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If your goal is to lose weight, what you eat matters more than when you eat. That’s according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that time-restricted eating, sometimes called intermittent fasting, had no impact on weight loss.
In the study, 139 patients with obesity followed a low-calorie diet. Some participants also limited eating to between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., while the rest ate without time restrictions. At the end of the year-long study, researchers found that time-restricted eating had no effect on their weight loss, body fat, or metabolic risk factors such as blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.
Case closed. Or is it?
While many eating plans can help some people lose weight, not every eating plan is right for every person. Society’s emphasis on “diet culture” prioritizes thinness and appearance over health and well-being. This mentality produces poor self-image, negative self-talk, and even eating disorders. Diet culture sets people up for failure with unrealistic goals and shame-based negative motivations that can harm mental health and lead to weight gain.
Regardless of the latest fad diet, for most healthy people, the basic principle remains the same: caloric deficit causes weight loss. Achieving your goals starts with finding the plan that works for you—and finding a registered dietitian to work with can be a great first step.
Defeat diet culture with mindful eating.
People love the idea of a simple solution to weight management. It’s very appealing to think you can eat whatever you want and still achieve your goals. Or that cutting out one food group will lead to amazing results.
But in most cases, it’s not that simple. For people who need more structure, time restrictions might help reduce mindless snacking or late-night treats. For others, eliminating carbs or sugar can lead to quick weight loss (though it might be hard to sustain).
The key to success is finding a plan you can stick to over time. To build an eating plan that works for you, I recommend mindful eating. Here’s the general idea:
- Get back to basics: Reduce your calorie intake, eat nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and seafood, get at least 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise, and allow yourself the occasional treat.
- Avoid fad diets: Focus instead on making long-term changes to your habits. Set yourself up for success with a sustainable plan and achievable goals.
- Write it down: Learn about what you eat by keeping a journal. You’ll uncover your unconscious habits, discover how many calories are really in ranch dressing, and figure out when you’re prone to snack attacks. Apps like MyFitnessPal can help, though pen and paper work just fine.
- Plan and shop smart: Plan meals and some healthy snacks ahead of time so there’s something to reach for when you’re tempted. Shop around the edge of the supermarket to find the healthy stuff and avoid the processed food aisles in the middle.
- Consult a professional: for some people who struggle with weight loss, despite being in a caloric deficit, a hormonal or underlying condition can be a factor, meet with your doctor to discuss testing and options.
Find what works best for you.
Foods are neither good nor bad. They’re just foods, and choosing to eat certain things shouldn’t make you feel guilty. Most foods can have an appropriate place in your eating plan with moderation, and you can manage your weight without banishing what you love. It’s all about making a plan you can maintain.
When building your plan, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Working with a dietitian can have many benefits. For instance, your dietitian:
- Knows you and your health.
- Knows what you like to eat.
- Specializes in healthy weight management.
- Will listen to your concerns.
A helpful website for finding a dietitian near you is the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Search by zip code to find an expert partner in your weight management process. You’ll also find lots of insightful articles and tons of tips.
Working with a dietitian can lead you to achievable, incremental successes that keep you on the road to accomplishing your goals, avoiding the yo-yo of fads that make “dieting” seem impossible.
When it comes to managing your weight, it’s about what and how much you eat, not when. Remember not to compare your progress to other people. You’re building a sustainable weight management plan, not competing on a game show. Slow but steady wins this race.
It’s tempting to hitch your hopes to the latest fad. Instead, work with a professional who knows your individual needs.