The Buffet Phenomenon: Researchers Find More Food Choices Linked To Fatter Mice



This is why I hate buffets: Too many food choices make my head spin. For weight control, I prefer the out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach — keep the oversized muffins and pepperoni pizzas out of the house altogether. Call me rigid, but it seems to work.

Apparently, mice have similar issues, according to a study published in the journal Endocrinology.

The study tried to tease out the relative importance of genetics vs. environment when it comes to obesity risk. So, baby mice born to mothers with a defined high-fat or low-fat diet were randomly assigned to one of three diet groups: either a high-fat diet, a low-fat diet or to an “eat what you want” diet in which they got to pick and choose among the various options.

Researchers from Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine report that:  “Offspring displayed negative outcomes of increased body weight, body fat, serum leptin, and blood glucose levels when given the choice diet compared with offspring on the [low-fat diet].”

This begs the question whether a child’s environment can indeed trump genetics when it comes to obesity.

The Virginia Tech news release quotes one of the study authors who wraps up the findings simply:

“We like variety,” said Deborah Good, an associate professor of human nutrition, foods, and exercise at Virginia Tech. “But when there is a choice, we eat more than when there is not any variety.”

Though the study was done using mice, it can help inform researchers of how human’s natural environment can affect food choices and ultimately a person’s weight. In a country where one-third of adults and 17 percent of children are obese, understanding the root causes of the problem is imperative.

One apparent upside found among mice in the choice group, according to the report: they had “improved energy expenditure” compared to the low-or high-fat diet groups. “Essentially,” the news release says, “the mice burned more energy as they wandered around and evaluated which food they were going to eat.”

This recalls the food and environment research of Brian Wansink, a professor of consumer behavior at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. A recent Psychology Today article on how we eat (and overeat) called, “Why Out of Sight is Really Out Of Mind,” discusses how we can slip into mindless eating in a world where food is everywhere. But there are ways to eat smarter, if you think about what you’re doing:

Wansink found that slim people approach an “all you can eat” buffet by “scouting out” what is available — “getting the lay of the land,” as it were — before they grab their plates and pile on food. They are also more likely to sit facing away from, and to choose a table farther away from a buffet; more likely to choose small plates; and, if eating Chinese food, eat with chopsticks.

Jean Fain, a Harvard Medical School-affiliated psychotherapist who runs “mindful eating” training sessions, has offered some tips on how to curb excessive eating, particularly during the holidays, when tables are brimming with tempting sweets and heavy dishes loaded with nostalgia. In a December post, she wrote:

If you find yourself automatically reaching for another piece of pumpkin cheesecake, step back from the dessert table and ask yourself: “How do I feel? What do I need? Do I really want another piece of cheesecake?” If you do, by all means, enjoy. But if you feel full, better to interrupt the automatic urge for more. It’ll taste better when you’re hungry. What’s more, a short interruption can give you back control.

Smaller Bites Can Help The Distracted Eater, Study Finds

I often have two dilemmas at dinnertime. First, my older daughter picks up a book as soon as she comes to the table, and if given the chance, always reads while dining — the very opposite of “mindful” eating. (She grudgingly stops when we tell her, but we have mixed feelings, frankly, because her love of reading is, well, lovely.) The other problem is my younger daughter’s jokey inclination to stuff her mouth with huge chunks of food, which allows her to finish quickly and then rush off to her next activity.



Both of these behaviors are not only impolite, they can lead to overeating. But according to new research out of the Netherlands, simply taking prescribed smaller bites (or sips of soup in this case) can counteract the negative impact of distracted eating. The study was published in PLOS One; here’s more from the news release:

Previous studies have shown that taking smaller bites helps people eat less. Other research has also shown that people tend to eat larger meals if eating while distracted.

In this new study, the authors assessed whether taking smaller bites or sips of food affected meal size if eaters were distracted during their meal. Participants in the study were given a meal of soup as they watched a 15 minute animation film. Two groups ate in pre-measured volumes of either ‘small’ or ‘large’ sips, and the rest were allowed to take sips of whatever size they liked. All participants could eat as much as they wanted, and were later asked to estimate how much they had eaten.

The authors found that people who ate pre-specified ‘small’ bites of food consumed about 30% less soup for their meal than those in the other two groups. Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: My Mother-In-Law’s Braciole

Making gingerbread cookies with the kids is much more pleasant after yoga

Did anyone else overdo it with the food this weekend?

Well, don’t feel too bad; inevitably, someone else ate more. Probably someone in my family. Want proof? Let me tell you what my mother-in-law served:

On Christmas Eve: Seven fish dishes, including linguine with clams, stuffed peppers, baked cod, tuna and shrimp appetizers, pink champagne, wine and eggnog, bread, of course, and for dessert, ricotta cheesecake, grain pie, twelve different types of cookies and fine chocolates.

On Christmas Day: Beef Braciole , sausage, sausage stuffing, meatballs, homemade ravioli, eggplant parmigiana, and all of the desserts. Did I mention her ricotta cheesecake is laced with chocolate?

Today, driving home, my fingers felt swollen and my brain dulled.

So, as soon as we pulled into the driveway, I called the 12-year-old down the street and implored her to watch my kids for two hours. I went to yoga and my husband played Ultimate Frisbee while the Great Late December Blizzard began.

We both came home happier, calmer and ready to make gingerbread cookies with the children and prepare for a morning of sledding tomorrow.

It’s remarkable what 90 minutes of exercise can do. For me, it provided a full-body “control-alt-delete,” a do-over for my stuffed belly and a new, joy-infused outlook on our first Winter Storm.