Do we have too many options when it comes to food? According to a study published August 2011 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, too many options may be one reason pounds are packed on.
On the flip side, the study found eating the same food over and over lead to boredom and a decrease in caloric intake.
Food Boredom is a Good Thing
Research indicates that repeat exposure to a particular food leads to disinterest. The response is called habituation and can lead to a decrease in caloric intake in the short term.
In the U.S. we are blessed with a wide variety of choices and all we have to do is enter a grocery store. The problem with variety doesn’t necessarily apply to having access to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables – not too many people can say they are overweight because they ate too many greens! – the problem comes from the overwhelming abundance of low-fat, low-nutrient options.
There is a ‘food addiction hypothesis’ that proposes some people overeat because they are not sensitive to normal habituation and require even more of a food to trigger disinterest.
There has not been a lot of research in this area to determine if the habituation process is different between individuals of a healthy weight versus those who are overweight.
The study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition aimed to study the long-term habituation in obese and non-obese women.
Habituation Equals Fewer Calories
Study participants included 16 healthy weight and 16 obese women. The women were divided into two groups. Group one (the ‘weekly group’) participated in weekly experimental food exposure sessions for five weeks, while group two (the ‘daily group’) was studied daily for 5 consecutive days. Each experimental session included a 28 minute computer based task. After completing the tasks, participants were ‘rewarded’ with a 125 calorie portion of macaroni and cheese. Participants could work for as many servings of macaroni and cheese as they wanted. For example, they could complete 4 – 28 minute sessions and receive 500 calories worth of macaroni and cheese. After the session was complete, researchers evaluated total energy intake.
The study did not find a difference between obese versus non-obese responses, but there was a 100 calorie per day lower intake of macaroni and cheese for the ‘daily group’. The group that completed the sessions once a week for five weeks consumed on average 30 more calories per day.
Too Much of a Good Thing
Having a plethora of options may be a mixed blessing. Research indicates that having a wide variety of foods to choose from leads to increased caloric intake.
Researchers determined that reducing food variety may be a useful strategy for those trying to lose weight.
You can use habituation to your benefit by not exposing yourself to a plethora of options. This supports why you should avoid buffets, particularly if you are trying to lose weight. Even if you select healthy choices you may still eat more calories than usual because you have to try a little of everything.
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All the best,
Lisa Nelson RD