Eat, Fast and Live Longer. What’s It All About? Intermittent Fasting and the 5-2 Diet Plan.

Since October last year there appears to be a groundswell of growing support for the 5-2  eating plan. Perhaps it’s just a case of heightened awareness on my part but over the last couple of weeks,in particular, media coverage seems to have escalated. In the newspapers, on the airwaves and on-line forums. It’s definitely on my radar. But what’s this all about?

Variously dubbed Intermittent Fasting  or  The Fast Diet, the  5-2 diet plan recommends five days of normal eating, and two non-consecutive days of fasting or restricted calorie intake per week. Fasting days allow a mere 500 calories for women and 600 for men. Not impossible to achieve if you make wise food choices. As far as I can surmise its origins can be traced back to a Horizon documentary from the BBC called Eat, Fast and Live Longer. Compelling and well worth viewing. For those of you who are curious and would like to view the original documentary for yourselves here is the all important link:

BBC Horizon Documentary – Eat, Fast and Live Longer

Following hot on the heels of this documentary there is also a book. The Fast Diet: The Secret of Intermittent Fasting – Lose Weight, Stay Healthy, Live Longer By Dr Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer.  Published very recently in January 2013.

My first impressions? Eat, Fast and Live Longer appears to be more about healthy longevity than actual weight loss. Scientists are uncovering evidence that short, intermittent bursts of fasting helps people live longer. After all many cultures have incorporated periods of fasting into their way of life. It’s an age-old practice. Coincidentally, today those same cultures  report longer life expectancies and lower incidences of heart disease and cholesterol. More recently, scientific studies of fasting in both rodents and humans appear to indicate a connection between calorie restriction and longevity. In one study of overweight men and women, a calorie-restricted diet improved  insulin, cholesterol and blood glucose levels. All of which, in turn, greatly reduced the risk of developing age related diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

As with all relatively new research, scientists do not yet conclusively know whether the effects of fasting translate into an actual increase in lifespan. However this concept has captured the imagination of the wider public and is rapidly gaining popularity. The general consensus  appears to be that fasting for a day or two probably won’t hurt people who are generally healthy, provided they maintain an adequate fluid intake.

My take on all this? We lead modern lives that are a  far cry from our forebears.  They lived a feast-or-famine existence, gorging themselves after a big hunt and then not eating until the next.  Conversely we seem to live in a state of constant feasting. A first world problem associated with rising obesity, accelerated rates of heart disease and other health related problems. Beautifully parodied in E B White’s children’s classic Charlotte’s Web when the gluttonous rat Templeton is gently chastised by the old sheep.

TempletonWho Wants To Live Forever

“Who wants to live forever… I get untold satisfaction from the pleasures of the feast.”

“As a result of overeating, Templeton grew bigger and fatter than any rat you ever saw.  He was gigantic.  He was as big as a young woodchuck.  The old sheep spoke to him about his size one day.  ‘You would live longer,’ said the old sheep, ‘if you ate less.’   ‘Who wants to live forever?’ sneered the rat.  ‘I am naturally a heavy eater and I get untold satisfaction from the pleasures of the feast.’  He patted his stomach, grinned at the sheep, and crept upstairs to lie down.”

If we are brutally honest I think many of us might admit to having a tiny little bit of Templeton in us. Perhaps it is this exact mindset the 5-2 eating and fasting plan is really targeting.

I cook. I eat. Far more than is necessary. That much is obvious from just a cursory glance at my blog. Rest assured in our house there is always a well stocked pantry. Leftovers in the fridge. Something sweet in the cake tin. More opportunities for a Nigella-esque fridge or pantry raid than you can poke a stick at. Granted more often than not it’s whole, healthy food cooked from scratch. In abundance. I seem to have a pathological need to feed people. Fortunately my children appear to be genetically blessed with long, lean athletic frames. With advancing age my husband and I perhaps need to be a little more careful.After all if we are to live longer than our forebears, we would prefer to be in good health.

Anyone who knows me well knows I don’t do diets but after viewing the documentary I am prepared to try this. On balance I’m not averse to a plan that may retrain my body, my mind and my appetite to eat less. I know I would not cope with restricting myself day in day out. My life is far too food centric. At face value two days of restricted eating is doable. So I’m fairly confident that it could work for me. At the very least it might get me thinking critically about what I’m actually  putting into my mouth.

