DR MICHAEL MOSLEY explains why it’s essential to have a regular eating pattern

We’ve seen all this week how the foods you choose play a vital role in helping you to lose weight and keep it off.

But when you eat is also crucial and this is why we’re fans of intermittent fasting — first in the 5:2 diet, and now in the updated Fast 800 programme.

For years, we’ve been told that eating little and often is the way to stay slim, but research now shows it is better to leave longer gaps between meals.

We’ve seen all this week how the foods you choose play a vital role in helping you to lose weight and keep it off. But when you eat is also crucial and this is why we’re fans of intermittent fasting — first in the 5:2 diet, and now in the updated Fast 800 programme [File photo]

Eating little and often is supposed to suppress appetite, but people who do this end up eating more. 

Snacking also means that, because you are constantly bombarding your body, you are forcing it to keep on producing insulin and stopping it from carrying out repairs.

The insulin clears the extra sugar in your blood by storing it as fat around your middle — and this visceral fat is particularly bad for your health.

Conversely, after about 10-12 hours without food, your body starts a process known as autophagy, when it ‘spring cleans’ old cells.

Ban snacking  

Concerns about the impact of constant snacking led Dr Satchin Panda, a professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego in the U.S., to pioneer what he calls Time Restricted Eating (TRE).

This involves eating calories within a ten-hour window by extending your overnight fast and going without food for 14 hours — also known as 14:10. We recommend you do TRE as part of The Fast 800, but ease into it.

Start by trying to confine your eating to a 12-hour window (try 8am to 8pm), before attempting a ten-hour window — such as 10am to 8pm. Some people find it easier to skip breakfast and have just two meals a day.

Drink enough water outside those windows, as staying hydrated keeps feelings of tiredness and light-headedness at bay. Eating all your food in ‘windows’ enhances the effect of The Fast 800. 

Snacking also means that, because you are constantly bombarding your body, you are forcing it to keep on producing insulin and stopping it from carrying out repairs. The insulin clears the extra sugar in your blood by storing it as fat around your middle — and this visceral fat is particularly bad for your health [File photo]

Snacking also means that, because you are constantly bombarding your body, you are forcing it to keep on producing insulin and stopping it from carrying out repairs. The insulin clears the extra sugar in your blood by storing it as fat around your middle — and this visceral fat is particularly bad for your health [File photo]

Many people say that they also find it a much easier way to manage a fast day — but it’s useful for non-fast days, too.

At first, you may find it difficult to kick a snacking habit. However, you should find that, as your body adjusts to fat-burning mode, burning calories from your stored fat, thanks to your Fast 800 programme, you’ll no longer feel as hungry as you did.

Have a glass of tap or fizzy water instead, as many people often mistake thirst for hunger. You’ll soon find it easier to maintain long gaps between meals. 

Our recipes are based on a Mediterranean-style diet packed with vegetables, pulses, fish, lean meat and olive oil. Research shows that a low-carbohydrate diet of this type has a unique power, not just to help you lose weight, rebalance your appetite and keep weight off, but also to cut your risk of serious disease.

One recent, influential study to examine the effects of Mediterranean eating on health is PREDIMED research, which followed more than 5,000 healthy people at risk of cardiovascular disease.

After almost five years, those who followed a Mediterranean-style diet were 30 per cent less likely than those on a low-fat diet to have had a stroke, heart attack, or died due to cardiovascular disease.

The Mediterranean-style diet succeeds where others fail, as it isn’t just about eating less of the wrong foods — it’s about eating more of the right ones.

The good news is that foods you may have thought ‘off limits’ such as olive oil, butter, cheese and avocado are on the menu. This means you need not feel as though you are depriving yourself or relying on willpower to lose weight. 

Foods to indulge in . . .

  • Eat eggs for breakfast: boiled, poached, scrambled or as an omelette — they’ll fill you up for longer than toast or cereals. They’re delicious with smoked salmon and a little chilli or a grilled tomato.
  • Or try full-fat yoghurt with berries, such as blackberries, blueberries or strawberries, or a sprinkling of flaked almonds.
  • Eat more healthy fats and oils: along with oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel), consume more olive oil. A splash improves the absorption of vitamins. Use olive, rapeseed or coconut oil for cooking.
  • Legumes, such as lentils and kidney beans, are healthy and filling. Eat them instead of starchy carbs — sprinkle them in salads or stews to add extra protein.
  • Use butter instead of margarine; cheese in moderation is also fine.
  • Nuts are a good source of protein, minerals and vitamins, contain healthy fats and are high in fibre. Nibble, chuck them in salad or stews, but eat few on 800-calorie days, as they’re high in calories.

