Does Time-Restricted Eating Benefit Weight Loss?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Fast. Feast. Repeat." by Gin Stephens. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is time-restricted eating (TRE)? How does TRE compare to normal eating in terms of weight loss?

Time-restricted eating is a way of dieting where you fast for most of the day (and night) and feast for a few hours. Scientists are on the fence with regards to whether time-restricted eating benefits weight loss. Some studies found that TRE has a significant effect on weight loss, while others found that it doesn’t make much difference compared to normal meal taking. All in all, it seems to depend on how long you spend in the fasted state.

Keep reading to learn about time-restricted eating and its effects on weight loss.

Time-Restricted Eating (TRE) 

Time-restricted eating is a popular fasting rhythm wherein you divide each day into a fasting period and a feasting period. For example, you might fast for 18 hours and feast for six (notated as 18:6). In her book Fast. Feast. Repeat., Gin Stephens explains that time-restricted eating benefits weight maintenance.

During the fasting period, follow Stephens’s clean fasting guidelines. Lipolysis (fat-burning) activates between hours 12 and 16, and increases between hours 18 and 24. During the feasting period, eat according to the principles in the previous section. Spread your eating between one or two meals and a snack or two.

Popular timings include 16:8, 19:5, 20:4, and One Meal a Day (OMAD), which usually features a two- to four-hour eating window. Stephens encourages you to pick a timing that works for your goals: Longer fasts burn more fat while shorter fasts work well for maintenance.

Time-Restricted Eating Isn’t a Panacea

Research suggests that a 16:8 TRE timing has a limited to negligible effect on weight loss versus eating with normal meal timing. In the study, which took place over 12 weeks, researchers found that the group who ate during an eight-hour period lost an average of two pounds, while the control group lost an average of 1.5 pounds. 

At the same time, other research has found a significant effect: In one study on fasting during Ramadan, a Muslim holy month that involves fasting daily from dawn to dusk, subjects lost weight, lowered their BMI, and decreased their waist circumference. 

Considering the conflicting research, it’s probable that whether TRE works for weight loss depends on additional factors—such as what you eat and how much. While Stephens decries dieting, it’s unlikely that intermittent fasting works independently of a good diet.

Does Time-Restricted Eating Benefit Weight Loss?

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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