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In recent years, bodybuilders and fitness influencers have sung the praises of intermittent fasting as a tool for weight loss. If you don’t already know, intermittent fasting is accomplished by only eating during a set time period, anywhere from eight to 10 hours.
It’s generally thought that there’s no set way to accomplish intermittent fasting, and that it can be modified to one’s schedule. A recent study, though, found you should eat all your meals as early and quickly as possible if you’re looking to shed a lot of pounds.
The study, published in the journal Obesity, found that eating earlier in the day increased weight loss and suppressed appetites in obese individuals, even though they didn’t burn more calories than those on a normal eating schedule. The researchers said this is because an early-eating schedule better coordinates meals with people’s circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock.
“We suspect that a majority of people may find meal timing strategies helpful for losing weight or to maintain their weight since these strategies naturally appear to curb appetite, which may help people eat less,” Courtney Peterson, Ph.D., lead author of the study, said in a news release.
The study had a small sample size—only 11 adults. All followed two different eating schedules for four days: one where they ate all their meals in 12 hours, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and another where they ate for only six hours, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. They all ate the same amount of food on both meal schedules.
Not too surprisingly, the participants lost more weight when they fasted for 18 hours compared to 12. But the strategy also decreased their appetite and made them more full, according to the study. This is all despite the fact that there was no increase in calories burned.
The researchers pointed out that past studies have found shifting food intake to earlier in the day increases weight loss, and their findings seem to support that.