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Intermittent fasting gained huge popularity in the last two years. The benefits of intermittent fasting helped many for weight loss and other health benefits.

But don’t you think eating is getting complicated like never before? Few decades back, it was simple. People were happy to have 3 square meals a day. Later, the concept of small frequent meals came in the picture. We have been told about the amazing benefits of it and we adopted that.

However today, this frequent snacking habit seems to be the biggest threat to our health. Now intermittent fasting is the “in thing”. Looks like we are again back to the square one. You must be confused thinking what to do? Let’s try to decode both the concept to help you to adopt the right one.


Intermittent fasting – the benefits

All the benefits of intermittent fasting comes from the core mechanism “autophagy”. It is an inbuilt mechanism where our cell disassemble all the stored unnecessary component and recycle them to make new cellular part. In a simpler word, it is like decluttering your room and then making some DIY items with those clutter.

Intermittent fasting is like a natural detoxification which helps to recreate the hormonal balance. As a result we get a steady insulin response, increased release of human growth hormone, boost metabolism, reduce inflammation, improve brain health, prevent cancer etc. The list is really long.

All you need is to keep fast either for 16 hr everyday or for full 1-2 days in a week. Yes, you are allowed to take baby steps. So you can start with may be 12 hours and slowly reach to 16 hr. But remember intermittent fasting 16/8 is the key to ensure all its benefits.

Intermittent fasting gives you the thumb rule of keeping fasting period for 16 hr. This automatically narrow down your eating window into 8 hr. Therefore after finishing the good square meals, the chance of snacking junk gets minimised.

Intermittent fasting – the drawbacks

Can you do it? Did you try? Did you try enough? Intermittent fasting may sounds simple but it is not easy. There is no doubt that intermittent fasting has many health benefits. Research papers, case studies all are reinforcing the fact that you must try intermittent fasting. But at the end of the day it is you who has to adopt it.

Food is like a mental security to many of us. So the thought of going on fast for 16 hr everyday can be a bit scary for many. Initial hesitation, fear and chance of failure is very much there. So what to do? What about them?


Small frequent meal – the benefits

Now the idea of small frequent meal is sounding great right? Specifically, if you are the one who has failed adopting intermittent fasting. After all we love food. Food gives us strength mentally and physically.

Small frequent meal is great as it can also help you to get a steady blood sugar level and better insulin response. Stable blood sugar will give you steady energy throughout the day. Study shows that those who ate small frequent meal consumed fewer calorie and had low BMI.

You must be totally confused at this point, right? doesn’t the benefits look similar for both intermittent fasting as well as for small frequent meal? Please note, all the benefits of small frequent meal lies in 3 basic questions.

What to eat?

When to eat?

And, how much to eat?

Small frequent meal – the drawbacks

Most of the cases the answers of these three basic questions become the drawback of small frequent meals. We often misinterpret rather shield our junk cravings in the name of small frequent meal. Since, this allows us to eat often, we eat whatever we crave for. And we know that we never crave for fruits or vegetables or any home-made food. We look for junk, processed foods to satisfy our cravings.

If you want to eat healthy, then it requires a lot of planing to keep 7-8 healthy meals/snacks /drinks ready throughout the day. On the other hand for intermittent fasting one need to plan only for 2-3 healthy meals a day.


Intermittent fasting vs small frequent meals – what to follow?

So after getting aware of the pros and cons of intermittent fasting and small frequent meals, it boils down to the same question. What to follow- Intermittent fasting or small frequent meal?

Both the diet technique intermittent fasting and small frequent meals, emphasise on food quality and balanced diet. Quality food here stands for seasonal variety of cereals (rice,wheat and its products, oats, millets etc.), pulses, fruits, vegetables, milk and milk products, nuts and seeds, good fats, sugar (yes in limited amount) and fish, chicken, meat, eggs etc. There is no room for processed and junk foods in both the diet technique.

The only difference in both is the frequency of eating. Intermittent fasting generally suggests 2-3 square meals leaving a gap of 16 hr as fasting period. Small frequent meal points towards splitting the same amount of food  into 5-6 or sometimes 7 smaller meals leaving a gap of 9-10 hr as fasting period.

Do whichever suits your routine – intermittent fasting, 5-8 small frequent meals or even 4 square meals. Remember, your diet is definitely an important but just a part of your life. Diet should never be a time frame part for you. It has to be sustainable. You should be able to follow your diet easily rest of your life, irrespective of your geographical location or work schedule.

You should definitely try doing intermittent fasting with utmost sincerity. If it does not work for you then follow small frequent meal in a true sense.

Bottom Line

Intermittent fasting or small frequent meals both has its own benefits and drawbacks. Eating a healthy balanced diet is the only non-negotiable part of your life. No matter whichever diet you follow, keeping a long distance from any processed and junk food should be the one and only diet motto for you. Now what left? Frequency? Choose you meal frequency as per your convenience. It could be intermittent fasting 16/8 or small frequent meal or even 4 square meals a day. Try everything but the choice is yours.

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Dr. Soma Chakrabarty is based in Hyderabad. She has 15 yrs of working experience in nutrition. She guides people to modify eating behavior and achieve goals for wellness. She believes in a practical diet that helps people to live rather than survive.

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