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The Time Restricted Diet

The Newest Diet….Time-Restricted Eating

     Here we are in February and by now many of how have tried a new diet or exercise program or just finished alcohol-free January.  But what if a clock did a better job than a scale at promoting weight loss, improving sleep and preventing diabetes? New research suggests it’s time to consider that possibility.

     In an early effort to explore the benefits of daily fasting in humans, researchers have found that people who are at high risk of developing diabetes improved their health in a multitude of ways when they ate all of their meals over a span of just over 10 hours, then fasted for the rest of their 24 hour day.

The regimen called “time-restricted eating, “is a variant of” intermittent fasting”—a practice growing in popularity. To lose weight or improve health, those fasting intermittently don’t eat—or follow a Spartan diet that mimics fasting-for a day or more every week or month.

     Time-restricted eating, by contrast limits a person to consuming all their daily calories in a relatively narrow window—say from 8 am to 6 pm. Practised daily, time restricted eating widens the period during which the body’s major visceral organs are put into a state of rest and recovery.

     A great amount of research has shown that erratic eating patterns, shift work, and modern-day habits like get-up-and-go breakfasts and midnight snacks have contributed to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Satchidananda Panda, a biologist at the Salk Institute in California, said that by establishing a consistent daily cycle of feeding and fasting, one might realign the ebb and flow of fuel intake with the body’s natural circadian rhythms.

        He is correct when he says that every organ has its clock and every organ needs downtime to repair, reset and regain its rhythm. When all your organs have rested and rejuvenated every day, they work much better and are in tune with each other.

     For the new research, Panada and his colleagues measured what happened when 19 people were asked to do all their eating during a 10 hour window every day for 12 weeks.  The participants were allowed to choose their own 10 hour window, and could vary it slightly, say, if they had an early breakfast meeting one day or a late dinner on another.

     All the study’s subjects had a condition known as metabolic syndrome. If you have this condition you are five times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes and at double the risk of developing heart disease. The condition is diagnosed when a patient tests positive for 3 or more of the following conditions: obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, impaired metabolic function (diseased state) and excessive waist circumference (an indication of abdominal fat).

     Three in 10 Canadians are thought to have metabolic syndrome.  Although the primary treatment should be restricted diet and exercise, most physicians simply put these people on pharmaceuticals which only delay the inevitable, and Type 2 diabetes sets in.

     In the pilot study, the participants limited their “eating day” to under 11 hours for 12 weeks. They reduced their caloric intake by almost 9 per cent, lost an average of 3 per cent of their body weight and reported more restful sleep—all improvements that could aid in disrupting a patient’s progress from metabolic syndrome to Type 2 diabetes.

     As a group, participants reduced their belly fat—a bellwether of future heart disease risk—by 3 per cent.

     There were some other surprising results. The group’s blood pressure, typically high in those with pre diabetes, fell dramatically. Their cholesterol readings improved and in the 12 participants whose metabolic function already veered into abnormal territory, three months of time-restricted eating appeared to bring about 2 key health measures: much lower numbers in their fasting glucose and hemoglobin A1C.

     These changes came about without any increase in the participant’s physical activities. And improvements did not rise or fall with changes in weight. Time-restricted eating did induce weight loss which typically improves many body functions. But it appeared to effect key changes in direct ways, rather than just by helping subjects slim down.

     In several cases participants were able to take smaller doses of medications such as cholesterol-lowering statins and drugs for high blood pressure. Those who were not taking medications (because of side-effects or other reasons) also showed a very great improvement. The results were published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

     But a much larger clinical trial that meets the gold standard of biomedical research is already in the works. Underwritten by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney diseases, that trial will also explore the benefits of daily fasting in people with metabolic syndrome.

     As it turned out the 19 participants in the study were both willing and able to follow the regimen—often well beyond the 12-week scope of the study.

     All 19 subjects—three women and 16 men—were able to maintain a regular habit of fasting between 13 and 14 hours a day for about 6 days a week, on average. The timing of their meals became more regular. And they didn’t skip breakfast—a shortcut that research suggests could have negative health effects.

     They followed this pattern on their own without being instructed to do so. However 15 months after the study had ended, there were still 5 people following the eating schedules they had adopted in the study. Seven others said they were either limiting their eating window a little less stringently or following their time-restricted eating schedule on a part-time basis. The remaining seven said they followed the regimen on their own for about 4 months before falling by the wayside.

     All diets eventually fail because we just can’t stick to them but daily fasting may make it easier for people at increased risk for diabetes and heart disease to succeed.

    This meal regimen is a good start and maybe in the future it may be tweaked by making it a 12 hour fast. Many people as they age into their nineties do this almost naturally.

     What frustrates a health professional like me is the fact that diets are centered on vanity; lose weight and look slimmer; become more attractive to the opposite sex: show off muscles and abs in the gym and so on. But we forget about the real reasons which are to be in a good state of health. Heart disease and Type 2 diabetes are directly related to obesity.

     If you are at risk, lose weight to improve your health and prevent disease. Then all your friends and family will admire your physicality, strength and your ability to do what you want and live a quality life no matter how you may look. Having the ability to effortlessly play with your children and grandchildren and be there for your family should be your true goal in weight loss. Your health is not just important to you but to them also. [print_link]