Eating Less May Be Better Than Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss

New research suggests that reducing overall calorie intake may promote weight loss better than time-restricted eating.

Intermittent fasting has gained popularity as a method to lose weight. This diet lifestyle involves not eating for a specific timeframe, alternating with scheduled meals. Some evidence suggests that this diet regimen can result in weight loss without adverse effects, as well as benefit cardiometabolic outcomes in people with obesity.

However, it’s unclear how intermittent fasting stacks up against diets that involve overall calorie reduction.

Recently, the American Heart Association published study findings that suggest eating less overall and consuming fewer large meals may be more effective for weight loss than intermittent fasting.

The study was published on January 18 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

To determine whether fasting intervals between meals promoted weight changes, scientists recruited 547 adult participants from three health systems. Among them, 80% were White, 12% were Black, and around 3% were Asian. The average age of the participants was 51 years, and the average body mass index was within the obese range.

The participants recorded eating, sleeping, and wake-up times using Daily24, an app created by the research team. This allowed the scientists to calculate times from the first to the last meal, from waking up to the first meal, and from the last meal to sleep.

During the six-year follow-up period, meal timing was not associated with weight changes. However, the number of medium (about 500–1,000 calories) and large (more than 1,000 calories) meals consumed was associated with weight gain.

Moreover, weight decreases were linked to eating fewer smaller meals of less than 500 calories.

In addition, the researchers found that the average time from waking up to the first meal was 1.6 hours. The time from the first to the last meal was 11.5 hours, and the duration from the last meal to bedtime was 4 hours. Most people slept an average of 7.5 hours.

The team also found that participants who ate a meal sooner after waking up and had a lengthier time from their last meal to bedtime appeared to gain less weight.

Overall, the research did not find evidence that time-restricted eating, a strategy used in intermittent fasting, resulted in weight changes.

Instead, the study authors suggest that limiting the frequency and size of meals is more effective for weight loss over time.

Some limitations to the study include the follow-up period was relatively short, the participants estimated their meal sizes, and the team did not evaluate food quality.

According to the study authors, more large‐scale prospective studies with precise measurements of meal timing are needed to understand the long‐term associations.

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