Of all the diets I’ve ever tried (my list would cover several pages), 5:2 is the only one that has changed my body for good. The idea of ditching ‘full-time’, guilt-inducing regimes for a simple solution of calorie restricting just twice a week, was revolutionary for me.
And as I progressed on my journey to lose two stone, two dress sizes and any guilt about enjoying good food, I began to wonder whether the same part-time approach could work for the other things that matter in life: relationships, career, fitness and relaxation.
So while I was writing my first two books about the diet – The 5:2 Diet Book and The Ultimate 5:2 Recipe Book – I began experimenting with activities and challenges designed to make us happier, as well as slimmer.
My number one priority was to make the challenges short and sweet – we’re all under pressure, so finding ideas that can make the biggest difference to our wellbeing in the shortest time was important: none of the final activities take more than 30 minutes, and many take a lot less. You can reconnect with friends, try mindfulness in the post office queue, go on a money diet, or even discover your dream job.
5:2 Your Life: Get Happy, Healthy & Slim is the result – and the ebook version, released in January, has already had a fantastic response. You simply pick two days a week to try out an activity and challenge – but you often see the positive results right through the week.
Brand new recipes
But it’s not just our minds we’re making over: the book also contains a complete new 6-week 5:2 diet plan, with original recipes.
I decided to combine my love of food, with a little science, with recipes to enhance the themes each week. So I picked energising recipes for the week about being more active, and researched sleep-friendly foods for the relaxation-themed book.
It was quite a challenge to sort the myth from the reality when it comes to ingredients. I’ve always been suspicious of ‘super-foods’ because I don’t agree with focusing on single ingredients: a varied diet, especially when it comes to fresh produce, delivers the best mix of nutrients.
Yet there are some foods, and combinations of foods, that do have positive effects on the body. Sour cherries, yogurt and turkey may help with insomnia – while eggs and salmon help support the nervous system, and shitake mushrooms can boost immunity.
I avoided some more, um, far-out pairings, like sour cherries and turkey, but often our favourite dishes naturally bring together foods that complement each other nutritionally as well as in flavour.
As a taster, here’s one of my favourite recipes from the book, and one of my favourite ‘5:2 Your Life’ challenges!
‘Self-help’ has never been so easy – or so delicious.
5:2 Your Happiness: 5 minutes
Keep a good things diary to boost your mood. Just jot down three positive things at the end of each of your 5:2 days before you go to bed. It could be three things you feel grateful for – the perfect latte in your favourite café, a great book – or things you did well– helped a colleague, baked a cake the kids loved, gave the dog a fantastic walk in the rain! Either note them in a diary, or write each on a Post it and place in a jar – open the jar whenever you need a reminder of what’s good in your life.
Salmon, fennel and pea risotto with pink peppercorns (357 cals per serving)
Foodie fact: pink peppercorns aren’t peppercorns at all, but come from a different type of shrub. Let’s not hold it against them – they look lovely and their spicy, fruity flavour is a great match for salmon, and also delicious in salad dressings. Or use fresh black pepper if you don’t want to splash out on the pink version.
The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon are beneficial to mental function, and fennel may balance female hormones.
It makes sense to cook this for 2, because it’s a bit time consuming: great for a weekend supper dish. Vegetarians can substitute their favourite vegetables for the salmon – mushrooms, asparagus, baby carrots or young leeks, or simply stir a little fresh pesto through just before serving.
1 white onion, peeled and finely chopped, 38 cals
50g sliced fennel, 15 cals
1 celery stick, finely chopped, 6 cals
1 garlic clove, finely chopped, 4 cals
150g Arborio rice, 510 cals
30ml white wine, 21 cals
350–400ml hot fresh vegetable stock (e.g. made with 1 teaspoon Marigold bouillon powder), 12 cals
75g petit pois (frozen is fine), 38 cals
30g smoked salmon (offcuts are fine for this, or chop into small pieces), 66 cals
Zest and juice of ½ a lemon, 9 cals
A dozen or so pink peppercorns
Optional: 1 tablespoon light cream cheese, 22 cals (additional 11 cals per portion)
Spray a little 1-cal spray into a large, heavy-based, non-stick saucepan. Fry the onion and fennel/celery for 2–3 minutes over a medium heat, until softened but not coloured. Turn down the heat, add the garlic and fry for another minute.
Add the rice and stir for 2 minutes. Turn up the heat, pour in the wine and heat for a couple of minutes.
Then begin adding the hot stock, a ladleful at a time, waiting until each one is absorbed before adding the next: the rice grains will gradually change colour.
When you’ve used about half the stock, add the petit pois, and stir through. When the rice is almost cooked but still has a little bite to it – this will take 15–20 minutes depending on the rice – stir in the salmon offcuts, lemon zest and juice and cook for 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t stick. Stir in the cream cheese, if using. Just before serving, scatter the pink peppercorns over the top.