. . . and those to avoid

  • Try to avoid sugar, sugary treats, drinks and desserts. Instead of using sugar, try stevia and xylitol.
  • Minimise or avoid starchy ‘white stuff’ — bread, pasta, potatoes, rice: brown rice is OK, but some wholemeal breads have added sugar. Switch instead to quinoa, bulgur (cracked wheat), whole rye, whole-grain barley, wild rice and buckwheat.
  • Remember, low-fat products are often filled with sugar to make them palatable.
  • Eat sweet fruits very sparingly: berries, apples and pears are fine, but tropical fruits such as bananas are full of sugar.  

How it works

FAST 800 

We recommend you start with this stage to kick-start your weight loss and metabolism. 

Limit yourself to 800 calories a day, every day, to lose up to a stone (6kg) in three weeks. 

Try to keep to this for at least two weeks for up to 12 weeks. 

And try to eat all your meals and drinks (apart from water) within a 12-hour ‘window’ (such as 8am to 8pm ).

New 5:2

If you’re nearing your target or don’t have as much weight to lose, switch to the New 5:2.

On the New 5:2, you will fast for two days of the week — limiting your calorie intake to 800 on those days (instead of the 500-600 we suggested with the original 5:2). Eat normally and healthily, following low-carb, Mediterranean-style guidelines (vegetables, good quality fats, pulses, nuts and seeds, wholegrains and lean fish and meat) for the remaining five days of the week, without worrying about portion size to lose 2-4 lb (1-2kg) a week.


Once you’ve hit your target, stick to these general healthy-eating principles. Make sure you add a fast day regularly.

One pot roast-chicken

An all-in-one chicken dish.

Serves 4

Per serving: Cals 460 l Protein 44.5g l Fat 18.5g l Fibre 8.5g l Carbs 20g

  • 2 rashers smoked back bacon, cut into roughly 2cm strips
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and sliced
  • 1 medium chicken (about 1.6kg)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 150g baby carrots, trimmed
  • 150g baby parsnips, peeled and trimmed
  • 200ml hot chicken stock (made with 1 stock cube)
  • 100ml dry white wine, or extra stock
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves (optional)
  • 200g frozen peas 

Preheat oven to 200c/fan 180c/gas 6. Combine bacon and onion in a medium flame-proof casserole and place the chicken on top. 

Drizzle with the oil and season with sea salt and ground black pepper. Roast for 30 minutes until golden brown.

Remove from oven, transfer chicken to a plate and add the carrots and parsnips to the casserole. Pour in the stock and wine, and scatter with thyme, if using. 

Place the chicken on top of the vegetables, cover and bake for 45-55 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the chicken is cooked through.

Lift the chicken onto a warmed platter. Place the casserole on the hob and skim off any fat. Stir in the peas and bring the liquid to a boil. 

Boil hard for 2-3 minutes, or until the pan juices are reduced by half. Season. Carve the chicken into chunky pieces and serve in deep plates or bowls with the vegetables and cooking liquor.


Increase your portion size.

One pot roast-chicken

One pot roast-chicken

Easy chicken tagine

A filling Moroccan-inspired casserole with fibre-rich chickpeas. Serve with green beans or leafy salad.

Serves 2

Per serving: Cals 447 l Protein 41g l Fat 17g l Fibre 10g l Carbs 27g

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 300g boneless, skinless chicken thighs, quartered
  • 1½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1½ tsp ground coriander
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and cut into chunks
  • 1×400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 1×210g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 4 dried apricots, roughly chopped
  • 1 chicken stock cube
  • Handful fresh coriander or parsley leaves, roughly chopped, to serve 

Preheat oven to 200c/fan 180c/gas 6. Heat the oil in a medium flame-proof casserole over a medium heat. 

Add the onion and chicken and gently fry for 6-8 minutes, or until the onion is lightly browned, stirring regularly. 

Sprinkle with the spices and cook for a few seconds more, stirring. Add the pepper, tomatoes, chickpeas, apricots and crumbled stock cube. 

Pour in 250ml water, season and simmer. Cover with a lid and cook in the oven for 45 minutes, or until the chicken is tender. Sprinkle with coriander or parsley to serve.


Increase the portion size and serve with 3 tbsp quinoa or bulgur wheat.

Easy chicken tagine

Easy chicken tagine

Lamb Saag

A handy, throw-it-all-together curry that you can bung in the oven and forget about. Use a good-quality curry paste for the best results. Serve with cauliflower rice (see below right) and a cucumber and red onion salad.

