The 500 calorie diet is without question a very effective way of losing weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, without cutting back on the foods you enjoy.
In this article we’ll cover:
- What the 500 Calorie Diet involves
- Pros and cons of a low calorie diet
- Health benefits and concerns
- How to get by on only 500 calories a day
- 500 Calorie diet plan
Continue reading or use the navigation below to jump to the relevant sections.
- 1 What is the 500 Calorie Diet?
- 2 Pros and cons of the 500 Calorie Diet
- 3 Is the 500 Calorie Diet healthy?
- 4 Getting by on only 500 calories a day
- 5 500 Calorie Diet Plan
- 6 500 Calorie Diet Results
- 7 500 is just a number…
- 8 Tracking your 500 Calorie Diet
- 9 Conclusion
What is the 500 Calorie Diet?
It really is as simple as it sounds, and involves restricting your daily calorie intake to 500 calories or less on certain days. This type of dieting is now popularly known as intermittent fasting.
As this is a form of very low calorie diet, it is advisable to consult your doctor before you embark on this type of diet, and also you shouldn’t do it for more than two days a week, as popularized by the 5:2 diet.
While most normal diets force you to cut back on certain foods all the time, creating a calorie deficit which helps you to lose weight, in the 500 Calorie Diet you eat normally most of the time, and instead create your calorie deficit only on specific “fast days”, by cutting your intake right back to 500 calories.
This means that you are thinking about dieting for less time, and you start to see results immediately.
You’ve probably heard of the 5:2 diet…?
The 500 calorie diet is most closely associated with the 5:2 diet, which advocates eating normally for 5 days a week, and only consuming 500 calories a day for the other two days a week.
Despite recent popularity, there is some confusion around how the diet should be referred to. Don’t be surprised if you see it written 5 2 diet, 5 and 2 diet, 5 to 2 diet or even 2 5 diet, they’re all the same thing.
This type of low calorie, intermittent fast diet also fit well with low carb regimes. Carbohydrates tend to be calorie dense, so leaving cutting them out on your fast days allows you to eat a larger volume of food, which keeps you feeling fuller for longer.
Pros and cons of the 500 Calorie Diet
To help you decide whether the 500 calorie diet, or some derivation of it, is right for you, we’ve outlined the commonly cited pros and cons below:
- Lose weight quickly – The 500 Calorie Diet, is a very effective way of losing weight quickly, especially if you are sensible about the calories that you consume on the off days. If you are working towards a specific weight loss goal, intermittent fasting days, where you only consume 500 calories will definitely help you to get there in a short amount of time.
- See results fast – Not only will you achieve your overall target weight very quickly, with this diet you’ll start to see results immediately. This has a vital role to play in keeping you motivated, as it provides quick feedback that you’re on the right track.
- Low cost – Unlike some other diets, you don’t need anything to lose weight using the 500 calorie diet. You don’t need to join any specialist programs, or purchase any expensive supplements (You’ll find all the information you need to get started right here).
- Completely natural – Further to the above point, there are no supplements in this diet, it’s completely natural. There are no herbal remedies, or anything else with questionable side effects. Intermittent fasting actually resembles the type of diet our ancestors would have, when the hunter gatherers went through times of famine and feast.
- Difficult to stick to – If you don’t plan your meals correctly, you might be tempted to break from the routine and exceed the 500 calorie limit. When you’re starving hungry it can be difficult to find the will power, and instead you think “I’ll just to a fast day tomorrow”. Having a few recipes for easy low calorie meals up your sleeve can really help with this.
- Tired and sluggish – Further to the point above, even if you do plan well, you might find that you’re tired and sluggish due to the lack of calories. This might have an impact on your work, your exercise or other things you have going on during the day.
Read about other side effects of intermittent fasting here.
Is the 500 Calorie Diet healthy?
While some regard the 500 calorie diet as unhealthy, as we pointed out above, intermittent fasting is actually a very natural way of maintaining a healthy weight.
If you think back to our early ancestors, or animals in the wild, some days they will hunt successfully and will find a good meal, while other days they might struggle to find anything to eat at all.
The body can be said to be anti-fragile in the sense that it actually gains from adversity. By putting your body under stress it can become stronger.
That being said, you shouldn’t put your body under an unnecessary level of strain. We would not advise fasting for more than a couple of days per week, and try to avoid fasting for 2 days in a row.
Your approach to weight loss and fitness goals will depend on a wide variety of things. My personal outlook has always been to enjoy my food as much as I can, whilst maintaining a healthy physical condition. In other words, don’t overdo it. Tasty food is an important part of life as much as being healthy is, so you need to find a balance.
How Long Should You Keep This Up For?
