The Grapevine

Lose Weight By Changing When You Eat, Not Just What You Eat

Having dinner early and breakfast later could help reduce body fat, according to preliminary findings. This adds to a growing number of studies suggesting modest changes to meal timings make quite the difference.

The results of the pilot study were recently published in the Journal of Nutritional Sciences.

The research team conducted the study over a period of ten weeks, splitting participants into two groups. While one group followed their usual eating schedule, the other group was instructed to delay their breakfast by 90 minutes and eat their dinner 90 minutes earlier. This is a form of intermittent fasting known as time-restricted feeding.

Meal timings carried emphasis as none of them were asked or encouraged to follow a strict diet. On average, those who changed their timings lost over two times as much body fat as those who made no changes in their timings.

"This is very encouraging," said lead investigator Dr. Jonathan Johnston, reader in chronobiology and integrative physiology at the University of Surrey. "People can still, to some degree, eat the food that they would like but if they simply change the time at which they eat then that can have a long-term benefit."

But he was quick to add he would not consider it to be a magic bullet, but rather, an important piece of the jigsaw. So even if you are eating within a window, that alone cannot be used to compensate for unhealthy food choices and excess calorie intake.

To understand why body fat was reduced at a higher rate, it was speculated that moving our meal timings further away from our sleep timings may help the body improve how it metabolizes food. There is also the fact that our "fast period" is longer due to the time restrictions.

After the trial, the research team decided to find out how easy or difficult it was to follow time-restricted eating. Among the participants, 57 percent reported the timings would be hard to follow beyond the study period for reasons related to their family and social life. But 43 percent of participants said they would consider following this pattern if the eating times were more flexible.

"[As] we have seen with these participants, fasting diets are difficult to follow and may not always be compatible with family and social life," Dr. Johnston noted. "We therefore need to make sure they are flexible and conducive to real life, as the potential benefits of such diets are clear to see."

Given that the study was a small one, these findings still need to be replicated with a larger and more diverse group of participants. The team already has plans to design more comprehensive studies in the near future.