In a world of endless and often conflicting health advice, knowing what works for your body can be extremely challenging. This is especially true when it comes to weight loss, with scientific studies, commercial interests, and personal experience often hard to align. Instead of relying on complicated diets and unrealistic exercise regimes, sometimes there is a simple and easy-to-implement solution. According to a new study published in PLOS One, intermittent fasting can lead to weight loss, with the rigid application of a fasting program not even needed to see positive results.
Intermittent fasting, also known as time restricted eating, is a health and weight loss technique that involves short regular periods of zero or limited food consumption. While studies on intermittent fasting have been mixed, the majority of research suggests positive weight loss outcomes and other health benefits. The study by Queen Mary University of London, which was carried out in the UK, followed a small group of people with obesity over the course of 12 weeks. Participants were asked to eat all of their regular meals within an 8-hour window, and fast for the remaining 16 hours.
Over the course of the study, participants were monitored to check their progress. Body weight was measured at the 6 week and 12 week marks, with 60% of the initial group still following the restricted eating plan by the end of the 12 week period. On average, 26% of people lost at least 5% of their body weight, with participants who adhered to the diet strictly experiencing the most weight loss. However, while the people who followed the diet for at least five days each week recorded greater weight loss, even those with lower adherence recorded positive results.
Intermittent fasting has received lots of attention over recent years, as people struggle with complicated diets and unrealistic exercise programs. While the 16:8 diet is probably the most popular, other timed restrictive eating programs can also have a positive impact. According to Dr. Artur Viana, the clinical director of Yale Medicine’s Metabolic Health and Weight Loss Program, positive results come simply because people do not have the same opportunities to consume: “It is unlikely that someone will overcome the calories skipped during the 16 hours of fasting in those 8 hours they’re allowed to eat.”
There are other explanations, however, with intermittent fasting possibly capable of improving metabolic responses due to the natural imbalances that arise between micro-cycles of feast and famine: “Small studies have suggested that time-restricted eating (TRE) may counteract metabolic adaptation after weight loss (a mechanism that leads to weight regain), favourably affect body composition towards decreased fat mass, decrease hunger, and increase satiety,” said Dr. Viana.
Similar to the paleo diet, time restricted eating is an example of eating like our ancestors in order to avoid the always-available, ultra-processed convenience of modern life. While this way of eating is definitely not for everyone, and you should always consult with your doctor, it seems "when" we eat can be almost as important as "what" we eat. By syncing up our daily food intake based on the demands of our lifestyle, we can benefit from the natural ebbs and flows that accompany all sustainable life.