The sun is out at last, so what better time to get in shape and lose some of the fat that may have been building up during the colder months?
The sun is out at last, so what better time to get in shape and lose some of the fat that may have been building up during the colder months?
Too much fat, particularly around the gut, is not only unsightly but it is also extremely unhealthy.
I’ve used what I’ve learned about dieting over the last decade to create a three-in-one approach that can be used if you just want to lose an inch around the middle, have a stone or more to shift, or need to shed a more drastic amount.
Most people, I suspect, would opt for the middle way: losing a decent amount of weight, as painlessly as possible.
For my New 5:2, I’ve combined IF with everything we’ve learned about the Mediterranean diet, a way of eating that has been shown to be incredibly healthy
So for them, I’ve revised a version of my original 5:2 diet, which that has helped countless people slim down, to make it healthier, simpler and more delicious.
After 12 weeks on the plan, you could see more than a stone in weight loss.
But for those who need to shift a greater amount of weight, fast, I’ve also designed a more drastic version of the diet. It could help you lose 2st or more.
Cleverly, both plans use the same Mediterranean diet-inspired recipes that can all be made in two ways – with a low-calorie version for fasting days, and a higher-calorie version to eat when you’re not restricting yourself but want to eat healthily.
And, if you don’t have much weight to lose, just eating the higher calorie version of the recipes and sticking to a few simple Med-diet rules should help you tone up a bit.
The NEW 5:2 diet
The 5:2 diet is all about an approach known as intermittent fasting, or IF. A more accurate description would be ‘intermittent calorie restriction’ because what you are doing is cutting back on your calories two days a week, albeit rather dramatically.
It is an approach I pioneered several years ago and which formed the basis of The Fast Diet, a book I wrote with Mimi Spencer.
The 5:2 involves eating healthily five days a week, then cutting your calories down to about 800 for the remaining two days, which I call Fast Days.
Originally, it was 500 calories a day for a woman, and 600 for a man – roughly a quarter of the recommended daily intakes – simply because that was the version of IF I’d done myself, with huge success.
But quite a few people told me that they struggled to adapt to just 600 calories a day. Going up to 800 does not seem to significantly slow weight loss and many people find the extra calories really help.
Proof that the 5:2 really works
The person who first inspired me to try intermittent fasting was Dr Mark Mattson, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in the US and one of the world’s leading neuroscientists. He has been researching the benefits of intermittent fasting for more than 20 years.
I went to see him in 2012, soon after I had been diagnosed as having type 2 diabetes. He convinced me that IF would not only improve my waistline and my blood-sugar levels, but also my brain.
He’d done numerous studies, albeit mainly with mice, which showed that cutting calories a couple of days a week can protect the brain from dementia and lead to the production of new brain cells, particularly in the areas associated with memory.
I decided to see what would happen if I cut my food intake to about a quarter of the recommended 2,500 calories a day for two days a week, and do this for eight weeks.
I found it surprisingly easy to do and, on what I was now calling a 5:2 diet, I lost 20 lb over 12 weeks, reversed my diabetes and took four inches off my waist. Six years later I’ve maintained both the weight loss and improved my blood-sugar levels.
The science behind the benefits of IF is strong and getting stronger.
Eating like this will help you lose weight (particularly fat around the middle) but it also triggers a cascade of changes within the body that can reduce your risk of a range of diseases.
A recent review article published in the scientific journal Cell Metabolism concluded that IF reduces many of the things that encourage ageing, such as ‘oxidative damage and inflammation’, while increasing the body’s ability to protect and repair itself.
The article concluded that it ‘helps reduce obesity, hypertension, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis. Thus, fasting has the potential to delay ageing and help prevent and treat diseases.’
How to make it work for you
There is some evidence that having an extended period without food, even on days when you are not ‘fasting’, can be beneficial, and many of the experts I talk to do just that
Lots of people on the 5:2 have asked me: ‘What is the best way to divide my calories on Fast Days? Should I skip breakfast and split them evenly between lunch and dinner, or skip dinner and have a hearty breakfast? Should I eat three meals, or just one a day?’
The honest answer is that it entirely depends on what you can handle.
There is some evidence that having an extended period without food, even on days when you are not ‘fasting’, can be beneficial, and many of the experts I talk to do just that.
In other words, you might want to try eating all your meals within an eight-hour window, which either means skipping breakfast or having an early dinner.
For a lot of people, neither is practical, which is why I don’t make hard and fast rules about this.