Serves 4

Per serving 361 cals l Protein 29g l Fat 21.5g l Fibre 3.5g l Carbs 10.5g

  • 1 tbsp coconut or rapeseed oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely sliced
  • 500g lamb neck fillet, trimmed and cut into roughly 3-4cm chunks
  • 60g (about 4 tbsp) medium Indian curry paste, such as rogan josh or tikka masala
  • 50g dried red split lentils
  • 200g frozen spinach 

Preheat the oven to 180c/fan 160c/gas 4. Heat the oil in a flame-proof casserole and gently fry the onion for 5 minutes.

Add the lamb pieces, season with sea salt and ground black pepper, and cook for 3 minutes, or until coloured on all sides. 

Stir in the curry paste and cook with the lamb and onion for 1 minute. Add the lentils and spinach and stir in 500ml water. 

Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and cook in the oven for 1–1¼ hours, or until the lamb is tender and the sauce is thick.


Serve with brown rice, minty yoghurt raitha and pickles. 

Cauliflower Rice (200g) 34 Cals 

Hold a small cauliflower at the stalk end and coarsely grate to resemble grains of rice. Steam or sauté raw cauliflower rice for 3-4 minutes. 

Stir in chopped parsley or coriander, or squeeze over fresh lemon juice for added flavour.

Lamb Saag

Lamb Saag

Mussels with tarragon sauce

Mussels make a fabulous, cheap, low-calorie — yet high-protein — meal. If you haven’t cooked them before, don’t be put off, as they are incredibly easy and the quality of farmed mussels in the UK is superb. 

Serve with a 50g slice of brown sourdough or wholegrain bread (119 calories).

Serves 2

Per serving: Cals 381 l Protein 27g l Fat 24g l Fibre 2.5g l Carbs 4g

  • 1kg fresh, live mussels
  • 1 tbsp olive oil 
  • 1 medium leek, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 100ml dry white wine
  • 75g full-fat crème fraîche
  • 3-4 fresh tarragon stalks, leaves picked and roughly chopped, or 1 tsp dried tarragon 

Tip the mussels into the sink, scrub under cold running water and remove the ‘beards’. 

Discard any mussels with damaged shells or those that don’t close immediately when tapped on the side of the sink. Put the good ones into a colander.

Heat the oil in a wide-based, lidded saucepan or shallow flameproof casserole, over a low heat. 

Add the leek and garlic and gently fry for 2-3 minutes, or until softened but not browned, stirring. Add white wine, crème fraîche and tarragon and season generously. Increase the heat under the pan and bring the wine to a simmer.

Stir in the mussels, cover tightly with a lid and cook for about 4 minutes, or until most of the mussels have steamed open. Stir well, then cover and cook for a further 1-2 minutes or until the rest are cooked.

Divide the mussels between two bowls, removing any that haven’t opened, and pour the tarragon broth over the top.

Cook’s tip

If you can’t get hold of tarragon, use freshly chopped parsley or dill instead.


Serve with celeriac chips.

Mussels with tarragon sauce

Mussels with tarragon sauce

Peppered pork stir-fry 

A super-quick, super-tasty stir-fry.

Serves 2

Per serving: Cals 276 l Protein 29g l Fat 11g l Fibre 5g l Carbs 12.5g

  • 250g pork tenderloin (fillet), trimmed, cut in half lengthways then into 1cm slices
  • 1 tbsp coconut or rapeseed oil
  • 1×320-350g pack mixed stir-fry vegetables
  • 15g fresh root ginger, peeled and finely grated   

For the spicy sauce:

  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp runny honey
  • ¼-½ tsp crushed dried chilli flakes

Season the pork all over with a little sea salt and a generous amount of black pepper. 

Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan or wok over a medium to high heat. 

Add the pork and stir-fry, tossing frequently, for 3-4 minutes, or until it is lightly browned and cooked through.

Add the vegetables and stir-fry with the pork for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the ginger and cook for a few seconds more.

Meanwhile, for the spicy sauce, mix the cornflour with the soy sauce, honey and chilli in a small bowl. Stir into the pan and toss everything together for 1-2 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and glossy. Serve with a little extra soy sauce, if you prefer. 

Cook’s tip 

This dish can also be made with beef, chicken or tofu. The pork contributes 154 calories per serving — adjust calories accordingly.


Add cooked wholewheat or soba buckwheat noodles and a little of the noodle water at the same time as the sauce, or serve with a few tablespoons of brown rice.

Peppered pork stir-fry

Peppered pork stir-fry

Cheat’s One Pot Cassoulet 

This is comfort food from France. Beans, like lentils, are a great source of fibre and have even been found to improve quality of sleep. Serve the cassoulet steaming hot with lots of green leafy vegetables.

