Is skipping meals, or eating low-cal meal replacers, a good way to lose weight? We’ve all heard the arguments against it—that eating less at one meal only causes you to eat more later, that losing weight takes an overall eating overhaul. But a study coming up in the October issue of the journal Appetite says, actually, eating one reduced-calorie meal and then whatever you want for the rest of the day could be an effective way to lose weight.
Researchers studied 17 men and women for four weeks, during which time all meals and snacks were supervised (and caloric intake calculated). For the first two weeks, participants ate as much of and whatever they wanted at all meals (provided from a buffet). For the last two weeks, the all-you-can-eat lunch was replaced with a 200-calorie option, such as a Kashi bar or a Lean Pocket, though other meals were still buffet-style.
Participants wound up eating an average of 245 fewer calories per day on lean lunch days than otherwise—for an average loss of 1.1 pounds over the two weeks. Their calorie totals excluding lunch were about the same—an average of 1,568 calories on days they had the low-cal lunch, and 1,560 on days when they didn’t. Cutting back at lunch didn’t wind up leading participants to ‘make up’ for lost calories at other times of day.
“Most people believe there is a set point for body weight,” said David A. Levitsky, the lead author of the report and a professor of nutrition at Cornell University. “The prevailing notion is that if you create a deficit, you’re going to make up for it later. In this study, we found no evidence of any compensation.
Okay, okay—so replacing one regular meal with a low-cal, packaged option could help you drop weight in the short term. But there are much healthier ways to drop pounds that are just as easy—like eating a reduced calorie lunch made from whole foods, not sodium-laden frozen stuff. And you have to wonder if these results would hold up if participants followed this diet plan for any length of time, or outside of a clinical setting? Because if we’re looking at food for energy and nutrition and balance here—instead of just a cold calorie calculation—the idea isn’t so hot. Two-hundred calories does not provide you with the energy you need to feel full and alert the rest of the day. You may be reducing your calorie count, but you’re not going to feel great—and come dinner you’ll probably be starving (which is not conducive to making the best food choices). This just seems to me like one of those things where, sure, it works in the short term (most diets work in the short term), but is it feasible or healthy for long-term weight maintenance? Not really.
What do you think?