eating less to lose weight

A new study investigated if eating less to lose weight affects the naturally recurring eating patterns in teenagers and if this practice promotes health.

In modern societies, there is an abundance and easy accessibility of food. Obesity and weight gain is an obvious result of this abundance combined with a lack of diet control. People desiring to lose weight or avoid weight gain may restrain their food intake. Several studies support a positive correlation between restrained eating and weight loss whereas some studies suggest that eating less to lose weight may have a counterproductive effect or may eventually lead to weight gain.

Circadian eating patterns

Natural 24-hour rhythms exist in all living beings. Our body is directed by circadian rhythms that dictate when we are active, when we sleep, and even when we eat. The time, size, and quality of the food we eat influences our internal biological clock. Matching the meal times to the circadian rhythm and the internal clock creates the circadian eating pattern. Any alterations or irregularities in the circadian eating pattern affects the metabolic processes in our body that may result in the development of type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases.

Restrained eating behaviour is an intention of eating less to lose weight

The restrained eating behaviour, or the intention of eating less to lose weight, is described as the tendency of people to restrict the intake of food to achieve weight loss or to prevent weight gain. Since it is a usually an individual’s intent to lose weight, restrained eating is under cognitive control and is not influenced by physiological control.

Teenagers are usually the most vulnerable to eating less to lose weight. They are concerned about weight gain, suffer from body dissatisfaction and sometimes have problematic eating behaviours. Research shows that girls are more affected by restrained eating than the boys.

Eating less to lose weight affects circadian eating patterns

A new study published in PLOS One investigated how restrained eating in adolescents affects the naturally recurring circadian eating patterns. A team of researchers in Germany tested if the intent of eating less by adolescents is accompanied by changes in eating frequency and energy intake in the morning and evening.

The study used data from the Dortmund Nutritional Anthropometric Longitudinally Designed (DONALD) study that collects information on diet, growth, development and metabolism of healthy participants from infancy to adulthood. The sample for the present study consisted of 209 adolescents, 11-18 years of age. The researchers used 418 questionnaires and 3-day dietary records to assess restrained eating.

They used statistical analysis to determine the association between restrained eating and frequency of eating occasions, snack frequency, and morning and evening energy intake. They scored the participants based on the answers to questionnaires with a high score indicating higher restrained eating. The three-day dietary records were used to calculate the total energy intake.

The researchers observed that changes in the level of restrained eating were associated with changes in some characteristics of circadian eating patterns such as frequency and time of eating. Furthermore, there was a difference between the circadian eating patterns of adolescents with higher levels of restrained eating and those with lower levels of restrained eating.

More restrained eating was associated with lower energy intake in the evening

The researchers found that among girls, a higher restrained eating was associated with higher morning energy intake. In all participants, the higher restrained eating levels were associated with lower energy intake in the evening. These are important findings because timing and distribution of energy intake during the day may be associated with the risk factors of obesity.

As recommended by many dietary guidelines, a lower energy intake in the evenings promotes good health and weight loss. Overall, the study shows that adolescents with greater intention of eating less consume higher energy intake in the morning and lower energy intake in the evening.

Association between restrained eating and meal frequency

This study observed no cross-sectional difference in the eating occasion frequency or snack frequency between adults with high restrained eating levels and those with low restrained eating levels. Other studies in the past have shown similar findings to suggest that people who restrain their food intake do so by reducing the portion size of the meals instead of reducing the frequency of eating. However, the prospective analysis showed a tendency towards lower snack frequency with an increase in restrained eating in the participants. This observation indicates that a lower calorie intake by adolescents with restrained eating is a result of eating fewer meals or snacks.

This prospective study may be the first to find this association

This study may be the first to find an association between the intention of eating less and circadian eating patterns. The prospective design, long follow-up period, repeated measurements on the same participant, three-day weighed dietary records, are some of the main strengths of this study. On the other hand, a small sample size, self-reported dietary data, and the overall high socioeconomic background of the participants are some of the main limitations of the study that limit the generalization of the results.

Eating less to lose weight may help promote good health

This study suggests that restrained eating may be closely connected with the distribution of daily energy intake. The female adolescents with a higher restrained eating consumed a higher energy intake in the morning and a lower energy intake in the evening. In addition, the results showed that the intention of eating less to lose weight during adolescence is accompanied by changes in eating occasion frequency and evening energy intake. Therefore, the researchers suggest that the intention of eating less to lose weight may promote good health by changing the circadian eating patterns.

Written by Preeti Paul, MS Biochemistry

Reference: Stefanie A. J. Koch et al. The relevance of restrained eating behavior for circadian eating patterns in adolescents. PLoS ONE 13(5):e0197131. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0197131

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