limit based on their sex, some people do choose to be more precise with these values if they know their actual total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), particularly if their daily caloric needs vary significantly from these general guidelines.

The only rule governing which days you choose to fast and which days are your normal eating days is that your two fasting days cannot be consecutive. You have to have at least one non-fasting day in between the two caloric restriction days.

For example, you might eat normally on Monday and Tuesday and then restrict calories on Wednesday. You would then need to eat normally on Thursday, with the option to restrict again on either Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.

It’s important to note that eating “normally“ during the five regular eating days per week should involve trying to eat the same number of calories that you are burning in a day. In other words, if you are trying to lose weight through the 5:2 diet, you don’t want these to be massive binging days where you overconsume calories beyond your daily energy expenditure.

Moreover, although the 5:2 diet does not put stipulations on what you can and cannot eat, to maximize the effectiveness of your weight loss and to optimize your health, you should really be focusing on high-quality, nutrient-dense foods in a balanced diet.

The words balanced diet and a variety of foods.

Although you might be able to meet your daily caloric intake with processed foods like refined grains, sweets and pastries, fried foods, and sweetened beverages, you are going to have a lot more success and feel much better if you are eating whole, natural foods such as vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, whole grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, eggs, and low-fat dairy.

On the 500 to 600-calorie-restricted days, you are still allowed to eat anything you want as long as it fits within these targets. 

You can also choose when and how often you eat. Some people opt to follow the OMAD (one meal a day) diet approach, concentrating the entire 500 or 600 calories into a single meal, while other people choose to eat 2 to 3 very small meals spread out during the day.

One approach isn’t necessarily “better“ than the other, but it depends on your preferences, lifestyle, weight loss, and health goals.

If you are looking to increase your exposure to insulin and potentially improve insulin sensitivity and increase autophagy (cellular clean-up of dead and dying cells and debris), fasting for most of the day and then just eating one meal may be a more effective approach to achieving your goals.

However, if you want to keep your blood sugar levels more balanced, optimize your energy levels and potential to exercise, and want to keep your normal eating schedule, dividing the minimum number of calories across a couple of meals can be more comfortable and effective.

It is often best to experiment and see what feels best for your body. Some people feel very tired, lightheaded, headachy, moody, and unfocused when trying to eat only one meal a day.

A bowl of greek yogurt with berries.

Sample 5:2 Diet Meal Ideas

Most people need a few 5:2 diet meal ideas for the low-calorie days, particularly when they first decide to try the diet.

Budgeting your caloric intake on low-calorie days can be tricky, especially at first. It is best to focus on filling foods that are nutritionally dense but not calorically dense. 

This can include foods high in fiber, such as cruciferous vegetables, low-sugar fruits like berries and melon, and lean proteins, such as white fish, tuna fish in water, egg whites, and chicken or turkey breast.

Many dieters also find that soups can be a great option when they are restricting calories because the high liquid content makes soups feel more filling.

In fact, studies even suggest that eating soups increases the satiety of the food relative to just eating the same number of calories from the ingredients in the soup itself.

Avoid processed foods and foods with added sugar and fat, as these foods are higher in calories and not particularly filling.

Scrambled egg whites.

Here are some example 5:2 diet meal ideas:

5:2 Diet Breakfast Ideas

  • Egg white omelet with mushrooms, spinach, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and broccoli.
  • Scrambled egg whites with a side of wilted greens.
  • Melon and low-fat cottage cheese.
  • A smoothie or protein shake made with a scoop of lean protein powder, unsweetened almond milk, berries, and spinach.
  • Protein pancakes made with egg whites, banana, and unsweetened almond milk whipped together.

5:2 Diet Dinner or Lunch Ideas

  • Large green salad with all sorts of vegetables as well as a lean protein of choice, such as chicken breast, turkey breast, egg or egg whites, tofu, or garbanzo beans.
  • Vegetable soup, tomato soup, chicken soup with vegetables, miso soup, low-fat lentil, or split pea soup.
A bowl of soup.
  • Roasted or boiled chicken breast, white fish, or tofu over cauliflower rice with a large side of steamed vegetables.
  • Tuna fish in water or hummus eaten with a handful of whole-grain crackers or crudites such as baby carrots, celery sticks, cucumber sticks, and peppers.
  • Low-fat Greek yogurt with mixed berries.
  • Zoodles with ground turkey bolognese (or vegan sauce) and a large heaping of veggies.
  • Grilled fish with asparagus and cauliflower rice.
  • Bunless chicken or turkey burger (or tofu/seitan) wrapped in lettuce with veggies and sauerkraut.
  • Lentil salad with tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers.

Black coffee, herbal tea, water, seltzer, and green and black tea can also be enjoyed on restricted days.

You can also find more 5:2 diet meal ideas and supportive materials here.

Pouring a mug of black tea which is allowed of the 5:2 diet.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, and contributes to several fitness, health, and running websites and publications. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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