Diet & Nutrition, Mind & Body

Intermittent fasting ‘I did 5:2 fasting for a month, and even as a dietitian I’m surprised’

Having read about it, researched it, and reported on it, our dietitian Melissa Meier decided there was only so much she could say without having tried the 5:2 diet for herself. For a whole month, she calorie-restricted two out of seven days and lets us know how she fared. 

With so much noise around intermittent fasting (and me contributing a lot of it – see here and here and here), I felt like a bit of a cop-out having never actually tried it. I saw absolutely no issue in reporting on the science, but there’s only so much you can say when you haven’t experienced it first-hand. So, I set myself the challenge of trying intermittent fasting for a whole month, and this is what I found.

Intermittent fasting 101

Before we dive in, I’ll set the scene just in case you’ve missed the memo. Essentially, intermittent fasting is a way of eating that is more concerned with when you eat rather than what. There are a few different variations, the main ones being 16:8 (where you have a daily eight-hour eating window) and 5:2 (where you have two 500 calorie days per week and eat normally the rest of the time).

While it’s no more effective than a calorie-controlled diet, intermittent fasting is a proven weight loss method – plus, it’s been linked to metabolic health perks, protection from disease, and improved gut health, too. All in all, it’s a pretty exciting space in the world of nutrition. But, it’s not for everyone…

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Intermittent fasting is H.A.R.D.

I liked the idea of trying the 5:2 method. It only affects two days a week, so I didn’t find it as intrusive or disruptive to the rest of my life as I’d imagine other weight-loss diets would – and I think this is one of its main perks.

I was still able to go out care-free on the weekends and cook up a storm at home throughout the week as I habitually would (and even enjoy the occasional glass of vino), and I can report I did lose a couple of kilos in the process.

The fasting days, however, were certainly not easy. They’re hard. Hard AF, to be frank. I distinctly remember feeling like I wanted to eat my arm off as I laid in bed one night, and as a dietitian, I just felt there was something so innately wrong with this. I’m all about eating mindfully and listening to your body, so this was somewhat of a moral dilemma for me, but I pushed through, all in the name of research…

It does get easier… thank God

Fast forward a week or two and I felt like I had found my groove. My initial idea was to try and spread my 500 calories over three small meals a day so that I didn’t feel like I was missing out – but this quickly backfired.

An egg white omelette, a tasteless smoothie, and bland green veg and prawn stir fry later, I knew this wasn’t the best tactic for me. Instead, I tried spreading my calories over two slightly more substantial meals and a snack, and this worked far better.

Although I’m usually a breakfast-first-thing-in-the-morning kinda gal, on fasting days, I found it easier to push my first meal of the day (which was a piece of toast with light ricotta cheese and tomato, plus a milk-based coffee) back as far as I could to around 11am, have a snack of veggie sticks sometime in the afternoon and then an early dinner (usually veggie soup).

This helped me to actually fill up after meals rather than being constantly hungry, so food wasn’t always on my mind.

For the majority of my month of fasting, I fasted on two non-consecutive days each week, and never on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays (that would be torture – at least for me, anyway).

I dreaded the idea of doing two fasting days in a row, but thought for my last hurrah, I should give it a go just to see what it’s like. And the good news is, it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be, but I wouldn’t want to do it if I wasn’t busy.

All in all, my month of intermittent fasting went surprisingly well, and I’m pleased to report I now have a far greater understanding of the intricacies and challenges involved in the process. Although the incessant hunger pangs sucked, I think it was a valuable lesson in recalibrating my hunger and satiety cues, and to my surprise, didn’t result in overeating on non-fasting days.

If you’re struggling with the 5:2 diet or simply want to give it a go like me, the three best tips I can give you to maximise your chances of success are:

  1. Do it with someone else. My partner joined me at the start of my challenge, which was great. There were many times we (I) wanted to give in, but we were there for each other and got through the tough first few days together. He did bail on me after two weeks (boo), which definitely made it harder.
  2. Figure out the time of day when you are most hungry and prioritise your calories then. 500 calories is barely any food and it’s hard to make it stretch – so making each mouthful count is essential.
  3. Be busy. The days when I was super busy with work were far easier than the days that were a little more crazy. If you’re busy from sunrise to sunset, it’ll make the time go quicker and you won’t have as much energy to focus your hungry tummy.

Of course, this is just my experience and shouldn’t be taken as your call to try intermittent fasting if you’re looking to lose weight. If you’re in that boat, it’s essential that you seek individualised advice from a qualified expert who can assess your current diet and guide you through the process if appropriate.

There are some groups of people for whom intermittent fasting is simply not safe (pregnant women, children, adolescents, and people with diabetes, for example), and others who it just won’t suit – and that’s perfectly okay. Losing weight is not a cookie cutter approach, and what’s far more important than following a fad diet briefly is finding your unique healthy eating sticking point that you can maintain, for life. Capiche?

Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practicing dietitian. You can connect with her on Instagram @honest_nutrition.