People with diabetes are often given the recommendation to lose weight, based on a large body of evidence that supports the health benefits of weight loss in overweight or obese people with diabetes. Losing just 5% of your body weight, in these situations, often results in improved blood glucose control and healthier blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels (also known as lipid levels). But many people struggle to find a way to lose weight that is both effective and sustainable.
Getting enough physical activity is the cornerstone of pretty much every weight-loss plan. But when it comes to dietary approaches, there are lots of different strategies to choose from. Some emphasize restricting calories, while others restrict or emphasize certain categories of food — such as limiting fat, carbohydrates or animal products. On top of weight loss, certain dietary strategies have been found to result in other health benefits, such as lower blood glucose or a reduction in liver fat.
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A new study highlights another strategy that may be effective for weight loss: restricting the amount of time during the day in which you eat.
Food restricted to eight hours each day
The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, involved 50 obese participants who took part in a 12-week program. The only guideline participants were asked to follow was restricting all of their food intake to a period of eight hours each day. Researchers conducted surveys over the phone with participants to ask how well they were adhering to this guideline, along with other questions about their experiences.
After six weeks, 64% of participants reported adhering to the time restriction at least five days each week; this number was 58% after 12 weeks. The average weight loss among all participants was 2.0 kilograms (4.4 pounds) after six weeks, and 2.6 kilograms (5.7 pounds) after 12 weeks. Not surprisingly, weight loss was greater among participants who reported adhering to the time restriction at least five days each week — with an average weight loss of 2.5 kilograms (5.5 pounds) after six weeks and 3.5 kilograms (6.6 pounds) after 12 weeks.
But participants who didn’t adhere to the time restriction at least five days each week also saw some weight loss: an average of 1.0 kilograms (2.2 pounds) after six weeks and 1.3 kilograms (2.9 pounds) after 12 weeks. A total of 26% of participants lost at least 5% of their body weight after 12 weeks — a threshold that is often used as a measure of a weight-loss program’s success. There were no overall changes, though, in participants’ blood pressure or blood levels of cholesterol or triglycerides.
Limited benefits, but worth further study
This small study — intended as a pilot study — shows that there is clear promise to the idea that restricting eating to a period of time each day can lead to weight loss. What’s more, participants found the program simple and easy to follow, and demonstrated a relatively high rate of adherence to the time restriction.
Key goals in a larger study based on this concept could be to find out if a different window of time — longer or shorter than eight hours — is more effective at leading to weight loss, or if combining time restrictions with other dietary restrictions could have even greater benefits.
If you’re interested in trying to restrict your food intake to a limited period each day as part of a weight-loss plan, check with your doctor first to make sure you won’t be at an increased risk for hypoglycemia (low blood glucose). Also make sure to drink enough fluids throughout the day, especially during periods when you aren’t eating food. And if you find yourself feeling sluggish or lacking in focus during periods when you haven’t eaten, it may be time to reconsider whether this type of eating plan works for you.