Diets, as we know them, either revolve around our calorie intake or removing certain food groups from your meals. There is another way of losing weight, one which our ancestors have practiced unknowingly for generations – Time Restricted Eating.
What is Time Restricted Eating?
Also known as Intermittent Fasting or Time Restricted Feeding (TRF), it refers to the discipline of restricting your food intake to a gap of a few hours in the day. The rest of the day, one allows the body to process that food and recover.
So When Should I Eat?
There are many versions of Time Restricted Eating. The smallest period (and supposedly the most effective) is 18/6, which means that you eat only within a six-hour window and fast the rest of the day. Other versions practiced include the more realistic 16/8 (eating within an eight-hour window) or the easy (but not as effective) 12/12.
Does Time Restricted Eating Work?
Perhaps, the most work on this field has been done at The Salk Institute in California. Researchers studied the effects of fasting and how it affected the health of mice. The mice were allowed to eat whatever they wanted (all calorie-high and ‘unhealthy’ food), but within a specific time period of the day. The results showed a 26% weight gain in mice that had nine-hour access to food, 43% weight gain in mice that ate for 15 hours and 65% weight gain in mice that had round-the-clock access.
What is interesting here is that all the mice ate unhealthy, calorie-rich food. Yet, merely by controlling the time period when the food was accessible to them, one could control the effect it had on their weight. Moreover, the study also showed that time restricted eating resulted in weight loss of up to 12% in mice who were already obese. The first study on this subject done on humans by the University of Alabama at Birmingham came to similar conclusions (however, the sample size leaves a lot to be desired).
To Indians, and many other cultures across the globe, this does not seem like such a strange idea. In fact, many religions propagate fasting for different reasons. Many Hindus observe a vrat on a specific day of the week, be it Monday, Tuesday or Thursday. Festivals too, are celebrated by fasting during the daytime. In Islam, Ramadan is an important part of the year when followers must eat only at sunrise and sunset and fast the whole day. Different sects within Christianity observe fasts during different periods, usually during the month of Lent. Judaism, Budhhism and Jainism, all of them have their own versions of incorporating intermittent fasting into the cultural framework.
Though the understanding of Time Restricted Eating has only been achieved in recent years, our ancestors were perhaps, forced into it as a way of life, due to lack of access to food. Thus, they invariably gave their bodies 16-18 hours of rest.
Can I Eat Anything?
As the study shows, consumption of ‘unhealthy’ food, albeit for a restricted time-frame, will not automatically lead to weight loss (except in the case of obese individuals). What you eat during the access-times is also important, making it critical that you load up on essential nutrients required by the body.
Other Benefits Besides Weight Loss
A study published in the Journal of Translational Medicine in October, 2016 and conducted by researchers from Italy, Brazil and United States, looked at the effects of Time Restricted Eating on athletes. The results suggested that an intermittent fasting program in which all calories are consumed in an eight-hour window each day, in conjunction with resistance training, could improve some health-related bio-markers, decrease fat mass, and maintain muscle mass in resistance-trained males.
Another study done at the University of California, looked at effects of TRF on 2200 women with an average BMI of 28, making them overweight. The research noted, “Women who fasted for longer nightly intervals had better blood sugar control than those who didn’t fast as long, and that was independent of other eating behaviours such as how many calories women were eating.”
Besides blood sugar control, TRF has also been known to help reduce inflammation, enhance heart health and immunity, and lower the risk of cancer and even the risk of dementia.
History, culture and science all seem to agree that fasting for a certain period every day allows the body to rest and recuperate. Defining this time period, however, should be done in conjunction with your nutritionist or an expert who can study your metabolism, other health indicators and thus, suggest the ideal food-interval and also what time of the day you should eat. Also, it is not necessary that you follow Time Restricted Eating every day, as you would be expected to with other diets. You could choose to follow it only 3-4 days in the week and still see the effects.