The 5:2 goes Mediterranean
You may think of a Med diet as heaps of pasta and pizza, but it’s not. A traditional Mediterranean diet is rich in fish, olive oil, nuts and legumes, with the occasional glass of wine
For my New 5:2, I’ve combined IF with everything we’ve learned about the Mediterranean diet, a way of eating that has been shown to be incredibly healthy.
You may think of a Med diet as heaps of pasta and pizza, but it’s not. A traditional Mediterranean diet is rich in fish, olive oil, nuts and legumes, with the occasional glass of wine.
It is relatively low-carb and involves cutting right down on cakes, biscuits and other sugary treats.
Unlike trendy very low-carb diets, my approach still finds space for plenty of healthy carbs such as fruit, deliciously cooked green and coloured vegetables and the occasional treat.
It also contains lots of lovely things that down the years we have been told not to eat, such as eggs and full-fat yogurt.
The main thing about a Mediterranean-style, low-carb eating plan is that it is a tasty and healthy way of living. It is packed full of disease-fighting vitamins and compounds called flavonoids.
Proven benefits of the Mediterranean style of eating include a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and weight gain.
The recipes on the next four pages adhere to my Med diet rules (see panel, above), whether you are going for the low-cal version or the higher- cal option.
On Fast Days, aiming for 800 calories a day, I advise you to follow these recipes or the ones in The 8 Week Blood Sugar Diet Recipe Book by Dr Clare Bailey. But if you want to go it alone and design your own recipes on non-Fast Days here are some simple rules…
How to seal your success
People who do the New 5:2 can expect to lose about 12 lb in 12 weeks, with most of it coming off in the first month.
It is safe and effective. One reason why the 5:2 approach has been so successful is because you aren’t dieting all the time.
I certainly find it easier to resist the temptation to eat something unhealthy by saying to myself: ‘I will have it tomorrow.’
Then tomorrow comes and maybe I’ll eat it, but often I don’t.
There is also evidence that intermittent fasting shrinks the stomach, meaning you are less likely to want to gorge on your non-Fast Days.
That said, some of the non-weight loss benefits of intermittent fasting seem to come from the fact that it is quite challenging.
It is a bit like exercise: pushing yourself really does seem to be the best way to get results. One reason this happens is because when we are stressed, at a cellular level, hundreds of protective genes spring into action.
Going without food for short periods also switches on a process called autophagy, allowing the body to clear out old damaged cells, making way for new ones. The main way to succeed with any diet is to prepare.
1 Restock your cupboards
It might sound obvious but if sugary snacks are lying around, unless you have superhuman willpower, there will come a time when you will eat them
Before you buy the ingredients for the recipes, make sure you clear your cupboards of temptations.
It might sound obvious but if sugary snacks are lying around, unless you have superhuman willpower, there will come a time when you will eat them.
If you have children and feel you have to have sweet or savoury treats in the house, it’s a bit more of a challenge.
If you are fortunate enough to have a partner who isn’t a sugar fiend, get them to keep the treats in a locked cupboard.
The safest course of action is to give it all away. The junk has to go. It will leave space for healthier foods.
2 Write down your goals
So before you start, jot down all the reasons why you want to get in shape and stay healthy
When you are in the thick of a new eating regime, you will inevitably have moments of doubt or forget why you are putting yourself through it.
So before you start, jot down all the reasons why you want to get in shape and stay healthy.
Keep it with you. Read this list whenever you feel yourself weakening. Make the reasons as specific as you can.
3 Find yourself a diet buddy
The fact that you are making a public commitment also means you are more likely to stick to it
We are social creatures and doing a diet with your partner or a friend will significantly improve your chances of success.
Once you’ve decided that you want to go on this diet then tell your friends and family about it.
They may know someone else who wants to do it with you. The fact that you are making a public commitment also means you are more likely to stick to it.
Now it’s time to get started. The sooner the better. After all, summer is just around the corner…
Delicious 5:2 meals with a Mediterranean twist!
Each of these recipes has been cleverly designed with the principals of the Mediterranean, using ingredients such as fish, olive oil, nuts, legumes, whole grains and full-fat dairy.
We’ve given instructions for how to make them in two ways.
One is a low-calorie version, which is ideal for Fast Days when you’re watching your intake.
The other method is a higher-calorie version to enjoy on non-Fast Days.
If you’re doing the turbocharged Very Fast Diet version, you’ll be sticking to the low-calorie version all the time.
