Skip to main content

You Are When You Eat?

Jan 05, 2018

It's the second week of January and already many are giving up on their goals of counting calories to lose weight. Others are looking for a new diet to transition to so they don't give up (again), and finding a seemingly new weight loss strategy: time restricted feeding or TRF. This program tells people not to limit what they eat, but when they eat to a period between eight and 12 hours a day, fasting the rest of the time. Doing this, they claim, will lead to weight loss, diabetes prevention and more. However, the answer may not be as simple as watching the clock.

"We often look for diets that are a quick fix or only require a single change," said Ann Lokuta, MPH, RD, a wellness dietician at the University of Utah. "One worry is that some people might take the title and run with it by reducing their eating time frame in a day, but actually consuming more food than usual or less nutritious choices."

That's right, no matter what the plan in order to lose weight you are going to have to focus on your food choices - not just when you eat them. If you eat more calories than you burn you are not going to lose weight. And if you pick foods that aren't filling or nutritious you are going to be more likely to overeat.

"If someone were only to restrict feeding time in a day, but did not focus on the quality of their food choices, weight gain and other negative health benefits could very well be the result they experience" said Dana Gershenoff, MS, RD, a dietician with University of Utah Health. "The food choices you make are still important even if you're decreasing the amount of time you're eating in a day."

Making sure you are eating the right things during your allotted "feeding" time is one part of the equation to making TRF work. The other is picking the right period of time to eat. The studies all say it doesn't matter what window of time you pick, as long as you do not eat outside of that window. This isn't a 9-5 proposition, and picking a time frame that doesn't work for you could lead to failure.

"If you're normally starving in the morning, don't force yourself to wait until 12 PM to eat," said Lokuta. "Everyone is different, so for some people an 8 AM-5 PM time-restricted feeding schedule would be appropriate, while for others a 10 AM-7 PM would be more feasible."

Before you start any diet plan it's important to take your health into account. Make sure the plan will work for you and not lead to more complications than benefits - even with a plan that seems as simple as TRF. "A person with diabetes that takes insulin may need to eat earlier or later than the time restriction they've given themselves to avoid low blood sugar levels," said Gershenoff. "This also goes for people who need to take medication with food."

While TRF may not be the holy grail of diets many were hoping for it is a good start for those who want to lose weight and be healthier. However, it is only the first step in a long journey that needs to last a life time. "By shortening the amount of time in the day allotted for eating (but also choosing nutritious foods and monitoring portions), an individual could lose weight without an overwhelming feeling of restriction or deprivation usually associated with fad diets," said Lokuta. "Weight loss will likely be slower, but also more sustainable since this way of eating seems to be more of a realistic lifestyle versus a quick fix diet."

"TRF might be the first step that helps someone curb their late night sweet craving and then motivates them to make additional changes, like packing their own lunch each day," adds Gershenoff. "We want to work towards eating in a way that is healthy, but also employs habits that we can stick to forever."