What’s New in Weight-Loss Research?

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The unofficial start of summer is upon us. I hope you all had a nice Memorial Day weekend. How many of you enjoyed a cookout…or two? How many of you followed your meal plan to a T, or counted your carbs perfectly? It’s OK if you didn’t. But in case you’re anxious to get back on track after the long holiday weekend, here are a few new studies that might give you some food for thought.

Smaller Pieces of Food Means Fewer Calories Consumed
There’s something to be said for cutting your food into little pieces, like your mother did to your food when you were little. (OK, so maybe you would have received some odd looks after cutting your holiday hamburger or hot dog into tiny chunks.) A recent study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association involved 54 college students. One group of students was given 20 whole pieces of candy. The other group was given an equal amount of candy, but with the pieces cut in half. Meanwhile, the students were kept busy working on the computer (this was a simulation of what many people do: snacking when working).

Thirty-three out of the 54 subjects ate some candy. Most of the subjects were women. The subjects ate more of the whole pieces of candy than they did of the smaller pieces. In fact, the folks who ate the larger candy consumed 60 calories more than those eating the smaller pieces. There was no difference between the groups in terms of how hungry the subjects were or whether they liked the candy or not. Also, the subjects’ body weight, age, and the amount of time they spent exercising made no difference with regard to how much candy they ate.

Putting it into practice: When your next meal rolls around, try cutting your food into smaller pieces. If you’re snacking, do the same or aim to choose foods that come in smaller sizes. You may very well feel fuller…on less food.

Bigger Forks May Mean Fewer Calories
While you’re busy cutting your food into small pieces, look for a larger fork with which to eat it. Two business school professors decided to look at how the size of one’s bite affects food intake (perhaps they plan to start a business marketing larger-size forks…?).

Specifically, they studied hungry people eating at a restaurant, noting their fork size. Their findings? Diners who used a smaller fork ended up eating more food than those using a larger fork. Why? Their theory is that the diners wanted to feel like they were making “progress” (I guess eating out has turned competitive!) and they apparently weren’t making too much progress with those small forks. As a result, they continued to eat and eat until they noticed their plates emptying. The larger-fork diners, on the other hand, DID notice that they were making progress (perhaps they were eating with shovels?) and that resulted in them eating less.

However, back in the lab with subjects who weren’t all that hungry, the tables were turned. As it turns out, these folks actually ate more with the larger fork compared to those using the smaller fork. Because they weren’t hungry, they turned to physical cues (that is to say, the size of their fork) to guide their food intake. They gauged their “progress” by how many forkfuls they took. This study will be published next year in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Putting it into practice: Have two sizes of forks handy. When you’re hungry, use the larger fork. When you’re not so hungry but need to eat, use the smaller fork. See what happens!

Stay Up Late, Eat More
Bad news for you night owls. If you stay up late AND eat (and possibly use a smaller fork…), you may end up gaining up to two pounds per month! Northwestern University scientists published their findings in the journal Obesity. They looked at eating and sleep patterns of 52 adults. More than half of the subjects were “normal” sleepers, while roughly 44% were “late” sleepers (they went to bed late and got less sleep overall). Late sleepers consumed about 250 more calories per day than the normal sleepers, and also ate more fast food and drank more sugary soft drinks, while eating fewer fruits and vegetables than the folks with earlier bedtimes. They also ate less in the morning, sharply increased their food intake mid-afternoon, and consumed more calories at dinner and after 8 PM. The end result? The late sleepers had a higher body-mass index on average compared to the normal sleepers and ran the risk of gaining two pounds per month from the extra calories they consumed. As it turns out, when you eat and sleep can affect circadian rhythms and metabolic rate, as has long been suspected.

Putting it into practice: It may be easier said than done, but try to go to bed at a decent hour and aim to get enough sleep. Also, if you do need to eat late at night, make healthier choices and skip the calorie-laden fast food.

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