Sometimes it feels that with each new week comes a new and cruel diet. But every now and then, there's one that really makes an impact, like the 5:2 plan. Its concept is simple. Fast strictly (500 calories) for two days a week and then live your life like every day is a mardi gras for the remaining five days.
The two fast days don't have to be consecutive so you are only really ever 24 hours away from a slice of toast.
For one author, the diet was so successful, that she started applying the principle of the 5:2 diet to other areas of her life to see if it might have a similarly positive effect. It was such a success that Emma Cook has written a book about it – 5:2 Your Life. It's a diet but for your life. And whose life couldn't do with losing a bit of flab?
The book is divided into several categories including drink, fitness, relationships, productivity, screen life, and environment, amongst others. So to 5:2 your drink life, you would cut out alcohol completely for two days a week, then happily indulge, guilt-free, in a glass of wine or two for the remaining five days.
Likewise with exercise, committing to doing a few minutes of high-intensity exercises just two days a week meant you could spend the reast of the week lounging on the couch.
To 5:2 your environment, you simply make a commitment to be more environmentally friendly twice a week. For most people, this is as straightforward as leaving the car behind for two days a week, taking the bus or walking (and this gets you brownie points for your exercise days too).
The appeal, of course, is that you only have to be virtuous two days a week, which makes it all seem manageable. So I thought I'd give it a go.
The idea of introducing a little discipline into my life was appealing. Like many people, I seem to race from one appointment to another until, by the time I get home, all I want to do is collapse in front of the television with a glass of wine in one hand and a carbohydrate in the other. Could introducing a few changes for just two days a week really make much difference?
I was happy to discover I was already doing some things right, like walking or cycling most places.
But I was a real slouch in other categories. I look at my bank statement through my fingers and each trip to the ATM is a game of Russian Roulette.
One tip recommended if you want to 5:2 your finances is to set your internet banking website as your homepage, so that when you turn on your computer every day you will be reminded to check your balance and see what state your accounts are in. I implemented this change and this tiny tweak alone was life-changing.
Knowing what I had in my bank account at any one time meant I spent accordingly. It sounds ridiculously simple but it really changed how I thought about – and spent – money.
By applying the 5:2 principle to any one category, I found it had a knock-on positive effect on another area. For example, walking to work on a 5:2 environment day, saved money (5:2 your finance) and helped get my quota of exercise (5:2 your fitness).
With alcohol, I had got into the habit of having a glass of wine with dinner. Now it's a case of selecting two days a week where I won't drink any alcohol. Simple.
I found myself cramming my alcohol-free days, environment days and relationship days into Mondays and Tuesdays so that when I was socialising or going to someone's house for dinner I didn't have to be that person, the one who isn't eating carbs that month or the sober person spoiling everyone's fun at the Bacchanal.
I quickly found ways around this. If I had to socialise on alcohol-free evenings, I started going by car so I had a watertight excuse of 'I'm driving'.
The most dramatic effect of trying to 5:2 my life came with the screen-life challenge. Trying to cut out my screen use two days a week (barring work) was going to be difficult.