3 Tricks To Make Time-Restricted Eating Even Easier, From A Nutrition Scientist
While the exact science continues to evolve, most experts agree that when you eat may be just as important as what you consume when it comes to optimal well-being. Namely, giving your body enough time to rest and digest (i.e., time-restricted eating) can lead to reduced inflammatory burden, improved heart health, balanced blood sugar, improved metabolic health, and so much more.
Here's the catch: Time-restricted eating can be difficult! Especially if you're just embarking on a new eating window, sticking to your plan (whichever works best for your body) may come with challenges. That's where nutrition scientist Courtney Peterson, Ph.D., comes in: Peterson is an internationally recognized researcher in the field of intermittent fasting, and on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, she dives into the ins and outs of meal timing, including some tips to make the venture easier (and way more enjoyable).
Below, find some of her tried-and-true habits:
Eat a bigger breakfast.
"We've actually known for about the past 50 years that your blood sugar control in most people is actually best in the morning, and it gets worse as the day progresses," says Peterson. This makes sense: Melatonin suppresses insulin, which is why experts advise against eating high-glucose foods at night.
Peterson even tested an early time-restricted eating (eTRE) plan in men with blood sugar concerns1 and found that an earlier eating window led to improved insulin sensitivity, lowered blood pressure, and reduced oxidative stress in the body compared to those who followed a later window—and the two groups ate the exact same amount of food. "We found basically less molecular damage in the body, and this was despite the fact that no one lost weight," she adds.
Point being? Don't skip breakfast. Rather than timing your eating window from, say, 12 to 8 p.m., perhaps shift it up a couple of hours and make it 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (or whatever allocation works best for you). "Our metabolism is optimized to metabolize food in that mid- to late-morning period," Peterson notes, so it may help to give your body sustenance in the a.m.
Follow a five-day schedule.
"We recently did an analysis of some of our data, and we found that people who followed [time-restricted eating] five days a week, every week, had improvements in their blood sugar levels, their heart rate, and they lost more weight, which is no surprise," Peterson explains.
After all, "flexible restraint" has been shown to be successful when it comes to weight management: In one 2019 study, participants who reported dieting more strictly during weekends had a significantly higher chance of regaining the weight they had previously lost over a year's time, compared to those who reported less strict dieting on the weekends and holiday periods. In another study2, flexible restraint was associated with better weight maintenance, while rigid restraint was associated with less weight loss.
Time-restricted eating has benefits way beyond weight management, but if you find it difficult to stick to the schedule 24/7, try to give yourself grace on the weekends. "Five days a week is sufficient for people to see benefits in the long term," assures Peterson.
Exercise before breakfast.
Peterson personally tries to exercise before eating breakfast (which she never skips, as we mentioned above!). "There is some data suggesting that if you exercise before you eat breakfast, you get greater weight [management]," she notes. For example, one study found that participants who exercised before breakfast burned twice as much fat3 as those who exercised after eating the same meal.
If an early morning workout doesn't fit into your schedule, don't fret: According to Peterson, other data suggests that "our best sports performance4, muscular strength, and coordination is in the afternoon." The science is nuanced! As always, do what's best for your own body.
Your metabolic destiny is malleable, and time-restricted eating is one way you can pivot. At the end of the day, you should follow the eating plan that works best for you—you are the expert in your own body, after all. But if you'd like to stick to a specific eating window, Peterson's tips can help you keep the schedule and perhaps reap even more benefits.