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Are snacks before bed your vice? Or do you prefer to wait a few hours after waking up to eat?
A new study shows that the timing of meals may not have as significant an effect on weight as previously thought.
The study tracked the portion sizes and eating times of 547 people, as well as data on their health and weight, over the course of six years. The data showed no association between the time of day people ate their meals and their weight. According to the study, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Restricting eating times, as seen in diet trends such as intermittent fasting, has been a popular method of trying to lose weight in recent years.
But the researchers found no relationship between restricting eating times and weight loss, said the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Wendy Bennett, assistant clinical professor in the department of general internal medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. This includes how long people ate after waking up, the length of their eating window throughout the day, and how close they went to sleep, she noted.
Instead, smaller meals were associated with weight loss.
“Based on other studies that have come out, including our own, we’re beginning to think that timing meals throughout the day probably doesn’t lead to immediate weight loss,” Bennett said, adding the caveat that for some people, meal timing may be a tool. Helpful in tracking nutrition.
Experts warn that the results of this study should be taken into account.
Dr. Fatima Kodi, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, noted that there were a few racial and ethnic minorities among the participants. Cody added that there are also many social determinants of health, such as stress and people’s environment, that can be added to the data.
These factors may be important for a better look at the effects of meal timing, adds Alice Lichtenstein, PhD, professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University.
“I suspect if they look more closely at the data, there may be subgroups (where the timing of meals) may have a significant effect,” Lichtenstein said.
Bennett notes that this study was observational, meaning they looked at existing patterns of study rather than making changes to a randomized group. She added that more work is underway on the subject.
The most important points, Lichtenstein said, is that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to nutrition, and that food quality matters.
“If you make some effort to eat a healthy diet, make some effort to be physically active, you’re less likely to develop diabetes, chronic kidney disease, obstructive pulmonary disease, and high blood pressure,” Lichtenstein said.
It’s boring stuff no one wants to hear, she added, but you can’t get around eating fruits and vegetables and being physically active when it comes to weight management.
For some people, trying intermittent fasting or restricting eating periods can be a helpful way to take note of personal tendencies, but many people can’t stick with it long enough to see a change in the long term — or avoid any weight they lose, Lichtenstein added.
She doesn’t like to focus too heavily on calorie restriction or intermittent fasting, said Cody, an obesity doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center in Boston. Instead, she wants her customers to look at the nutritional value of the food they eat.
She added that 100 calories of gummy bears in the body is different from 100 calories of oatmeal with fruit and nuts.
Different approaches work best for different lifestyles, Cody said, and everyone should work with their doctor and their own body without stress and shame.
If a nutrition strategy works for someone else, she said, “it just means that one person’s body has responded and the other hasn’t. It doesn’t mean you’re defective. It just means that it’s not what your body needs.”