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Weight Loss: Timing May Be Everything

A new study suggests meal-timing is a promising tool for weight control.

 S. McQuillan
Meal-timing may encourage weight loss.
Source: Photo Credit: S. McQuillan

Nutritional research that focuses not on what you eat, but on how you eat—your eating behavior and habits—appears to be uncovering the most realistic approaches to weight control. And the latest discoveries on when you eat are showing great promise. A 12-week pilot study published in the December 5 issue of Cell Metabolism found that participants who scheduled meals within a consistent 10-hour time frame achieved not only weight loss but also reduced abdominal fat, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and more stable blood sugar levels if they kept to the eating schedule.

There were no food or calorie restrictions in this study, which included 19 people with metabolic syndrome who normally ate their meals within a time frame of 14 hours or more. (However, some participants reported eating less, simply because of the time restriction. ) Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when someone has at least three of these contributing factors: excess body fat around the waist (an “apple” shape), high cholesterol or triglycerides, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar or insulin resistance. Restricted eating was an “add-on” tool to cholesterol and blood-pressure-lowering medications taken when necessary.

The study participants did not skip meals and most often ate a later breakfast in order to eat a later dinner and still keep to the 10-hour window. If that’s the case, for instance, and you normally eat breakfast at 7 am, you might switch that to 9 am or 10 am and plan to finish eating dinner by 6 or 7 pm.

Eating within a restricted period of time appears to work because it aligns with each individual’s circadian rhythms, the 24-hour biological clock of body processes and functions that affect how our bodies work in different ways at a cellular level. An irregular eating pattern is one of many habits that seem to interfere with this natural rhythm. Other studies looking at circadian rhythms and weight have found that when you eat may be just as important as what and how much you eat.

Ideally, you would try to prevent weight gain rather than letting excess weight accumulate and then trying to lose it. But there are countless reasons why that’s just not realistic for so many people, so we need new solutions. Changing your diet and getting more exercise could make you a healthier person, but neither appears to help most people with weight loss and weight maintenance in the long run. Even more drastic measures, like taking weight-loss medications and undergoing gastric surgery, often turn out to be short-term solutions: The weight sneaks back. Behavior modifications such as mindful eating and now, time-restrictive eating, might be more helpful because they involve developing consistent new habits, but, of course, long-term studies will have to confirm their effectiveness.


Wilkinson MJ, Manoogian ENC, Zadourian A, et al. Ten-Hour, Time-Restricted Eating Reduces Weight, Blood Pressure, and Atherogenic Lipids in Patients with Metabolic Syndrome. Cell Metabolism. December 5, 2019;…

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