Eating smaller meals and cutting calories is a more effective way to manage weight than intermittent fasting, when consumption is restricted to a narrow window of time.
That’s the conclusion of researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who studied the eating, sleeping, and waking patterns of 547 adults over a six-month period. Their findings appear on Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
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Participants were asked to track their activities and meals on a bespoke mobile app, giving researchers insight about the amount of time they spent between waking up and eating, the span between their first and last meals of the day and the period between their last meal and sleeping. The scientists concluded meal times weren’t associated with weight change.
“Our findings did not support the use of time-restricted eating as a strategy for long-term weight loss in a general medical population,” they concluded.
That may throw a wrench in popular diets, including intermittent fasting, which can involve skipping meals for as long as a day. The study found fewer, small meals were associated with dropping weight.
New approaches and drug treatments to hasten weight loss are being sought globally, as obesity rates continue to grow in developed economies. About 40 percent of Americans are obese, with severe obesity also increasing among children.
The study also found:
The average time from waking up to eating was 1.6 hours
The average time from first meal to last meal was 11.5 hours, and wasn’t associated with weight change
The average time between the last meal of the day and going to bed was 4 hours
Average sleep duration was 7.5 hours
The research has some caveats. The average age of those studied was 51, and the majority — about eight in ten — were white. Most were college-educated women in the mid-Atlantic region of the US, and it’s unclear if the findings apply to other groups.
Still, the researchers found a link between eating more frequently, large meals and weight gain throughout the six years of follow-up study.
Read more: ‘You are what you eat’: Your diet may be affecting your mental health, here’s how