Study: Intermittent fasting may not be better than counting calories for weight loss

  • Research has found that people lost the same amount of weight on an intermittent fasting diet as they did on a calorie counting diet.
  • People in both groups were able to maintain weight after one year.
  • Nutritionists say there are a few factors to consider when choosing one over the other.

Intermittent fasting has been a vibrant way to lose weight for years, with devotees swearing that eating during a certain amount of time has helped them reach their goals and keep the excess weight off. But new research has found that fasting diets may be no better than counting calories when it comes to losing weight.

The small study, which was published in Annals of Internal Medicine, followed 77 people with obesity and randomly assigned them to one of three groups for six months. One group followed an intermittent fasting diet, in which they only ate between noon and 8 p.m., another ate whatever they wanted but reduced their total calorie count by 25%, and the third did not change their eating habits.

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After six months, the researchers changed things up a bit: They had the intermittent fasting group eat in a 10-hour window, and the calorie-counting group ate enough food to feel satisfied. People in both dieting groups lost weight in the first six months and kept it off after the initial six-month period, leading to a 5 percent reduction in body weight after one year.

After the end of the year, the intermittent fasting group ate an average of 425 fewer calories per day than the control group and lost about 10 more pounds. The calorie-counting group had about 405 fewer calories per day than the control group and lost 12 more pounds.

Time-restricted eating is more effective at producing weight loss than control, but not more effective than calorie restriction, the researchers concluded.

Despite the popularity of a time-restricted food diet, there are only a few long-term studies on the effect of time-restricted feeding for weight loss, says study lead author Shuhao Lin, MS, RD, Ph. D. candidate at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Many previous studies combined time-restricted eating with calorie counting and compared it to calorie counting alone. However, the selling point of time-restricted eating is that it’s simple and people don’t have to count calories. Therefore, we are interested in how to eat in a limited time Alone it would be comparable to calorie counting in the long run. Investigating the ability to maintain weight loss was also important, Lin says.

It is important to note that both methods are restrictive and may not be suitable for everyone. Check with your doctor before starting a new regimen to find out if it’s right for you.

But why might intermittent fasting and calorie counting have the same impact, and how can you know which one is right for you if you’re trying to lose weight? Nutritionists explain.

Why might intermittent fasting and calorie counting give you similar results?

It’s important to note that this isn’t the first study to find that intermittent fasting and calorie counting lead to similar weight loss results. A study of 139 people with obesity published in The New England journal of medicine last year one group restricted their daily calories, while another had to restrict calories and eat between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. The researchers found that people in both groups lost about 14 to 18 pounds, and those over time group lost no more weight than those in the calorie-counting group.

But the latest study found that people lost calorie counter-like amounts of weight on an intermittent fasting diet, even when they did they weren’t count calories.

Experts say there may be a few reasons why both meal plans produce similar results. One thing I’ve seen with clients who practice intermittent fasting is that it can make someone more aware of what they’re consuming within their meal window, similar to calorie counting, says Jessica Cording, RD, lead author. de The Little Book of Revolutionaries. When someone does this in a constructive and supportive way, it can make them more intentional in choosing nutrient-dense foods within their goals.

Calorie counting also encourages people to think hard about food, points out Albert Matheny, RD, CSCS, co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab and consultant to Promix Nutrition. With intermittent fasting, you aren’t focused on the small details. Anyone can tell the time. You can think about other things during the day and not be so focused on food. That could lead to someone eating fewer calories by default, he says.

Is one better than the other?

Not necessarily. When we talk about weight loss methods, it always comes down to people’s preferences, says Lin. Some people may find time-restricted eating easier and more effective than counting calories, while others may find it less effective.

Cording agrees. He’s really individual, he says.

But Matheny points out that intermittent fasting is often easier for most people to follow. If it’s a lot easier and you get the same results, great, she says. Simplicity in health and fitness is the number one thing for people. Worrying about portion control is hard.

Intermittent Fasting vs Calorie Counting for Weight Loss

Experts say it’s important to look at your lifestyle and eating habits to see how each type of diet might fit into your life. What we see in studies is that people lose the same amount of weight on average in both groups, says Lin. However, there are many variations in how each person reacts to their diet.

Cording suggests looking at past experiences you’ve had with weight loss efforts and thinking about what’s worked and what hasn’t worked for you. This will give you clues about what may or may not work for you in the future, he says. If you’ve tried counting calories in the past and felt obsessive, that’s not a good approach for you. If you want the freedom of not counting calories but want some sort of structure, intermittent fasting might be a good fit.

Cording also recommends paying attention to when you tend to be most and least hungry during the day, which can also tell you whether an intermittent fasting diet may be feasible for you.

If you want to lose weight and aren’t sure how to get started, Lin recommends meeting with a registered dietitian. They can help you understand your weight loss goals and how to achieve them on a personalized level.

Headshot of Korin Miller

Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamor, and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, she lives on the beach and hopes to own a tea pig and a taco truck one day.


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