Most of us are familiar with trying to lose weight: There are countless different approaches touted as the most effective method, and several branded diets that claim to offer the quickest or most sustainable option. These are often called “fad diets,” as they tend to come in and out of fashion. Solutions such as the ketogenic (keto) diet, which focuses on high-fat intake, and the Atkins diet, famed for its low-carb approach, are two of those weight-loss trends—but the effectiveness of these diets is often debated by dietitians and medical professionals alike. In fact, a recent study evaluated another popular diet and found that it actually doesn’t have additional weight-loss benefits. Read on to find out which approach experts say won’t help you shed some pounds.
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Food affects our bodies in more ways than just the number you see when you step on the scale. Research has shown that different food and beverages can both help and harm your health, with a recent study suggesting that drinking tea could reduce your risk of developing dementia. Conversely, eating highly processed food was found to impact memory and could put you more at risk for the disease. Maintaining a healthy diet and ensuring we fuel our bodies properly can be challenging, which is why so many of us turn to diets that provide a specific plan or list of restrictions. But you may want to skip one popular approach, because it doesn’t seem to do much.
You’ve probably heard the term “intermittent fasting,” which includes a dietary approach called time-restricted eating. When following this diet, eating is limited to a period of six to eight hours a day. Researchers have hypothesized that eating during a certain window aligns with our inner circadian clock, which helps the body perform different essential functions throughout the day. The approach has shown success in small study subsets, including rats and a small group of people with obesity, according to The New York Times, but a new study found that time-restricted eating might not have any real effect.
Findings from the study were published in The New England Journal of Medicine on April 21, with researchers concluding that, in participants with obesity, time-restricted eating “was not more beneficial with regard to reduction in body weight, body fat, or metabolic risk factors than daily calorie restriction.”
Researchers at Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China included a total of 139 patients in the study, 118 of whom had a follow-up visit at 12 months. All participants followed a calorie-restricted diet—consisting of 1,500 to 1,800 calories a day for men and 1,200 to 1,500 calories for women—with one group also following a time-restricted diet, eating only between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Participants in both groups lost weight, averaging between 14 and 18 pounds, but there was no significant difference between the two groups at the 12-month mark. There was also no difference when analyzing waistlines, body mass index (BMI), body lean mass, blood pressure, and metabolic risk factors. When looking at the number of adverse events (an unexpected medical problem that occurred during the study) in each group, there were no substantial differences there either.
While study results suggest that restricting the time window for eating is not effective, this is not to say it won’t work for you, health experts said.
“Almost every type of diet out there works for some people,” Christopher Gardner, PhD, director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, told The New York Times. “But the take-home supported by this new research is that when subjected to a properly designed and conducted study—scientific investigation—it is not any more helpful than simply reducing daily calorie intake for weight loss and health factors.”
More research is needed to better understand time-restricted eating and why it may help some people and not others. For those who have difficulty counting calories every day, in particular, this form of intermittent fasting is a viable alternative.
“While that approach hasn’t been shown to be better, it doesn’t appear to be worse” than just calorie counting, Louis J. Arnone, MD, director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Center at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, told The Times. “It gives patients more options for success.”
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