If there's one diet that can take home the prize of being the most popular weight loss strategy, it has to be intermittent fasting. From the celebrities who back it to the science behind it, splitting your day into fasting and eating windows has been said to accelerate weight loss, delay ageing, improve metabolism and promise considerable health benefits, with 5:2 plan being the most famous one- at least till now. There's now revelations that suggest that Intermittent Fasting may not be as magical as we hail it to be, and in fact, not any better than the typical weight loss advice we get.
The latest study, conducted by a team of researchers based out UK-based Queen Mary University of London, inferred results from 300 obese individuals who were asked to follow different weight loss strategies. The results, published in the medical journal, PLOS One, found that a 5:2 eating plan offered no greater benefits in comparison to simple diet tweaks. So, is it still wise to follow? We asked two nutritionists to weigh in on the debate:
Convenience of following the diet overtakes the true benefits
Edwina Raj, Senior Dietician, Aster CMI Hospital, Bengaluru, believes that more than the scientific backing, hopping on the fasting plan has become more of a 'trend' nowadays and is simply, very easy to follow. Intermittent Fasting also gained extreme popularity during the pandemic, with many hoping to fight back on the pandemic weight gain.
The 5:2 Intermittent Fasting is one of the most popular and easiest to follow dietary trends and perhaps a great way to detox your body- you eat pretty much normally for 5 days a week, without limiting yourself and the next two days, you maintain an intake of just 500-600 calories. The mere simplicity, and the fact that one doesn't need to steer clear of any food groups, just stick to time-restricted eating patterns is what makes it so easy to follow. By doing so, you consume fewer calories on the whole and get closer to achieving the calorie-deficit, helping you get to your weight loss goals faster. It's also relatively easy to follow, since one does not need to count macros, calorie-count as with other diets.
Also read: 6 reasons why Intermittent Fasting may not be working for you
Does it really help you lose weight faster?
While the PLOS one study is one amongst many and nutritionists feel the findings should be taken with a pinch of salt, they also feel that it’s unfair to equate intermittent fasting to faster weight loss alone. Edwina Raj believes that when we look at the benefits of time-restricted eating, we take into consideration the benefits it has on gut health, digestion- which hold the actual keys to losing weight in a holistic manner.
"Even though Intermittent Fasting may not offer a greater relative difference in comparison to other diets, it's important to understand that it works from the base level to correct parameters including insulin levels, gut health and microbiome, digestion, regulating appetite, which then promote weight loss."
Celebrity nutritionist and Chief Nutritionist at Fitza, Shweta Shah also adds that Intermittent Fasting is vaguely different from Keto or calorie-cutting, and needs crucial changes in the long term for results to show up. "It needs to be remembered that it's more of a lifestyle change than a temporary diet fad.
Both the nutritionists believe that the biggest shortcomings come up when people fail to maintain proper eating habits, or overdo calorie intake, mostly because there are no standardized rules to follow, or medical supervision people go in for. Doing so results in greater damage, and if you eat unhealthy, or without supervision, it may not help one achieve significant results in the long-run.
Does it work for everyone? Could there be side-effects?
While it did help many lose weight, experts feel that people forget to take into account the side-effects and the symptoms one could experience with the diet, which is when they do it without supervision.
Shweta Shah opines that blindly following the diet to lose weight can actually trigger health issues. "Not every diet works well for everyone, and even with IF, it may sometimes do more harm than good. If you are someone who suffers from gas and bloating, fasting for more than 8-10 hours is not ideal as it may worsen gas problems. Whereas people who suffer from acidity also cannot fast for more than 10-12 hours as their acid reflux starts kicking in."
"Severe bloating is an oft-discussed side-effect of intermittent fasting which needs to be considered while you take internet advice. People binge, eat whatever they want since there are no hard or fast rules. You're aligning your eating habits to your biological clock, and when you do something opposite, it will show effects on your health. Eating in a disorderly manner can ruin your health", adds Dr. Raj who often sees patients complaining of these side-effects after following the diet. Nutrient deficiencies, headaches and migraines can also occur and negate true benefits.
Experts also add that intermittent fasting may be less suited for people with Type-1 or Type-2 diabetes, those on medication or low BMI (less than 19) or kids. Do not follow it without medical issues. Pregnant women, and those with a history of eating disorders should also steer clear.
How to transition back to regular eating after Intermittent Fasting and lose weight well
You can lose weight if you follow the diet right. While there may be no greater difference than other diets, to maintain the weight loss and lifestyle, nutritionists also say that one needs to transition back to regular eating in a careful manner, to avoid piling weight back and lose weight efficiently. "We do not recommend getting back to regular eating habits right away as it can be too much for the body to handle. Go slowly, steadily, make changes to your eating window to adapt better." says Dr. Raj.
With Intermittent Fasting, nutritionists also recommend that one ensures proper eating habits, take in all nutrients and most importantly work out well. "Even with time-restricted eating, have proper nutrient-rich foods during the eating window and match it with a supportive workout plan to make the most of your diet".
Also read: Tips to maintain weight loss after getting off Intermittent Fasting