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Can Time-Restricted Eating Prevent You From Overindulging on Thanksgiving?

Elizabeth Thomas answers common questions about the dietary strategy

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Written by Kiley Carroll on November 17, 2020
What You Need To Know

Elizabeth Thomas, MD, answers common questions about time-restricted eating and how to use this dietary strategy to avoid overeating during the holidays. 

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, you might be worried about overindulging on turkey and pumpkin pie. Elizabeth Thomas, MD, assistant professor of endocrinology in the University of Colorado School of Medicine and CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, discusses how time-restricted eating can help you manage during the holidays.

What is time-restricted eating (TRE)? How is it different than intermittent fasting?

Time-restricted eating (TRE) refers to a dietary strategy in which food intake is restricted to a window of time (usually 6-10 hours) during the day, with no food intake during the remaining hours of the day and night. It does not necessarily require caloric restriction, though many people do reduce their caloric intake when following TRE.

On the other hand, intermittent fasting is a dietary strategy in which there is little to no food intake (for example, 500 calories per day) for 2-3 days during the week, with normal food intake on the remaining days of the week. The goal of intermittent fasting is to reduce overall caloric intake.

How does it work? What are the benefits, health-wise and weight-loss or weight maintenance-wise?

Short-term studies of TRE (without weight loss) have shown improvements in insulin sensitivity and fat oxidation, and reductions in blood pressure and appetite. Time-restricted eating over 12-16 weeks without caloric restriction has also shown modest weight loss (2-4%). 

Liz Thomas pic-1

Elizabeth Thomas, MD

Who uses TRE strategies? 

TRE has gained popularity in recent years and is being used by a wide variety of people aiming to improve health and potentially lose weight. 

How can it help me not overeat on Thanksgiving?

Individuals can pick an eating window early in the day on Thanksgiving (for example, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.) and stop eating after 4 p.m. This could help them avoid going back for extra servings later in the evening. 

How long should I wait between my first Thanksgiving meal and having leftovers?

If eating within an early TRE eating window, you would not eat leftovers until the following day. 

What should my plate look like? What kind of foods are good to have on Thanksgiving? 

In general, for both overall health and for weight loss, we recommend diets that are high in vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and whole grains. For Thanksgiving, a healthy plate would include healthy portions, and a greater proportion of turkey and vegetables as compared to higher-fat side dishes and desserts.

Are there any negative effects of TRE? What does the research say on TRE so far?

One of the questions that has yet to be answered about TRE is whether the timing of the eating window is important, and if so, what window is optimal for weight loss and metabolic benefits. Most of the initial studies that evaluated the metabolic effects of TRE (such as effects on insulin sensitivity and fat oxidation) utilized early eating windows (e.g., 8 a.m.- 4 p.m.). However, many people practicing TRE are following later windows (noon-8 p.m. is popular) in order to better align with social eating occasions.

A large randomized study recently evaluated TRE using a late window (noon-8 p.m.) as compared to control over 12 weeks and showed minimal weight loss in the TRE group, with no significant difference between groups, and actually showed greater loss of lean body mass in the TRE group. This study highlights the need for further evaluation of the effects of meal timing on weight loss and metabolic outcomes.

How can TRE techniques be applied at other food-prominent events?

TRE with early eating windows can present challenges when it comes to social eating occasions, which tend to occur later in the evening. However, it is possible that minimizing eating at such occasions (where large amounts of less-healthy food is often served) is one of the ways in which TRE may result in weight loss and metabolic benefits.

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