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Myths and Facts on How to Eat Less and Still Feel Nourished

Many people ask me how to eat just the right amount to feel nourished without experiencing over-fullness. There’s a good deal of information out there on the subject, all the way from flat out wrong to inconclusive to tentative but needing more research. “How to Eat Less: What Works, What Doesn’t” by Caitlin Dow (Nutrition Action Healthetter, Jul/Aug 2018, pp.6-8) provides some evidence-based answers.

Are smaller plates the answer?: According to Barbara Rolls, a nutrition professor at Penn State University, “Focusing on plate size is a diversion” because studies tells us that people often don’t eat less when using smaller plates. They eat about the same quantity of food they’d eat on larger ones. However, if you mindfully choose to use a smaller plate as a reminder to eat less, they can be helpful. The goal is not to heap your plate with foods you love in order to feel as if you’re getting more, but to choose carefully and eat nutritiously.

Should you skip breakfast?: Teaching fellow Enhad Chowdury of the University of Bath in England, reports on research saying that “people who typically consume breakfast do weigh less than those who skip [it].” But that doesn’t prove that they weigh less because they eat breakfast. Research says that there’s no significant weight difference between breakfast eaters and skippers. In studies, the latter group did eat more at lunch, but not enough to make up for the calories they missed at breakfast. One note, if you’re insulin-sensitive, you might want to eat breakfast to keep your levels, well, level.

Does it matter when you eat?: Some theories say to limit eating to daylight hours and others instruct us to front-load food earlier in the day and eat less at night. Studies tell us that there’s no major difference in calorie-ingestion dependent on when we eat. Again, however, insulin issues must be taken into account. One tentative conclusion is that “Eating light in the evening may make you less insulin-resistant and might help you shed more pounds.” The jury is still out on this one.

Does mindful eating matter?: Says Evan Forman, professor of psychology at Drexel University, “Mindful eating means that you tune into hunger signals so you only eat when you’re hungry and stop eating when you’re satisfied. It also teaches people to slow down and to not eat out of boredom or in an automatic, mindless way.” It sounds as if mindful eating might help people eat more consciously and in more appetite-appropriate quantities, but studies cited in this article do not, surprisingly, conclude that mindfulness, by itself, leads to weight loss.

I have, however, read other studies that do conclude that eating mindfully helps to eat less. Moreover, we need to remember that eating less is not the same as eating more nutritiously. Both eating less and more healthfully may be necessary for weight loss. Although the recommendation in this article is to eat mindfully if it helps you, I find this advice ridiculous. Eating with intent and awareness has no downside and can only help you pay attention to appetite cues. It helps you slow down, chew more, taste food and affords the opportunity to query yourself about hunger, satisfaction and fullness. I guess my question is why wouldn’t a person want to practice mindful eating?

Best,

Karen

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