What is it?
Time restricted eating is one of the hottest topics in nutritional research with studies showing it is a great weight loss program, and it has positive effects for your body and brain. Time restricted eating (TRE) is not a diet plan but a change in your pattern of eating. It is a pattern that cycles between eating and fasting, so you are not changing what you eat but when you eat. From an evolutionary perspective, our bodies are designed to fast. Only a short time ago we couldn't open our fridge and have food readily available 24/7. Our bodies are designed to be able to not eat for extended periods of time and we are actually healthier if we do it. In this article I will be discussing the benefits of a simple TRE plan in which you include a fast in your day.
Why do it?
1. Decreases Some Cancer Re-occurrences
Dr. Ruth Patterson, a professor and cancer researcher at UCSD, and other researchers have found up to a 36% less chance of breast cancer re-occurrence when restricting your eating for a 13 hour window. One of the main reasons for this is that our insulin levels drop when fasting and insulin is linked to breast cancer. We are less insulin sensitive at night and therefore do not handle sugars well. By simply not eating after supper till the next morning, you can decrease your risk of breast cancer by a third! TRE also has an effect on all cancers because time restricted eating also has a positive effect for loosing weight and obesity is directly linked to increased cancer risk.
You Lose Weight
Our body has a natural clock that is governed by UV light called our circadian rhythm. This clock is driven by melatonin secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. It is well know our wake and sleep times are governed by this however, recent research has found that there is also melatonin receptors in the digestive tract with a large collection of them in the pancreas. Our digestive tract is in sync with our brain clock and at night our gut naturally wants to take a break from digestion so that the body can use the nutrients ingested for repair of the body. Melatonin lessens the effect of insulin and we don't handle our sugars as well. When we eat at night we handle our sugars poorly and they are more easily stored as fat. We are also less active when sleeping and the brain and body aren't demanding sugars to burn. Research shows that you can lose body fat, without changing the number of calories you ingest simply by not eating between supper and breakfast. Dr. Valter Longo and his team of researchers have found you can lose up to 5% of lean body mass by simply fasting for 12 hours and not changing the total number of calories you ingest.
Another reason we lose weight while practicing TRE is that when we are in a fasting state our body burns fat not sugars. This is because our insulin has already dealt with the sugars in the feeding phase and in the fasting phase the body is in a mild form of ketosis and burns fat.
Another great reason to fast between supper and breakfast is the foods we typically eat after supper are high in sugars and bad fats, including most snacks like chips, crackers, and alcohol. This is another one of the reasons why you can lose weight without changing what you eat but when you eat.
It May Extend Your Life Span
Caloric restriction has been shown to increase lifespan and in the fasting phase of TRE you are placed in the same state. Simply put, when we are in a state of fasting, our body looks for a way to survive. There is a lot of research in bacteria that shows intermittent fasting prolongs lifespan and research in rats has shown they live longer when on a calorie restricted diet. Research from Harvard University has shown that positive changes occur at the cellular level. These changes slow down the aging of the cell's power house called the mitocondria. As a result our cells work more efficiently and live longer. As mentioned earlier, cancer risk and re-occurrence of some cancers decreases with TRE and this obviouly improves lifespan.
You Sleep Better
The general accepted rule of proper sleep hygene and eating is that one should not eat 3 hours before going to sleep. With time restricted eating our digestive system is following our natural circadian rhythm within our brain and we achieve a deeper and more productive sleep. Resist that snack before bed and you will be waking up more refreshed and energized!
In some cases people can sleep worse with TRE and will complain of a state of high energy before bed. This occurs when a person consumes a lot of sugars at supper and have a sugar crash before going to sleep. If you notice this effect, try consuming more complex carbohydrates (such as sweet potatoes) rather than high sugar items.
How do you Include Intermittent Fasting in your Lifestyle?
Keep it simple:
First thing you need to remember is that TRE is not a diet and you don't need to restrict calories. You do not need to change what you are eating but when you eat. It might be a good time to look at what is in your fridge and freezer and start eating healthier but try restricting when you eat first.
Start with a 12:12 plan. The eating window is for 12 hours and the fasting time is for 12 hours. This is easy to achieve if you simply don't eat after supper. This is the simplest plan as it more easily fits into our social and family lives. You need to remember that the eating stage starts with anything ingested other than water. Even coffee kicks in the liver to metabolize caffeine. When making this change people who never eat breakfast will quickly notice they become a breakfast eater once again. Cutting out all those high carbohydrate calories at night will get you eating your bacon and eggs in the morning. The body will process food in the fasting state and there will be a call for calories in the morning.
You don't need to be perfect every day to achieve the health benefits of TRE. Studies have shown that even 10 hour fasting has a positive effect on the body. Having a weekend of a few days of cheating with that drink or snacks around the camp fire will not send your body into chaos. The main thing is to make sure you don't loose your habit of not eating after supper!
Listen to your body:
When changing any habit or feeding schedule your body will feel different. Initially you will feel hunger pangs, possible headaches, and mood changes. As you reset your body so that your gut clock matches your brain clock, expect some kick back. When these sync you will notice a great difference. Try drinking water in the fasting stage after supper. Staying hydrated will help fill you up and make you resist eating. After the initial changes/stage you will notice that you are not hungry at nights. The amazing part of the fasting state is that your body will start burning fat as a fuel source and this actually decreases hunger.
Who Should Avoid Time Restricted Eating?
Diabetics should be cautious about starting time restricted eating, especially if they have very unstable sugars. You should be teaming up with a good dietitian or health care professional and discuss the risks and benefits of this type of eating.
Time restricted eating isn't a green light to eat whatever you want and how much you want. People who binge eat or have an eating disorder need to be cautious of TRE. Some people hyper-focus on their eating and can go too far when getting into fasting. Again the use of a health care professional is advised.
Hunger can increase stress and anxiety. If a person prolongs the fasting stage of TRE there is a risk of provoking these problems. The majority of people do not have a negative effect to their mental health when sticking to the 12:12 plan but should be aware of how their body and brain feels when fasting. Extreme fasting can have negative health benefits in these cases.
Time restricted eating is a simple lifestyle change with huge benefits. By matching your gut clock with your natural circadian rhythm, your body works better in managing insulin and fat metabolism. By simply having a 12 hour window when you do not consume calories, you: improve your sleep, lose weight, reduce your risk of cancers and live longer. Initial changes will be a challenge but it will be worth it!
Activity fact: the average American consumes 19.5 teaspoons (82 grams) of sugar every day. That translates into about 66 pounds of added sugar consumed each year, per person.