You’re trying to drop 10 pounds or so, but you hate counting calories. So, don’t—and still lose weight.
A new study suggests an alternate approach that many people find more palatable than calorie counting works just as well. It’s called time-restricted eating—eating within a specified time window every day.
After a year, the researchers found the time-restricted group ate 425 fewer calories a day compared to the control group, and lost about 10 more pounds.
Researchers from the University of Illinois Chicago concluded that both approaches work after they studied 90 adults, all obese, on average in their mid-40s. The researchers divided the participants into three groups:
- the restricted time window group, which ate from noon to 8 p.m. daily without counting calories.
- the calorie restricted group, which were told to reduce calories by 25% daily.
- the comparison or control group, which ate as usual over 10 or more hours daily.
After a year, the researchers found the time-restricted group ate 425 fewer calories a day compared to the control group, and lost about 10 more pounds. The calorie-counting group ate 405 fewer calories a day and lost about 12 more pounds than the control group, not a big difference. The control group gained about 2.5 pounds.
How Time Restriction Diets Work
Expert Perspective: There’s nothing magical about the noon to 8 window, says study researcher Krista A. Varady, PhD, a professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois Chicago. “People tend to prefer this window so they can still have dinner with their families,” she says. And, while some restricted eating plans recommend shorter windows, say 4 or 6 hours, she says they are a bit harder to follow, since they require going without food for more hours. However, the shorter windows also work because they mean people have less time to eat, and that results in more weight loss, she says.
Her advice: “In real life, people should choose whatever window works best for them. They can shift the window slightly, by about one hour per day,’’ Varady says. “We don’t recommend more, since it is difficult for one’s circadian rhythm to adjust to massive swings in eating patterns.”
Another plus: Varady says most people find eating within a time window a very easy weight loss plan to follow. “We never have dropouts due to dislike of time-restricted eating.”
Previous Research: The new study echoes some previous research finding that eating within a window does help people shed weight. In a study published in 2022, researchers compared adults who had obesity who ate from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily with those ate for 12 or more hours. Both groups reduced calories. The early window for eating was more effective for weight loss, they found – and also improved mood and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number). Another expert calls time-restricted eating a promising idea that needs stronger clinical evidence.
Timed Dieting Coaches?
Coaching, Advice: While people who want to lose weight often ask doctors about fasting as a method, it’s important to know the terms around the approach, according to Adam H. Gilden, MD, an obesity specialist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study.
“Intermittent fasting” is an umbrella term, he says, to describe regimens involving energy restriction for specific periods. Time-restricted eating, or TRE, the approach evaluated in the new research, is a specific type involving fasting and eating periods within a 24-hour cycle in which food intake is restricted to a window of 8-10 hours or less a day.
For older adults who wish to try this, with their doctor’s OK, here is his advice: “Track food intake for at least two weeks, including counting calories and protein intake. Then, meeting with a registered dietitian is a good idea. It is very important in older age to exercise to maintain lean muscle mass during weight loss and this should include resistance or strength training.”
Have you tried time-restricted eating? How did it work for you? Let us know in the comments!
Kathleen Doheny is a Los Angeles-based independent journalist, specializing in health, behavior, fitness and lifestyle stories. Besides writing for Senior Planet, she reports for WebMD, Medscape, Psycom.net, Practical Pain Management, and other sites. She is a mom, mother-in-law and proud and happy Mimi who likes to hike, jog and shop.
Doheny photo: Shaun Newton
Photo, Top: Jamie Matociños on Unsplash
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