To recap, the research-based diet works by following a ‘normal’ healthy pattern of eating for five days, followed by two ‘fasting’ days. On fasting days, your energy intake is restricted to around 500 calories for women and 600 calories for men – roughly a quarter of your regular calorie intake. You can smash out these consecutively or split them up during your week.
So while it’s easy enough to plan out your ‘5’ days (lean proteins, wholegrain carbohydrates, healthy fats and lots of fruit and veggies), there’s one question that’s not so simple to answer.
What the heck do you eat on fast days to a) not pass out and b) not growl at anyone who walks in your direction?
If you’re doing 5:2 and asking yourself the same question, don’t stress.
We asked seven dietitians and nutritionists to explain, in detail, exactly what they would eat on their ideal fast day and why so you can get some ideas for yourself.
Rachel Scoular, APD Dietitian and Nutritionist
On the topic of 5:2, she recommended: “Since protein is the most satiating (keeps you feeling fuller for longer) I’d be focusing on protein and low calorie, non-starchy veggies to keep me full. If you break the calories down, I’d aim for 150 calories at each main meal, with roughly 100 calories for snacks during the day.”
Her fast day would go something like this:
Breakfast: Black coffee, 2 egg omelette with spinach, grilled tomato (150 calories).
Lunch: 1 x can tuna in springwater, leafy green salad with lemon juice dressing (150 calories).
Dinner: 100g x grilled chicken, steamed veggies (snowpeas, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower) (150 calories).
Snacks: 1 x tub of plain Chobani or YoPro yoghurt and a handful of fresh berries (100 calories).
Rachel’s best fast day tips
- Drinking calories is going to be detrimental to your hunger on fast days, so opt for calorie free drinks – black coffee, tea or sparkling mineral water.
- Purposely plan your fasting days to fall on busy days, when you will be concentrating on other things and food isn’t the focus.
- Having a late breakfast might help you when planning when and what to eat.
- If you find the extreme fasting results in you over-eating on the other days or making poor choices, you’ll be losing the benefits and could even end up eating more than you usually would. So tread carefully, there may be another option out there more suited to you.
- Don’t choose fasting days when you have social occasions on or are eating out (really hard to keep to the low calories!)
- This restrictive diet is not to be continued for a prolonged period of time, and is not for those breast-feeding, pregnant or diabetic.
Dr Penny Adams
Dr Penny Adams has been a practising GP in Sydney since 1985 and consults as a health and weight management expert for SuperFastDiet.com. She is a highly regarded television presenter, media personality and fasting advocate, with a passion for health.
“I eat the same food on my fast days, and I try to choose foods that are easy to buy, easy to transport to work and have minimal prep. I don’t have to think about food on fast days as I know exactly what I’m having (thinking about food tends to make me hungrier),” she said of how she makes it through fast days.
“I also always have lots of water on fast days (otherwise I can get a headache). I do fast days on work days so that I am busy and distracted. When I’m not trying to lose weight, I do a fast day every Monday – it makes up for the ‘excesses’ of the weekend and I don’t tend to feel so hungry straight after the weekend either.”
Here’s what her ideal fast day looks like:
On her way to work: Skinny cappuccino (70 calories).
“I start the day with a skinny cap on my way to work because, to be perfectly honest, I can’t survive the day without my kick start! The milk is also a great source of calcium, which is important for strong bones.”
Lunch, after 1pm: Hard-boiled egg (90 calories), small tin of tuna in spring water (100 calories), 200g punnet Perino cherry tomatoes (40 calories), two tablespoons balsamic vinegar (30 calories).
“I delay any further food intake until after 12-1pm so that I can get the added benefit of a 16-hour fasting window. These ingredients are also easy to pre-prepare and don’t need heating at work, so they make things easy. Tuna and eggs are good sources of protein, which helps to keep me feeling fuller for longer, making them a great fast day choice.”
Afternoon snack: 250g punnet strawberries (80 calories).
“These are really handy for when I feel I need a ‘sweet fix’. Strawberries are also an excellent source of Vitamin C.”
Dinner, around 6pm: 280g vegetable soup (80 calories) mixed with 100g Slendier noodles (10 calories).
Jess Blair, Nutritionist and Naturopath
She said she’d prefer splitting her calorie allowance into two larger meals rather than smaller meals to try and beat hunger pangs.
Her fast day menu would include:
Brunch, 11am: Eggs x 2 and spinach (300 calories).
“The reason for 11am is, I would only be having the two meals so I would try to spread them out so that I wouldn’t be as hungry.”
Dinner, 5 or 6pm: 120g of salmon and green vegetables or 150g of snapper (250-300 calories).
“The thinking behind having an early dinner would be to go to bed early, and get as much rest and recuperation on my smaller calorie days so that I am not too exhausted mentally and physically.”
Di Munns, APD Dietitian and Nutritionist
Diane Munns is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist with 30 years’ experience. She’s also the Director of Northern Beaches Diabetes and Weight Management, and a SuperFastDiet.com nutrition expert.
Here’s what her ideal fast day on a plate includes:
Breakfast: Long Black coffee (free of calories).
Brunch/Lunch: Tuna Nicoise Salad (235 calories).
- 70 g Tuna – from tin – oil drained – 115 calories
- 1 egg – 70 calories
- Cos lettuce – free
- 4 Black Olives – 20 calories
- 4 Grape Tomatoes – 10 calories
- 4 Snake Beans – 20 calories
Straight after lunch: mug of Miso Soup sachet – 25 calories.
Afternoon Tea: Fruit flavoured Herbal Tea (the Celestial brand is really fruity!)
