Food: The 5:2 diet

5:2 Good Food Kitchen by Kate Harrison, published by Orion Books
5:2 Good Food Kitchen by Kate Harrison, published by Orion Books

The 5:2 diet is nothing new, but it is effective - so much so, even doctors recommend it, Claire Spreadbury finds out what all the fuss is about

How’s that New Year’s resolution of losing weight coming along? If the sweet treats have crept back into your daily routine, or Dry January has become awash with weekend wine, don’t despair.

In 2012, there was a point when everyone seemed to be talking about the 5:2 diet. More of an eating plan than a diet, it simply involves two ‘fasting’ days a week, when your calorie intake needs to be a maximum of 500 for women or 600 for men, and five blissfully normal definitely-not-on-a-diet days.

Three years on and the New Year bookshelves are still groaning under the weight of new titles; Kate Harrison’s 5:2 Good Food Kitchen, for one. And that’s because it works.

“From the first day I did it, I realised it was the easiest approach to controlling my weight I’d ever tried,” notes Harrison. “I lost 31lbs, gained energy, confidence and a complete loss of guilt about food. And it inspired me to write four books.”

Now, I’m not much of a calorie counter. Weight Watchers put paid to that about 15 years ago, when I found myself totting up how many ‘points’ my enviably slim and non-dieting lunch date was consuming, while staring miserably at my Crispbreads. But working out the tastiest way to consume just 500 calories - and sticking to it by telling myself I can eat whatever I want tomorrow - is something I can just about manage, especially if it’s only for two days out of seven.

“On a weekly basis, you’re slashing at least 3,000 calories from what you’d normally eat, which is equal to a pound of real weight loss - not water loss,” says diet and fitness expert Laura Williams ( “It’s a simple question of sums and creating deficits.”

I’m only on week two, but am happy to keep it up - and losing 2.5lbs in seven days has certainly spurred me on.

I would recommend avoiding ‘virtually calorie-free’ (and also completely tasteless) noodles, and discovering low-calorie foods you don’t dislike. A massive salad hits all the right notes, Marks & Spencer’s mini hot cross buns are a perfect 100-calorie fix and there’s an array of low-cal ready meals on the market that are a lot more tasty than you think - and make it easy to keep fasting, even when you’re too busy to cook.

Try it - you might like it. And if you do, and you find your scales are suddenly pointing at your goal weight, you can drop down to one fasting day a week to keep it all off.

That’s what Harrison did, after dropping from a wobbly size 16 to a slender 10-12 - which she still is - three years ago. Here’s a delicious recipes to inspire your fasting days... Serves 1

Eggs ‘Benefit’ With Mustard Sauce

Calories: 189 for Florentine; 193 for Benedict; 220 for Royale (add 78 for a second poached egg)

For the sauce:

1tsp Dijon mustard

2tbsp half-fat creme fraiche

Fresh herb leaves, such as chives, parsley or dill, plus extra to garnish

Salt and pepper

Pinch of sugar (optional)

For the ‘Benefit’ layer:

50g fresh or defrosted frozen spinach (or 20g smoked salmon or 20g slice of ham)

Squeeze of lemon juice, if using spinach

1 very thin slice of sourdough bread weighing 15g

1 medium egg

Splash of vinegar

Salt and pepper

Make the sauce by heating the creme fraiche and mustard gently in a small saucepan for two minutes. Use scissors to snip the herbs directly into the saucepan, reserving a few leaves for garnish. Season to taste. If it’s too sharp for you, add a pinch of sugar or sweetener.

For the ‘Benefit’ layer, microwave or pan cook the spinach with a little water and a squeeze of lemon juice until wilted. Season with pepper then drain through a sieve. When cool enough to handle, carefully squeeze out as much of the water as possible and set aside.

Toast the sourdough bread lightly under the grill or in a toaster.

For the egg(s), bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil with a splash of vinegar. Break your egg onto a small plate. Create a whirlpool in the water with a fork or whisk and, with your other hand, slip the egg into the middle of the saucepan as gently as possible. Turn off the heat and set a timer for three minutes. After that time, check that the egg white has set before removing from the saucepan using a slotted spoon. Place gently onto a plate lined with kitchen paper to absorb the excess cooking water.

Set the toast on a warm plate, lay the spinach, ham or salmon on top, then add the egg(s) and finally the sauce. Season, and garnish with the reserved herb leaves and serve immediately.