Help me pseudo-fast
January 23, 2013 6:41 AM   Subscribe

Have you tried the 5:2 diet as discussed in this Metafilter thread? Did it work for you? Do you find it sustainable?

I'm looking to lose about 10 lbs (these would be the fabled last 10 lbs, so difficult to lose) and in general be healthier. I already eat pretty well and exercise, but it seems like going without food for a little while a couple of days a week would be a good thing.

I'm wondering if you've tried the diet and found it helpful or not. How did you deal with hunger? (or was it not a problem?) Any other side effects? Did it help you lose weight, if that was its intended purpose? Would you recommend it to others?

Looks like the video of the original BBC documentary linked to in the Metafilter thread has been removed, so here are a few other links covering the diet:
posted by silly me to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 97 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Yup. I've been intermittently fasting now for about three months. The fast days were hard at first but they got easier, especially when I remember that the hunger passes. When it's really tough I'll pop a piece of sugarless gum in my mouth. Hunger pangs won't kill you and you really can wait them out.

In terms of weight loss, I had already lost about ten pounds before beginning IF and I've lost another 15 or so since then. It's not quick weight loss but every week or so, I've dropped another pound.

IF has sort of reset my relationship to food. Even on feed days I'm less likely to eat because it's lunchtime or because I'm bored. I feel much more connected to what actual hunger feels like. Unless something radically changes my lifestyle or schedule, I expect to continue with IF indefinitely.
posted by workerant at 7:11 AM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Yup. I read about it on MetaFilter, got inspired, and I tried it from August 2012 - December 2012. In late December I switched to doing 6:1 because I didn't want my weight to drop further.

1. I lost 14-ish pounds. I lost 1 pound a week, more or less. My BMI went from almost 23 to about 20.5. That wasn't actually the reason I started the 5:2 diet, though. I was more interested in the power of feelings of hunger, and I feel I learned a lot about that. I also feel as though I am a lot more free to make healthy choices than I was previously - the feeling of hunger doesn't come with the same feeling of subconscious urgency that it used to, and I'm grateful for that.

However, in the interest of telling the whole truth: I'm really happy with the weight loss. I think my weight is perfect right now and I feel more confident than I ever have about my appearance. It is also really reassuring to know that this is a method of caloric restriction that I absolutely can do, and which isn't really all that difficult.

2. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. The first fast day was the hardest, and there were a few others that were unexpectedly frustrating (don't know why), but even at its worst it wasn't that uncomfortable.

3. After trying out a few schemes, I ended up choosing to eat nothing for breakfast or lunch on fast days, and then have a relatively normal supper at around 5:30 (450 calories). I found this less frustrating than having a very small meal earlier in the day.

4. I have never had any issues with low blood sugar. I don't feel anything in particular, other than hungry, when I haven't eaten, which I suspect made me a good candidate for the experiment. I never really suffered in any way. Sometimes on fast days I would find myself daydreaming a lot about tasty food, which was frustrating, but only if I wasn't very busy at work. On busy days, I would just completely forget about it.

5. Exercising moderately (jogging, biking, not-too-strenuous swimming, certainly long walks) on fast days was just fine for me. I did once try to run 5 miles at a speed that was pushing it (for me) and I totally ran out of energy.

6. I feel better now, overall, than I did when I started. I don't know whether this has anything to do with 5:2 fasting because there have been other changes in my life, but it certainly could be related. I didn't test any of my metrics (blood sugar, blood pressure, etc.) right before starting but none of them were abnormal to begin with.

7. I would definitely recommend to people who feel healthy while fasting. Mild hunger is somewhat uncomfortable (I think the discomfort is 10% physical, 90% psychological), but it is definitely manageable. Also, it's very important to know that hunger doesn't build constantly the longer you don't eat. It really does come and go.

8. It was a little annoying to have to fastidiously count calories on fast days - I've never measured food or counted calories for any other reason - but I got used to it. I made good use of a digital food scale. A few of my favorite things to eat on fast days were:
-sauteed cabbage. Very few calories, lots of flavor, easily dressed up with spices, and you don't need much oil at all (only a teaspoon) to cook it up nicely
-1 egg on 1 slice of whole wheat toast with 1 teaspoon of butter (200 calories) Lots of flavor, and I found it to be filling, hot comforting food.
-steamed sweet potato. Surprisingly low in calories especially compared with white potatoes, and quite filling.
-grapefruit and apples.
-steamed broccoli with soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil, which is very flavorful and you don't need much of it.
-salad with lots of lettuce, celery, carrots and bell peppers (extremely low calorie) and a bit of salad dressing. Normally I hate "lite" versions of anything, but Amy's "light" honey mustard dressing turns out to be fabulous.