People often wonder whether they could live on 500 calories for longer than two days a week, and whether they could go for a week or even a month(!) on 500 calories a day.
Frankly this is not something that we recommend.
We don’t advise that you do this for more than a couple of days per week, as outlined in the five two diet.
Ultimately, we don’t condone diet tactics you couldn’t sustain over the long-term. Crash dieting is certainly not something you should be thinking about.
Making long standing lifestyle changes, that can become a natural part of your everyday life, is a much more sensible way of attaining and maintaining a healthy weight.
If you are thinking of going for longer than a couple of days on 500 calories, I would suggest speaking to your doctor (I’m confident that they’ll tell you not to do it!).
This article explores some of the implications of fasting for longer.
Getting by on only 500 calories a day
Cutting your intake to 500 calories a day sounds like a straightforward way to lose weight, but is it really that simple?
Starting out on 500 calories a day can be very difficult. Drastically reducing your calorie intake can leave you feeling tired, sluggish and hungry all the time.
Fortunately there are several things you can do that will make the transition easier and will help you make it through the day without giving up. Following these simple tips will help you achieve intermittent fasting success.
Get Your Mind-set Right:
Any kind of restrictive diet is really a battle of the mind. Physically most people can get through a day on 500 calories pretty easily, the question is whether you have the will power and strength of mind to continue when it starts to get tough.
- Tell yourself “this is going to be hard, I know it won’t be easy, but I’ve decided to do it and I’m going to stick it out. If I hate it I never have to do it again, but I’m going to do this one day at least”.
- Think about why you are doing it. Maybe even write it down. “Today I am going to commit to eating 500 calories or less because [INSERT YOUR PERSONAL REASONS HERE].”
- Simple exercises like Tai Chi, or relaxation practices like mindfulness and Qigong breathing can help to take your mind away from the hunger you’re feeling and focused on why you are trying to lose weight
- Water – Make sure you are well hydrated all day. Hunger is often mistaken for thirst, so if you’re trying to get through the day on 500 calories and you’re not drinking enough water either, you’re making it unnecessarily difficult on yourself.
- Low calorie drinks – Typically, diet sodas are something you should try to stay away from, but they can play a very useful role in a low calorie diet. A can of Diet Coke contains less than 1 calorie. When you’re feeling hungry, instead of going for a snack, think about having a diet soda. If you are trying this tactic it is important that you make a ritual of it rather than just taking a sip from a bottle.
On the flip side, don’t waste calories on liquids. A glass of OJ will most probably contain over 100 calories and won’t keep you full for long.
If you start the day with a chocolate bar, it’s going to feel like a very long day. Be clever about the type of calories you’re putting into your body and 500 calories might not seem too bad at all.
- Soup – Soup is an excellent choice as it fills you up and it is usually very low calorie. Another tactic is to buy a small tinned soup (Think Heinz 300g) and add boiling water once cooked to fill it out even more.
- Eat lots of vegetables – Vegetables are generally very low calorie, require little or no preparation and importantly, they are very filling. Celery is a great example. At generally under 5 calories per stalk, you’d have to eat a lot of celery to get anywhere near the 500 calorie limit. This makes a great snack to crunch on throughout the day.
Not all vegetables are created equal however, sweeter veg like carrots or corn contain far more (though still pretty low) calories. Compare a medium size carrot, raw, which will typically contain somewhere in the order of 30 calories.
This actually isn’t a bad combo for a lunch time snack when you’re trying to stick to 500 calories a day. Three sticks of celery, and one carrot (sliced into batons) will fill you up reasonably well and has less than 50 calories in total. If you want spice things up a bit, a small amount of chili sauce makes an excellent addition and contains hardly any calories.
The added benefit of this is that you’re getting a good amount of healthy vegetables into your diet.
Through all of this, don’t get too hung up on the specifics of calorie counting, getting it roughly right is good enough.
Eating in the morning kick starts your metabolism. On a normal diet this is a good thing, but on the 500 calorie diet it’ll make you hungry quicker. A tip that has worked for me in the past is to avoid eating first thing in the morning and you should be able to hold out until lunch (especially if you use liquids as suggested above).
For more information, see our dedicated article on how to eat 500 calories a day and feel full.
500 Calorie Diet Plan
We’ve covered 500 calorie meals in the past, there are lots of healthy meals that are under 500 calories. These are really handy as part of a low calorie lifestyle, but they generally won’t help you get through a day on 500 calories.
In my experience, I’ve found it to be easier if you spread the calories out over the day.
