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Is intermittent fasting good for you?

Intermittent fasting is a trend that shows no sign of ending. Why are fitness enthusiasts, pro athletes and others so interested in it? Lounge finds out

Why are more and more people turning to intermittent fasting?
Why are more and more people turning to intermittent fasting? (Istockphoto)

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Tushita Patel, author of the cookbook Flash In The Pan, does yoga to maintain her health and fitness. The 51-year-old from Bengaluru is also aware that unless she eats right, her health and fitness goals would remain elusive. Not averse to trying out different diets, Patel tried plenty before turning to intermittent fasting in 2018 and has stuck to it ever since just as she has stuck to her yoga practice. As the focus on health and fitness grows, there are millions around the world who have turned to intermittent fasting instead of restrictive diets. From professional athletes to recreational runners and fitness enthusiasts, many swear by intermittent fasting, making it one of the most popular health regimes out there. “Intermittent fasting is currently one of the world’s most popular health and fitness trends,” says Seema Singh, chief clinical nutritionist at Delhi’s Fortis Hospital in Vasant Kunj.

The main reason for the growing popularity of intermittent fasting is its simplicity and the relative lack of restrictions it comes with. Unlike Keto, Atkins or Alkaline diets where the plan requires you to avoid particular foods, intermittent fasting doesn’t require you to turn your food habit on its head. “The success of any diet lies in the simplicity of its rules,” says Manasa Rajan, holistic health coach and food product head at nutrition business EatFit. “Intermittent fasting is the simplest of them all and hence so popular and effective. Reducing the eating window without altering the food we eat can be easier to get used to. It usually results in reducing food intake, unnecessary or unplanned snacking, better digestion, sleep quality and circadian rhythm — all of which impact metabolism and weight.”

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At its simplest, intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that alternates between periods of fasting and eating, explains Singh. “It doesn’t specify which foods you should eat but rather when you should eat them. Apart from turning to it to lose weight and improve their health, people often adopt it to simplify their lifestyles,” adds Singh. It’s the simplicity and freedom to eat that has made Patel stick to this plan. “Diets are about what works for you and I like intermittent fasting because I prefer diets that restrict quantities rather than food groups. That’s one reason why intermittent fasting works for me,” explains Patel. “Moreover, I like to do yoga on an empty or light stomach. Above all, I firmly believe eating less is generally good for health.”

Patel doesn’t like restrictive diets where one is not allowed to eat certain food groups or specific things. She finds it easier to eat in small quantities at certain times. It is this freedom to eat almost anything while ensuring a certain minimum time gap is also what makes this routine so popular. “I am much better at eating smaller quantities within a certain window during the day than not eating certain things altogether. This is a lot more convenient for me and I have no problem eating my first meal at 1pm and I stop eating around 9pm in the evening,” says Patel. 

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There’s good news for those looking to switch to intermittent fasting. “Anyone can switch to intermittent fasting,” says Rajan, “but it should be gradual.” Start with a short gap and then increase the fasting window to 12-13 hours (between dinner and the first meal the following day). The fasting phase can be up to 16 hours, advises Rajan, adding, “It is important to keep the eating window close to the sun times with your last meal consumed about 3 hours before bedtime. Also remember that the ideal fasting window can look different for people. Some need to consider that they can reap the benefits with a shorter window (13-14 hours) too. If the fasting period is too long, it can disturb your sleep quality and hormonal balance.”

The biggest gains of intermittent fasting are weight loss, improvement in blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, says Singh. Though anyone can switch to it, people with advanced diabetes or on medication for diabetes, with a history of eating disorders, and pregnant or breastfeeding women should not attempt intermittent fasting unless under the close supervision of a physician who can monitor them, warns Singh.

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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