Eager to get leaner and healthier but just not up for a diet that completely takes over your life? Good news: “There’s an amazing alternative to traditional diets called a ‘5:2’ style of eating. Instead of cutting back every day, you relax for five days and only cut calories twice a week,” reveals Ian K. Smith, M.D., author of the new book Mind Over Weight and a dozen other mega-selling diet books.
“It might not sound like enough to make a difference, but continuously switching up your calorie intake throws the body off-kilter in a way that stimulates extra fat burning.” Want proof? Not only do Dr. Ian’s devotees drop up to 11 pounds a week, but a brand new study by New Zealand scientists found that this 48-hour approach boosts women’s overall health as it doubles fat loss compared to seven-day-a-week diets. Says Dr. Ian, “Even if you’ve struggled on other plans, this could be the strategy that changes everything.”
Like most experts, Dr. Ian Smith is a fan of wholesome foods-but this isn’t a diet that requires a big shopping trip. In fact, you can customize it based on what’s already in your pantry.
“You’re not eliminating food groups. You can have carbs, you can have fat,” Dr. Ian notes. “I recommend choosing the healthiest foods available to you because that helps reduce hunger and leads to more aggressive fat loss. But this technique works with whatever is on hand. Just keep calories down on your ‘low’ days.” And it’s easier than you might expect.
While some studies suggest limiting folks to 500 calories twice weekly, Dr. Ian says most of us will lose at a nice clip simply by dipping to the 800-1,000 calorie range. “Choose any two nonconsecutive days. I recommend days when you’re somewhat busy, because when you’re distracted, your urge to eat naturally drops,” he says.
And you can expect overall hunger to fall after a couple of weeks. Turns out low-calorie days do for cells what exercise does for muscles-challenging them in a way that leads to healing and renewal. “It makes cells stronger,” confirms Johns Hopkins nutrition researcher Mark Mattson, Ph.D. Upgraded cells better regulate appetite hormones, so “more signals get to your brain and tell you to stop eating,” Mattson says.
Meanwhile, British research has found that upgraded cells improve blood-sugar and insulin levels, fiercely fighting diabetes. Other studies show that breast cancer hormones are slashed, immunity gets a big boost and blood pressure falls about 350 percent faster than on other types of diets. So you’re truly transforming your body as you shrink your waist!
As for days when you’re not cutting calories, Dr. Ian encourages you to listen to your body and stop eating when you’re full. “Most of us consume about 2,000 to 3,000 calories in a typical 24-hour period, and if you just stick to the lower end of that range, you’re in good shape.” That said, do eat what you crave, because you don’t want feelings of deprivation to throw you off track.
“With ‘5:2’ eating, people can eat more on certain days and still make progress. It’s a forgiving approach to weight loss, and that’s key,” he says. “A ‘5:2’ diet makes it easier to stay in the game-and that sets you up for a big win!”
The Simple Way to Get Results
To use a “5:2” approach, choose any five days each week to relax, eating healthy versions of food you enjoy and aiming to stop eating once you feel full. Then on the two remaining days (they should be nonconsecutive), reduce calorie intake to as low as 800 calories. Free apps like MyFitnessPal and LoseIt make tracking a cinch. Dr. Ian says a little protein, fiber, and/or good fat at each sitting helps control hunger best. We’re sharing sample meals here that deliver maximum filling power with minimum fuss-but go with whatever works for you, says Dr. Ian. As always, get your doctor’s okay to try any new plan.
Breakfast — 2 eggs (prepared any style with cooking spray), 1 cup spinach, a plum tomato and herbs to taste. 160 cal
Lunch — Mix a 70-calorie pack of tuna, 2 Tbs. plain yogurt and herbs; 110-calorie serving crackers; 1⁄2 cup veggies. 215 cal
Snack — Assorted non-starchy veggies, such as 1 cup cucumber, 1 bell pepper and 1⁄2 cup carrots with 1⁄2 cup salsa. 110 cal
Dinner — Simmer 6 oz. cooked chicken, 2 cups shirataki noodles, 1-2 cups veggies and seasoning to taste. 290 cal
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.