Looking for the easiest way to lose weight that actually works? Forget measuring portions, cutting carbs, even giving up fast food. When you use America’s hottest diet trend called — time-restricted eating (TRE) — “it’s amazing in that all you have to do is watch the clock,” explains University of Illinois at Chicago researcher Krista Varady, Ph.D.
Time-restricted eating may sound complex, but it’s actually pretty simple. “You just stop eating when you’re supposed to stop eating.” In Varady’s breakthrough new study, women got significantly slimmer and boosted overall health simply by enjoying their normal foods in a six-hour window instead of spread throughout the day.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of fans of the bestselling book Fast. Feast. Repeat. ($13.59, Amazon) have used TRE to shed 50, 100, 150 pounds or more. And according to author Gin Stephens, down 80 pounds herself: “You decide the length of your eating window and choose foods that make you feel great, so you’re 100 percent in charge. And you naturally ignite your fat-burning superpower!”
The basic gist of the approach is similar to intermittent fasting: “When your eating window is open, eat and drink according to your preferences,” says Stephens. “Then when your window closes, don’t consume anything except plain water, coffee, and tea.” That’s all there is to it. “It’s amazing how much peace you feel when every moment isn’t consumed with decisions about whether or not you should be eating something.”
Stephens, a science buff with a doctorate in education, says many women find that a four, five, or six -hour window gets the best results; she personally eats between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m., making it easy to enjoy dinner with others. Sound too hard for you? Start with an eight-, 10-, or 12-hour window and see how it goes. That may be all you need. What’s more, studies show that TRE triggers improvements in anti-hunger hormones, making shorter windows feel easier over time.
How quickly does TRE work? Stephens insists steady, sustainable progress is most important. The same biochemical changes that curb hunger also make you shrink, even if the scale goes slowly. So don’t worry, as long as you’re losing a pound a week. Stephens says, “Always trust your changing size more than the scale!”
How Time-Restricted Eating Works for Weight Loss
Anytime we eat, we naturally release insulin, a hormone that halts fat burning so we can burn blood sugar instead, explains Obesity Code author Jason Fung, M.D. Trouble is, many of us overload on blood sugar-spiking foods, so our systems become damaged and malfunction. We wind up with chronically elevated insulin that sends most blood sugar directly to fat cells and allows no fat to be burned. Dr. Fung says eating less often is the surest way to bring insulin down, and, he adds, “bringing insulin down means weight comes down automatically.”
Going for longer periods without food also functions like a mini workout for our cells, “pushing them to adapt and grow stronger,” explains Johns Hopkins’ fasting expert Mark Mattson, Ph.D. Stronger cells make all body systems work better, and that leads to benefits like increased metabolism, soaring energy and reduced pain. Many health conditions (including insulin issues) improve or reverse. In general, says Mattson, TRE “is one of the best things you can do for yourself.”
For most of her life, Rhode Island nurse Donna Dube, 63, says, “I bounced between low-cal, low-carb, shakes, and weight-loss centers. I was always looking for a miracle.”
At 305 pounds, she Googled “diets,” and Stephens’ page popped up. Donna was soon eating only during an eight-hour window. “Honestly, I was hungry. It was tolerable but not fun, and I didn’t lose any weight at first,” she recalls. As Stephens suggests, Donna experimented, discovering that going easy on carbs and shrinking her window made her feel best.
All of a sudden, she was losing up to 10 pounds a week, her energy pumping. “My hunger was gone, and everything felt easy. I was eating bacon, cheese, dessert — and my body was transforming!”
In nine months, Donna was 100 pounds slimmer. Today, four years later, she’s 130 pounds lighter. “I’m so glad I was patient in the beginning and stuck with this,” she says. “I no longer have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or prediabetes. I truly feel like I’m aging in reverse. I battled significant weight challenges for five decades, and this changed my life. It can change yours too!”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.