Small Meals, Calorie Counting, May Be Better than Intermittent Fasting

We always say that the best diet is no diet. Nutritionists agree that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats is essential for losing weight and keeping it off. Eating a healthy, varied diet where you enjoy correctly sized portions can help you manage your blood sugar and weight.

However, some folks like diets and feel they work for them. If people thrive working with diets, that’s great! Whatever works best for you is wonderful. A new, mid-sized study has found that eating smaller meals, and fewer calories may be more effective for weight loss than intermittent fasting.

The study followed 547 people for six years. It tracked their weight, eating times and portion size through an app. The researchers found no link between the meal intervals and weight. They looked at how long people ate after waking up, their eating window during the day and how close they ate to bedtime. None of it made an impact. What did make an impact was meal size. Smaller meals were linked to positive weight loss results.

The participants were 51 years old on average; 240 were obese; 169 were overweight; 138 were a healthy weight. The app also captured their bedtime and wake-up time.

Dr. Wendy Bennett, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, was the principal investigator. She said that intermittent fasting may help people track their nutrition, and that may help weight loss. But meal timing in and of itself isn’t the key.

Based on other studies that have come out, including ours, we are starting to think that timing of meals through the day most likely doesn’t immediately result in weight loss,” Dr. Bennett said.      

The study had limitations. It wasn’t a huge sample of people. Many other health or lifestyle factors that weren’t accounted for may play a role. People in the study were predominantly Caucasian, so it might not be true for people of all races. The study was also observational — they looked at existing behavior — instead of putting people into groups and having them change what they did to see how it impacted them. It could be that people who choose to intermittently fast also gravitate toward other behavior that impacts weight.

I suspect that if they looked more closely at the data, that there would be subgroups (where timing of meals) may have had a significant effect,” said Prof. Alice Lichtenstein of Tufts Univ.

She went on to say. “If you make some effort to consume a healthy diet, you make some effort to be physically active, you’re less likely to have [blood sugar concerns], chronic kidney disease, obstructive pulmonary disease and hypertension.”

The problem with calorie counting, points out Dr. Fatima Stanford of Harvard Medical School, is that not all calories are the same. For instance, 100 calories of candy aren’t the same as 100 calories of fruit. They’re both sweet, but one has fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Calorie counting, meal portioning and intermittent fasting may all be ways for people to aid their weight loss if they follow through with them. However, making the right nutritional choices will always be essential.

Banner image: Brooke Lark via Unsplash

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