By JJ Virgin, Hive Advisor
Those endless varieties of ice cream flavors and gourmet bakery pastries might be making you fat in ways you haven’t imagined.
A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded too many food options might be one reason the scales keep inching up. On the other hand, boredom from a limited array of food options might help make you slim and sexy.
The study involved 16 obese and 16 non-obese women. Researchers assigned each participant a half-hour computer task while also giving them the option of eating a 125-calorie portion of mac and cheese. These women could work for as many “rewards” as they craved. So, for instance, four half-hour computer tasks would allow them 500 calories’ worth of mac and cheese.
Half the women were assigned to a “week group,” which involved one computer session each week for five weeks. The other half participated in daily computer sessions over five days.
Researchers found the daily group — those women rewarded mac and cheese every day for five consecutive days—got burned out with the comfort food fairly quickly and ate 100 fewer calories each day. The weekly group who only got the mac and cheese once a week, on the other hand, devoured 30 more calories each day during the study.
The take-home message here is what scientists call habituation: If you repeatedly eat the same flavor of Ben & Jerry’s or whatever your not-so healthy indulgence might be, you’ll become so bored revisiting that food again and again that you eat less.
Maybe your go-to comfort food is pizza. I don’t care how much you love it. If your Friday dinner involves the same pepperoni deep-dish pie you ate every other night this week, odds are you’re not going to enjoy it nearly as intensely as you did Monday night, so you’re less likely to reach for that third slice.
If you want to burn fat, you’re not eating pizza every night. So let’s apply habituation to healthy eating.
Let’s say your boyfriend’s dying to check out that new sushi buffet down the street. You acquiesce, but resolve you’ll only make healthy choices. Even so, odds are you’ll eat more food simply because of that buffet’s sheer variety than had you ordered from a menu at your favorite sushi bar.
You might, for instance, want to try every variety of the sashimi, rather than sticking to the mackerel and yellow tail you order at an a la carte sushi bar. You end up eating eight pieces rather than your normal three, simply because you had to try the squid and eel, which you’ve never had the courage to order.
And remember, healthy food becomes unhealthy when you overdo it.
I want you to eat tons of non-starchy veggies. It’s impossible, after all, to get fat eating spinach and Brussels sprouts. But when it comes to everything else, lack of variety might be your best ally for fat loss.
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