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Reducing food choices - a key to weight control?

Published October 15. 2011 09:01AM

Because my mother was working, it became a type of twisted tradition. For supper before my high school basketball games, I would pick up a double-cheese pizza and split it with my brother. In college, when I was first following a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet but not too intelligently I was eating double-cheese pizza at least twice a week.

In fact, I can remember many occasions when I sat in my in last afternoon class, not concentrating on the lecture but craving double-cheese pizza sprinkled with garlic salt.

Then I started really reading about nutrition and the calories in take-out pizza and disgusted myself. When I was eating three quarters of a double-cheese pie at one sitting, I was consuming around 2000 calories about half of which was fat!

After graduating in 1983, I became far more restrictive with my diet and stopped eating any type of store-bought pizza. Sometimes I would make a version of my own from brown rice dough and fat-free cheese, but my taste buds never confused it with the doughy, double-cheese pizza from my dark past.

In August of 1996, my brother visited me to watch the cycling portion of the Summer Olympics. He needed to eat supper at my house, and I knew he wouldn't enjoy what I normally make for myself, so I ordered a plain pizza.

After giving it some thought and after 13 years of take-out pizza abstinence I decided to have some myself. After all, I reasoned, what harm could two or three slices every 13 years do to my body?

I never found out. I didn't finish my first slice.

Nothing about it appealed to me anymore. The crust wasn't as chewy as I remembered it. The real cheese and when it wasn't doubled! oozed fat and nearly made me gag.

What I once longed for, I now loathed.

In the 15 years since then, the closest I've come to eating pizza is putting a low-fat pizza sauce and garlic powder on flax seed bread and toasting it.

So why share my twisted pizza past?

Because research published this year in the journal Obesity indicates that doing something similar restricting yourself from eating certain types of foods may be the best way to curb unhealthy cravings.

Researchers used 270 men and women and randomly assigned them diets. For two years, about half followed a low-carb diet while the other half followed a low-fat diet.

When sifting through the subjects' questionnaires, the researchers found an odd twist. Those eating a low-carb diet reported fewer cravings for carbs than those in the low-fat diet the group eating ample carbs. Likewise, those in the low-fat group reported fewer cravings for fatty foods than those following the low-carb diet where fat was eaten in abundance.

While many dieters find eating a little bit of the forbidden food satisfies their craving, this study suggests they'd be even more successful avoiding the food completely because cravings can actually be killed by avoidance.

The reason why this works may be found in other studies on food addiction.

These studies have found that some brains appear to respond to certain foods in the same way some brains respond to certain addictive drugs. In fact, a review published in 2009 in the Journal of Addictive Medicine cited research that found alcohol and certain foods, especially fatty sweets like cookies, cakes, and pastries, cause the brain to release its own version of opium and create a sort of drug-induced state.

But even if you are not the type that becomes addicted to foods, other research suggests that there's still a benefit to limiting your food choices.

A review published in May of 2001 in Psychological Bulletin considered research in 58 studies using animals and humans. It found that variety is more than the spice of life; it's a significant factor in overeating.

The discovery was made easily enough. In many of the human studies, two groups were told to eat until they were full.

One group was served a single food. The other was offered many. Invariably, the extra choices led to consuming extra calories when supposedly eating until full.

A follow-up study printed in Obesity Research in 2005 verified the review's findings. In this study, a comparison of nearly 2,300 successful and not-so-successful weight-loss maintainers, found that those eating less of a variety of foods, regardless of the food group but especially fats and sweets, were far more likely to maintain weight loss.

If you're thinking that eating only a limited number of foods would become boring, you're probably right on track. It's that boredom with what you allow yourself to eat that may very well be what causes you to eat less and lose the unwanted weight.

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