Half the year is already gone, and summer is already here, but you still have not achieved your New Year’s resolution to shed those extra pesky pounds. Maybe you have added a few more kilograms during lockdown, and you are looking for a quick fix. Could the 600-calorie diet be the answer to your prayers? Can this restrictive eating plan help you fit into those tight jeans or that bikini? Let us find out!
What Is The 600-Calorie A Day Diet?
The 600-calorie diet is a form of intermittent fasting. For those unfamiliar with IF, aka intermittent fasting, a diet regimen that cycles between brief periods of fasting, where you do not eat at all or eat very few calories, and other periods of unrestricted food consumption (5). While this form of dieting has been around for years, it was popularized in the early and mid-2010s by Dr. Michael Mosley, Kate Harrison, and Dr. Jason Fung (10).
The 600 diet is also known as the 5:2 diet in the intermittent fasting community. The rules for the 5:2 diet are quite simple. This eating plan involves eating regularly for five days and eating very little for the other two days of the week (9).
Two very important facts to note about the 5:2 diet are that,
- The fasting days are not consecutive. You do not eat well from Monday to Friday and then only consume 600 calories on Saturday and Sunday. You are required to space out your fasting days. For example, fast on Wednesday and Saturday.
- This is not a ‘true fast.’ Fasting generally means no food within the allocated days or hours of the fast; however, you will still eat on your fasting days in this 600-calorie diet. The only difference will be that you will be consuming about a quarter of your usual calorie intake.
- The 5:2 diet restricts women to 500 calories a day while men can only consume 600 calories.
How Healthy Is The 600-Calorie Diet?
It can be quite a healthy diet. This is because it is not as restrictive as the 20:4 intermittent fasting or as unpleasant as the juice, single food, or paleo diet (1). The best part is that you do not have to worry about counting calories or macronutrients except for on two days (23). One caveat though, it is not safe for everyone.
Persons discouraged from trying the 5:2 or 600-calorie diet include (9):
- People with low blood sugar
- Anyone prone to dizziness
- Children, pregnant or breastfeeding women
- Anyone with an illness such as diabetes, heart disease, under blood pressure medication (16) or having any chronic disease.
- Anyone with a history of an eating disorder.
- Adolescents are also discouraged from going on the 5:2 diet or any other form of intermittent fasting (5)
Remember, you should always consult your doctor before you start a new diet or workout regimen.
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Sample Of A 600-Calorie Diet Plans
If you are at a loss and wondering what a 600-calorie diet menu looks like, here are some examples of meals and snacks that you can have on either of your fasting days.
Breakfast – Oatmeal
- 234 g of cooked oatmeal. Make sure to cook your oats with just boiling water. Do not add any kind of milk (regular or plant-based).
- Calories: 158. Fat: 3.2 g, Carbs: 27 g, Protein: 6 g
Dinner – Smoked paprika paella with cod & peas (18)
- 1 tbsp rapeseed oil, 1 onion, 2 garlic cloves, 100g brown basmati rice, 1 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp smoked paprika, 500ml vegetable bouillon, 1 large red pepper, large courgette, 125g frozen peas, 300g pack skinless Atlantic cod, 1/3 small pack parsley, 1/2 lemon
- Calories: 481. Fat: 10 g, Carbs: 55 g, Protein: 38 g
- Total calories for the day = 638
Breakfast – Green Smoothie
- 40 ml coconut milk or coconut cream, 75 ml water, 1 tbsp lime juice, 15 g frozen spinach, 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
- Calories: 82. Fat: 8 g, Carbs: 3 g, Protein: 1 g
Dinner – Broccoli and cauliflower gratin with sausage (4)
- 1⁄6 leek, 1⁄6 yellow onion, 75 g broccoli florets, 40 g cauliflower florets, 75 g sausages, 10 g butter, 1⁄3 tbsp Dijon mustard, 40 ml sour cream, 25 g shredded cheese, 2⁄3 tbsp fresh thyme or dried thyme, salt and pepper.
- Calories: 498 Fat: 42 g Carbs: 12 g, Protein: 18 g
- Total Calories for the day: 580
Breakfast – Garlic bread (14)
- For the bread – 40 g almond flour, 12 g ground psyllium husk powder, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp sea salt, 1/2 tsp cider vinegar or white wine vinegar, 60 ml boiling water, 3/4 egg white.
- For garlic butter – 30 g butter, 1/4 minced garlic clove, 1/2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley, 1⁄8 tsp of salt.
- Note that the above measurements make about five garlic breadsticks. You should eat only one slice of bread.