¼ can chickpeas, drained 8 cherry tomatoes, halved Pinch of chilli flakes 2 tbsp olive oil 200g cannellini beans 1 clove garlic 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 1 lemon, juiced 1 tbsp Greek yogurt 100g cooked quinoa 100g spinach, sliced l¼ courgette, peeled into ribbons 20g black olives, roughly chopped 60g feta, crumbled Low-calorie: Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas mark 6.
Toss the chickpeas and cherry tomatoes with the chilli flakes, olive oil and some seasoning and spread out on a baking tray.
Cook in the oven for 25-30 minutes until the chickpeas have crisped up and the tomatoes are shrivelled and golden at the edges.
Meanwhile, blitz the cannellini beans, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, most of the lemon juice and some seasoning in a food processor until smooth, adding a splash of water if needed.
Mix the last bit of lemon juice with the yogurt and ½ tbsp of water to make a dressing thin enough to drizzle.
To serve, divide the quinoa between 4 bowls then top with the roasted chickpeas and tomatoes, spinach, courgette, olives, feta and a drizzle of the dressing.
Higher-calorie: Double all ingredients per serving.
1 tbsp olive oil 1 red onion, finely chopped 1 celery stick, finely chopped 1 carrot, finely chopped 2 garlic cloves 1 tsp fennel seeds Pinch of chilli flakes 2 sprigs rosemary leaves, roughly chopped 2 x 400g cans of chopped tomatoes 1 x 400g can of cannellini beans 100g spring cabbage, finely shredded Low-calorie: Heat oil in a pan, then add onion, celery and carrot, and cook for 6-8 minutes until softened.
Add a splash of water if it starts to catch. Next, finely chop the garlic and add to the pan, along with fennel seeds, chilli flakes and rosemary leaves.
Cook for 1 minute before adding chopped tomatoes, cannellini beans and 1 can of water. Season and simmer for 15 minutes until slightly reduced.
Add cabbage and cook for 3 minutes.
Higher-calorie: Double the olive oil. Serve with 1 slice toasted sourdough rubbed with 1 bulb of garlic and drizzled with 1 tsp green pesto and ½ tsp olive oil (per serving).
1 carrot, roughly chopped 1 courgette, roughly chopped 1 aubergine, diced 8 cherry tomatoes, halved 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 1 tsp dried oregano 2 tbsp mixed seeds 2 tbsp full-fat Greek yogurt 1 lemon 8 thin slices of halloumi 4 handfuls of rocket Low-calorie: Preheat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas mark 6. In a large baking tray, toss carrot, courgette, aubergine and tomatoes in 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, adding dried oregano, salt and pepper and cook for 25-30 minutes.
On a separate baking tray, spread seeds and toast in oven for final 5 minutes.
Mix yogurt, juice of half a lemon, remaining oil and a pinch of salt and pepper with splash of water to make a dressing.
Heat a non-stick pan, cook halloumi for 1 minute each side until golden. Toss rocket and veg in dressing. Serve with halloumi and seeds.
Higher-calorie: Add three slices of halloumi (250g total), double dressing quantities and serve with ½ toasted brown pitta per serving.
Cheats and treats
Denying yourself that glass of wine or small bar of chocolate – as many restrictive diets dictate – inevitably results in overindulging in forbidden treats as soon as the plan ends.
The beauty of the 5:2 is that for five days of the week, you may eat healthy, balanced meals without strict calorie restrictions.
This means that with the help of a few healthy tweaks, you can enjoy snacks, alcohol or even puddings.
Here are some ideas for healthy treats, and snacks you can eat on a ‘fast day’…
The clever guts chocolate cake
This recipe has been specifically crafted for those on my 5:2 diet (found in the Clever Guts Diet Recipe Book). At 239 calories per slice, it would cost you half your daily calories on a ‘fast day’, but the low sugar content (sugar is replaced with dates and flour is replaced with ground almonds) is perfect for the other five days of the week.
Smoked salmon and cream cheese oatcakes
Top a couple of oatcakes with ½ tsp of cream cheese and a slither of smoked salmon, then sprinkle with black pepper. At under 100 calories each, these are great if you get peckish between meals.
Frozen yogurt popsicles
Yogurt is a natural prebiotic and will help to feed healthy gut bacteria, and the low sugar content will ward off blood sugar spikes.
Drink low alcohol wine
Stick to whites with a low alcohol content, such as vinho verde or riesling, or pick a red with an alcohol content of 12.5 per cent or lower
The calories in wine vary hugely, depending on the alcohol content.
