Eating earlier doesn't necessarily boost weight loss, new study suggests

Woman stands on the scale.
Woman stands on the scale.
Catherine McQueen/ Getty Images

Squeezing most of your calories into your morning meals and eating smaller meals during the day doesn't necessarily increase an overweight person's chances of losing weight - this is what a new study is suggesting.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University followed 41 obese adults with an average age of 59 over 12 weeks on various eating plans including a big breakfast. 90% of the participants were black women with pre-diabetes or diabetes.

Twenty-one of the adults followed a time-restricted eating pattern, limiting eating to specific hours of the day and ate 80% of their calories before 1 p.m. The remaining 20 participants ate at usual times during a 12-hour window, consuming half of their daily calories after 5 p.m. for the entire 12 weeks.

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"We have wondered for a long time if when one eats during the day affects the way the body uses and stores energy," said study author Dr Nisa Maruthur, associate professor of medicine, epidemiology and nursing at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

"Most prior studies have not controlled the number of calories, so it wasn't clear if people who ate earlier just ate fewer calories. In this study, the only thing we changed was the time of day of eating," she added.

All the participants were provided with pre-prepared healthy meals and were measured every 4, 8 and 12 weeks of the study.

The analysis found that people in both groups lost weight and had decreased blood pressure - regardless of when they ate.

“We thought that the time-restricted group would lose more weight yet that didn't happen. We did not see any difference in weight loss for those who ate most of their calories earlier versus later in the day. We did not see any effects on blood pressure either," Maruthur added.

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The researchers are now collecting more detailed information on blood pressure recorded over 24 hours as part of a wider study into the implications. 

They will be compiling that information with the results of a study on the effects of time-restricted feeding on blood sugar, insulin and other hormones.

"Together, these findings will help us to more fully understand the effects of time-restricted eating on cardiometabolic health," Maruthur said.

The findings will be presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2020. The meeting will be held virtually from Friday, 13 November to Tuesday, 17 November.

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