real life

Everyone’s on the 5:2 diet. Just not the right one.

Everyone’s on the 5:2 diet. Just not the right one.

You know the way the 5:2 diet works. A radiantly smug colleague probably told you about it. You eat normally five days a week, and consume just 500 calories the other two days. It’s something to do with kick-starting your metabolism-energy-caveman-chemistry-biology-beach-body-radiant-cave-lady-nutrition-health levels.

Whatever, it seems to be good. But this is even better.

How about we apply the 5:2 premise to our lives? What if we worked our work days, but restricted our stress intake those other two days? Ah? How ‘bout it?

You know what I’m talking about. I’m talking about reclaiming our weekends. Taking back our spare time. Aiming for a semblance of balance. At least pretending we think it’s possible to have work, rest, and play. Actually, physically, consciously keeping stress exactly where it belongs: On. Weekdays.

Brilliant as it is, this actually isn’t my idea.

It is my favourite writer’s. British journalist Jon Ronson was sitting in a therapist’s office, trying to confront the reality of having anxiety disorder. Grappling with the idea that a feeling of bubbling panic would be omnipresent in his life, he says: “But what if I did the 5:2 diet for my anxiety?”

He proposed a weekday regime of stressing out, with a two-day reprieve. Just like the diet, but for his psyche. Now, not everyone has an anxiety disorder (though 9.7 per cent of Australians do, so 1.3 million adults) and the idea that something as wild as mental illness might be contained by time is flawed.

But we know that stress, in its many manifestations, can be just as dangerous.

Stress can give people headaches, aches, pains, asthma, diabetes, nausea, tense muscles, insomnia, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, shaking, sexual dysfunction, colds, grinding teeth, excessive sweating, clenched jaws, influenza, constipation, diarrhea, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, cold feet, shaking, nervousness, and infections. It can make us lose control, lose weight, lose perspective,  lose relationships, lose desire, and ultimately, lose ourselves.


And so long as we’re reachable 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we’re vulnerable to all of that.

The very least we can do is force our stress levels to comply with the 5:2 ratio.

Yes, yes, I can hear you: “Great idea, Kate! But how do we actually do it? How can we possibly get out of this perpetual cycle of over-work alive? What can we do?”

Look. To be brutally truthful with you, I haven’t worked this out myself, at all. My iPhone is like a living, breathing part of me and I check it probably, surely, roughly 97 times a day. I

’ll send and answer emails at 2am, 4.30am, 10pm, midnight. I’ll work through the night to meet deadlines on the other side of the planet, and write away my Sundays. It’s like my brain is directly connected to the internet, and I get FOMO when I sleep, should something happen in the world without me catching it on my Twitter feed. I’m a constitutionally calm person, but my body clock is totally out of control. Most people of my age and ambition are the same.

If that sounds at all familiar, we should probably give this 5:2 diet thing a go, yeah? Let’s start with the basics.

1. Just like my ma says, Turn Your Bloody Phone Off. At the dinner table, when you’re watching TV, when you’re with family, and definitely when you’re in bed.

2. Read a book, light a candle, and listen to a Sleepify playlist at bedtime (or nap time) so you actually convince your body to sleep. And then get enough of it.

3. When you start a new job, start as you mean to go on and make it clear to your new boss that your weekends are yours.

4. Make a pact with someone you care about to relax on weekends.

OK, that’ll do for now. Let’s start this out gentle. Monday – Friday: Work time. Saturday and Sunday: 500 calories worth of stress.

Just enough to get you through the day.

Are you guilty of working on weekends?

Want more? Try these:

5 (extremely tempting) benefits of working from home.

6 things you can do for your career today (so get cracking).

Found: The app that helps you UNSEND an email.