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Can you drop kilos like Elon Musk did with Intermittent Fasting? Is it for younger adults only?

It works only in recent onset diabetes cases with set directives on how much to eat, what to eat and when to eat within the given time window. It also works best for a young adult, who has been diagnosed with a metabolic syndrome, and typically works from home. But everybody should consult a dietitian, advise experts

The gapping meal strategy has helped Elon Musk and some people slim down. (AP)

When Elon Musk posts a tweet, everybody sits up and takes notice. So, when the Tesla CEO posted a tweet on how periodic or intermittent fasting had helped him drop 9 kg and made him feel healthier, it set off conversations on the virtues of this unique meal-gapping technique.

Musk’s waistline, like his weight loss, had made headlines a while ago with even his father asking him to take a weight loss supplement. But the gapping meal strategy has helped him and some people slim down.

“Fasting has been practised from time immemorial as a means to cleanse one’s body and has been recommended by most religions, albeit in different forms. Intermittent fasting essentially means periods of fasting followed by periods during which eating is permitted. There are several methods of practising it. Alternate day fasting entails restricting your food intake to 500 calories every alternate day while following your usual calorie routine on other days. One could also fast twice a week (5:2 method), or five days every month. The most popular variant in India is, however, the 16:8 method. In a 24-hour cycle, this requires fasting for 16 hours and allows free food consumption in the remaining eight hours,” says Dr Ambrish Mithal, Chairman & Head, Endocrinology & Diabetes, Max Healthcare.

What’s the fat burn logic?

Whenever we eat food, blood glucose levels go up in our bodies. This leads to a surge of insulin which facilitates the uptake of these substances and utilisation by the cells. When glucose supply exceeds energy intake, it is stored as glycogen and ultimately as fat in our body. When we fast, there is a lack of glucose, so energy supply to tissues like muscle, heart, liver and kidneys is maintained first by glycogen and then by breaking down stored fats into ketones (metabolic switch).

“Ultimately when we fast for prolonged periods, our body fat stores start melting. It has also been suggested that such a method may help in cell repair (which may combat ageing), and produce favourable effects on metabolic parameters like cholesterol and blood sugar. Animal studies suggest major benefits of fasting, including longevity,” adds Dr Mithal.

What do studies say on effectiveness of intermittent fasting?

Some human studies have shown that intermittent fasting typically produces weight loss of three to five kilos over two to three months. “The Max Healthcare team did a study of Intermittent Fasting for three months on doctors and paramedics and found that insulin sensitivity improves and insulin resistance reverses. And in the process, there is weight loss in a controlled group. But a diet of this nature is very restrictive and cannot factor in external variables or certain body conditions,” says Ritika Samaddar, Regional Head, Department of Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics, Max Healthcare.

Even a 2020 study, led by Dr Ethan Weiss, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, found fasting dangerous for people with chronic health conditions and particularly those with a history of eating disorders. Besides, the study, which was published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found Intermittent Fasting was more likely to cause muscle loss. About 65 per cent of the total weight loss of people who fasted in the study was from muscle mass. In contrast people who followed an established calorie-restricted diet reported a muscle mass dip of about 20 to 30 per cent. Both groups lost a small amount of weight during the study but the difference was not enough to be statistically significant.

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Who gains from intermittent fasting?

“It works only in recent onset diabetes cases with set directives on how much to eat, what to eat and when to eat within the given time window. Adherence to this is tough and it must be done with restrictive compliance. Intermittent fasting also works best for a young adult, who has been diagnosed with a metabolic syndrome, and typically works from home. But everybody should consult a dietitian,” says Samaddar.

“There are different types of dietary regimes like the eight to 16 hours, which are sometimes modified to 10 and 14 hours. Then there is morning and evening fasting. The 12 noon to 8 pm eating window works for work-from-home people, between brunch and dinner. Sattvik people and seers usually follow the early morning drill, finishing the least meal by sunset,” she adds.

Samaddar rules out this pattern of fasting for “children, adolescents, teens, thyroid patients, pregnant women and those already on medication for chronic conditions.” There are a lot of dos and don’ts. “During the eating period, you cannot have all kinds of processed food, pizza and burgers. It is as regimented a platter as prescribed by dieticians,” she adds.

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“The data till now suggests that Intermittent Fasting may not be more effective than calorie restriction by other means. It is possible that it has long-term benefits in humans but the evidence to prove that is not available at present,” says Dr Mithal. “Giving up dinner is the best strategy, rather than giving up breakfast,” he advises.

First published on: 01-09-2022 at 09:17 IST
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