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12 Responses to Eat, Fast and Live Longer. What’s It All About? Intermittent Fasting and the 5-2 Diet Plan.

  1. I’ve noticed a lot more media attention to this ‘diet’ too. If you do try it, please blog about it because I would be interested to see how you go.

    • The challenge for me is trying to figure out what interesting meals you could put on a plate with only 500 calories to play with a day I tried it last Friday – wasn’t too bad. Spent the whole day staring at the contents of my fridge with my iPad in hand googling calorie counts. With some very interesting results. I’ll do another day sometime this week and then write about it. There will be no weigh in though. I have an aversion to scales.

      • I’d be concerned about the interesting meals too. Although, I haven’t spent enough time investigating what foods I could eat for 500 calories. I think I would do a bit of research on the foods first before I tried this, only because I’m concerned I’d be lost, not knowing what to eat, then eating whatever was on hand and blowing the 500 calorie limit. I look forward to reading your post!

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  3. Michael Coburn says:

    I have 2 questions to ask for anyone who might know the answer.
    1. If the fasting is too much for me, is it OK to fill up on lettuce, celery and anything else with negligible calories to stave off the hunger or would this interfere with the purpose.
    2. I am a very keen lap swimmer (2.5 km on most days all year round). Naturally I eat and burn a lot of calories as it is. I’d be most reluctant to give up the swimming as I find it both relaxing and fulfilling. Overall health and longevity are my goals as weight loss isn’t a problem. Given my high level of exercise would the 5-2 diet or any of the others Mr Mosley tried be OK for me? Thanks in advance if you can advise.

    • I’m no expert on this but have read on other forums that technically calories consumed on a fast day should be no more than 25% of your total recommended daily calorie intake based on your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and activity level. Theoretically the higher your activity level the higher your calorie allowance. I’d google BMR there are many online calculators to work out an exact calorie calculation. Personally I just try to stay within my 500 calorie limit on fast days. Your body gets used to it after the first few fasts. I always feel fantastic the morning after a fast and strangely never wake up hungry. Eggs and lean protein are a fantastic choice for staving off hunger. Most vegetables are very low in calories so as long as you limit carbs and fats it’s quite easy to eat well and stay within your calorie limits. My 5-2 Challenge posts outline exactly what I’ve eaten on my fast days. Hope this makes sense and good luck.

  4. Emma Hayes says:

    My family have recently completed the our first 5-2 week. We were wondering if the 500 or 600 calories has to be consumed in the one meal or spread throughout the day? Does this impend on the health benefits? We have a few 200 calories meals is interested.

    • Congratulations. The first week is definitely the hardest. All that figuring out to see what does and doesn’t work for you. The beauty of the 5-2 plan is that it is super flexible. You can eat any combination of meals and snacks as long as you adhere to the calorie limits. There is no menu plan and no set meal times. some people I know graze all day, other’s eat only one meal a day. Personally I prefer two mini meals. It suits my lifestyle best. I watched Michael Mosley’s documentary again and all the evidence seems to suggest that it makes no difference how you approach it, the health benefits will come. Five weeks in seems to be a turning point. Perhaps I’m used to the 5-2 eating strategy now but suddenly it’s become a whole lot easier. Weight loss is steady but gradual – some weeks more successful than others. It seems to be panning out at about 1 kg a month. Quite impressive given that I’m not exactly holding back on my feast days and weighing in is not a priority for me.. Always interested in meal ideas. Some of my best recipes have been inspired by the blog community.

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  6. Cherril says:

    Does it matter what time you start your fast. Say midday to midday? Or is it best to start from breakfast?

    • I don’t think it really matters as long as you stay within your restricted calorie limits for the day. My pattern is to delay having anything to eat until early afternoon. Effectively I am fasting from dinner the night before to about midday. I then resort to two mini meals for lunch and dinner, or a snack to tide me over followed by a more substantial meal at night. It depends on the day. The secret is to remain well hydrated. It staves off hunger and headaches.The fasting almost becomes second nature after a while. I feel fantastic so that keeps me going.

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