Want to Lose Weight?---Keep It Boring
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Want to Lose More Weight? --- Keep It Boring

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April 29, 2015

By Susan Callahan, Contributing Columnist

You've probably seen many so-called experts touting the benefits of variety in your diet to keep you motivated. It turns out, they're wrong. One of the best ways to lose  weight is to avoid variety. Huh?  Yes, to lose weight, one of the best strategies is to introduce mind-numbing monotony in your meals, scientists have found.

To paraphrase Gordon Gekko from "Wall Street", "boring is good". Boring works. The process is called "habituation" and it has been studied for several decades but has only recently started to draw attention in the public.

What Is Habituation?

How does this work exactly? We humans, and all animals in general, respond to visual, taste and olfactory (smell) cues as we eat food.  Foods which stimulate us visually get eaten more. Foods which smell good and taste good are eaten more. 

Your sensory stimulation is dampened when you get sick, which explains why your food intake can dramatically decline when you're ill.  You're apt to say "I don't feel like eating". This is especially true if you have an illness such as a cold which shuts off your sense of smell.

Well, other events can also turn off your food senses and one of those things is habituation. Scientists have discovered that humans who are presented with the same food repeatedly eat less. As one study in 2000 led by Dr. Leonard Epstein from the University of Buffalo , habituation can be a useful tool in decreasing food intake.

How Often Should We Eat the Same Meal?

We habituate to our food even in one meal, eating less as the meal progresses because we have become accustomed to the taste and smell and sight of it.  Nothing compares to that first bite. 

Scientists have found that eating the same meal 5 days a week is the best approach for weight loss. Five is the magic number. Those who eat the same meal only twice a week don't seem to habituate enough to make a difference in their weight loss.

How to Help Yourself Habituate Faster and Better

To really ingrain habituation, you have to eat without being distracted. Eating while watching television destroys your body's ability to habituate, studies show. In another study by Dr, Epstein in 2005, children were given pizza to eat and either ate it without distraction or while listening to an interesting audiobook. The children who listened to the audiobook while eating ate far more.

The same principle has been used by movie cinemas for almost a century to entice moviegoers to eat more popcorn.  We eat more while the action gets intense because we are salivating more and the stimulation interrupts our body's ability to habituate.

So, what are the best tips for triggering your body's natural habituation response:

1. Choose one meal --say dinner --to repeat 5 times a week. My choice was lentil stew. By day 5, I was down to a half of what I ate on Day One.

2. Turn Off the TV.  Eat a a table away from  TV and without music.

3. Keep it Simple. Avoid making your meal more tempting -- no extra spices, no extra colors, garnishes etc. The more boring the better.

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