If you have trouble losing weight or your weight loss has slowed down even though you are sticking with your diet and fasting routine, early time restricted eating may give you the edge you’re looking for. In this post, I’ll explain what early time restricted eating means and how to use it to encourage better fat loss throughout the day and overnight as you sleep.
Early Time Restricted Eating – At-A-Glance
- Time-restricted eating (TRE) is a fasting method that allows you to eat every day within a shortened eating window.
- When you practice early time restricted eating (eTRE), you intentionally consume all of your daily calories early in the day, eating dinner by midday and fasting for the rest of the day.
- eTRE aids weight loss, enhances insulin sensitivity, improves 24-hour blood glucose levels, and lowers fasting glucose and insulin levels in the morning.
- Participants in research studies often finish eating dinner by 2 pm or 3 pm. However, you may reap benefits by ending your eating day by 5 pm.
Early Time Restricted Eating: What Is It? How to Use It to Lose Weight [Video]
In this video, you’ll learn…
- The benefits of Early Time Restricted Eating.
- The best timeline for eTRE.
- Additional resources for weight loss success!
What Is Time Restricted Eating?
Over the years, the terms time restricted eating and intermittent fasting have become synonymous. Technically, intermittent fasting is an umbrella term that describes single-day fasting patterns, like time restricted eating, as well as multiple-day fasting routines.
The term time restricted eating (or feeding) was coined by researcher Dr. Satchin Panda to designate a way of fasting and eating that aligns with the body’s natural circadian rhythm. In other words, when you practice time restricted eating, you fast during your body’s natural downtimes. In turn, you will consume calories when your body is best equipped to handle them.
When this idea of manipulating your eating pattern first came on the scene, the objective was to simply reduce the number of hours that you ate during the day. Because mornings tend to be busy times with lots of distractions, many people found that skipping breakfast and creating a 6 to 8 hours eating window in the middle of the day helped them lose weight and feel better.
What Is Early Time Restricted Eating?
As time passed, research teams started to look into ways to maximize the benefits of a shortened daily eating window, which brings us to early time restricted eating (eTRE).
When you practice early time restricted eating, you intentionally consume all of your daily calories early in the day, essentially eating dinner by the middle of the afternoon and then fasting for the rest of the day. By doing this, you maximize the benefits of eating in alignment with your circadian rhythm as well as with the accessory clocks found in your organs.
Your body’s circadian rhythm is dictated by a master clock inside your brain that uses daylight to keep your wake/sleep cycle on track. There are also accessory clocks found in your organs, and they take their cues from your food intake. When you start eating, you wake up these digestive clocks, and they go to work, helping you digest, absorb, release, and store energy efficiently.
However, the clocks in these metabolically important organs wind down as your day progresses. The result is that the foods you eat at the beginning of your eating day are handled more efficiently than those consumed later in the day. By shortening your daily eating window, you align your food intake with these accessory clocks.
By shifting that same eating window to earlier in the day, you maximize that alignment, making it easier for your body to utilize calories and burn fat. Let’s look at how this works, starting with improvements in blood sugar regulation.
Early Time Restricted Eating and Blood Sugar Regulation
One of our normal metabolic cycle characteristics is that glucose tolerance peaks in the morning and dips in the evening. This means that your body utilizes the energy from breakfast foods better than it handles the energy that comes from a bedtime snack.
Because glucose tolerance is impaired in the evenings, blood glucose levels stay elevated overnight when you eat close to bedtime. With this understanding, a study was done to evaluate how well blood glucose was regulated throughout the day when eating hours were restricted.
Eleven overweight adults participated in the study that had two phases. In the experimental phase, the participants ate early, starting at 8 am and ending at 2 pm. In the control phase, they ate a similar diet between 8 am and 8 pm. They found that when the participants followed the early schedule of eating, they had lower 24-hour blood glucose levels and lower fasting glucose and insulin levels in the morning (1).
These findings are significant for weight loss. Having prolonged elevations of glucose and insulin overnight makes it very difficult to lose weight. Insulin is a storage hormone. When it is high, it encourages fat storage and blocks the opposite action, which is fat release.
If you have trouble losing weight or your weight loss has stalled, shifting to an early time restricted eating pattern will keep blood sugar and insulin levels low overnight, encouraging the release of fat from fat cells.
Early Time Restricted Eating and Insulin Sensitivity
The research team also found that the positive changes in insulin levels created by early time restricted eating correlated with improved insulin sensitivity seen in an earlier study.
