Study: Eat often but reduce your portions to cut weight

restricted eating

Time-restricted eating is a form of intermittent-fasting that involves having a shortened period of time for eating in a day.

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You may not get a lean body by restricting your meal times. Instead, taking less food portions with fewer calories could be a better option if you want to lose weight, a new study has shown.

The six-year study with over 550 participants complicates the already arduous journey of losing weight as it negates a routine used by people who practice intermittent fasting to shed off some weight.

Using a mobile application, the participants of the study recorded details such as the time they went to sleep or woke up and every time they had their meals.

The researchers, who published their findings in the Journal of the American Heart Association, analysed their eating behaviours with a focus on the time they took their food and how much food they ingested.

The results of the study show that the timing of meals may not be a quick fix for weight loss. The researchers explain that this timing includes the period between the first and last meal, the time between waking up and eating the first meal and the period between your last meal and when you go to sleep as well as how long you take to sleep.

The researchers found out that, the more food one takes with even higher calories regardless of the timing, the likelier they would gain weight.

“Number of daily meals was positively associated with weight change over six years. Our findings did not support the use of time-restricted eating as a strategy for long-term weight loss in a general medical population,” said the researchers

“The average daily number of large and medium meals was associated with increased weight over time, suggesting that the meal frequency and meal sizes, rather than the timing of meals, was a stronger determinant of weight gain over time,” they added. The craze about the time restricted eating has been subject to scientific debate for years.

Time-restricted eating is a form of intermittent-fasting that involves having a shortened time for eating in a day, as well as taking certain foods at specific times to lose weight.

In 2013, a study published in the scientific journal Obesity showed that it is okay to take breakfast with high calories and the opposite for dinner to manage obesity and metabolic syndrome.

‘ Dietary interventions’

Acknowledging at the time that the concept of timing of meals was new, the researchers explained that their study was done using mice and they observed weight loss when timing their meals.

“Dietary interventions nowadays take into account only total daily energy intake rather than the timing of food consumption. The importance of the timing with the same caloric intake has recently been shown in mice, as a four-hour window of a high-fat diet, which led to a similar caloric intake as a whole day low-fat diet intake, resulted in decreased body weight and improved metabolism,” said the 2013 study.

They, however, had limitations in their research. A study done under laboratory conditions may have missed strict supervision and some behavioural change in diet could not be controlled.

“The present study was also for a short period of time, which diminishes the power to detect follow-up differences between the groups,” said the researchers.

Other studies have also tried to debunk the notion that taking food at a certain time will help in weight loss.

One such study published by the scientific journal Cell Metabolism showed that changes in weight loss could be behavioural and could lead to a change in appetite.

“We clearly demonstrate that calorie utilisation does not vary with time of day, suggesting that metabolic adaptation does not provide the basis for the enhanced weight loss associated with morning calorie loading seen in other studies,” said the cell metabolism study.

Another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine also disproved time restricted eating as a benefit to weight loss.

“Among patients with obesity, a regimen of time-restricted eating was not more beneficial with regard to reduction in body weight, body fat, or metabolic risk factors than daily calorie restriction,” said the study.

The researchers from the new study advocate for further large-scale studies with long follow-up times to better characterise the association for time of eating with weight change.