Serves 4

Per serving: Cals 445 l Protein 30g l Fat 26g l Fibre 8g l Carbs 19g

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 spicy sausages (about 400g), such as Toulouse or spicy pork
  • 1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 100g cubed smoked lardons, pancetta or bacon
  • 1×400g can haricot or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1×400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried mixed herbs
  • Generous handful chopped fresh parsley, to serve

Heat the oil in a wide-based, non-stick saucepan or flame-proof casserole, add the sausages and cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until lightly browned on all sides, turning regularly.

Remove from the pan and transfer to a board.

Add the onion and lardons or pancetta to the pan and cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring regularly until golden.

Cut the sausages in half and return them to the pan. Add the beans, tomatoes and herbs. Stir in 150ml water and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover loosely and cook for 18-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add an extra splash of water if you feel that the the sauce has thickened too much. Season to taste with sea salt and generous amounts of black pepper and stir in the parsley to serve.

Cook’s tip  

Look out for full-flavoured sausages for this casserole, as they’ll make the sauce taste divine. 

If you can only find the traditional kind, crumble half a chicken stock cube into the sauce, increase the herbs and add ½ teaspoon crushed dried chilli flakes.


Serve with warmed wholegrain bread drizzled with olive oil.

Cheat's One Pot Cassoulet

Cheat’s One Pot Cassoulet

Do I need a vitamin boost?

Whether you’re wondering how many weeks you can survive on 800 calories a day or how to choose your ‘fast’ days on the New 5:2, we can give you the answers.

Below, Dr Michael Mosley and Dr Clare Bailey tackle some of the most frequently asked questions about the programme.

Q How long is it safe to do the Fast 800?

A It’s entirely up to you whether you choose to kick-start your weight-loss programme with the fast-track 800 calorie plan — and also how long you choose to stay on this.

Rapid weight loss for up to 12 weeks has been shown to be safe in several studies, as long as you follow recommendations and drink lots of water.

Some people continue for longer but we advise that once you reach your goal or at three months, you introduce weekly non-fasting days.

Q Should I drink more on 800-calorie days?

A Being dehydrated is the main reason people give up on fast days; it leaves you feeling feeble, light-headed and with brain fog — symptoms often mistakenly blamed on a low-calorie regime.

When you cut back on calories, not only do you miss the fluid in food, you also lose water as your body breaks down fat. Many people drink 1–1.5 litres extra each day.

Q How do I pick fasting days on the New 5:2?

A This is a question we’re often asked. In theory, you may be better keeping your fasting days back-to-back as you get the maximum fat-burning effect of two days of calorie restriction and your body should stay in fat-burning mode (ketosis) for the whole of the second day.

However, you may prefer to split your days instead, keeping Friday nights or Sunday lunchtimes free.

Our only advice is to stick with the pattern you choose: being flexible about fasting days may mean you do not do as many as you’d intended.

Q What kind of oils are best?

A As a rule of thumb, the less processed the oil the better. Cold-pressed oils, such as extra-virgin olive and rapeseed oil, are minimally processed, retaining their beneficial nutrients. 

Or, for a cheaper alternative, choose light olive oil. Peanut oil is good for stir-fries. We use coconut oil in baking and some Asian foods.

But olive oil is king. On non-fast days, when you are not worrying about calorie-counting, we would encourage you to be generous with it.

It tastes gorgeous, keeps you full for longer and has health benefits. Don’t worry about the ‘smoke point’ when frying, as olive oil is safe when heated at normal cooking temperatures.

Q Do I need to take vitamins?

A We recommend taking a good-quality multivitamin on 800-calorie fasting days, to make sure you get the vitamins and minerals you need.

Although the menus and recipes in this diet plan are designed to ensure you get all the necessary minerals and vitamins, it’s better to be on the safe side.

Q How much meat should I eat?

A We are reducing the amount of meat we eat for health and environmental reasons. 

We have done this by stealth, so the kids haven’t really noticed the change. And we are all thoroughly enjoying our meat-free meals.

However, on a fasting day, eating meat is an effective way to ensure you get enough protein. As for processed meats — eat these only occasionally and choose good-quality products.

Processed meats have been linked in several studies with an increased risk of diseases including cancer and heart disease. It often contains high quantities of nitrates and other chemicals not normally present in fresh meat, and is also high in salt.

Q Is it vegetarian or vegan friendly?

A The diet is suitable for vegetarians and vegans, but you need to make sure you are getting enough high-quality protein. 