- Calories: 94. Fat: 9 g, Carbs: 1 g, Protein: 2 g
Lunch – Low-carb coconut pancakes (15)
- 1 1/2 eggs, 1/4 pinch salt, 1/2 tbsp melted coconut oil, 50 ml coconut milk, 15 g coconut flour, 1.1 g baking powder, butter or coconut oil for frying
- Calories: 289. Fat: 24 g, Carbs: 3 g, Protein: 12 g
Dinner – Caprese Snack
- 50 g cherry tomatoes, 50 g mozzarella cheese balls, 1/2 tbsp green pesto, salt, and pepper
- Calories: 218. Fat: 17 g, Carbs: 3 g, Protein: 14 g
- Total Calories for the day: 601
Breakfast – Low-carb cream cheese with herbs
- 50 g cream cheese, 1/2 tsp olive oil, 30 ml fresh parsley or basil, 1/4 garlic clove, 1/4 tsp lemon zest, salt, and pepper. 1 celery stalk or other vegetables such as carrots, cucumber or bell pepper.
- Calories: 230. Fat: 22 g, Carbs: 4 g, Protein: 4 g
Dinner – Low-carb cauliflower hash browns
- 110 g cauliflower, 3/4 egg, 1⁄8 grated yellow onion, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 pinch pepper, 30 g butter, for frying.
- Calories: 282. Fat: 26 g, Carbs: 5 g, Protein: 7 g
- Total Calories for the day: 512
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Breakfast – One three-inch diameter apple
- Calories: 95. Fat: 0.3 g, Carbs: 25 g, Protein: 0.5 g
Lunch – Spicy Beans and Rice (3)
- 1/4 cup water, 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon uncooked brown rice, 425 g canned black beans, 3/8 fresh jalapeno peppers, 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, black pepper, 1 tablespoon and 1/2 teaspoon shredded cheddar cheese, 3/8 fresh green onions, 56 g black olives
- Calories: 96.1. Fat: 9.9 g, Carbs: 11.2 g, Protein: 3.7 g
Dinner – Easy protein noodle low-carb lasagna (6)
- 1/2 tbsp olive oil, 1/8 chopped yellow onion, 1/2 garlic clove, 75 g fresh Italian sausage, 75 g ground beef, 175 g unsweetened marinara sauce, 110 g ricotta cheese, 1/4 egg, 1⁄8 tsp sea salt, 50 g sliced deli chicken breast, 75 g mozzarella cheese, 30 g Parmesan cheese.
- Note that the above measurements are enough for three servings.
- Calories: 412. Fat: 30 g, Carbs: 7 g, Protein: 28 g
- Total Calories for the day: 603.1
Hopefully, this sample meal plan has answered your ‘600-calorie a day diet what can I eat?’ question. Please note that unless otherwise stated, the above recipes are enough for one serving. Since the 5:2 diet is quite restrictive on fasting days, remember to keep hydrated by drinking a lot of water. You are also allowed to have plain, unsweetened coffee or tea.
Points To Note
This diet should not be confused with a very low-calorie diet (VLCD). Unlike this intermittent fasting regimen, the VLCD is a clinically supervised diet where persons eat 800 or less calories every day(20). A very low-calorie diet is prescribed to obese and severely obese people who manage diabetes, have surgery or are preparing for fertility treatments.
While the 5:2 diet requires an intake of 600 calories for two days of the week, a VLCD is done every day for a maximum of 12 weeks and only by patients with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher under close supervision by a medical doctor (21). Do not under any circumstance mistake a 600-calorie diet for a very low-calorie diet. This can be very detrimental to your health
The Bottom Line
The 600-calorie diet is an alternate day fast that has been shown to help people lose weight. It is a fantastic way to lose weight gradually, and it is also a great stepping stone to learning how to live a more healthy life.
For better results while on the 5:2 diet, be sure not to overeat or overindulge on the non-fasting days. Try to keep your foods wholesome and healthy. If you do not mind what you eat on these five days, chances are that you will pack on the pounds instead of losing them.
Also, be sure to increase your physical activity during the day by working out. As usual, remember to always consult your doctor before starting on a new diet or workout routine. You do not need to put your health at risk just to lose weight.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of The 600-Calorie Diet?
Intermittent fasting, in general, has been known to have several health benefits including, increased insulin sensitivity, stress resistance, reduced morbidity, and increased life span (11). As for this specific diet, some of its benefits include
In 2009, a clinical trial done on obese individuals – 12 women and four men – showed that after eight weeks of an alternate-day fast (similar to the 600-calorie diet) all the volunteers recorded a substantial decrease in the levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triacylglycerol (i.e. triglyceride) concentrations in their bodies (17).
Lower Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes
In 2012, research found that intermittent fasting tests done on animals showed positive changes in their blood glucose levels (7). Their plasma glucose and insulin levels were reduced while they were fasting intermittently. In 2014, a review also suggested that intermittent fasting, and alternate-day fasting coupled with caloric restrictions, might help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes in overweight and obese people (12).
