“Time-restricted eating is just a window of time in which you eat, and it’s not necessarily concerned about the quality of food,” explains Wesley McWhorter, DrPH, R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
For instance, he says you might fast for 16 hours and eat only during an eight-hour window, then repeat the same schedule every day. “During that window, you can consume what you want—quantities and types of food are typically not addressed.”
“It’s often aligned with the body’s natural circadian rhythm,” she explains. Time-restricted eating isn’t a “universal solution” and works best when you tailor it to your lifestyle, dietary preferences, and personal needs. It may especially benefit people who prefer structured eating schedules.
“Research shows it can help with weight loss, improve nutrient metabolism, and offer other health benefits,” Dr. Cederquist says.
While you can technically eat anything you want during eating sessions within time-restricted eating, that doesn’t mean you should, McWhorter says. “The quality of the food does matter.”
It’s best to prioritise lean protein, dietary fiber, and healthy fats during eating windows, especially if weight loss is your goal, Dr. Cederquist says. Otherwise, you might overeat or consume too many calories.
Here’s what you should know about time-restricted eating, whether it can potentially help you lose weight, and some downsides to the plan.
What is time-limited eating?
Intermittent fasting is a popular eating strategy of alternating between feasting and fasting, such as switching between one day of normal eating followed by a fasting day or eating normally for five days and fasting for two, Dr. Cederquist.
Time-restricted eating is a type of intermittent fasting where you designate specific timeframes each day to eat and fast, she says. For example, you might eat all of your food for the day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and not consume anything outside that window. You repeat the schedule every day.
“This approach often involves aligning eating and fasting windows with the body’s circadian rhythm, promoting eating during active hours and fasting during rest periods,” Dr. Cederquist says.
How to do time-restricted eating
There are different ways to do time-restrictive eating, so finding a pattern of eating an
d fasting that works for you and your schedule is essential, says Joanna Gregg, R.D., a registered dietitian at MyFitnessPal
“Plan your eating window around your most active time of the day,” she says. For example, you might choose to only eat between noon and 6 p.m. or 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., depending on what works best for you.
Research suggests that time-restricted eating might be most effective when you consume meals during a consistent timeframe of 10 hours or less and fast for the remainder of the day.
“I recommend to my patients that they should avoid eating after 8 p.m.,” says Dr. Cederquist. “This can aid in better digestion and help prevent mindless snacking that often happens as people relax at the end of the day.”
Because time-restricted eating doesn’t focus on the number of calories or quantity of food you eat, McWhorter says, “It could lead to not good habits where you’re overindulging and stuffing yourself when you shouldn’t.”
The best approach is to avoid eating until you’re full, he adds. Then, make sure your meals include lots of vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, and skip the fast food, sugar, or processed foods.
Can time-restricted eating help you lose weight?
A small study published earlier this year found that time-restricted eating had the same weight-loss effects as calorie-restricting, but it was more effective on weight loss than “control,” or eating over a 10 or more-hour period.
Another study published in JAMA Network Open showed that people who engaged in time-restricted eating rather than calorie counting lost a few more kilos, but not significantly more weight.
“We don’t know if it’s strictly due to less calorie consumption, which is what most of the studies are saying, or if there is some type of cardio-metabolic change that’s leading to positive results,” McWhorter says.
If you tend to eat mindlessly while watching TV or you’re a late-night snacker, time-restricted could help you consume fewer calories, he explains.
“It’s not a magic pill,” though, McWhorter says. “It’s very important to still focus on the quality of the food.”
But, time-restricted eating might not benefit everyone. A 2022 study found that time-restricted eating wasn’t more beneficial to patients with obesity than calorie restriction when it comes to reducing body weight, body fat, or metabolic risk factors.
Other benefits of time-restricted eating
Periods of fasting may reduce inflammation and improve chronic inflammatory diseases, research shows. Gregg says time-restricted eating may also improve insulin sensitivity, which Dr. Cederquist says may work well for people with pre-diabetes.
Time-restricted eating can also potentially positively impact your ability to metabolise nutrients, balance hormones, and improve cardiometabolic health, Dr. Cederquist adds.
Overall, it can help you if you struggle with night-time eating, which often leads to excess calorie intake from foods with little nutritional value, she says.
What are the downsides of time-restricted eating?
The main problem with time-restricted eating is that you can still consume too many calories and overeat if you’re not choosing the right foods, McWhorter says.
If you have medical conditions, like diabetes, hypoglycaemia, or kidney problems, you may have specific calorie needs or need to follow strict food-consumption timeframes, he adds. So, you should check with your doctor before trying time-restricted eating.
Following an eating-fasting regimen might also be difficult for some people to maintain, especially if it interferes with their typical schedules, Gregg says.
Time-restricted eating could also foster restrictive eating habits, so people with disordered eating should avoid it, Dr. Cederquist.
This approach can affect people differently and just might not work for everyone, she adds. “Some potential downsides of time-restricted eating include experiencing fatigue, dizziness, shakiness, and brain fog.”
The story originally appeared on Mens Health U.S