It’s not just what you eat, but when you eat it that matters. With time-restricted eating, following a Paleo diet can be even better for you.
More and more evidence is emerging to show that in order to get maximum benefit from your diet, you need to take care about how you time your meals. By giving your body some daily down-time from the work of eating and digesting, you can unlock powerful repair pathways that protect against illness, ageing and obesity.
Time restricted eating is a type of intermittent fasting that limits your food intake to a certain number of hours each day. Time restricted eating has increased in popularity in recent years as a way to lose weight and boost metabolic health simply through condensing one’s eating hours into a defined interval of time.
Two popular time intervals are:
- 16:8: Eat within an 8-hour window and fast (refrain from eating) the remaining 16 hours.
- 14:10: Eat within a 10-hour window, and fast the remaining 14 hours.
In historic times, humans did not have access to food as regularly as it is available in the modern Western world. Currently, you are able to eat almost anything you want, whenever you want to. Some have argued that eating continuously without adequate periods of not eating (fasting) as naturally occurred when food was not as readily available, leads to disruption of circadian rhythm, possibly contributing to obesity and metabolic diseases over time.
Advantages of Time Restricted Eating
This is often the most sought-after initial benefit from implementing a time restricted eating schedule. Anecdotally, intermittent fasting does assist in modest weight loss after a few weeks of following it consistently. Looking at the research, however, some studies have reported significant weight loss whilst other studies have found no result.
The question is whether changes are due to the body using and burning fat cells more efficiently as a result of fasting, or if the weight loss occurs due to caloric restriction as you are able to consume less food. The answer is unclear, and likely it is a combination of both.
Having less time to eat in the day means less time to consume calories Limiting food intake to only certain number of hours in the day can help individuals naturally consume less calories without having to consciously monitor or restrict food intake.
Some research has also shown that eating in a smaller window may help reduce levels of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin in the body. Less hunger may lead to less food being consumed (which can lead to weight loss overtime).
However, the weight loss benefits of intermittent fasting may be beyond simply caloric restriction due to a shorter eating interval. Studies conclude that intermittent fasting in rodents may help the body preferentially burn ectopic fat and alter lipid metabolism. This implies that the body would prefer to burn fat tissue during a fasted state. However, there haven’t been many studies conducted in humans, and it’s unclear whether this effect is sustained long term.
Research shows that fasting (specifically time restricted eating) may support heart health by improving lipid profiles (triglycerides, cholesterol levels) if followed for an extended period of time.
During the fasting window, glucose levels in the body are low, and ketone levels increase. When this occurs, the body undergoes “intermittent metabolic switching” and begins using ketones for energy instead of glucose. Essentially, the body becomes more efficient at utilizing energy from adipose (fat) cell tissue at this point, and these metabolic changes to utilizing fat (lipid) as an energy source results in the weight loss and improvements in lipid parameters.
Blood Sugar Management
For those with blood sugar management concerns (pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes), intermittent fasting and time restricted eating is gaining popularity as an adjunctive treatment method and potential alternative to medications.
There is some evidence that patterns of fasting can help improve insulin sensitivity. The fasting period would allow cells a chance to rest from the constant intake of energy and glucose, thus helping to increase their sensitivity to glucose. In turn, this could help to effectively manage or prevent type 2 and pre-diabetes.
However, some studies have shown that intermittent fasting is no more effective that continuous calorie restriction for blood sugar markers.
As with all aspects of nutrition, it is important to consider the amount and types of foods being consumed within the eating window. For optimal blood sugar management, even when following a Paleo protocol, you need to ensure moderate to low carbohydrate intake, choose nutrient and fiber dense whole foods such as vegetables and limit processed and refined foods (even Paleo friendly treats, sweets and baked goods) to support a more balanced blood sugar profile.
For those that eat around the clock and graze without any real structure to their eating, switching to a time-restricted eating pattern may help create an awareness around eating, food choices and how much is being eaten. A time restricted eating protocol often creates a greater enjoyment of food when it is being eaten.
The impact of shortening the eating window can help you become more attuned to your natural hunger cues. Simply being more in touch with your sensations of hunger and fullness can support you becoming more mindful of your timing, amounts and choices of foods.
In addition to these results, further experimentation and studies suggest time-restricted eating can lead to:
- Increased daytime alertness
- Better mood
- Prevention or reversal of metabolic disease
- Improved liver function
- Weight loss maintenance
- Lowered risk of breast cancer
Drawbacks of Time Restricted Eating
As with any dietary and lifestyle shifts, consistency is key. Experimenting with the type of protocol or number of hours for both eating and fasting windows and maintaining each consistently for at least a few weeks, is necessary to experience changes or results.
For some, the act of eating within a short time period during the day may be challenging long term. This can be especially true if you travel frequently or have an erratic schedule. These are some considerations in terms of your ability to be consistent.
If you thrive on routine, time restricted eating can offer a stable framework for timing of meals/snacks. This can help with a daily structure for those who struggle with planning, choosing and preparing their foods on a daily basis due to busy schedules. For example, knowing that breakfast will always be at 10am, lunch at 1pm and dinner at 6pm can help you stay on track with eating regular meals.
You will need to consider your lifestyle – if you want to eat dinner with your family, then this will likely mean you have a later eating frame.
If you find an 8-hour window to be too extreme, you could experiment with a longer eating interval (10-12 hours) to consume your food within, or choose to not eat 3-5 hours before bed which may also have benefits.
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Competitive athletes who train for a significant number of hours in a day or week have higher energy needs. Time restricted eating may prevent them from being able to consume sufficient amounts to meet their caloric and nutritional needs. This, in turn, could set them up for increased risk of injury, overtraining syndrome, illness, and hormonal imbalances.
Pregnant and breast-feeding women whose main priority is to make sure they are eating enough nutrient dense foods to support a growing baby are also not encouraged to fast for any length of time.
For this with diabetes on insulin or other blood-sugar lowering medications, time restricted eating patterns should only be done under the supervision of an experienced clinician. The same should be said about those on medications that require food to be effective.
Is Time Restricted Eating For You?
By limiting your eating to a specific time interval, you may see benefits including weight loss and metabolic health. If other avenues of your Paleo lifestyle have not yet been addressed (sleep, exercise, stress management), using intermittent fasting as the first measure to improve your health is probably not ideal – those factors are best addressed first.
Like any dietary pattern, what is most important assessing your lifestyle and goals and finding what works for YOU. For those with higher calorie and nutrition needs, time restricted eating might not be suitable. For those who require a structure, time restricted eating might be the answer.
To make time restricted eating as effective and easy to stick to as possible begin with eating a maximum of three meals. Each meal should be as nutritionally dense as possible in order to sustain you to the next meal or throughout your overnight fasting period. That said, it is just as important to not become overly zealous or stressed about adhering to specific eating windows all the time - often life is too complicated.