When it comes to eating strategies for losing weight and improving health, it seems no stone has gone unturned. From starvation diets to the latest food-specific eating regimens, each method offers a unique approach to achieving the desired goal. Unfortunately, the majority of these tactics fall short in the long run. Users often complain that these eating plans are too difficult to maintain on a regular basis or don’t provide the necessary micro and macronutrients to function at optimal levels throughout the day.
If optimizing your health is a priority, and the concept of severely limiting your calorie intake or following complicated meal plans are not viable options, then a new diet approach known as time-restricted eating (TRE) is worth a closer look.
What Is Time-Restricted Eating?
Time-restricted eating shifts the emphasis from what you’re eating to when you’re eating. In its simplest terms, TRE limits your food intake to a specific number of hours each day. The belief is that by shortening the number of hours you eat during each 24-hour cycle, you will eat less and thus take in fewer calories (1). And because TRE focuses on when you eat rather than what you eat, it can also be combined with any type of diet such as a high protein or low carb diet. As long as you eat reasonable sized portions within a defined window of time each day, chances are good you’ll experience the benefits of a diet that’s actually not too difficult to follow and stick with over the long-haul.
How Does Time-Restricted Eating Work?
TRE works by choosing to eat your calories during a specific window of time each day, such as between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. or between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. In most cases, that calorie-consumption window is 8-12 hours in duration. As long as you’re strictly adhering to eating during a specific time every day, the time period during which you choose to eat is up to you. The remaining hours of the day are the fasting period when no calories are consumed. You can drink water, decaffeinated coffee, or tea (no added ingredients) during the fasting periods, but you’ll want to avoid consuming anything else to maximize the fat-burning, weight-loss potential of the fasting hours. By reducing the eating window, the body uses its own stored glycogen from carbohydrates and uses stored fat as fuel.
The Benefits of Time-Restricted Eating
Calorie reduction has been shown to be a primary benefit of TRE. One study found that when healthy adult men limited their eating to about a 10-hour window, it reduced the number of calories they ate each day by about 20% (2). Another study reported that young men ate about 650 fewer calories per day when they limited their food intake to a 4-hour period (3).
Along with limiting the window during which you eat each day, research findings have also shown that the earlier you stop eating in the day, the more positive the overall results. For example, in one recent study (4) led by Courtney Peterson, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, findings showed the benefits of a TRE approach that called for an earlier ending time to daily eating. Here, 11 overweight men and women spent four days eating only between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. (a "restricted" schedule), and then four more days eating between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. The research team found that time-restricted eating elevated participants’ fat burning at night, while also reducing daily hunger swings throughout the day. Further studies (5,6) have demonstrated that animals also lose fat when subjected to TRE. And the benefits extend beyond just weight reduction and fat loss. Studies have shown that TRE could also lead to a healthier lifestyle and cardiometabolic risk factor management. (7)
The physical and mental health benefits facilitated by TRE are numerous and adhering to a dedicated calorie reduction plan in a measured and systematic approach can help you lose weight and maintain optimal levels of metabolic health. However, it’s important to keep in mind that TRE research is still in its infancy; additional scientific research will help to further expand the body of evidence in support of the positive impact TRE has on humans.
While many nutrition experts approve of TRE, and studies continue to support its weight loss and health benefits on metabolism (cholesterol and glucose levels in the blood), those who incorporate this eating approach into their lifestyle should also keep in mind that it doesn’t give you the green light to feast on unhealthy fats and sugars during the eating window.
For optimal weight loss results and to feel better in general, you’re much more likely to excel by making healthy food choices whether you’re following a time-restricted eating plan or not. Imagine, though, how much fat you stand to lose by combining TRE with a healthy eating plan that consists primarily of foods such as vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein!
Finally, a TRE diet is not recommended for people suffering from low blood sugar levels. Always consult a physician before starting on any diet, including this one.