Stick to whites with a low alcohol content, such as vinho verde or riesling, or pick a red with an alcohol content of 12.5 per cent or lower.
A side of sauerkraut
My recipe for red cabbage sauerkraut (on the Clever Guts Diet website) is simple, nutritious and flavoursome. At just 19 calories per 100g, you can eat a hefty portion and it will keep you comfortably full.
Pop your own popcorn
Popcorn is a great source of fibre, but shop-bought varieties are calorific due to sugary or fatty additives. Buy raw kernels and ‘pop’ them yourself, then add spices such as paprika or cinnamon for flavouring. At just 40g per portion, it’s a great ‘fast day’ snack, too.
Opt for olives
Olives are a staple in Mediterranean diets and are high in antioxidants and monounsaturated (good) fats. Many shop-bought snack packs are low in calories but are still packed with flavour.
For a weekend treat, knock up a batch of pancakes by whisking together 1 egg, 1 mashed banana and a pinch of cinnamon, and fry in ½ tsp of coconut oil. At just under 60 calories per pancake, you can eat a hefty-looking stack.
FOR THE MEATBALLS
100g frozen spinach 1 red onion, grated 1 garlic clove, finely chopped 400g chicken breast, chopped Small bunch of parsley, finely chopped 1 lemon 30g black olives 30g grated parmesan FOR THE SAUCE
3 tbsp olive oil 1 red onion, finely chopped 1 garlic clove, chopped 1 tbsp tomato puree 400g passata 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar 1 bunch of basil, chopped 1 lemon 300g brown rice, cooked 20g cavolo nero or kale
For the meatballs: Preheat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas mark 6.
Defrost spinach and squeeze out as much liquid as possible, then add to a food processor with the onion, garlic, chicken, parsley, zest of 1 lemon, black olives, parmesan and a pinch of seasoning and pulse until chicken is finely chopped.
Form into 18 meatballs, then chill them in the fridge while you make the sauce.
For the sauce: Heat olive oil in a saucepan and cook red onion for 6-8 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and cook for a minute, followed by tomato puree, passata, balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes, then stir in basil.
Put meatballs in an ovenproof pan or baking dish and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until firm and golden. Pour sauce over the meatballs and return to the oven for 10 minutes.
Stir the juice of the lemon and salt and pepper through the brown rice, then serve with 3 meatballs per person and steamed greens. Top with basil leaves.
Higher-calorie: Serve 4 meatballs per person and an extra tablespoon of rice. Add 50g mozzarella on top of sauce before it goes in the oven.
2 tbsp olive oil 1 onion, finely chopped 1 garlic clove, finely chopped 1 chopped red chilli 2 tbsp tomato puree 1 tbsp red wine vinegar 300g cooked mixed grains (brown rice, quinoa, wild rice, buckwheat) 100ml low-salt vegetable stock 1kg of mussels Small bunch of chopped parsley 1 lemon, cut into wedges Low-calorie: Heat oil in a large lidded pan and cook the onion for 6-8 minutes until softened, adding a splash of water if it starts to catch.
Add garlic and chilli to the pan and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomato puree and vinegar and cook for a further minute before adding the grains and stock, with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Bring to boil, then scatter over the mussels and cook covered for 4 minutes or until they have opened, discarding any that haven’t.
Scatter over the parsley and serve with the lemon.
Higher-calorie: Increase oil to 3 tbsp and grains to 500g. Add one slice of toasted sourdough bread per serving.
Mackerel salad +20 Mackerel salad
1 tbsp hoisin sauce 3 fillets smoked mackerel, skin and bones removed (approx 150g each) 1 tsp rice vinegar 2 tsp low-salt soy sauce ½ lime, juiced 1 cucumber, roughly chopped 4 spring onions, finely sliced 1 tsp sesame seeds Low-calorie: Mix the hoisin sauce with 1 tsp water in a bowl, then flake in the mackerel fillets and stir to coat.
In a separate bowl, mix the rice vinegar, soy sauce and lime juice, then stir in the cucumber and spring onions.
Serve the mackerel alongside the cucumber salad and sprinkle over the sesame seeds.
Higher-calorie: Increase hoisin to 2 tbsp and use 4 fillets of mackerel – 1 per serving. Add 1 chopped avocado to salad and 200g (50g per serving) of cooked brown rice noodles tossed in 2 tsp sesame oil.
