Top tips for 5:2 diet newbies & first time fasters!

One of the most common questions which I’m asked by newbies to the 5:2 Diet via Twitter, the forum, Facebook and email is “got any tips?“.

Indeed I do! I’ve been doing this for close to a year now, and these are the things I would say are most important for first time fasters when embarking on their first 5:2 diet fasting day.

1. Don’t be afraid!

This seems to be a really common feeling among first time fasters – fear. What are they afraid of? Usually, hunger. Around the world people live with hunger every day and survive, really there’s no need for anyone in a developed nation to worry about eating rather less a couple of days a week. Hunger is not something to be afraid of even if it is something of an unknown to many of us. We’re so used to just eating something the minute we feel peckish. People seem to think that hunger will just get progressively worse if not fed, but as Dr Mosley described on Eat, Fast and Live Longer, hunger comes in waves. It passes. It’s really nothing to be afraid of and when you learn to accept hunger and ignore it there is a certain kind of smugness one can enjoy at the sense of control this gives you over your body’s urges. Don’t be afraid, be proud of yourself for what you’re doing and what you’re going to achieve through it. A bit of willpower goes a long way and ‘dieting’ just twice a week really can change your life.

2. Drink Water. Plenty of it.

Did you know that more often than not, what we think is hunger is actually thirst? Most people don’t drink enough clear fluids. On a fasting day water really is your friend.

Feeling hungry? Have a glass of water – it will fill you up or quench that thirst you mistook for hunger!

Feeling tired? You’re probably dehydrated. Have a glass of water!

Got a headache? You may be dehydrated. Have a glass of water!

Noticing a theme here? Water is great. For the first few months I drank so much water on my fast days that I was up and down to the loo like a… um… person who has drunk too much water. With time, you learn to deal with the hunger and the other minor side effects tend to fade too – and with that your water consumption will probably decrease too.

3. Plan your fasting day meals

In the early days of fasting the last thing you want is to be going out food shopping trying to find what you’re going to eat! Decide ahead of time how you plan to spend your calories and stick with it. Buy things in advance, and if you don’t think you can face cooking on the day you can even prepare meals ahead of time. I love to batch cook some of my 5:2 dinner favourites and have a freezer full of yummy things like Quorn Bolognese, chilli, ratatouille, lasagne and more! While processed foods aren’t generally recommended in a healthy diet, you may find it easier to simply buy in a quality ready meal or two for your fasting days, no need to cook or count the calories – just bung it in the microwave and voila! Instant calorie-counted meal. Too many calories in the ready meal you want? Use half of it, bulk out with steamed veg (another pre-calorie-counted microwavable delight) and save the other half for another day. Simple!

3. Keep Busy!

Few things make a fast day more difficult than a day where there’s nothing to do. Time drags by and makes it seem difficult, particularly if you are used to eating often. Keeping busy on your fast day will make it go by more quickly and of course be more enjoyable! The more time you spend doing other things the less time you’ll spend thinking about food. Believe me a lot of newbie fasters will spend a great deal of time thinking about food – and fantasizing about the amazing breakfast they want to have the next day! Oddly enough come the next morning most of us find we’re not the ravenous fiends we expect to be and are happy to have a normal breakfast. If you’ve got nothing to keep you busy on your fasting day, why not have a good old read around the 5:2 forum and join in some of the conversations there? It’s a great time killer and you’re bound to pick up some great tips & advice about this way of eating as well as making some new 5:2er friends to support you on your weight loss journey! Alternatively why not go for a walk or do some exercise? You may well burn more fat while fasting and somehow it feels really good to break a sweat on a fast day. Actually, it’s a great way to distract from the hunger too. Spend your lunch break at the gym or have a walk around the block!

4. Don’t eat until you’re really hungry.

This is something you’ll probably have to adjust to over time, since you may not really know what hunger feels like beyond the usual peckish feeling. The longer you can wait before you eat, the longer fasting period you get in and the more time your body has to try to burn off some fat reserves. On top of this a great many of us at the forum have reported that the moment we eat something on a fast day, we start to feel hungry. It’s often easier to go without rather than kick starting the appetite and because of this a lot of Fast Dieters choose to save the majority of their calories for their evening meal. You can have a really good meal for around 500 calories and it’s well worth waiting for.  There’s an interesting topic about ‘The Hunger Switch’ at the forum which you might find useful. Remember the 5:2 diet is really flexible and you may need to experiment a bit to find out what works best for you in terms of dealing with hunger, when you need to eat and what sort of foods work best for you on a fasting day.

5. Headache tablets – don’t have them? Buy some!

Yes, a lot of people find they get headaches during their first few fasts. If a glass of water doesn’t fix it, don’t be afraid to take some headache tablets. Just make sure you check whether they’re okay to take on an empty stomach – aspirin based pills are a no-go, but paracetamol should be fine. Headaches can also be a sign of withdrawal symptoms, most often from sugar or caffeine. Sugar is something you should try to avoid on a fasting day if possible as it often makes you more hungry, caffeine on the other hand is fine and will help keep those withdrawal headaches at bay. Just remember black coffee and black tea are calorie free but if you’re adding sugar, sweeteners or milk you need to count those calories!