In that study, eight prediabetic men consumed all of their calories for the day within a 6-hour eating window, with their final meal ending before 3 pm. At the end of the study, the men saw improvements in insulin sensitivity as well as the function of their pancreas, which is the organ that produces insulin (2).
If more efficient fat loss is your goal, you want your cells to be insulin sensitive. When they are, insulin has an easy time moving glucose out of your blood and into your cells. Because of this ease, blood sugar and insulin levels return to their normal low levels quickly following a meal. As a result, you spend less time in fat-storage mode and more time in fat-burning mode.
Early Time Restricted Eating and Weight Loss
As I discussed, the better blood glucose regulation and insulin sensitivity that results from early time restricted eating encourages fat loss all day long. But those improvements are not the only way that this fasting strategy gives you a weight loss edge. It cannot be overlooked that limiting the number of hours you eat will likely reduce your overall calorie intake, especially if you limit your eating later in the day.
I was honored to be asked to write a book on intermittent fasting for DK Books, which is a division of Penguin Random House. In the book, I shed light on our typical eating habits, which may be surprising to you. As it turns out, more than half of us eat or drink calories for 15 hours or longer a day, consuming more than 35 percent of our daily calories after 6 pm.
Much of this all-day grazing is mindless eating or drinking, and most of it is at night. You can see that by declaring an end to your eating day in the afternoon, you will naturally consume fewer calories and lose weight.
Early Time Restricted Eating and Hunger
You might be thinking that this all sounds great, but I could never do it because I would be too hungry. Hunger can be a factor if you rush into the practice and push your body too hard. I will go over strategies to ease into this way of fasting and how long you need to do it to get the effects in a moment.
However, before I do that, you may find it interesting that research participants rarely drop out due to hunger and often report a decreased desire to eat.
When study participants ate three meals in a 6-hour eating window that started at 8 am, their hunger level was lower, compared to when they ate three similar meals during a 12-hour window. The even more interesting thing is that they experienced both perceived and hormonal hunger satisfaction.
The study showed that early time restricted eating decreased the hunger hormone ghrelin, made hunger more even-keeled or steady throughout the day, increased the participant’s sensation of fullness, and decreased their desire to eat (3).
This was so significant that the study’s authors concluded that eTRE could aid weight loss by decreasing appetite.
I am not trying to tell you that you will not be hungry in the evening if you stop eating at 2 in the afternoon. In an interview that was posted on Healthline’s website, the study’s author stated the following:
Hunger is not entirely wiped out. However, what I hope you take from this hunger control effect is that early time restricted eating should not be feared. Let’s go over how to ease into early fasting and how long to do it.
When To Start Early Time Restricted Eating
The studies that I mentioned in this post had participants end their eating day at 2 pm or 3 pm. If you currently eat dinner around 7 pm, quickly moving to the early afternoon will be a significant change that could trigger hard-to-control hunger. Fortunately, the human body is very adaptable.
There is no problem with shifting dinnertime in stages. For instance, try finishing dinner by 5 pm. If you find that this improves weight loss and feels good, you can maintain that dinnertime. If not, you can shift to an earlier hour.
How Long to Do It?
Another question that you may have is how long it will take to get comfortable and reap the benefits of early time-restricted eating? The answer will vary from one person to the next based on your goals and metabolism. Some of you will find that adding a single day of early eating per week gives your weight loss a boost.
Others, with more stubborn metabolisms, will find long-term adherence helpful. To give you an idea, in a 5-week long study, it took most participants more than a week to feel comfortable with their new early eating routine (2).
Restricting the number of hours per day that you consume food has many health benefits beyond weight loss. I cover those benefits in my book, Intermittent Fasting Diet Guide and Cookbook. The book gives you a complete fasting and eating strategy for weight loss.
In the first part of the book, you discover what happens inside your body when you fast. Part two of the book provides you with meal plans and recipes that show you what to eat and drink during your eating window to maximize your results. You can pick up the book on Amazon or any major bookstore.
Thank you for reading and have a wonderful week!
(1) Jamshed, Humaira, et al. “Early time-restricted feeding improves 24-hour glucose levels and affects markers of the circadian clock, aging, and autophagy in humans.” Nutrients 11.6 (2019): 1234.
(2) Sutton, Elizabeth F., et al. “Early time-restricted feeding improves insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, and oxidative stress even without weight loss in men with prediabetes.” Cell metabolism 27.6 (2018): 1212-1221.
(3) Ravussin, Eric, et al. “Early time‐restricted feeding reduces appetite and increases fat oxidation but does not affect energy expenditure in humans.” Obesity 27.8 (2019): 1244-1254.
About the Author
Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.