Spring has sprung, crop tops are in, bikini photo ops are on, and The Fast Diet — a U.K. diet phenomenon that has Britons in a fasting “frenzy” — has invaded American best-sellers lists. If it’s even half as popular here, the fad-diet capital of the world, as it is in the U.K., then someone you know is or will soon be “intermittently fasting.” The plan requires eating close to nothing two days out of the week and whatever you want in between, starving long enough to convince your body to start feeding off your fat stores, but not so long that it slows down your metabolism. Fasting apparently switches your body from “growth mode” to “repair mode,” which prevents aging and the spread of cancer — in mice, anyway.
Each fad diet brings with it new social hurdles — ritual bagel brunches felled by Atkins, working lunches waylaid by juice cleanses — but the 5:2 plan, as it’s commonly referred to, is trickier. What can be done with friends who are hungry, crabby, and cold, and categorically unavailable for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or drinks? What is the etiquette for eating in the presence of food-renouncers? I perused 5:2 diet forums and British newspapers — they’ve added 5:2 columnists! — to bring you the Cut’s guide to dealing with friends on the Fast Diet.
Start talking about doctors.
Many health professionals are wary of fasting, starting with the U.K.’s National Health Services, which built an entire website devoted to debunking the diet. Present their doubts to your 5:2 friend in moments of weakness, like fifteen minutes before happy hour. She will argue that her regime resembles the diet of our paleolithic forebears, who went days without food in between hunts. Remind her how much better it is to be alive since neolithic man invented beer and Greek yogurt.
Keep bouillon cubes in your purse.
Diet sabotage is a form of abuse, so be supportive once a friend commits. The fast diet provides a small caloric allowance (500 to 600), so any flavored substance that can be dissolved in hot water — teas, Miso soup packets, vegetable stock cubes — should be kept on hand for hangry friends.
Take out your calendar.
Try to keep track of friends’ fasting days, to minimize nights spent across the table from someone watching you eat a flatbread pizza. Or just match up friends on the diet to other friends on the diet so they can sync their new social life.
Play the foodie.
Nutritionists say fasting creates an obsession with food. I learned this in high school because I sat next to a varsity wrestler in trigonometry who kept a three-page list of foods he was going to eat after he “made weight.” Instead of fighting it, steer your food-centric friend toward more interesting meal topics than his diet: Investigative journalist Michael Moss’s processed-food exposé Salt Sugar Fat is getting great reviews.
If you can’t feed ‘em, join ‘em.
One great thing about the Fast Diet is how easy it is to fake. Simply show up for brunch when the fasters reunite with solid food — an experience dedicated 5:2 dieters describe with nearly sexual delight — and pretend you’re back in high school, stoned, with a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.