Weight loss: Watching the clock is like watching calories

If you’re trying to lose weight and you’re sick of watching what you eat, researchers have good news: You can watch the clock instead.

In a one-year study, people who didn’t change what they ate, but ate it all between noon and 8 p.m., achieved significant, long-lasting weight loss comparable to people who paid attention to their food choices to reduce their daily calories by 25%.

Dieters in both groups lost about 4% of their body weight after one year, researchers said in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Meanwhile, people in a control group who made no changes to their eating habits gained about 1% of their body weight over that same 12 months.

The study is the first in the United States to compare two methods of head weight reduction, said senior author and University of Illinois Chicago professor of nutrition Dr. Krista Varady.

Although both yielded similar results, the one that emphasized time instead of calories “was an easier diet to follow,” he said.

Obese people are more likely to develop serious health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.

They also pay about US$25,000 (RM113,225) more for medical care each year.

As our waistlines continue to grow, so does interest in dieting.

In the US, a whopping 49% of people try to lose weight each year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This includes 56% of women and 42% of men.

The tried-and-true way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you eat.

But that is easier said than done.

Preparing low-calorie meals and monitoring portion sizes can be costly and time-consuming, internal medicine specialist Associate Professor Dr. Adam Gilden and endocrinologist Dr. Victoria Catenacci of the University of Colorado School of Medicine wrote in an editorial accompanying the study.

It also requires a lot of discipline – not many people can resist the temptation of a slice of cake on a co-worker’s birthday or a meal out with friends on the weekend.

In recent years, time-restricted eating (TRE) has emerged as a popular alternative for weight loss.

The idea is to compress your eating day into six or eight hours to reduce the amount of insulin your body produces.

That’s important, because insulin prompts the body to store fat.

In addition, studies have shown that people who follow the TRE regimen consume fewer calories per day.

TRE, a version of intermittent fasting, is definitely simpler than counting calories. But are the results the same?

To find out, Prof Varady and his colleagues recruited 90 obese people and randomly assigned them to one of three groups.

The first group was asked to eat all their meals between noon and 8 p.m., then fast for the next 16 hours. (They are allowed to drink water, tea, coffee or up to two diet sodas during the fast.)

The second group was asked to reduce their caloric intake by 25%, or about 500 calories on average.

People in both of these groups met with dietitians to help them follow nutritional advice from the American Diabetes Association.

People who count calories also use this time to plan meals based on their food preferences.

A third group of participants were asked to stick to their usual eating and exercise routines.

After six months, people in the TRE group lost an average of 8.8 pounds (4 kilograms) and those counting calories lost an average of 11.2 lb (5.1kg).

The difference between the two groups was not statistically significant.

The dieters spent the next six months in weight-maintenance mode.

For the TRE group, that meant expanding their eating window between 10am and 8pm.

For calorie counters, this means increasing their caloric intake based on their new energy needs to maintain their weight.

In both cases, they learn cognitive behavioral strategies to prevent them from retreating.

After a year, people in the TRE group were still 7.7lb (3.5kg) lighter than when they started, and those who tracked their calories maintained 9.5lb (4.3kg) of their weight loss.

Again, the difference between the two groups was not statistically significant.

However, both dieting groups did better than the control group, whose members actually gained weight (around 2.4lb or 1.1kg) over the year, according to the study.

More than 80% of study participants were women, one-third were Black and 46% were Latino.

Although this sampling is not representative of the US as a whole, Black and Latino Americans are more likely to be obese than whites and Asian Americans.

That makes it difficult to extrapolate the findings to the population as a whole.

It’s not clear whether people who are overweight but not obese will see the same results with TRE, although Prof Varady said he suspected it would still work, though perhaps to a lesser extent.

Motivated people who want to lose weight can see positive results either way, he adds.

But in terms of accessibility and time commitment, time-restricted diets may be a better option.

“It’s a simple diet,” he says. “You don’t have to buy expensive products or replace items in your pantry.

“You just have to decide on a window of time and stick with it as long as you can.”

In an interview, Assoc Prof Gilden said he was not convinced that people without access to professional dietitians would see the same benefits from TRE.

Prof Varady said his team would continue to follow the study participants to see if they could maintain their weight loss for another year. – By Gina Errico/Los Angeles Times/dpa

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