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After losing 17kg before he turned 50, Sumanta Panigrahi regained 6kg while working from home. He talks about how fasting, diet and exercise helped him drop that weight, too . Photo: Jonathan Wong

How intermittent fasting helped Hong Kong banker shed 17kg, then another 15kg after he put on weight working from home in the pandemic

  • Before he turned 50 Sumanta Panigrahi lost 17kg by intermittent fasting – ‘the best birthday gift I could give myself’ – but put back 6kg working from home
  • A stricter fasting schedule, weight training, running and morning dog walks helped him shed that weight and more to reach a healthy 85kg

Sumanta Panigrahi’s fitness journey personifies resilience and fortitude. During the pandemic, like so many of us, he put on weight – in his case, 6kg. But two years earlier he had worked hard to shed 17kg, going from a high of 111kg to 94kg.

Determined to lose the excess weight and keep it off for good, he lost 15kg within a year – reducing his weight to 85kg – and has sustained his new-found fitness level. What inspired Panigrahi to embark on his original fitness journey? And how was he able to shed the extra kilos, not once but twice?

Panigrahi, from India, is a senior executive with an international bank, and has called Hong Kong home for over a decade. He began working from home after the pandemic struck.

“I am a foodie. Spending more time at home gave me the opportunity to cook, which resulted in overindulgence,” says the 54-year-old, who is 1.79 metres (5ft 10½ inches) tall.

Hong Kong banker Sumanta Panigrahi now and in 2017. Photo: Jonathan Wong/Handout

Panigrahi’s love of food led to his weight going up to 111kg in August 2017.

“I got a wake-up call on two counts, then. First, my medical report showed high blood pressure and high levels of cholesterol and uric acid.

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“Second, I felt disgusted when I looked at myself in the mirror. I was fed up with being overweight, feeling sluggish and unhealthy,” says Panigrahi, who made a promise to get into shape by his 50th birthday in 2018.

He lost more than 17kg over the following 10 months. “It was the best birthday gift that I could give myself.”

Panigrahi started practising intermittent fasting after reading about its benefits. Also referred to as time-restricted eating, it narrows the time window in which you eat, in order to lose weight.
Panigrahi prepares cauliflower “rice” with a quinoa, lentil and tofu stir-fry, with his wife, Sudhasri, at their home in Mid-Levels. Hong Kong. Photo: Jonathan Wong

It is reported to have benefits for managing blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

I started by practising intermittent fasting two days a week by following a 16:8 plan, having my meals within an eight-hour window and fasting for 16 hours,” he says.

“It was difficult at first. But after the first couple of weeks, the craving for food diminished significantly. I was amazed at how easily my body adapted to the new routine.”

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He had a vegetable smoothie for breakfast, skipped lunch, and had rice, lentils, eggs and vegetables for dinner. He eliminated processed food and sugar and substituted white rice with red or brown rice.

“The hardest part of following intermittent fasting was attending lunch meetings without being able to eat. I reminded myself that I could eat that same food during my ‘eating window’. This gave me the willpower to persist,” says Panigrahi.

While growing up, Panigrahi had played basketball and tennis – but he had not been physically active for years. He started by going for short runs of three to five kilometres, building it up to 10km over six months.

He could barely run 300 metres. Now, 22kg lighter, he runs marathons

“The idea was to engage in an activity that I enjoyed, which was challenging, yet achievable. My goal was to enjoy the exercise rather than put pressure on myself,” says Panigrahi, who gradually built up his weekly mileage to 35km. His favourite running trails are Bowen Road, from Mid-Levels up to The Peak and around Lugard Road.

“Running is therapeutic. It allows me to be with my thoughts and calms me down,” shares Panigrahi, who loves to set small challenges for himself such as running for five minutes longer, or jogging for a few extra hundred metres, or pacing himself to achieve a steady heart rate.

Running was hard on Panigrahi’s knees at first, especially with the excess weight he was carrying.
Hong Kong banker Sumanta Panigrahi and his wife, Sudhasri, walking their dogs near their home. Photo: Jonathan Wong

“The best thing that you can do for your knees is lose weight. It is also important to choose running shoes that have enough cushioning to be able to absorb the impact of running. A correct running posture is also critical to avoid injuries,” he says. He ran the Standard Chartered 10km race twice, in 2018 and 2021.

Determined to lose the extra kilograms he had gained during the Covid-19 pandemic, Panigrahi resumed intermittent fasting, following a stricter schedule this time.
He also started weight training with a trainer, working out three times a week. He lost 15kg over the next year, and weighed 85kg by the end of 2021.
Ayon Mallick, a strength and conditioning coach and a national-level boxer, trained online with Panigrahi.

“I ate 11 meals a week, following a 16:8 schedule on four days and 22:2 on the rest of the days. Working with weights strengthened my muscles, made me a better runner and reduced the risk of injuries,” he says.

Panigrahi trained with Ayon Mallick, a strength and conditioning coach based in Bangalore, India, attending sessions online.

“With the running, Sumanta’s hip flexors and glutes had become tight, and he had pain in his knees and shoulders. I focused on building his strength, power and agility by doing exercises using body weights and dumbbells,” explains 30-year-old Mallick, a national-level boxer.

Sonali Bansal, a functional nutritionist, recommended Panigrahi give up lactose and gluten.

Panigrahi also consulted a functional nutritionist, Sonali Bansal, based in Delhi.

“Sumanta and I worked on understanding the core values of nutrition. The focus was not just on weight loss, but also on consuming the right kind of foods and making proper food combinations,” says Bansal, who recommended Panigrahi give up lactose and gluten.

Panigrahi, who now drinks plant-based milk, turned vegetarian on his 40th birthday and went back to meat-eating when he turned 50.

When I was overweight, I was anxious and worried about my health and had low self-esteem. I never want to feel that way again
Sumanta Panigrahi

“I became vegetarian to improve my digestion and resumed eating meat again to increase my protein intake,” says Panigrahi, who found protein choices limited as a vegetarian.

His lunch consists of lean meat, quinoa, brown or red rice, vegetables and potatoes. For dinner he has chicken, eggs, and green vegetables.

Sleep is critical for rest and recovery, according to Panigrahi, who makes sure he gets seven hours of sleep every night.

“I take my two dogs for a 1km walk every morning at 6.30am, which ensures that I am in bed by 11.30pm. I keep a ‘buffer’ period between late-night work calls and bedtime,” he says.

He plays the guitar or the accordion for 30 minutes before getting into bed, which helps him unwind.

Panigrahi with Sudhasri and their son, Arnav. Photo: Jonathan Wong

“The support of my family encouraged me to stay on track to get fit. My wife and sons would join me for runs occasionally and my wife started skipping breakfast to give me company as I fasted,” says Panigrahi.

His wife, Sudhasri, trained for and ran the Standard Chartered 10km race with him in 2021.

Panigrahi’s tips for people in their 40s who want to lose weight is to focus on diet, avoid the “white devils” of white flour, white sugar, white rice and dairy produce – and to be active on a regular basis practising a sport or activity that you enjoy.

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“Losing weight has given me confidence. I feel good about myself. When I was overweight, I was anxious and worried about my health and had low self-esteem. I never want to feel that way again. That is what motivates me to stay fit,” he says.

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