Modest time-restricted feeding strategies work as well as stricter plans. This one might be the most doable.
Time-restricted feeding (TRF) plans are a type of intermittent fasting. Basically, you give yourself a “window” of time to eat. No matter how scientific they try to sound, most of these plans can be summed up as “skipping breakfast.” So, if you have a snack before bed, sleep 8 hours, then fast until lunchtime, you’ve fasted for about 12-14 hours.
Some plans have you fasting for 16 hours, which gives you an 8-hour eating window. This might reduce inflammation, “detoxify” the body, and lead to some fat loss, provided you don’t go buckwild and binge during your eating window. As new studies show, it probably all comes down to simple calorie reduction, no matter how you do it.
As long as you don’t have disordered eating tendencies – which turn intermittent fasting plans into buttery-slick slopes – it can work, at least when used strategically for short time periods. However, super strict TRF plans (4-hour eating windows) may backfire, leading to an increase in abdominal fat even though scale weight is lost. So there seems to be a happy medium.
Recently, researchers looked into a kinder, gentler version of time-restricted feeding.
During the 10-week study, participants were given some simple meal-timing guidelines:
- Delay breakfast by 90 minutes.
- Eat your last meal of the day 90 minutes earlier than normal.
- Eat what you want in between.
In a nutshell, their normal eating window was “closed” by 3 hours – 90 minutes in the morning, 90 minutes in the evening.
Those following the 90/90 plan lost twice as much fat as the control group, which just ate normally. This was just a pilot study, but here are some takeaways:
- The 90/90 group ate what they wanted, what researchers call “free living” or having “ad libitum” food access, but they did naturally reduce their daily calories. This was partly because they didn’t get to eat in the last 90 minutes before bed when many fall prey to mindless snacking. So we could say the results were just a matter of “less time to eat, fewer calories consumed.”
- More than half (57%) of the study participants said they wouldn’t want to maintain this plan. Why? To them, it was a pain in the ass socially and tough to work into their normal schedules. Delaying breakfast 1.5 hours may cause your first meal of the day to fall right into the timeslot where you have to be at work, school, or the gym. And moving dinner up 1.5 hours may not jibe with work schedules or family mealtimes.
If the 90/90 plan fits your schedule, it could be worth trying, especially if you avoid “free eating” like the regular folks in the study. Instead, keep it clean and pack in the protein.
Two things to keep in mind if you decide to try the 90/90 plan. Fasted weight training is counterproductive, so if you train in the morning, then break your fast with targeted workout supplements like Surge Workout Fuel to fuel your workout, increase hypertrophy, control cortisol, and recover.
Many people just find it easier and more convenient to move this 3-hour fasting time to the end of the day. Multiple studies show that not eating 3 hours before bed leads to as much fat loss or more fat loss than a 90/90 split plan. If you’re used to late-night snacking, this may be a test of willpower until your appetite-signaling mechanisms and behavioral habits adjust, but it’s easier for most people to fit into their normal schedules.
Modest calorie restriction combined with a higher-protein diet works every time, no matter how you arrange your meals. But if clearly defined fasting and eating windows help you keep calories in check, a 90/90 or a “don’t eat 3 hours before bed” strategy is worth a shot.
- Rona Antoni, Tracey M. Robertson, M. Denise Robertson, Jonathan D. Johnston. A pilot feasibility study exploring the effects of a moderate time-restricted feeding intervention on energy intake, adiposity and metabolic physiology in free-living human subjects. Journal of Nutritional Science, 2018
- Kara L. Kliewer, et al. Short-term food restriction followed by controlled refeeding promotes gorging behavior, enhances fat deposition, and diminishes insulin sensitivity in mice. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 2015