The truth about intermittent fasting: Diet plan no better than calorie counting, study finds

Intermittent fasting isn’t much better than old-fashioned calorie counting, new study reveals. Photo / Getty Images

Tried the intermittent fasting trend? Turns out it’s no better than counting calories if you’re trying to lose weight, according to a new study.

Research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine journal has found that people who followed intermittent fasting and consumed all their calories within eight hours lost the same amount of weight as those who ate as they pleased but counted their calories, according to The New York Post.

University of Colorado conducted a study where 90 adults participated in a trial, divided into three groups, one of which could eat whatever they liked but only between midday and 8pm. The second group could eat whenever they liked, but cut down their calorie intake by a quarter, and a control group did not change their regular routine and was monitored against the other two.

Intermittent fasting is a popular dieting trend, but does it work? Photo / 123RF

Those who restricted their calories but not their eating time frame ate 405 fewer calories each day, losing an average of 5.4kg after one year. Those who took part in intermittent fasting ate 425 fewer calories each day and lost about 4.5kg.

This new study agrees with previous research and suggests that counting calories, as old-fashioned as it sounds, is still the most efficient way to lose weight.

Lead study author and dietitian Shuhao Lin said the rise of intermittent fasting is likely down to “its sheer simplicity and the fact that it does not require persons to count calories to lose weight”.

The intermittent fasting trend, also known as TRE (time restricted eating) has been adopted by the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz, Nicole Kidman and Mark Wahlberg.

Jennifer Aniston is a known proponent of intermittent fasting. Photo / Getty Images

TRE involved eating during a specific time period, switching between eating on a regular basis and fasting. One example is the 16:8 diet, where you eat throughout eight hours of the day and then fast for 16. The 5:2 diet involves eating as normal for five days of the week and only eating one 500-600 calorie meal on the other two days.

The 16:8 diet is believed by some to improve blood sugar levels, increase lifespan and enhance brain function – but it can also lead people to over-eat during the eight hours, causing weight gain.

One study suggests that while TRE may have weight loss benefits, it can have a negative effect on fertility and reproduction, while a November 2022 study showed that skipping breakfast and intermittent fasting are associated with a higher risk of dying from heart disease.

But does counting your calories help you lose weight? Some dietitians say there’s little proof of this, though research from Johns Hopkins University considers it a better method for weight loss than intermittent fasting.

Lin says this most recent study’s findings could benefit those who fast intermittently, particularly as it can be frustrating to track every calorie consumed throughout the day.

“Evidence shows that when persons with obesity limit their eating window to six to eight hours per day, they naturally reduce energy intake by 350 to 500 calories,” Lin added.

“From a clinical standpoint, these findings are paramount.”

But the study adds that more research is needed to see who would benefit most from intermittent fasting diets.

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