Does When You Eat Your Food Matter for Weight Loss?
If you’ve spent any time researching dietary techniques, you’ve certainly come across intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting has existed for millennia but has been refined a great deal because of our more current scientific understanding of the metabolic system. Intermittent fasting is not a single way to eat but encompasses several possible options. Some may fast every other day or follow a 5/2 program where you eat a typical day’s worth of food five days a week, but significantly reduce or eliminate caloric intake for the remaining two days. There are virtually unlimited permutations of intermittent fasting. However, today, the most discussed form of intermittent fasting does not involve caloric restriction but time-restricted fasting. We are talking about 8/16 fasting, where you may eat what you like for eight hours and then fast for 16 hours, and permutations thereof.
Intermittent fasting has shown metabolic health benefits. Many studies have demonstrated potential weight loss and longevity benefits. With that said, is there really a benefit to eating at consistent times each day? The short answer is, yes. Let’s dig a little deeper.
Maintaining a Schedule of When You Eat
Maintaining a relatively consistent schedule of when you begin and end your intermittent fasting is important because, much like your sleep patterns, your body develops a rhythm for when it expects to receive food. This rhythm is consistent, so if you have been an early morning eater, your body will be prepared for food around that time. If you often change the time you eat breakfast, your body may not be ready, and your digestive system will be less efficient. Whether you are on an intermittent fasting program or not, following a relatively predictable schedule for when you begin and end your food intake can help.
The time of day you eat can also make a difference, particularly for evening meals. Your digestive system is attuned to your circadian rhythm and begins to slow down in the evening and at night. When you eat a big meal very late, do you feel relatively full in the morning? Your metabolism has slowed, and you all but stopped digesting food overnight. You begin to catch up the following day. However, since your body is not used to having this food so late, or early as it may be, you tend to feel relatively sluggish and generally unpleasant as you begin the digestive process early after waking.
That said, the form of intermittent fasting you choose should center around what you are willing to do and whether it is sustainable for the long term. We all know that while we are inspired initially, the desire and motivation to eat well and exercise can slowly wane over time, causing regain of weight. Instead, if any of the many intermittent fasting programs can be maintained and work within your schedule and lifestyle, you are likelier to lose the weight and keep it off.
For example, if you decide to pursue an 8/16 intermittent fasting program, you may wish to modify the timing to be most convenient for you. Ultimately, your body will adapt. However, once you’ve set a timeframe, you don’t want to change it too often. Pick a time and stick to it.
Is Intermittent Fasting All I Need?
While intermittent fasting has shown excellent benefits, it is not the only lifestyle change patients must undertake to lose weight over the long term. With proper hydration and a solid exercise program, patients can begin to lose weight safely and effectively while maintaining critical muscle mass. If you have any underlying conditions, especially significant heart disease, you should speak to your cardiologist to understand whether intermittent fasting (restricting calories or time restriction) makes sense.
Intermittent fasting is also an excellent way for bariatric patients to stay on track over the long term. In the first several months after surgery, sticking to the postoperative diet is critical. You want to be consuming enough protein, while also losing weight at a measured rate. Longer term, as your diet naturally liberalizes, intermittent fasting can help you stick to your goals. If you have any questions about intermittent fasting or other diet plans or tactics that interest you, please bring them up at your next support group or follow-up appointment.