Time-restricted eating

As the new year begins, many people focus their attention on their eating habits as they resolve to lose unwanted weight and improve their health1. Unfortunately, evidence-based advice about the most effective ways to lose weight (and keep it off) can be hard to come by. That’s a shame because individualised programs are the best ways to help people achieve their weight loss goals. 

“There is increasing recognition that tailored weight loss advice greatly enhances the likelihood of long-term weight loss success, as certain strategies work better for some individuals over others”2.

Fundamental differences in body composition and metabolism between men and women suggest tailoring weight loss approaches to an individual’s sex might be advantageous. However, when it comes to studies of weight loss, men are underrepresented, and data are often not reported by sex5.

Men may be less likely than women to try to lose weight3, but they seem to be more successful when they try. Whether it be through dieting alone, or diet and exercise, men lose more weight than women4, and men are more likely than women to complete weight loss interventions than women5.

The male advantage when it comes to weight loss has been demonstrated specifically for both low-calorie6 and low-carbohydrate diets2.

It appears individual support or tailored advice are more effective for helping men to lose weight than group-based programs, and men benefit from the support of their spouse or partner5.

Time-restricted eating

Recently, evidence has accumulated to demonstrate that when we eat, not just how much we eat, can contribute to weight loss (and gain). In fact, there are multiple potential health benefits of limiting eating to only part of each day, so there is a fasting period of at least 12 hours7

A recent randomised controlled trial of time-restricted eating showed beneficial effects on weight loss, blood pressure and mood, but data were not disaggregated by sex8. Another randomised controlled trial of time-restricted eating similarly fails to mention effects of the sex of subjects, even though it’s titled, ‘Effects of Time-Restricted Eating on Weight Loss and Other Metabolic Parameters in Women and Men With Overweight and Obesity’9! Participant sex is not mentioned in relation to statistical analysis, suggesting this important determinant of the study’s outcomes has been disregarded.

A trial of time-restricted eating in a small number of men with obesity and prediabetes showed beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity, blood pressure and oxidative stress (but not cholesterol or inflammatory markers) of eating over a 6-hour, rather than 12-hour period, in the absence of weight loss10.

The failure of most studies of time-restricted eating to report results separated by gender means the safety and efficacy of this promising approach to improving health is incompletely understood and limits the certainty of advice to those whom it may help.

A/Prof Tim Moss
A/Prof Tim Moss

Associate Professor Tim Moss has PhD in physiology and more than 20 years’ experience as a biomedical research scientist. Tim stepped away from his successful academic career at the end of 2019, to apply his skills in turning complicated scientific and medical knowledge into information that all people can use to improve their health and wellbeing. Tim has written for crikey.com and Scientific American’s Observations blog, which is far more interesting than his authorship of over 150 academic publications. He has studied science communication at the Alan Alda Centre for Communicating Science in New York, and at the Department of Biological Engineering Communication Lab at MIT in Boston.

  1. Coogan et al., 2018. Gluttony and guilt: monthly trends in internet search query data are comparable with national-level energy intake and dieting behavior. Palgrave Communications
  2. Susanto et al., 2022. Differences in weight loss outcomes for males and females on a low-carbohydrate diet: A systematic review. Obesity Research & Clinical Practice
  3. Bhogal &Langford, 2014. Gender differences in weight loss; evidence from a NHS weight management service. Public Health
  4. Williams et al., 2015. Effectiveness of weight loss interventions – is there a difference between men and women: a systematic review. Obesity Reviews
  5. Robertson et al., 2016. Should weight loss and maintenance programmes be designed differently for men? A systematic review of long-term randomised controlled trials presenting data for men and women: The ROMEO project. Obesity Research & Clinical Practice
  6. Christensen et al., 2018. Men and women respond differently to rapid weight loss: Metabolic outcomes of a multi-centre intervention study after a low-energy diet in 2500 overweight, individuals with pre-diabetes (PREVIEW). Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism
  7. Longo & Panda, 2016. Fasting, Circadian Rhythms, and Time-Restricted Feeding in Healthy Lifespan. Cell Metabolism
  8. Jamshed et al., 2022. Effectiveness of Early Time-Restricted Eating for Weight Loss, Fat Loss, and Cardiometabolic Health in Adults With Obesity. JAMA Internal Medicine
  9. Lowe et al., 2020. Effects of Time-Restricted Eating on Weight Loss and Other Metabolic Parameters in Women and Men With Overweight and Obesity. JAMA Internal Medicine
  10. Sutton et al., 2018. Early Time-Restricted Feeding Improves Insulin Sensitivity, Blood Pressure, and Oxidative Stress Even without Weight Loss in Men with Prediabetes. Cell Metabolism

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