Calorie Reduction May Trump Fasting for Weight Loss


Although many experts have promoted intermittent fasting as an efficient weight loss strategy, a new study recently published in the Journal of the American Heart Association indicates that time—even extended time—between meals has little or no effect on weight loss. The study found that efficient weight loss was tied much more to basic caloric reduction. The takeaway for dieters is to eat less, not less often.



The six-year study followed the eating habits and diets of 550 people. It found that timing—from first to last meal, or from last meal, through sleep duration, to the day’s first meal—did not significantly impact weight change. 


More importantly, researchers found that individual meals that contained 500 to 1,000 calories were significantly more likely to lead to weight increase, than meals of less than 500 calories. This information indicates possible strategies to achieve and maintain healthy weight.


Eating for Weight Loss

The study’s conclusions suggest some surprising changes in accepted weight maintenance wisdom.


  • Intermittent Irrelevance. Intermittent fasting (time between food intake, lasting between 8 and 24 hours) has shown to offer many health benefits, including boosting immune-system function, improving mental clarity, and moderating blood sugar and heart rate. This new study, however, shows that the practice is unlikely to lead to weight loss—a benefit previously assumed by many health and wellness professionals.


  • Lower calories … daily and per meal. Although we tend to think of restricting daily calories (the national average is a bloated 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men), the study found that restricting caloric counts for individual meals was even more effective. To summarize the findings, better to eat meals under 500 calories, even if you eat more of them each day.


  • The Missing Factor. One issue not addressed in the study is nutrient density. A meal of 490 calories of packaged potato chips would meet the calorie criteria, but obviously, a 490-calorie multi-vegetable salad would be a wiser and much healthier choice. The issue not specifically addressed in the study is nutrient-dense calories versus empty calories. Obviously, reducing calories but while still maintaining an unhealthy diet of processed foods with high amounts of trans fats, sugars, or additives is not going to lead to a good health outcome even if it leads to short-term weight loss.


You can find more information about the study, and about diet as it relates to health (heart and otherwise) on the American Heart Association’s website. For other healthy weight-loss strategies, check out our recent post, Fruitful Weight Loss


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