Intermittent fasting (IF) is probably the most effective approach to weight loss. Thankfully, the benefits of IF go beyond a fit body. Numerous studies have shown that IF can help improve glucose control, lower the risk of heart disease, and most notably, reduce chronic inflammation. Time-restricted eating, a form of IF, is of particular interest among people as it can offer similar benefits while being more flexible.
What Is Time-Restricted Eating?
Time-restricted eating is an eating pattern in which you consume all of your daily calories within a certain period each day. People also call it time-restricted feeding.
It is a type of intermittent fasting. Nonetheless, it is more flexible compared to other types such as the 5:2 diet, 20-hours fasts, and 24-hour fasts.
If you have an 8-hour eating period each day, you will have to go without food for the remaining 16 hours. One easy way to do it would be to eat all your food from 10 am to 6 pm.
However, you can change your food timing based on your schedule. In any case, you are not allowed to eat anything outside the 8 hours.
During the fasting period, you can drink unsweetened black coffee or water but no calories.
If not eating at all for 16 hours seems like an uphill challenge, you may start with fasting for 10 to 12 hours. Once you get used to it, you can progress to longer hours of going without food.
Is Time-Restricted Eating Different from Intermittent Fasting?
If you search “Time-restricted eating Vs Intermittent Fasting” in Google, you will find thousands of results within a second. This can be confusing, as every source has its own set of similarities and differences.
What you should keep in mind is that time-restricted eating is a form of intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is an umbrella term for many eating methods that alternate between cycles of feeding and fasting.
Find out more about the types of intermittent fasting here.
What are The Benefits?
1. It Can Help Reduce Your Daily Calorie Intake
Modern life has drastically changed the amount of sleep and daily food intake. We sleep for a few hours and eat more food.
Between 1971 and 2000, daily calorie consumption in US women increased from 1542 to 1877. Likewise, during the same period, US men increased their daily calorie intake from 2450 to 2618. This is according to a CDC report published in 2004.
Time-restricted eating is one of the easiest ways to limit your daily calorie intake.
According to one study, healthy adults who ate food only during a 10-hour window consumed nearly 20 percent fewer calories each day.
A recent study further corroborates these findings. The study revealed that eating only within a 4-hour window each day can reduce your daily calorie intake by about 650 calories.
2. Keep Your Heart Young and Healthy
“Bad” cholesterol (LDL) and high blood pressure are well-established risk factors for heart disease.
Time-restricted eating can be effective in lowering both these risk factors.
In one study, participants who followed 8-hour time-restricted eating for one month achieved a 10% decrease in “bad” cholesterol levels.
Researchers at the University of California found that eating within a 10-hour window for 12 weeks significantly reduces body fat and blood pressure. The study appeared in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Interestingly, a few animal studies have shown that time-restricted eating may preserve your heart’s ability to contract. Reduced contractility is a major cause of heart failure.
3. Benefit Your Brain Health
Being hungry and having a healthy brain might sound counterintuitive for many people.
However, increasing evidence suggests IF approaches like time-restricted eating can not only improve brain health but also enhance your stress response.
Long-term time-restricted eating switches your metabolism. With the metabolic switch, your body begins using fatty acids and ketones as the primary source of fuel rather than carbs.
This can cause a myriad of brain health benefits. For example, animals on an 8-hour feeding period have better learning memory, fewer anxiety-related symptoms, and better communication between brain cells.
Besides, time-restricted feeding can improve sleep and reduce oxidative stress.
4. Lower the Risk of Diabetes
Time-restricted eating has shown promising results in men at high risk of type 2 diabetes.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), diabetes caused nearly 1.6 million deaths in 2016. It ranked seventh in the list of top killer diseases in 2016.
In a 2019 study, Australian researchers found that limiting food intake to a nine-hour period per day caused a significant reduction in fasting blood glucose levels.
Most notably, the effects were observed just one week after following the eating pattern.
Earlier human studies showed that time-restricted eating could reduce fasting blood sugar levels by more than 5%.
Limiting your eating period may also help with weight loss, which might aid better glucose control.
5. Complement Your Exercise Program
People, especially those who lift weights, often fear that limiting food intake will affect their muscle growth.
Interestingly, scientific studies suggest that combining time-restricted eating with exercise can help preserve muscle and lose fat.
One such study found that young men who performed resistance training with time-restricted eating had similar muscle growth as in those without time-restricted eating.
Likewise, another study in women noted no negative effects of time-restricted eating as long as the participants ate enough calories and protein.
How to Do Time-Restricted Eating?
Doing time-restricted eating is not rocket science. It’s all about finding out the right eating window and following it strictly. There are no one-size-fits-all rules regarding the number of hours when you can eat.
Typically, the eating window ranges from 6–10 hours each day. If you are looking to lose weight, you may want to keep the eating window near 6 hours.
On the other hand, if you aim to improve your health and stay fit, you may want to keep it for up to 10 hours.
Keep in mind that most studies have used the 8-hour eating window. Thus, it is safe to say that eating all your calories within the 8-hour window each day is likely the best.
To enhance the effects of fasting, you may combine it with specific diets such as the keto diet or a high-protein diet.
Further Reading: Why Combine Keto and Intermittent Fasting
Is It Safe?
There have been no reports of any serious side effects or complications related to time-restricted eating.
It is safe and less taxing than many other intermittent fasting methods. Even so, some people, especially during the first few days, may experience:
- Increased irritability
- Problems with concentration
- Overeating (during the eating window)
Nonetheless, these side effects are usually short-lived. They tend to go away once your body adapts to a new eating pattern.
Experts warn that people with certain conditions should consult their physician before starting time-restricted eating. For example,
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women.
- Those with eating disorders.
- Women with irregular menstrual cycles.
- Those who have been diagnosed with medical conditions such as diabetes.
- People who take prescription medications.
- Underweight people.
A 2019 study published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism concludes that:
“Consuming food within an 8-h window can safely facilitate weight loss in subjects with obesity.”
How Long Can You Do Time-Restricted Eating?
Scientists have not yet examined the effects of long-term fasting. However, most studies have shown that time-restricted eating between 8 weeks to 12 weeks is safe.
Essential Tips for Doing It Safely:
- Start with the shortest fasting period. You could start with fasting for 12 hours and eating during the next 12 hours. If you had your last meal at 8 pm, do not eat anything until 8 am the next morning. This is not new to breakfast skippers!
- There is no hurry. Gradually increase the period of fasting. Doing so allows more time for your body to adapt. This reduces the chances of side effects.
- Continue with your workouts while doing time-restricted eating. Studies have shown that exercise is essential to maintaining muscle strength and fasting will not result in muscle loss. However, you need to eat enough calories and protein during the eating window.
- Remember time-restricted eating is about when to eat and when not to eat. There is no fixed time-restricted eating plan or schedule. You can customize the schedule based on your daily routine.
One popular schedule is the 14:10 method. Dr. Rhonda Patrick, the person behind this method, talked about IF and time-restricted eating in the video podcast; “The Joe Rogan Experience”.
- Time-restricted eating may be less effective for weight loss compared to other IF methods. However, individual responses may vary. Thus, it is important to find the IF method that actually works for you and addresses your needs. For this, you can consult an expert or a team of experts.
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