When you compare the alternate day caloric restriction to daily caloric restriction, weight loss results are similar. Less fat-free mass tends to be lost with alternate day fasting, meaning that muscle mass is better preserved with weight loss on the alternate day regimen (13). Take note that the weight loss on the 5:2 diet is even more noticeable when combined with exercise (2).
Easy To Follow
Since this diet just requires you to give up your usual food intake for any two days of every week as opposed to every single day of every week, it is more likely that most people will persevere with this way of eating and successfully lose weight (19).
Cons Of The 600-Calorie Diet Plan
Thankfully this diet does not have many disadvantages or reasons to reject it. However, if you are not used to fasting, some of the side-effects that you might experience could be a reason for you to choose wisely. These can include (19)
- Difficulties in concentrating
- Insomnia and daytime sleepiness
- Bad breath
How Much Weight Could You Lose On A 600-Calorie Diet?
Depending on how dedicated you are at tracking your calories, working out (moderate exercises on fasting days), and eating healthy on the normal days, you could lose up to 23 kilograms in about six months. In 2017, a man in Michigan lost approximately 50 pounds while following the 5:2 diet (8).
What Does A 600-Calorie Diet Look Like?
This is a form of intermittent fasting that lets you eat normally (your usual healthy caloric intake) for five days a week while you fast and only consume 600 calories on two alternative days of the week. While there are no restrictions on how much you can eat on the five non-fasting days (22), it is advisable to mind your portions and caloric intake in order to achieve your weight loss goals faster or in a reasonable amount of time.
Instead of having unhealthy foods like french fries, pizza, and cheese-filled burgers, opt for much healthier options such as
- Vegetables – Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard green, sweet potatoes, spinach, and squash, among others.
- Any kind of fruits
- Lean proteins – Chicken breast, ground turkey, eggs, and fish.
- Whole grains – Whole-wheat bread, pasta, brown rice, among others.
- Healthy fats – Nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocados, and more.
- High-fibre foods – Beans, legumes, lentils, oatmeal, and sprouted grains, among many others.
What Should I Eat For Lunch If I Am On A 600-Calorie Diet?
Some people prefer having two bigger meals – breakfast and supper thus skipping lunch or breakfast and lunch, while foregoing dinner. Others, on the other hand prefer to keep their regular routine, just have smaller meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
If you want some food ideas, you can check out the recipes above for lunch meal options. On the other hand, you could just replace a usual mealtime with some water, unsweetened coffee, or tea, any of which will not affect your caloric intake for the day.
If this still does not work for you, small snacks such as celery sticks, carrots, and cucumber are acceptable options as long as their total caloric value fits within the allocated 600 calories a day.
What Would Happen If I Lived On A 600-Calorie Diet?
While you could be relatively okay living on this eating plan for the rest of your life, this should not be your goal. Like any other diet plan, it should be considered as a starting point for a healthier life. It would be a good idea to take the time to understand how your body responds to food and the amount of calories you put into it.
Once you have educated yourself, go ahead and leave the 600-calorie diet behind in favour of a more sustainable way of eating.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 5 of the most extreme diets (and what they could do to your body) (n.d, bhf.org.uk)
- Alternate day fasting and endurance exercise combine to reduce body weight and favorably alter plasma lipids in obese humans (2013, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Amy’s Spicy Beans and Rice (n.d, allrecipes.com)
- Broccoli and cauliflower gratin with sausage (2020, dietdoctor.com)
- Diet Review: Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss (n.d, hsph.harvard.edu)
- Easy protein noodle low-carb lasagna (2020, dietdoctor.com)
- Effects of intermittent fasting on metabolism in men (2012, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- How one man lost 50 pounds using the 5:2 intermittent fasting diet (2017, nbcnews.com)
- How to do the 5:2 diet (2019, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Intermittent fasting: Surprising update (2020, health.harvard.edu)
- Intermittent fasting dissociates beneficial effects of dietary restriction on glucose metabolism and neuronal resistance to injury from calorie intake (2003, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings (2014, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Intermittent versus daily calorie restriction: which diet regimen is more effective for weight loss? (2011, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Keto garlic bread (2020, dietdoctor.com)
- Low-carb coconut pancakes (2020, dietdoctor.com)
- Not so fast: Pros and cons of the newest diet trend (2017, health.harvard.edu)
- Short-term modified alternate-day fasting: a novel dietary strategy for weight loss and cardioprotection in obese adults (2009, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Smoked paprika paella with cod & peas (2016, bbcgoodfood.com)
- Top diets review (2018, nhs.uk)
- Very low calorie diets (2019, nhs.uk)
- What Is a Very Low-Calorie Diet? (2020, verywellfit.com)
- What Is the 5:2 Diet? (2020, verywellfit.com)
- What to Eat on Your Low-Calorie Days if You’re Doing a 5:2 Fast (2019, livestrong.com)