Wellness programs that are designed to help people lost weight might do well to consider the timing of the client’s meals. New research shows that experimenting with different timing might decrease appetite. Another benefit is that doing so may improve fat burning.

Wellness Programs Tailor Coaching to the Individual

Wellness programs need to be very personalized and customized for each client. Individuals are very different in terms of how they change their behaviors and what unique strategies work for them.

New research lends support to using the tool of timing meals by using intermittent fasting or eating earlier in the daytime appear to help clients lose weight.

This new study is the first to show how meal timing affects 24-hour energy metabolism when food intake and meal frequency are matched.

Research on the Benefits of Meal Timing

Researchers have discovered that meal timing strategies such as intermittent fasting or eating earlier in the daytime appear to help people lose weight by lowering appetite rather than burning more calories, according to a report published online today in the journal Obesity, the flagship journal of The Obesity Society. The study is the first to show how meal timing affects 24-hour energy metabolism when food intake and meal frequency are matched.

Prior research was in conflict on whether meal timing strategies help with weight loss by helping people burn more calories or by lowering appetite. The study’s authors said, however, that previous studies did not directly measure how many calories people burned or were imperfect in other ways.

How the Meal Timing Study Was Conducted

This is how the research was conducted:

  • Researchers enrolled 11 overweight adult men and women who had excess weight.
  • Adults, in general good health, aged 20-to-45-years old were eligible to participate if they had a body mass index between 25 and 35 kg/m2 (inclusive), body weight between 68 and 100 kg, a regular bedtime between 9:30 p.m. and 12 a.m., and for women, a regular menstrual cycle.
  • Participants tried two different meal timing strategies in random order: (1) a control schedule where participants ate three meals during a 12-hour period with breakfast at 8:00 a.m. and dinner at 8:00 p.m. and (2) an eTRF schedule where participants ate three meals over a six-hour period with breakfast at 8:00 a.m. and dinner at 2:00 p.m.
  • The same amounts and types of foods were consumed on both schedules.
  • Fasting periods for the control schedule included 12 hours per day, while the eTRF schedule involved fasting for 18 hours per day.
  • Study participants followed the different schedules for four days in a row.
  • On the fourth day, researchers measured the metabolism of participants by placing them in a respiratory chamber where researchers measured how many calories, carbohydrates, fat and protein were burned.
  • Researchers also measured the appetite levels of participants every three hours while they were awake, as well as hunger hormones in the morning and evening.

Although eTRF did not significantly affect how many calories participants burned, the researchers found that eTRF did lower levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and improved some aspects of appetite. It also increased fat-burning over the 24-hour day.

Researchers’ Conclusions from Meal Timing Study

According to Eric Ravussin, PhD, one of the study’s authors and associate executive director for clinical science at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, and Courtney M. Peterson, PhD, lead author and assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences at the University of Alabama:

  • Coordinating meals with circadian rhythms, or your body’s internal clock, may be a powerful strategy for reducing appetite and improving metabolic health.
  • 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.
  • By testing eTRF, we were able to kill two birds with one stone.
  • We were able to gain some insight into daily intermittent fasting (time restricted-feeding), as well as meal timing strategies that involve eating earlier in the daytime to be in sync with circadian rhythms.
  • The researchers believe that these two broader classes of meal timing strategies may have similar benefits to eTRF.

Peterson and her colleagues also report that meal timing strategies may help people burn more fat on average during a 24-hour period. Early Time-Restricted Feeding (eTRF) — a form of daily intermittent fasting where dinner is eaten in the afternoon — helped to improve people’s ability to switch between burning carbohydrates for energy to burning fat for energy, an aspect of metabolism known as metabolic flexibility.

The study’s authors said, however, that the results on fat-burning are preliminary and need to be confirmed by conducting a longer study.

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