We all know that healthy eating, reduced calorie intake, and regular exercise are paramount to losing excess pounds and maintaining a healthy weight. But, these practices are only successful in a small fraction of the obese and overweight population.

Researchers have found a new strategy for losing weight. According to a study by the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, restricting your eating to a specific number of hours in the day may help you shed the pounds, even while eating a high-fat diet.

Time-Restricted Feeding vs. Eating Around the Clock

The researchers studied about 400 mice for 12 to 26 weeks, dividing them into groups and implementing time-restricted feeding (TRF) in some of the groups. In the TRF groups, they limited the amount of time these mice could eat to 9 hours, 12 hours, or 15 hours each day. Mice not in the TRF groups were allowed to eat at all times of the day.

Some mice in the time-restricted and free-feeding groups were given a high-fat diet. In those eating this diet, the mice that were able to eat as often as desired were given the same amount of calories as the mice in the TRF group. Even with this same high-fat caloric intake, the TRF mice didn’t gain nearly as much weight as those mice that could eat whenever they pleased throughout night and day.

After 100 days, the free-feeding group of mice also showed illness symptoms. They had developed high cholesterol, high blood glucose, impaired motor control, and liver damage, including an unhealthy amount of fat in the liver.

Shorter Eating Periods Matter

To better understand the benefits of TRF, the researchers analyzed the difference between mice that were allowed to eat for 9 hours, 12 hours, or 15 hours a day. All these mice were given the same amount of high-fat calories, but the mice with longer feeding times had measurable increases in body weight. Based on these results, the authors found that the health “benefits were proportional to the fasting duration.”

The mice that were restricted to eating 9 hours and 12 hours a day also had none of the ill health symptoms that were recorded in the free-feeding mice. And they didn’t gain weight when the time restriction was temporarily lifted during the weekends, which reflects typical human lifestyle.

Get Healthy with TRF

Already obese mice lost weight in time-restricted feeding — up to 12 percent weight loss. In contrast, the mice that transferred from time-restricted eating to non-restricted eating periods experienced rapid weight gain in a matter of weeks.

The researchers also found that TRF had a direct effect on metabolic diseases like type 2 diabetes, writing that “TRF stabilized and reversed the progression of metabolic diseases in mice with preexisting obesity and type 2 diabetes.”

Why Fasting Is Important

Even though this research was performed on mice, the researchers believe the findings are significant for humans since our metabolisms are very similar to the little critters. They argue that our constant eating pattern not only makes us gain weight, but also “may deprive our body of an important chance to maintain itself.”

While we eat, our bodies store fat, which adds weight and subjects the liver to stress. Our liver produces glucose as we eat, which increases blood sugar levels and can create insulin insensitivity, both indicators of diabetes.

When we don’t eat for several hours, the liver stops secreting glucose into the bloodstream, and instead uses the glucose to repair cell damage. The liver also releases enzymes that break down our cholesterol into acid. These acids then dissolve brown fat, and this brown fat in turn converts calories into heat. Therefore, during our fasting period, the liver is helping to burn off fat and repair our bodies.

Actions to Take

Although there hasn’t been a human trial of TRF vs. free-feeding, incorporating these better eating patterns can only benefit us. So what can we learn from this study and how do we implement it into our daily lives?

If you’d like to see how time-restricted feeding works for you, try to eat for only 12 hours a day, perhaps from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. or 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Rid yourself of late-night snacking and dinners.

Eat at the times that coincide with your natural metabolic rhythm. Your body isn’t going to want to burn as many calories when you eat a midnight snack and go right to bed. Eat during the times of day when you are burning the most energy, which really is in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening — breakfast, lunch and dinner.

To learn more about healthy ways to lose weight:

The Secret to Weight Loss? Counseling
10 Healthy Ways to Drop a Few Pounds with Diabetes
6 Tips for Eating Mindfully with Diabetes