Rainbow trout and roasted vegetable tray bake
2 large tomatoes, sliced 200g cherry tomatoes, halved 1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced 50g pitted mixed olives 1 tbsp capers, drained 1 clove garlic, finely sliced 1 tbsp olive oil 1 lemon, zested and juiced 4 rainbow or loch trout fillets (approx 100g each) Small bunch dill, roughly chopped Small bunch parsley, roughly chopped Low-calorie: Preheat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas mark 6. Toss the tomatoes, fennel, olives, capers and garlic in the olive oil, lemon juice and some seasoning, then spread out on a large baking tray and cook in the oven for 20 minutes.
Season trout fillets with salt, pepper and the lemon zest, then arrange on the baking tray so they are surrounded by the vegetables and cook for a further 8-10 minutes or until the fish is just cooked through.
Scatter over the dill and parsley to serve.
Higher-calorie: Add 200g of cooked pearl barley (50g per serving) with juice of ½ lemon and 1 tbsp olive oil.
1 onion, grated 1 clove garlic, finely chopped 300g lean beef mince 1 tsp ground cumin 1 tsp ground coriander 1 tsp dried mint Pinch chilli powder (optional) 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 1 tbsp red wine vinegar ¼ red cabbage, finely sliced ½ cucumber, diced 2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped Small bunch mint, roughly chopped 1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges Low-calorie: Preheat the grill to high. Add the onion, garlic, mince, cumin, coriander, dried mint, chilli powder and some seasoning to a bowl and mix well.
Use your hands to mould the mixture into 4 kofte sausage shapes and thread on to skewers. Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the salad by whisking the extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar with some seasoning, then stir in the red cabbage, cucumber, tomatoes and mint.
Grill the kofte for 4-6 minutes on each side until cooked through and starting to char on the edges. Serve the salad alongside the kofte with a lemon wedge.
Higher-calorie: Serve with 100g cooked bulgur wheat, alongside 2 tbsp tzatziki and 1 wholemeal flatbread per portion.
Salmon, dill frittata
2 tbsp olive oil 1 small, red onion, finely chopped 6 eggs 1 lemon 1 small bunch of dill, roughly chopped 1 salmon fillet, cooked 4 handfuls of rocket Low-calorie: Preheat the grill to high. Heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a medium non-stick frying pan and cook the red onion over a medium heat until softened.
Whisk the eggs in a jug, then season with salt and pepper, and stir in the zest of one lemon, and the dill.
Pour the egg mix into the pan and flake in the salmon fillet. Cook for 4-5 minutes on a medium heat, until the sides are starting to set, then transfer to under the grill for a further 2-3 minutes until lightly golden.
Cut into wedges and serve with the rocket, dressed in the remaining olive oil and a pinch of salt.
Higher-calorie: Increase to 8 eggs, use 2 salmon fillets and serve with salad made of 1 avocado, chopped; 16 cherry tomatoes, halved, rocket and 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil.
Five top tips for 5:2 success 1. Record your weight, your body mass index (BMI) score, and your waist size at the start.
Waist measurement is a simple and important gauge of internal fat and a powerful predictor of future health.
BMI is your weight (in kilograms) divided by your height (in metres) squared; you can find plenty of online calculators.
A BMI of 18.5 to 25 is considered optimal.
2. Prep your Fast Day food in advance so that you don’t go foraging and come across a leftover sausage lurking irresistibly in the fridge.
Shop and cook on non-Fast Days, so as not to taunt yourself with unnecessary temptation.
Keep it simple, aiming for flavour without effort.
3. Stay busy. Fill your day, not your face.
Engage in things other than food – not necessarily skydiving, but anything that appeals to you.
Distraction is your best defence against the dark arts of the food industry, which has stationed doughnuts on every street corner and nachos at every turn.
If you absolutely must have that doughnut, it will still be there tomorrow.
4. Stay hydrated. Find no-calorie drinks you like, and then drink them in quantity.
Some swear by herbal tea; others prefer a mineral water with bubbles, though tap water will do just as well.
When you are burning fat you are also losing water, so you will need to compensate with additional drinks beyond your routine intake.
The recommended eight glasses of water a day is as good a guide as any.
A full glass of water is a quick way to hush an empty belly, at least temporarily. It will also stop you mistaking thirst for hunger.
5. Be sensible, exercise caution, and if it feels wrong, stop.
It is vital that this strategy should be practised in a way that is flexible and forgiving.
If you’re concerned about any aspect of intermittent fasting, see your doctor. Remember, it’s not a race to the finish, so be kind to yourself.
Source: Daily Mail