Wellness and weight loss hacks are nothing new. Every few weeks, a new fad is trending, promising huge benefits to our overall wellbeing. One trend that took off about a decade ago and seemingly hasn’t lost steam is intermittent fasting. Based on the practice of confining caloric intake to a small window of time during the day, intermittent fasting advocates claim that allowing the body to fast for portions of each 24-hour period can improve overall health, contribute to weight loss, and boost mood and mental health by regulating metabolism and biological rhythms.
A new study from Johns Hopkins, however, shows that intermittent fasting may not be all it's cracked up to be. Using a bespoke app, a research team collected data from 550 participants who logged sleeping, eating, and wake-up times, allowing researchers to catalog the period of time between first and last meals each day, the time between rising and the first meal of the day, and the time between the final meal of the day and bedtime.
All participants logged at least one weight and height measurement prior to the beginning of the study period, which was approximately six years long.
Researchers found that meal timing and spacing were not related to weight change, and that large meals (1000+ calories) and medium meals (500 to 1000+ calories) were more frequently associated with increased weight than smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day.
The team also noted that participants with a higher body-mass index were more likely to report a shorter span between first and last meals and a longer span between last meals and bedtime — common characteristics of intermittent fasting.
Indeed, the research team, led by Di Zhao, Ph.D., a scientist in the division of cardiovascular and clinical epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, did not find an association between timing of meals and weight loss. Indeed, they found that total caloric intake and number of meals was a much stronger link to weight change.
The study team notes that more research is needed to determine if their results are repeatable throughout demographics — the majority of participants were white, educated, middle-aged women from the Eastern Seaboard.
Despite claims that intermittent fasting is a sound weight loss and wellness strategy, previous research has shown the practice can lead to unhealthy relationships with food, such as binge eating and disordered eating. Whereas healthy eating habits, including smaller meals, healthy foods, and decreased caloric intake, especially when coupled with regular exercise, have been shown to provide numerous health benefits, including weight loss, decreases in disease risk factors, and improved brain health.