Like many dieting trends, intermittent fasting seems to work very well for some people, but a new study shows the practice is no more effective than other forms of dieting.
A recent study out of Southern Medical University in China, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, examined dieters who follow intermittent fasting, also called time-restricted eating, and only eat during defined spans of time (for example from noon to 8 p.m.), in comparison with other who follow a low-calorie diet and eat at any time of the day.
Results showed that the intermittent fasting group consumed about the same amount of calories as those on the low-calorie diet, and both groups of dieters lost weight – an average of 14 to 18 pounds – and saw improved body fat and lean body mass measurements. However, there was no statistically significant difference in the amount lost between the groups.
Devika Umashanker, MD, medical director of medical weight loss with Hartford HealthCare, said the benefit of intermittent or time-restricted fasting seems to be that it curbs an individual’s the appetite, which can help them eat less.
“In a separate study, researchers found that time-restricted eating lowers the level of ghrelin, a hunger hormone in the stomach, improves appetite control and increases fat-burning over a 24-hour period,” Dr. Umashanker explained. “However, the study was small, with only 22 participants, and further research is needed with a larger population.”
Because of the limited availability of research into dieting, the more recent revelation about the benefits of intermittent fasting did not surprise her.
“Nutritional studies, in general, are tough to draw conclusions from for a larger population because of the high attrition rate and low enrollment,” she said.
When working with weight loss patients, the one time-related restriction she does advocate for is eating early in the day.
“Eating earlier helps us be in sync with our body’s circadian rhythms and allows weight loss promotion,” Dr. Umashanker noted. “I normally recommend not eating after 7 or 8 p.m.”
Her other tips for healthy eating that promotes weight loss include:
- Eating a variety of vegetables, especially darker greens, and two or more servings of various fruits each day.
- Choosing lean meats.
- Drinking more water.