6. Don’t overload your tummy the next day (listen to your body)

Okay, so strictly speaking this isn’t for your first fast day, but it’s an important one. I’ve noticed people reporting tummy pains the day after their first few fasts, or a sudden dash to the toilet after eating (someone at the forum referred to this as ‘rapid transit’, which tickles me!). This generally doesn’t mean something is wrong and in my experience it is usually a case of overloading your stomach with food after a fast. Maybe you ate breakfast even though you didn’t feel hungry (you’ll soon learn not to do this!), maybe you had a normal sized breakfast but your body only needed a small one. Maybe you just needed to wait until mid morning before your first meal. There’s a lot of conflicting information online about whether breakfast is really as important as it’s made out to be. There are arguments on both sides but I would say that one of the greatest things about 5:2 is how it gets you back in tune with your body’s needs. If your body has complained about something you’ve put in it, learn to listen. Feed it at a different time, feed it less, feed it something else. Work out what it needs rather than what you want and go with that. You’ll be glad you did 🙂 I almost never have breakfast before 10.30am these days and quite often it’s nearer lunch time before hunger actually kicks in. For years I’ve eaten breakfast because it’s what we’re told to do, but I seldom actually woke up hungry. But that’s an article for another time methinks!


Well those are my top 5:2 tips, but I’m sure there are plenty more that other Fast Dieters can offer you! There’s a whole thread of 5:2 tips & advice at the forum which you can read here.

There was also a video on YouTube with some great advice for newbies, unfortunately it seems to have been taken down – however the site which posted it still includes the article which went with it, which you can read here.

And don’t forget – it does get easier!

What should I eat on my feed days? What is TDEE?

The fasting diet books would have us believe that we need only eat ‘as normal’ on our feed/feast days, however for many of us this doesn’t really say enough. A great deal of us have become overweight for the very reason that we have lost touch with what normal eating is.

So, what is a normal daily intake?

Nutrition labels would have us believe that a normal intake is around 2000 calories for a woman and 2500 calories for a man. That’s quite a broad generalisation though and is akin to taking a shoe and saying that it will fit anyone. In the case of calorific intake one size sadly does not fit all! If you live a mostly inactive lifestyle your needs may be considerably lower – although with a higher body mass you may find your needs are actually higher just to keep your body going at its current size.

If you were maintaining weight prior to starting the 5:2 diet then your daily intake was just right for your body’s daily needs and this is how you should continue to eat on your feed days.

If you were gaining weight or losing weight prior to starting the 5:2 diet then your daily intake was not ‘normal’, but was above or below your daily needs. You may need to calculate your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) to get an idea of how much you should be eating as a ‘normal daily intake’ for your body’s needs. TDEE varies based on your height, weight, gender, age and activity level so it’s important you calculate it based on your own figures & circumstances. There are various TDEE calculators available online which are simple to complete. Alternatively you an sign up for free to use the 5:2 Diet Progress Tracker at the forum and this will calculate your TDEE for you, with the added benefit of updating the figure as you lose weight (remember, the more weight you lose, the less calories your body needs to function). Wherever you calculate your TDEE, be sure to set the calculator to maintenance rather than a figure for weight loss – you need to eat to a maintenance level on your feed days as your weekly calorie deficit comes from your fasting days.

So, although the 5:2 method isn’t about calorie counting every single day, you may find in the early days you will need to keep track of your feed day intake as well as your fast days, to ensure you are not overeating compared with your body’s needs. Some of us have found that the weight loss is improved by mixing things up a bit on our feed days, for example rather than sticking strictly to our TDEE every feed day we have a couple of days over TDEE (for example, a slightly more indulgent weekend!) and stay similarly under TDEE on the other days. This seems to keep the metabolism guessing somewhat – as well as allowing us to have a bit of a foodie splurge from time to time.

As for the sorts of foods you can eat, well as has been previously covered, no foods are off limit. It’s all about eating a normal amount rather than cutting out entire food groups. Some 5:2ers choose to combine this way of eating with other methods such as Paleo or Low-carbing on their feed days. Some even mix in a bit of Atkins! But, that’s down to individual desires and you certainly don’t need to do anything more than 5:2 to shift those pounds. Many of us Fast Dieters find ourselves making more healthy choices naturally as a result of this way of eating and even reducing portion sizes as we learn to listen to our bodies and realise just how much we used to eat unnecessarily. We don’t feel the same desperate urge to feed hunger the moment it strikes as we’ve learned we’re not going to die of starvation if we wait until the next meal. That’s not to say we don’t still have snacks and ‘treats’, but a more sensible relationship with food seems to be a natural progression from the 5:2 diet and many of those feelings of guilt we used to experience when eating so called ‘forbidden foods’ are no longer part of our lives, we can eat those things and not feel bad about it because it’s part of an overall more healthy way of eating.