It's easier to follow than adopting a healthier diet or exercising, say researchers from the Salk Institute.
They reckon the optimum spacing is to consume all meals within a 10-hour window and fast the other 14 hours, including your time for sleep. It best matches our body clock and allows the body to rest and restore after eating. "Your body can anticipate when you eat so it can prepare to optimize metabolism," said researcher Emily Manoogian.
The researchers worked with a group of 19 volunteers who had all been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, a precursor of type 2 diabetes, and who usually ate over a 14-hour period; most were also taking a statin drug to lower cholesterol or an antihypertensive for controlling blood pressure.
To fit into the 10-hour window, the participants delayed the time they ate their first meal and ate their final meal later. Although they weren't asked to reduce the calories they consumed, many did eat less because of the shorter eating window.
During the three months of the study, the participants reported sleeping better, and saw a reduction in body weight, body mass index (BMI), abdominal fat and waist size.
The risk factors for diabetes and heart disease also fell, with the average blood pressure measures and cholesterol levels reducing. Blood sugar and insulin levels also improved.
The positive outcome is down to more closely matching the participants' body clocks, the researchers think, irrespective of the food they ate or the physical exercise they did.
"Adapting this 10-hour time-restricted eating is an easy and cost-effective method for reducing symptoms of metabolic syndrome and improving health," said researcher Satchidananda Panda.
And it could have a big impact on public health. Delaying the onset of diabetes by even one year in people with metabolic syndrome would result in an annual saving of $9.6 billion in healthcare costs alone.