It might look something like this:
- 8am – Wake up (No breakfast)
- 10am – Black coffee
- 12.30 – Carrot and celery with hot sauce (50cals)
- 16.00 – Half tin tomato soup with 1 stick celery (100cals)
- 19.00 – Grilled chicken breast, large portion mixed veg, hot sauce (250cals)
- 20.00 – Small chocolate mousse (100cals)
As we often say on 500 Calorie Fitness, there is no such thing as one size fits all. Play around with these recipes and meal plans and find something that works for you. Experiment with making your own 500 calorie meals, and building your own diet based on the foods you like.
Sites such as caloriecount.com offer a wealth of information about the calorie content of different foods, so you can easily work out how many calories you’re getting from each meal.
A word of advice on this, how you prepare foods will have an impact on the number of calories, for instance a fried chicken breast will have more calories than if you grill it.
Sounds obvious but it’s easily overlooked.
Think about the types of food that you like, how long you’re prepared to spend cooking etc. If you have a nice meal to look forward to in the evening, it can make the rest of the day a lot easier. Also, if you’re planning something that will take you a long time to prepare, you’re more likely to be tempted to cheat and have something else.
Remember, this plan is just one of many possible approaches. You might instead decide to start your day using one of our suggested low calorie breakfast ideas, and spread the rest of your 500 calories out across the day.
500 Calorie Diet Results
If you take the advice outlined above and follow the plan, you can expect to achieve results fast on a 500 calorie diet.
We’ve covered success stories from intermittent fasting before, but how have people done from focusing specifically on 500 cal per day?
- Natalie from Mommyofamonster.com lost 14lbs in 20 days
- Becky from DrBeckyFitness.com outlines how much weight her family lost after restricting their intake to 500 cal for five days:
- Keith lost 9.2 pounds
- Becky lost 5.4 pounds
- Kelly lost 2.4 pounds
- David Wallace lost an astonishing 40 lbs in 40 days on the HCG diet, and restricting his calorie intake to 500 cal.
Even celebrities have used this type of low calorie diet. Anne Hathaway reportedly cut her calorie intake to under 500 a day in order to slim down for scenes in Les Miserables.
500 is just a number…
There are many variations of this. You don’t have to stick to 500 calories a day at all. If it is not working for you, try again at 600 or 700 calories. Find a level that you can stick with that isn’t too taxing.
Or if you wanted to ease yourself in, you could start at 800 calories a day for two days per week and gradually work your way down to 500.
Tracking your 500 Calorie Diet
As the old saying goes, what gets measured, gets managed. And tracking your progress against your fitness goals is the only way to ensure you’re moving in the right direction. If you’ve made the decision to try the 500 Calorie Diet, you want to know whether it’s working sooner rather than later.
Advice varies on this, but in my experience, measuring and charting your progress is a great motivational booster and lets you know what is working and what isn’t. It tells you when you need to work harder and when you can take your foot off the gas. And it helps to make sure you’re staying healthy.
There are a whole number of things you can track, this isn’t just about whether you’re seeing the results on the scale, though that is undoubtedly a key part of it. You should also track the process that you are using to get these results.
Most people aren’t even aware that they need to change
If your weight has crept up gradually over time, it may be that you barely even noticed it happening. As you get older you stop weighing yourself as often and if you’re ever asked your weight you give a rough guess.
Maybe you’re surprised when you do occasionally step on the scale?
This scenario is all too common across the world.
But it needn’t be this way. Keeping an eye on your weight, recognising whether it is going up or down, and knowing when to do something about it is a really important part of staying healthy.
Wouldn’t you rather know that you’ve put on a couple of pounds as soon as it happens, rather than decide you need to lose weight next time you go to buy a new pair of jeans?
The benefit of tracking your diet and exercise is two fold. Not only does it help you to understand what impacts your weight, but it also helps to influence your daily routine. You’ll find you’re less likely to eat bad food if you know that you’ll have to write it in your food diary.
And you’ll be less likely to miss your workout session if you know it’ll leave a big empty space (or worse a cross!) on your tracker.
Knowing what to track
When you start out, the obvious thing that you should track is your weight. Get on the scales at the same time everyday and make a record of the result.
Recording your weight at the same time each day helps to avoid irregular fluctuations caused by what you might have just eaten. The best time is first thing in the morning, as soon as you get up, before you eat or drink anything or go to the bathroom.
We’ll come to charting in a moment, but for the mean time, make a note of the number, think about yesterday’s number and be aware of whether your weight is up or down. This in itself is powerful.
Another great way of monitoring your overall progress is to take regular pictures of yourself. This might feel strange and a bit vane at first, but it is an effective way of charting how far you’ve come, without having to worry about graphs or trackers.
Another thing that you can track is your diet. Using this in combination with your weight will help you to understand what causes your weight to go up and down.
