Study Participants Ate Less When Offered the Same Food Every Day
By Salynn Boyles
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD
July 21, 2011 -- A new study suggests that one path to successful weight loss might be culinary boredom.
Researchers found that when people were offered the same food over and over again, they tended to eat less overall.
The study expands on a growing body of research suggesting that the unprecedented level of variety in the American diet may be a major contributor to the obesity epidemic.
It also advances the notion that reducing food choices may be a useful strategy for weight loss.
The study appears in the August issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Food Boredom a Good Thing?
American Society for Nutrition spokeswoman Shelly McGuire tells WebMD that variety is still good for dieters when it comes to healthy foods.
McGuire is an associate professor of nutrition at Washington State University in Pullman, Wash.
"People don't get fat from eating a variety of fruits and vegetables," she says. "But when they are presented with the opportunity to eat a huge variety of high-fat, low-nutrient foods on a daily basis, as most dieters are, that's when they get into trouble."
Researchers from the University of Buffalo explored the concept that people become habituated to foods when they eat them over and over again. Habituation is a decreased response to a particular stimulus with increased exposure to it.
McGuire says the concept that meal monotony could help people lose weight is worth further exploration.
Habituation Led to Fewer Calories
The newly published study involved 32 women who were given the option of eating a highly palatable macaroni and cheese meal while they completed a half-hour long computer task.
Half of the women took part in five computer sessions in five days, while the other half participated in one session a week for five weeks.
Surprisingly, the women offered mac and cheese every day were eating, on average, 100 fewer calories each day by the end of the week, while those offered the food once a week ate 30 more calories a day during the study.
"Habituation is one of a number of psychological processes that may affect weight," University of Vermont professor of psychology and study co-author Mark E. Bouton, PhD, tells WebMD. "The goal is to understand all of the pieces of this very large puzzle."
Findings Bolster Food Addiction Research
Rat studies conducted by Nicole M. Avena, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Florida revealed that repeated exposure to high-sugar and high-fat foods changes the brain chemistry of the animals similar to how drug addiction affects the brain.
"When we removed the palatable foods from the diet, the animals showed the same signs of withdrawal that would be seen if they were addicted to morphine," Avena tells WebMD.
In an editorial published with the study, Avena wrote that even though much has been learned about reward-driven eating behaviors over the last few years, the research has not yet led to new treatments for obesity.
"It is becoming clear that new pharmacologic therapies for overeating may end up being established drug addiction treatments," she writes, along with colleague Mark S. Gold of the University of Florida.
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SOURCES: Epstein, L. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, August 2011; vol 94: pp 371-376.Mark E. Bouton, PhD, professor of psychology, University of Vermont.Shelley McGuire, PhD, associate professor of nutrition, Washington State University at Pullman; national spokeswoman, American Society for Nutrition.Nicole M. Avena, PhD, assistant research professor, University of Florida at Gainesville.News release, American Society of Nutrition. ©2011 WebMD, LLC. All Rights Reserved.