Cueing Into Your Eating Patterns

Related Media: What to Eat When You Want to Lose WeightMindful Eating

image When someone is trying to lose weight, one common piece of advice is "Eat only when you are hungry." It sounds simple enough, but the reasons that people eat can be very complex, and many have nothing at all to do with hunger. Our internal cues are influenced by all sorts of other signals streaming in from the outside. Tracking down those other signals has kept scientists busy and yielded some surprising research on our eating patterns. Do you recognize yourself in any of these patterns?

The Myth of the Light Lunch

Feeling virtuous because you had a light lunch? Chances are good that you are compensating for it later in the day. A study conducted by scientists at the National Center for Toxicology monitored the amount of fat typically eaten at lunch by 17 subjects. The researchers gave the participants meals during three different periods. All of the meals contained the same amount of fat as the participants' usual lunch, but the subjects were told that the meals had either less, more, or the same amount of fat than what they usually ate.The results? When people thought they were eating less fat at lunch, they ate more calories than when they were told the meal was high-fat. They also ate more of their calories from fat compared to both the low-fat and normal periods.

Early Diners

You skip breakfast and grab a lunchtime snack from the vending machine. Before you know it, it is 4:00 PM and the most you have eaten is a few pretzels. So when you walk through the door at home, you head straight to the refrigerator. Researchers from the City University of New York combed through the food diaries of more than 1,800 women looking for a connection between women's weight and what percentage of their daily calories they ate after 5:00 PM. While they did not find the connection they were looking for, they did discover something else. Women who consume most of their calories before 5:00 PM generally eat a more healthful diet than those who pack more calories in after hours. Early eaters ate less fat, protein, and alcohol and more carbohydrates, folate, vitamin C, and vitamin B6 than late eaters. There is also a promising association between the timing of food intake and weight loss. In a study of 420 people over a 20-week period, early eaters tended to have more success losing weight (in this group, lunch was the main meal) than those who ate more after 3:00 PM. They also had better dietary habits than late eaters, such as not skipping or having a healthier breakfast. Timing of eating the largest daily meal may be one component of weight loss programs in the future, but for now more conclusive research is needed.

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