There are a number of ways to track your diet:
- Food journal – The simplest way to track your diet is with a straightforward food diary. This is where you literally write down in a journal everything that you’ve eaten that day.
- There are several food journal apps available that can help with this, but it is perfectly fine to just write it on a piece of paper.
- Take a photo of everything you eat – This has similar benefits to writing a food journal but is less time intensive, and therefore easier to stick to.
- Count calories – To start with this is a real pain as you probably won’t know how many calories are in the foods you eat on a daily basis. The longer you stick with it, the more you learn and the easier it gets. An added benefit of counting calories is that it makes you hyper aware of what you are putting into your body, and which foods are especially calorie dense.
- Count your fruit and veg portions – One way that i’ve looked at my diet in the past is to focus purely on the number of portions i’ve eaten each day. This is more of a focus on healthy eating rather than necessarily weight loss. But i’ve also found that I tend to lose more weight when I increase my portions of fruit and veg. (Word of warning here, avoid overdoing fruit which can be high in fructose and therefore calories)
- Units of alcohol – Alcohol is high in calories and comes with a whole host of other negative health implications. So keeping an eye on how much you’re drinking will yield benefits on many levels. You can track this in the way that makes most sense to you, such as “units”, or number of glasses of wine / bottles of beer etc.
The other key part of your lifestyle that you could track is your exercise, but exactly what you track and how you track it will depend on what you’re doing.
Some things you could start to track include:
- Number of steps – Walking more is a great way to ease yourself into exercise. Tracking your steps has become very popular since the a number of medical bodies started suggesting that people should aim for 10,000 steps per day. This is not easy to achieve unless you make a conscious effort to do it, or you have a job that keeps you on your toes each day. Tracking your number of steps might highlight to you actually how little you move around, and could be a real eye opener. Traditionally you might have used a pedometer to do this, but now there are iPhone apps that are reasonably accurate, and a whole host of activity trackers such as the Fitbit which will track your steps and a whole host of other things.
- Exercise routine – If you have a regular routine that you do, such as a 7 minute workout, you could simply track how often you do it. Are you aiming for 3 days a week, or 5? How often do you actually get it done?
- Active minutes – This is another one that activity trackers can really help with, but you can track yourself with a stopwatch fairly easily. How many minutes a day do you exercise for? Most medical bodies suggest that you should aim for 30mins a day on a regular basis.
What else could I track?
Tracking can become addictive, and you may find yourself looking for other things to track to better understand how and why you are progressing. Also, if you find that some of the things you are tracking have leveled off, this doesn’t necessarily mean that what you’re doing isn’t working.
For instance, you may stop losing weight on the scales, but that your heart rate is improving, or inches are still coming off your waist.
Other things you might want to think about tracking are:
- Body fat percentage
- Resting heart rate
- Blood pressure
- Body measurements (waist, thigh etc.)
Using this information
By tracking various aspects of your lifestyle, you’ll learn much quicker what works best for you, and you’ll be motivated to keep doing those things.
If you’re on the 500 Calorie Diet, or some variation of it, you’ll see you weight drop after a fast day and you’ll feel good for it. The pain of cutting down to 500 calories a day suddenly becomes worth it.
If you’re goals are different and you’re looking to improve your overall fitness, you’ll notice your resting heart rate drop as you add more high intensity exercise to your routine.
Without measuring and monitoring these things, it is easy to be discouraged from the lack of progress you see physically, without giving sufficient time for your hard work to bare fruit.
My advice; start today, pick a couple of things that you’re going to track, and if you do nothing else, at least you’ll start to get a sense for how your weight is trending over time.
Combining a healthy 500 calorie diet for a limited number of days per week, with a light exercise program will ensure you lose weight in the shortest time possible, while also maintaining a good level of fitness. You don’t have to sign up to an intensive program at the gym, light exercise at home will probably be all you need.
If weight loss is not your primary goal, this is still an excellent method for maintaining your physique without cutting back on life’s pleasures.
The ideal scenario is that you find a diet and lifestyle plan that works for you over the long term. For many, intermittent fasting as proven to be effective at achieving this, particularly when you shape the 500 Calorie Diet to meet your specific needs.
Keep in mind the following:
- Don’t expect it to be easy, it’s not
- Make it easier for yourself by being smart about what you eat and drink, and when
- Play with the recipes and meal timings and find something that works for you
If you struggle with the 500 calorie days, don’t lose heart, stick with it and it’ll get easier.
So why not give it a try? Pick a day that’ll work for you, when you have full control over your schedule so that you can plan your meals and give it a go.
If you have any specific questions on the diet, or would like more information, don’t hesitate to get in touch.