On days when I really, really wanted an "extra little something" I would eat a teaspoon of peanut butter or a teaspoon of maple syrup.

9. If I found myself wanting to eat for reasons of boredom during the day, I either drank plain tea or tea sweetened with stevia, or chewed sugar-free gum.

10. The absolute best thing that has come of this experiment is that my ability to put down something half-eaten and just not finish it has dramatically improved. I don't think I've stuffed something down just because it was tasty, because it was there, because I felt guilty or for any other reason in months.
posted by Cygnet at 7:18 AM on January 23, 2013 [24 favorites]

Oh, and -

11. It's good for the wallet. 2 fewer lunches and breakfasts per week can really save some money, even if you normally bring food from home.

12. Caution: explaining this to others can be difficult. There were a few people who were really concerned that I had developed an eating disorder. They even managed to worry me and I second-guessed myself constantly for months. There were a few times I lied and told somebody I'd already eaten lunch so I wouldn't have to explain why I was skipping it because I thought they would freak out. I felt sleazy about that. But after months of this I can absolutely say I still love food, I have no desire to restrict myself further (and as mentioned, I'm now doing 6:1 to avoid further weight loss), and I definitely have not given myself an eating disorder.
posted by Cygnet at 7:24 AM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I fast from time to time for health and spiritual reasons.

In my experience, and I think most who fast would agree, it is something you have to build to. I don't recommend waking up one morning and deciding to eat nothing that day. I think it is better to gradually reduce your food intake in preparation. For example, eat one less meal than usual, then try two less meals, and so on.

Eventually, hunger subsides. There is definitely a feeling of, "yeah, I could eat something" but it is not the same as a sharp hunger pang.

If the discipline is kept, I think that it does alter one's relationship with food, as other commenters have discussed. For me, the benefit is to reduce my attachment to this world. For those with a purely secular approach, I think it definitely serves to treat the various attachments to food that we all seem to have.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:30 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

A word of caution: diets which involve periodic fasting or sub-1000-calorie days can be serious triggers for anyone with eating disorders. I wouldn't recommend 5:2 for anyone with a history of disordered eating.

A strict diet is not the same thing as an eating disorder, however; if it works for you and you maintain a healthy relationship with food and your body, go for it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:02 AM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I did it from September to Christmas and am starting up again this week. I lost about 8 lbs, and have had no problem maintaining it so far. I would like to lose about 10 more.

After the first few weeks where I tried to do the 500 calorie thing, I said screw it and just do water and green tea. I found that it irritated me more to have to plan out my food that way than it did not to eat, and I also found myself obeying the letter but not the spirit, where I would have a beer, some cheese and chocolate (still under 500 calories) instead of more nutritionally balanced choices.

The most interesting thing about it for me is how it has changed my relationship to food and hunger. I was never someone who panicked at the idea of being hungry, but now I find that noting hunger when it comes (in waves, not constant) and kind of releasing my attachment to the hunger gives me a similar feeling to mindfulness meditation, which I am crap at but still practicing. This gives me more control even on days I don't fast. I have learned to just say helllloooooo hunger.

I am lucky, because fasting does not seem to affect my energy levels, moods, etc. I have done a vigorous workout while fasting and felt fine.

Also for some reason I find I make better food choices on my eating days. But what I really appreciate is that, unlike calorie counting, I don't feel like I have to be constantly vigilant. Some days I don't eat. On another day, if I want a second beer or extra helping, then I have one.

I also find that in general, I am satisfied with less food. So I am less likely to want the extra beer, helping of dinner, or donut. But if I legitimately want one I have it without thought to whether it's my mouth (sensation) my brain (comfort) or my body (hunger) that want it.

