We have heard about intermittent fasting and its benefits for some time now.
Choosing a couple of days each week to focus on low-calorie eating, or fasting overnight, has been linked to weight loss and improved blood cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose control.
The truth is though that these regimes are based on very few scientific studies. While the results are positive, we still have a lot to learn about fasting and its benefits.
Now to add to this research pool, new data from the University of Alabama was released this week.
Due to be published in the journal Cell Metabolism, a small study has found that eating all of our calories before 3pm each day results in superior weight loss when compared to a diet consumed over a normal eating period.
The study, one of the first of its kind, involved a group of eight overweight male subjects. The men followed a diet in which they consumed all of their daily calories by 3pm each day, resulting in a fasting period of up to 18 hours in each 24 hours.
The men followed this style of eating for five weeks, before then consuming exactly the same number of calories and balance of macronutrients over a more traditional 12 hours of eating each day.
The results were clear: When finishing their day’s calories by 3pm, the men lost more weight, had improved insulin sensitivity, or better control of the hormone insulin that controls fat metabolism, had lower blood pressure and also craved fewer sweet foods in the evening.
Authors concluded that this specific fasting approach was effective as it simply follows the human body’s natural circadian rhythm in which we are programmed to burn fuel during the day and are in storage mode at night, when we usually consume our largest meal.
The positive impacts on insulin control and appetite control appeared especially beneficial when it comes to controlling excessive calorie control throughout the evening, when many people find it difficult to control their overall food consumption.
While this is a very small study, the results are powerful and suggest that the potential benefits of fasting are not only related to a significant reduction in overall calorie intake, but specially the times of day that we eat.
Modern life sees many of us start our food day with a relatively small breakfast, late lunch before we consistently overdo the calories throughout the late afternoon and evening via snacks, alcohol, large meals and treats after dinner.
This style of eating is completely at odds with the way our body is naturally burning our calories.
So what can we take from these findings? First of all, there are clear benefits from limiting the number of hours in which we consume our calories.
Our blood pressure and blood glucose benefit and our hormonal control is better — which has long-term health benefits when it comes to disease prevention and reducing inflammation in the body.
The issue is the practicality. Few of us can realistically manage eating our final meal by 3pm with life demands, but also with the juggle of socialising and family commitments.
A more practical approach for most of us is to eat a more substantial meal during the day where possible.
Then keep your nightly meal choices as light as possible — soups, salads, white fish and vegetables. Where you can, try to give yourself as many hours overnight without food as you can.