Is Time-Restricted Eating Better than Dieting?

Time-Restricted Eating

Intermittent fasting is becoming more popular these days, and for good reason.  Quite frankly, it can be a lot easier to embrace as a concept or a behavior than going on yet another diet

When you think about it, intermittent fasting, or time-restricted eating has one rule.  Intermittent fasting would go something like “I don’t eat on Mondays and Fridays.”  Time-restricted eating is more of a daily approach, something like “I don’t eat between 7PM and 7AM.”  That’s it.  One rule, one idea. 

In these scenarios, a person does not have to approach the complexities of dieting.  After all, dieting involves motivation, self-control, and development of the myriads of habits that go along with it. 

Just so you know, research supports restricting eating times as a way to lose weight.  Not only that!  Restricting eating times does wonders for our metabolism, quality of sleep, and energy levels. 

Actually, this is not surprising

Apparently we humans have been around for a long time, like millions of years.  During most of that time we knew how to fast.  It came naturally.  We did not have food available all the time like we do now.  And, guess what?  Our bodies evolved to be able to handle it.  If they hadn’t, we would not have survived.  In fact, our bodies stay healthier if they have certain times when there is no eating.

This, of course, is not what is going on today.  We have “fast foods” all over the place that are calorie dense and highly palatable.  Many of us are sensitive to the temptations that these foods provide.  People get distracted by food cues that remind them of the rewarding taste of favorite foods.  Impulsive eating is everywhere. 

Research has shown that impulsive eating is a cognitive issue, and not related to actual hunger.  Overeating is often associated with situations like eating in the car, social situations, social isolation, going to restaurants, being tired, irritable, bored, depressed, and skipping meals.  You could probably add your own triggers to this list, even if you are generally a pretty mindful eater. 

There’s an app for that

These days we can find out just how often, when, and how much people are eating.  That’s because “there’s an app for that.” 

In 2015 there was a great study that led to some amazing conclusions.  They developed an app that was able to record every eating or drinking event of the day very easily.  All people had to do was take a picture of what they were eating, a sort of “before and after” which showed leftovers, if any.  If they forgot, they could text it in.  This study gathered 26,676 events over a period of three weeks. 

That’s it.  People did not have to keep a daily log, try to figure out portions, number of calories, type of food (think of the demands on those following keto, paleo and so on) or do any meal planning. 

Here’s the shocking results (OK, maybe they weren’t all that shocking).  Turns out that half of the people in the study eat for almost 15 hours a day.  Day in and day out.  Eating was erratic.  There was not necessarily an actual meal consumed.  When there was a meal, the average length of time spent on it was 14 and a half minutes.  This flies in the face of the very common advice to slow down and make a meal last at least 20 minutes to give your stomach a chance to register fullness. 

Moreover, less that 25% of the daily calories were consumed before noon, with over 37% of calories coming along after 6PM.  Food consumed after 6PM tended to be the more highly palatable kind.  Meaning, more calorie dense, but empty calories (aka, snacks).  In fact, eating at night is a thing that people often admit to struggling with. 

Looking at it broadly, these people tended to not sleep well, not be hungry in the morning, and often struggled with not feeling energetic.  As it turns out, eating at night actually put many of these people over the threshold of the number of calories their bodies need during a day.

How time-restricted eating changed it all

In a stoke of brilliance, this study went on to have some of the 15-hour eaters participate in a 16-week period of limiting daily eating to a 10-11 hour period.  The results were stunning.  The people experienced reduced body weight, felt more energetic, and had improvements in sleep.  People liked the results they got, and many of them were still limiting their daily eating a year later.  Most notably, people did not feel the need to overeat during eating hours, and very soon got rid of their nighttime cravings.   

This is just the beginning.  Other studies have found weight loss, improved glucose tolerance, reduced blood lipids, improved blood pressure, and improved gut function with time-restricted eating.  There have been positive effects on appetite-related hormones.  Other studies have discovered that these benefits will also occur even if there is no weight loss. 

This takes us back to my original point.  Our bodies are more than equipped to  handle periods of time when we don’t eat.  In fact, it is a good way to maintain health.  Eating erratically and for many hours of the day strains many of our systems, and can lead to many of the chronic diseases that afflict us like diabetes and heart disease. 

Taking action

What to do?  If you fall into the 14-15 hour category (or know someone who does), you can take advantage of the obvious benefits of time-restricted eating.  You can self-select the hours that would work the best, say, 7PM to 7AM, and go with it.  Doing so will get you back in line with what keeps our bodies healthy. 

Is there a catch?  Well, of course.  It may be difficult at first to explain to family and friends that you will not participate in late night meals, eating at some social occasions, or grabbing popcorn at the movies.  But pretty soon it can become just how you roll, and people will get used to what you are doing.  And YOU will get used to what you are doing.  After all, it’s for a good cause. 

All the best
Kristen

© 2022 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved
Photo Credit: Fabio Camandona | iStock

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