Tl;dr I am a somewhat overweight middle aged lady who likes food but has no eating disorders or other health issues that would make 5:2 fasting problematic and I have found it to be useful in losing weight and enjoyable from a more, I dunno, philosophical standpoint?
posted by acanthous at 8:36 AM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

Oh and sometimes I'll just do one day a week (like thanksgiving week) and if I really find I "need" something to get me through then all of a sudden an apple or pear is the most delicious, most sensuous food ever. Also my sense of smell as it pertains to food is greatly heightened, which is just fun.
posted by acanthous at 8:42 AM on January 23, 2013

I might add - since it seems to be a theme - that I came to the 5:2 fasting thing from the perspective of meditation, too. I've done a lot of mindfulness training/practice and retreats; it's a big part of my life. Mild fasting seemed to be a natural and interesting way of extending beyond my little comfort zone in a healthy (for me, since as mentioned I do not have any eating disorder issues) way.
posted by Cygnet at 10:07 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm on it now. I started in September, took a break for Christmas (where I put on a kilo) and on my last weigh in on Monday I was 7kg (15lb-ish) down on my starting weight.

I'm finding it reasonably easy. I prefer watching my diet for two days a week rather than constantly counting calories. I find that far too wearying.

The hunger is not constant, it comes in waves and as long as I have something to distract me I'm fine. Drinking coffee when I'm hungry helps. Also, if feel a craving for a certain food I can just promise myself that I will eat it the next day. Normally by the next day the craving is gone but I find the option of giving in keeps me on track.

On the day after the fasting day I don't feel the need to eat more which I found surprising. I'm also thinking more about the food I do eat and drinking less on my none fast days. Two things I hadn't expected and not part of my fasting plan.

The weight loss is slow and I have a lot to lose but I think I can keep this going indefinitely. That alone makes it better than any other diet I have tried.
posted by antiwiggle at 11:56 AM on January 23, 2013

Are you female? Some women (see above) have a great experience with Intermittent Fasting (IF), but others have found very much the opposite. Krista of Stumptuous has a brief summary and many links, including this lit review.

Many of these anecdotes are from women who were training hard, and it seems like most if not all were paleo, so this may or may nor reflect your lifestyle, but I'd still recommend that any woman considering IF take a good look at that lit review. Given the way it may affect such things as glucose tolerance, see if you can get a physical and some baseline values down before you start and see how they're affected by IF if you decide to try it.
posted by maudlin at 1:57 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I lost five kilos on the 5-2 before Christmas, and have just shed the ±2kg I put back on over the holiday period. I've found it very easy, but I'm by no means overweight - normal BMI but a little heavier than I want to be. It's a great way to control your weight if you really enjoy your food.

The secret for me is eating food packed with flavour on fasting days - the tastiest ingredients in tiny quantities, and no carbs. I make great presentations of my miniature meals, and really fetishise every mouthful. Also, I snack on raw veg like tomatoes, radishes and celery, and plenty of herb tea.

I find hunger confers a certain alertness, and there's certainly no afternoon food coma on fasting days. I try to avoid social contact in the evenings, and no heavy exercise, although I have done yoga classes while fasting.

You can find some delicious recipes and imaginative meal plans for the 5-2 over at Lavender and Lovage. And here is another page of excellent recipes.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 3:22 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: That is an interesting lit review you linked to, maudlin--thanks. I'll keep that in mind.
posted by silly me at 5:39 PM on January 23, 2013

I've been doing the Eat Stop Eat version (more or less) (0 calories for 24hrs 2x a week) for about 9 months. I eat terribly, (what can I say, I love cheese burgers) but have lost nearly 20lbs.. 196 down to 176. I gained some back over the holidays (back up to 180) - I skipped some fasting over Christmas and New Years. But I'm back on it and heading in the right direction again. I'm back down to 177 again. - I want to lose 10 more lbs, but they're being difficult. (belly fat.) I've gone a month without losing anything at times... but like I said. I eat pretty terribly and with winter, I'm walking a lot less. So... for me, it works, is sustainable, and even with my poor dietary habits (eating and drinking too much on many days) I am able to continue losing weight albeit very slowly now. maybe .5 lb per week.

Another thing I really like about it is that it doesn't require any meal planning or calorie counting whatsoever.

Also, some advice.. I've found that it is easiest to fast when I start 8-10hrs before bed time. After 8-10hrs, I'll really start feeling hungry, but I just have some water and go to sleep. When I wake up then I'm usually not hungry anymore and just have another 8hrs to go. Occasionally I end up going 26-28hrs just because I don't feel hungry anyway. That works for me, you will have to experiment with timing what works for you.

Work through those plateaus.. it's works as slowly or as quickly as you want it to. With a healthy diet and moderate exercise you'll probably lose weight faster that I do on the too much beer and cheeseburger meal plan.
posted by j03 at 12:11 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

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