Dinner: Mushroom, tomato and cheese Omelette (235 calories)
- 2 eggs – 140 calories
- Mushrooms button ½ cup (60 g) – 15 calories
- Spinach – free
- Tomato 1 small – 100 g – 20 calories
- 15 grated Cheese – 60 calories
Side salad of lettuce, cucumber and salad onion, chopped herbs and balsamic vinegar.
Di’s best fast day tips
- Depending on the way you like to operate, or depending on what your day looks like, it may be an option to just not eat breakfast and go straight to lunch or eat your first meal as brunch, then have dinner. This is my personal preference as I’ve never loved eating breakfast.
- I recommend focusing on consuming protein and healthy fats on your fast days as this will help you feel satiated. I also find drinking a mug of Miso Soup after lunch helps me feel really full. It’s quite salty though, so limit it to one!
- Try to just go about your day, keep busy and not focus too much on what you can or can’t have to eat. It’s better to prep your fast day food the day before, and then just put it together in a matter-of-fact way when you’re ready…. Time to eat? Done and dusted! And onto the next section of your day.
- The more you try to think of what you can have and the calories that equals, the more difficult it can become… So, just do it!
- With the 5:2, it’s better to separate the two days. Monday is often a popular ‘fast day’ as people have often had a big food and/or drink weekend. Doing fast days during work days is often helpful as you will be busy focused on your work.
- People are very different but personally, I don’t exercise on a 500-calorie fast day. If anything, I would limit exercise to low impact walking. If I’m going to do High Intensity HIIT, I tend to get too wiped out if I haven’t had at least a banana before heading out.
Anna Debenham and Alex Parker, APD Dietitians
While they stressed it’s important for everyone to choose healthy lifestyle meal plans that work with their lifestyles, personalities and health conditions, Anna and Alex said intermittent fasting can work for some.
“As your energy intake on fasting days is limited, you need to use your calorie budget wisely to ensure you get the most bang for your buck and that you’re still meeting your nutrient requirements.”
“Generally speaking, you want to focus on foods that are high in fibre and protein as these will help to keep you feeling full and more satisfied.”
Here are some more examples of food Anna And Alex would include in their fast day diet:
- Non-starchy vegetables (think green and leafy!)
- Greek yogurt with berries
- Boiled eggs
- Vitawheat crackers
- Edamame beans
- Piece of fruit (orange, apple, kiwi fruit, berries, mango)
- Grilled fish
- Grilled chicken
- Cauliflower rice
- Soups (e.g. miso, tomato, mushroom, cauliflower, vegetable)
- Black coffee
Alex and Anna’s best fast day tips
- Soups packed with non starchy veggies (note: starchy veggies include potato, sweet potato, peas and corn) are a great option on fasting days. Studies have shown that soups can help you to feel more satisfied compared to if you were to eat the same ingredients in original form or if you were to eat other foods with the same calorie content.
- When it comes to fasting days, you really need to experiment with different foods and drinks and work out what works best for you. Some people prefer to eat the same thing on fast days, whereas others prefer to mix it up and incorporate a range of different foods. Keeping food options interesting and ensuring variety might make it easier to follow the diet long-term.
- How you choose to distribute your calories can make a difference. However, there are no strict rules, it really depends on what is going to work for you (i.e. when you feel most hungry etc). Most people tend to opt for three small meals on a fast day e.g. breakfast, lunch and dinner but you may also prefer to have two slightly bigger meals instead e.g. only lunch and dinner.
- It is important to only exercise on non-fasting days as otherwise you’ll be running on very low energy stores and there may be adverse effects.
- Drinks are a great way to fill up and can be a distraction instead of having a snack on fasting days. Water, sparkling water, herbal teas, black tea and coffee can be enjoyed freely.
Jaime Rose Chambers – APD Clinical Dietitian And Nutritionist
Jaime Rose Chambers is an Accredited Practising Clinical Dietitian and Nutritionist, and contributor to SuperFastDiet.com. She’s an expert on healthy eating, weight management, insulin resistance, diabetes and heart disease. Oh, she also just really loves good food. You can drool over her colourful meals on Instagram, @jaimerose_nutrition.
“I find skipping breakfast and keeping busy through the morning, then having just a lunch and dinner style meal works best for me. So, I’ll have meal one around 12-1pm, often a couple of mugs of tea through the afternoon and then meal two as a dinner meal with my husband at night,” she said.
“I am not averse to carbohydrates in my normal diet but on a fast day I do try to avoid heavy carbohydrate foods because I find they make me hungrier and the fast days are much harder to manage.”
Here’s how she tackles her fast days:
Breakfast: “A coffee with a dash of milk when I wake up, then again mid-morning.”
Brunch: 2 x boiled eggs and a big container of a variety of raw vegetables such as capsicum, carrot, gherkins, fennel, snow peas, cucumber and green beans (150 calories)
“Vegetables are a fasting food hero because they’re highly nutritious and provide very few calories for a lot of volume, so you can use them to really bulk out a meal. I make sure at least half of my fast day meals are a heap of vegetables.”
Dinner: “My second meal is based on a lean protein so often we’ll have 150g prawns (130 calories) as part of a big vegetable stir fry using chilli and tamari sauce for flavour. I’ll often add Slendier noodles too, which are just 20 calories for the entire pack!”
Snack: “If I have the calorie allowance, I’ll add in a YoPro yoghurt which is just under 100 calories as a yummy little treat to look forward to.”
These are the experiences of some women and their recommendations should not be substitutes for personalised medical advice. Please always consult your GP or dietitian/nutritionist before starting a new healthy eating plan.
Have you tried the 5:2 diet? What are your go-to foods and meals on your fast days?
Side note – if you’re interested in weird and whacky diets, have you heard of the Pegan diet? MMOL unpack this, erm, interesting fad below.