So, we recommend adding extra protein where possible, such as nuts or seeds, tofu, edamame, quinoa, lentils or beans — even if this takes you up to 900 calories on fast days — it’s worth it.

Adding high-protein meal replacement shakes can also help — see thefast800.com for veggie-friendly shakes.

Vegans may find it more difficult to get enough protein and nutrients on 800 calories a day. Making a fasting diet suitable for vegans requires careful planning, and is best done with professional support.

We recommend increasing the calories well beyond 800 to ensure adequate protein intake.

Q Should I tell my doctor?

A It is always best to tell health professionals about a major change to your diet, particularly if you have a medical condition and/or are on medication. Most health professionals will be supportive. 

You can print out a letter advising them about the diet, so they can monitor you. Find this at thefast800.com/healthcare-professionals. 

Visit thefast800.com for a full list of medical conditions that may make you unsuitable for this diet.

Mushroom and chestnut hot pot 

Dried mushrooms add a depth of flavour that makes this dish particularly rich and delicious. Serve with kale or Savoy cabbage.

Serves 4

Per serving: Cals 212 l Protein 5.5g l Fat 7.5g l Fibre 5g l Carbs 24g

  • 15g dried, mixed mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 400g mixed mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • 180g cooked, peeled chestnuts
  • 100ml red wine (or water)
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 tsp cornflour 

Place the dried mushrooms in a measuring jug and cover with 500ml just-boiled water. 

Stir and leave to stand for 15 minutes. Heat the oil in a flame-proof casserole and gently fry the onion and fresh mushrooms for 6-8 minutes, or until the onion is softened and the mushrooms lightly browned. 

Add the garlic and cook for a few seconds more, stirring. Stir in the soaked mushrooms and their liquor, avoiding any deposits at the bottom of the jug. 

Add the stock cube and stir in the chestnuts, wine or water, tomato purée, thyme and bay leaves. Season with sea salt and ground black pepper. 

Bring to a simmer, cover the pan loosely and cook for about 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Mix the cornflour with 2 tablespoons cold water to form a thin paste, then stir into the mushroom mixture. 

Cook for a further 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thickened and glossy.

Cook’s tip

Top the finished dish with 200g thinly sliced celeriac. Cover and bake at 200c/fan 180c/gas 6 for 20 minutes. 

Remove the lid and cook for 10 minutes more, or until the celeriac is tender and golden (this adds 14 calories a serving).

Mushroom and chestnut hot pot

Mushroom and chestnut hot pot

Chickpea and pistachio pot  

A golden vegetable stew with a tangy orange and nut topping. Serve with leafy greens.

Serves 4

Per serving: Cals 397 l Protein 20g l Fat 17.5g l Fibre 18g l Carbs 31g

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 medium carrots (around 200g), trimmed and cut into roughly 5mm slices
  • 1×400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 2×400g cans chickpeas, drained
  • 2 tbsp harissa paste
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • 100g pistachio nuts
  • 1 tsp dried mixed herbs
  • 2 slender leeks, trimmed and cut into 1cm slices
  • 100g fine green beans, trimmed and cut in half
  • 20g bunch fresh coriander, leaves chopped
  • Finely grated zest ½ orange 

Heat the oil in a large non-stick saucepan or flameproof casserole and gently fry the onion for 5 minutes, or until softened and lightly browned, stirring occasionally. 

Add the garlic and cook for a few seconds more. Stir in the carrots, tomatoes, chickpeas and harissa. Add 450ml water and crumble over the stock cube. 

Tip in half the nuts and the dried herbs, season with a little sea salt and lots of ground black pepper, stirring well. Bring to a gentle simmer, cooking for 10 minutes and stirring occasionally. 

Add the sliced leeks, green beans and half the coriander and cook for 5-10 minutes more, or until all the vegetables are tender and the sauce has thickened slightly, stirring regularly. 

Roughly chop the remaining nuts and mix with the remaining coriander and the orange zest. Spoon the vegetables into a warm serving dish and sprinkle the nut mixture over the top.


Increase the portion size and drizzle liberally with olive oil. Serve with a small portion of quinoa or mixed brown and wild rice.

Chickpea and pistachio pot

Chickpea and pistachio pot

Safety First: 

The diet is unsuitable for teenagers, if you are breastfeeding, pregnant, frail, unwell, underweight, are undertaking endurance exercise, have an eating disorder, or are undergoing fertility treatment.

The Fast 800 Recipe Book by Dr Clare Bailey and Justine Pattison is published by Short Books, £16.99. © Parenting Matters Ltd.

To order a copy for £13.60 call 0844 571 0640. P&P is free on orders over £15. Offer valid until June 22, 2019.

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