It turns out, it’s not just what we eat that matters for our health, but also when we eat. Many Americans eat throughout the day. We force our bodies to keep pumping out insulin as we metabolize a steady stream of food.
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Now, a small study in the Journal of Nutritional Science suggests that time-restricted eating can help us reduce our body fat.
What is time-restricted eating?
It’s not about counting calories or changing what you eat. Time-restricted eating simply means shortening the window of time in which you eat during the day.
In the 10-week University of Surrey study, researchers split 13 healthy volunteers into two groups:
- One group ate breakfast 90 minutes later, and dinner 90 minutes earlier, than usual.
- The other group followed their normal eating routine.
Neither group had eating restrictions. Both groups kept food diaries and gave blood samples over the 10 weeks.
Did time-restricted eating work?
At the end of this study, the time-restricted eating group shaved four and a half hours off their eating time and:
- Lost body fat.
- Reduced total calorie intake.
- Modestly lowered risk factors like LDL cholesterol.
The control group did not.
The time-restricted eating schedule accomplished what many popular diets cannot: fat loss.
Can eating times be flexible?
The study participants found it hard to stick to their restrictive eating schedule. After all, family and social obligations can interfere with fasting.
But 43 percent said they would consider continuing the program if eating times were more flexible.
What many of my patients do is simply stop eating at 6 p.m., or eat an early dinner and avoid calories in the evening.
Some of my patients combine intermittent fasting with time-restricted eating because it’s an easier approach. They fast on a few non-consecutive days each week and do time-restricted eating on the other days.
What does other research show?
Because this small study was preliminary, we need large-scale human studies to confirm its findings. However, the results agree with what other studies have found:
- That time-restricted eating can reduce body fat as well as glucose and cholesterol levels.
- That participants have less hunger and eat less overall.
- That a fasting diet can reduce body fat and risk of disease, and increase lifespan.
- That changing the timing of meals can help fight obesity and diseases that impact the quality and quantity of life.
Multiple studies have proven that counting calories does not work.
Let’s focus on the hours in which we’re actually eating instead.
By Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD