Egg Nutrition Center Blog

Chaotic Eating Contributes to Excessive Calories and Obesity

Today’s post comes from Dr. Donald Layman. Dr. Layman is the Director of Research at the Egg Nutrition Center and Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois and a leading researcher studying dietary needs for protein and amino acids.

Variety may be the “spice of life” but it is also a factor leading to excess calorie intake and obesity. There is increasing evidence that the hectic American lifestyle that often leads to chaotic meal patterns combined with the almost unlimited availability of high calorie snacks and desserts plays a central role in expanding waistlines of adults.

Consuming a variety of foods is often recommended as an approach to good nutrition, but there is increasing evidence that consistency of meals and limiting variety of food choices – certainly snacks – may be important for controlling energy intake.

A recent study by Dr. Rena Wing at University of Tennessee (AJCN 95:1305, 2012) examined limiting the variety of high energy-low nutrient (HE-LN) foods consumed by adults during an 18-month weight loss study. These foods provide a lot of calories but with minimal nutrient density. Subjects were allowed to select two items from a list of snacks, desserts, candy, ice cream, breads, cereals and pastas. These two items could be consumed as part of any meal or snack throughout the study, but no other items from the list were allowed at any time. The researchers found that limiting the choices in the HE-LN categories to only two selections significantly reduced calorie intake.

Anyone trying to achieve weight loss must restrict total calorie intake; and calorie restriction creates the potential for increased hunger and desire to eat. Managing the desire to eat requires consistent meal patterns, including the types of foods, the amount of food, and the meal timing. It is unlikely that there is a single meal pattern that is ideal for everyone, however there is increasing evidence that skipping breakfast leads to increased snacking and consumption of excess calories late in the day. Consuming a consistent breakfast that contains about 30 grams of high quality protein and reduced amounts of high glycemic carbohydrates is an important factor for appetite regulation. Likewise, reducing the size of dinner is important related to portion control and total calorie intake.

Eating a variety of foods is important but a better message for adults may be to strive for consistent meals that are nutritionally balanced. There is nothing wrong with eating the same basic foods and having the same meals every day. Avoid chaotic eating and limit the variety of high energy-low nutrient foods to achieve weight management.

Author: Anna Shlachter MS, RDN, LDN