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Low-Calorie Meals: Friend or Foe?

September 15, 2011

A recent study out of Cornell University (Go Big Red!), looked at the impact of low-calorie meals on overall daily calorie intake.  People were given access to all-you-can-eat buffets for all meals.  However, part of the time they were asked to eat a small, 200 calorie lunch (i.e. Lean Pocket, Granola Bar) instead of their usual “lunch buffet”. One those low-calorie lunch days, they ate 245 less calories in total, despite consuming about the same number of calories at breakfast and dinner.  In other words, the subjects did not compensate for the smaller lunch with a bigger dinner or breakfast.

But how realistic is it that we are faced with “all you can eat” meal scenarios for all 3 meals? (College campuses!)  Also, were some of the foods offered in the buffet “out of the ordinary” for the participants?  Then they may have been able to choose healthier options (i.e. seafood, grilled chicken) just because they were there rather than having to deal with choosing them in a real-life scenario (everyone else is ordering out for lunch at the pizza place…are you going to get the grilled fish?).  Or do they normally skip breakfast but ate it during the study because “it was there”.  This is always the issue with controlled studies; usually the better the control, the less realistic the study becomes.

I think what is interesting to note is that, despite being low calorie, the 200 calorie lunch is similar to that offered by meal replacement diet plans (bar/shake for breakfast, lunch and a sensible dinner, etc.).  However those plans tend to quickly put someone in a significant calorie restriction situation, which is not ideal for long-term maintenance and metabolism.  But overall it’s better than skipping a meal.

Recently I met someone who lost an impressively significant amount of weight by becoming more active and consuming whole-food based nutrition supplement bars every few hours until dinner time (sensible dinner).  For him, the decision to eat the supplement bars throughout the day allowed him to avoid the “decision making” and emotional processes with food. (Eat a bar every few hours…that’s it.)  But at the same time does it stunt his relationship with food?  Will he ever be able to transition back to a food-based diet or will he slip back into old, unhealthy patterns if he tries?  Or does it matter if he can continue to eat the supplement bars for the rest of his life?

Have you ever used a low-calorie meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner) to lose weight?  Was it successful in the long-term? Have you tried using supplement bars to lose weight?  Do you think they can be a long-term solution?  I want your input!

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One Comment
  1. Ronnie Traktman permalink

    I find it easier to deal with food when I have fewer choices too. I would not be comfortable using food bars as meal replacements on a regular basis, though. First, regardless of what nutritional data appears on the label, I’m not sure how healthy they are for daily use, considering that they are extremely processed foods. Second, there is the problem of having to deal with real food on the occasions when it becomes necessary…social or professional lunch/dinners, as an example. Using real food in a basically repetitive dietary regime on a daily basis, makes it easier for me to change my diet to cover special events because I’m always dealing with real food. It becomes a matter of making the wisest choices of the different real foods of which I will partake, on those occasions where my diet becomes celebratory.

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