Instagram, today, is filled with Reels of people talking about maintaining a healthy lifestyle. One of the most popular topics within this is Intermittent fasting (IF).
Now, there are accounts on Instagram dedicated to intermittent fasting, where people are guided in employing this weight loss method in their life.
But what does scientific research say? While some research supports the idea that intermittent fasting is good for weight loss, there is still some skepticism surrounding it as it is not for everyone.
Speaking to experts, South First attempted to understand if intermittent fasting is actually helpful and who can practice it safely in their life.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting has become popular in the recent years as an effective weight loss method. IF is a dietary pattern that involves alternating periods of eating with periods of fasting.
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With IF, you only eat during a specific window of time. Fasting for a certain number of hours each day or eating limited number of meals per day/week may help your body burn fat.
The aim of IF is to limit the total number of calories consumed in a day, allegedly promoting weight loss, and improving health markers.
Some common methods of intermittent fasting include:
- 16/8 Method: Fasting for 16 hours and eating within an 8-hour window.
- 5:2 Diet: Eating normally for 5 days a week and limiting calorie intake to 500-600 calories for the remaining 2 days.
- Alternate day fasting: Fasting every other day.
What the experts say?
“It definitely helps a certain group of people. It is a general recommendation for the dietary plan in which intermittent fasting is one pillar. It is always in tandem with other lifestyle choices, such as good sleep, exercise, and a healthy diet,” senior consultant physician at Yashoda Hospitals in Hyderabad, Dr Dilip Gude, told South First.
He reiterated that IF is good only in collaboration with different lifestyle management, “which includes exercise, intake of fruits, intake of oxidant-rich food, avoiding transfats, oily foods, and red meat.”
Dr Gude stated that he would recommend IF for someone who is pre-diabetic and obese. “We do recommend intermittent fasting if they are obese. That has shown to result in reversal in a few years and that is established,” said Dr Gude.
It may also improve certain health markers such as blood sugar control, insulin sensitivity, and cholesterol levels.
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“It helps with weight loss by reducing overall calorie intake and improves insulin sensitivity, which can help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Also, intermittent fasting has been shown to increase the production of cellular repair substances, which can help protect against age-related damage,” Hyderabad-based nutritionist Dr Jyothi Rao told South First.
IF is not a one-size-fits-all approach and the effects on health and weight may vary among individuals, warned Dr Rao.
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Battle of the medical minds
Interestingly, some research shows that intermittent fasting can lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
“Type 2 diabetes is not necessarily a permanent, lifelong disease. Diabetes remission is possible, if patients lose weight by changing their diet and exercise habits,” China Dongbo Liu, a researcher at Hunan Agricultural University Changsha, said in a statement.
“Our research shows an intermittent fasting, Chinese Medical Nutrition Therapy (CMNT), can lead to diabetes remission in people with type 2 diabetes, and these findings could have a major impact on the over 537 million adults worldwide who suffer from the disease,” he added.
However, Dr Gude disagreed. “We don’t recommend intermittent fasting for people who are diabetic. Type 2 diabetic patients can have elevated sugar levels during fasting, which is dangerous as sugar levels may fall if you fast for 15 hours or more,” he stated.
He added that diabetic patients can be recommended medication that is helpful in bringing down the need for insulin. “This medication, some say, helps in losing weight and, over a period of time, these patients can become pre-diabetic or non diabetic with these medications,” said Dr Gude.
More research found that reducing total calories may be more effective for weight loss than intermittent fasting.
“This study shows that changing your timing of eating is not going to prevent slow weight gain over many, many years — and that probably the most effective strategy is by really monitoring how much you eat and by eating fewer large meals and more small meals,” Dr Wendy Bennett, an author of the study and associate professor at Johns Hopkins Medicine, said in a statement.
What of the side effects?
Along with the many stated benefits, IF also comes with its own list of side effects.
“First of all, intermittent fasting may not be sustainable as it may be difficult for some to stick to the fasting schedule. It can increase the risk of dehydration if adequate water is not consumed during the fasting period. It can cause mood swings and irritability for some people, especially if they are not getting enough nutrients” Dr Jyothi said.
She added that not everyone experiences these side effects and they may vary from person to person.
Whil Dr Gude added on, “There will be a lot of acid production due to intermittent fasting. This can cause ulcers as the acid level goes up in the stomach, which requires acid separation medicine.”
He added that there are chances of gallbladder stones and kidney stones too. “The solution for these complications is to drink a lot of water, at least 3-4 litres while fasting,” advised Dr Gude.
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‘Always consult a doctor before starting IF’
“A person reading this article or any other should not directly start intermittent fasting. They should consult a general physician or cardiologist or qualified dietician as intermittent fasting may not be suitable for everyone,” cautioned Dr Gude.
He pointed out that many people expect the weight loss to happen right away. “The weight loss will take time, for some people it may take a month or three months. We don’t want weight loss of more than 4 kg per month for people who are 100 kg and above. This is not healthy. The right pattern or right way to do it is by consulting a doctor first,” said Dr Gude.
He added that it may not be appropriate for everyone, particularly those with certain medical conditions or who are taking certain medication.
A doctor can assess your health and advise whether intermittent fasting is safe and appropriate for you, he added.
“There should be dialogue with a health professional, not coming from social media which can be interpreted by common people in some other form,” said Dr Gude.