New research suggests that one of the most effective weight loss strategies may be to not change what you eat, but rather, when. Time restricted eating, a form of intermittent fasting, gives you less opportunity to eat throughout the day. During periods of prolonged fasting, calories from the previous meal are exhausted, forcing the body to start burning body fat. Now, a recent study from the University of Utah’s Department of Nutrition and Integrative Physiology hints that intermittent fasting may also help you to live longer.

In contrast to the average American that eats throughout the day, individuals that commit to intermittent fasting restrict their eating based on the time, or day of the week. Some choose to eat all their daily calories within an 8 hour window, followed by a 16 hour period of fasting. Others take the 5:2 approach, in which they eat normally for five days out of the week but restrict themselves to only one meal the other two days. There are many different approaches to intermittent fasting, but to see results, it is important to be consistent. When first beginning this new cycle of eating, do not be surprised if you feel extra hungry or cranky. After getting past the first couple of weeks, many people report feeling better than ever before.

Intermittent fasting is unique to other forms of dieting because you do not necessarily have to change what you eat to see results. Of course, this does not mean that you can go crazy on high-calorie junk food during eating periods. Experts recommend eating a variety of foods with key nutrients that will help you continue to feel good even during fasting periods.

As you become more mindful about the type of foods you are eating, intermittent fasting can help protect different organs from disease. There is considerable evidence that maintaining this diet can prevent, and may even reverse, some chronic diseases, including heart disease, type II diabetes and age-related neurological disorders. Deota et. al found that such benefits may be associated with molecular changes that occur in multiple organs around the body.

Investigators began their experiment by separating their cohort of mice subjects into two groups. One group was put on a time-restricted feeding schedule, during which they only had access to food for 9 hours a day. The second group was freely able to eat throughout the day.  All the animals were fed the same high-calorie diet. After seven weeks, 22 samples were collected from various organs, including the lungs, heart, liver, kidneys, and intestines, as well as different regions of the brains.

To their surprise, Deota et. al observed changes in nearly 80% of the genes collected from the animals in the restricted feeding group. Under a diurnal pattern of 12 hours of light followed by 12 hours of dark, these genes exhibited greater expressional rhythmicity, which promoted metabolic flexibility. These changes appear to have enhanced biological processes that support cell function, while simultaneously suppressing inflammation and cell degeneration.

Molecular enhancements were detected in nearly every major metabolic organ, including the heart, liver, muscles and parts of the gut. It is possible that, by reducing inflammation, stabilizing RNA and proteins, and supporting the clearance of damaged cells, time-restricted feeding also reversed several hallmarks of aging among the animals in this group.

For many people, intermittent fasting may be an effective way to manage their weight. It should be noted, however, that this type of diet may not be safe for everyone, especially those diagnosed with diabetes, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or have a history of eating disorders. While recent findings are promising, the long-term effects of intermittent fasting in humans have yet to be fully understood.