Solving the adherence challenges in time-restricted eating

Diet and lifestyle 11. jun 2021 2 min PhD student Natasja Bjerre Martinsen Written by Kristian Sjøgren

Time-restricted eating is a popular method of losing weight, but some people find adherence difficult. Research in Denmark shows why.

In the quest for hard-to-achieve weight loss, many people have tried to fast intermittently. Several international research projects are underway to test time-restricted eating, which means eating your daily meals within, for example, a 10-hour period.

The method has proven to be effective in achieving weight loss in a few small studies, and now research in Denmark shows that some people find it easier to implement in everyday life than others.

The research shows that sticking to the restricted meal times can be difficult and that the concept will probably have to be modified to succeed for more people and possibly be offered as a programme by Denmark’s municipalities.

“Many people find the daily counting of calories in every meal complicated and difficult. People need a less onerous regimen, and time-restricted eating is therefore appealing because people can eat what they usually do as long as they eat it within a defined period of time each day. We investigated whether the method works for everyone and the potential challenges,” explains a researcher behind the study, PhD student Natasja Bjerre Martinsen, Steno Diabetes Center Copenhagen.

The research has been published in Appetite.

Examining the effects of diet

Natasja Bjerre Martinsen is carrying out the research as part of a larger project at Steno Diabetes Center Copenhagen testing the effectiveness of time-restricted eating.

The project is called RESET (REstricted Eating Time) and is based in the Clinical Research unit of Steno Diabetes Center Copenhagen led by co-author Kristine Færch.

The research involved 100 participants who either tested the method or acted as controls.

During 12 weeks, the people who tried the method only ate during a 10-hour period during the day, such as from 9:00 to 19:00.

They were allowed to eat what they usually did, but both before and after the 10-hour period, the only beverage they could drink was water.

The research aimed to evaluate whether the method can lead to weight loss and better blood glucose control.

“The method has achieved good results in several pilot studies, but success depends on what the participants think about it and how they implement it in their daily lives. Our new project elucidates this,” says Natasja Bjerre Martinsen.

Difficult to maintain for some people

Natasja Bjerre Martinsen interviewed 17 study participants several times about their experiences with the method and their challenges in adhering to the method over a longer period.

The exploratory study shows the following.

· Overall, participants found time-restricted eating appealing because they could eat normally.

· Nevertheless, the participants also had difficulty in always eating within the 10 hours. Two of the 17 participants adhered to the method quite strictly, but the rest occasionally ate outside the 10 hours.

· The participants especially had difficulty in adhering to this method when socializing.

“Eating is a social event, whether we eat with friends or family. Many participants said that they had difficulty in stopping eating, for example, at 18:00, when dinner parties often start at 19:00 or 20:00,” explains Natasja Bjerre Martinsen.

Natasja Bjerre Martinsen also says that some participants had difficulty in adapting the method to the rest of their daily lives, including work and leisure activities.

“Most people want to maintain regular meal times, with breakfast, lunch and dinner, but if they have to wait to eat breakfast until they arrive at work, they have to be able to eat at work, and not everyone can do this. Leisure activities ending at 19:00 can also make it difficult to eat within the time window,” says Natasja Bjerre Martinsen.

Time-restricted eating could be less restrictive

Natasja Bjerre Martinsen says that elucidating the possible challenges in adhering to any method is important.

Research under controlled conditions may show one result, but implementing a method in the real world can be more difficult.

Physical, social and mental factors must therefore be considered.

“Our results are not surprising, but they indicate that getting time-restricted eating to work requires adapting the method to people’s everyday lives. Maybe people can eat later in the day one day a week or maybe it should be less restrictive. The results can elucidate this, because we now know what the barriers to success can be. People who try time-restricted eating also need to be aware of the challenges and to know that they can receive guidance to better adhere to the method,” concludes Natasja Bjerre Martinsen.

Watching, keeping and squeezing time to lose weight: implications of time-restricted eating in daily life” has been published in Appetite. The Novo Nordisk Foundation co-funded the research and has awarded grants to Steno Diabetes Center Copenhagen, which employs several of the authors.

My interest lies in the field of behavioural interventions targeting eating patterns and weight loss management. My research draws on qualitative appr...

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