Snacking Is Ok While Dieting, Just Watch Your Portions

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

Plain and simply put, dieting can be hard, but there is new research out now that may help you have the best of both worlds, with moderation.

Dr. Ellen van Kleef of Wageningen University, and colleagues, designed a study that looked into whether people were satisfied just eating a snack, or if it was the portion that mattered to them.

The researchers separated study participants into two groups, each of which had different snack portion sizes.

For the study, the larger portion size group was given 100 grams of chocolate, 200 grams of apple pie and 80 grams of potato chips, equaling about 1,370 calories in snack foods. The second group was given much smaller portions, including 10 grams of chocolate, 40 grams of apple pie and 10 grams of potato chips, totaling 195 calories.

Researchers gave the participants as much time as they needed to eat their snacks, and afterwards they were asked to fill out a survey to rate the liking, familiarity, and boredom of the food. The team also asked participants to give them an idea of how hungry they were before the snacking ensued, or whether they craved any of the food that was presented before them.

In the end, the team found that smaller portion sizes are still capable of providing similar feelings of satisfaction as larger portions. The group who ate the larger portion consumed 77 percent more food, but they did not feel any appetite enhancing or stronger feelings of being full than the group who ate the smaller portions.

Dr. Kleef, who was lead author of the study published in Food Quality and Preference, told redOrbit in an email that when dieting, perhaps you should open up your perspective a bit.

“People, and particularly people on a diet, tend to categorize foods as either bad (such as chocolate) or good (such as fruit/vegetables),” said Dr. Kleef. “However, if you are craving a food, it might be an option to eat the food, but in a smaller portion size. Managing your weight is not only about good and bad foods, but also about the amount of food you eat.”

Suzanne Farrell, a Registered Dietitian and owner of Cherry Creek Nutrition in Denver, Colorado, told redOrbit that while many of us look for that perfect diet, we sometimes forget to pay attention to our own bodies or behaviors.

“It´s more than just the ‘what’ component of what you are eating- but also the how, why and when. Practice listening to your body more,” Farrell, who was not a part of the study, said in an email.

Her advice for those who are facing the mental struggle of dieting, and not just the physical one, was to ask yourself the following questions: “How often do you eat when not even hungry? How often do you wait until you feel ravenous? How often do you get overly full? Do you know how it feels to be satisfied/comfortably full?”

She suggests people start with smaller portions, because they can always add a little more if they are still hungry.

“Serve snacks/meals in smaller bowls or on small plates,” Farrell told redOrbit. “This study reminds us to eat slowly and more mindfully – fast eaters tend to eat more; slow down and listen to your body to determine if you´ve had enough. It takes 20 minutes for the brain to receive the signal from the stomach that it has had enough.”

Many people, according to Farrell, eat more than they need, simply because it is there, and “we are not necessarily in tune to our own hunger level, satiety and fullness levels.”

“This study demonstrates that we may feel satisfied physiologically with less food than we are served, or serve to ourselves,” she said.

While the study gives a fresh perspective to those on a diet, and offers up a freebie to those who still want to snag a piece of chocolate every now and then, Dr. Kleef said her research is not done. She told redOrbit that now, the researchers will be looking into how to limit portion sizes of high caloric food, and how to eat less, but enjoy more.

“For example, we study how certain messages (e.g. nutrition or health claims or logos, exercise related messages) impact self-control and food intake,” Dr. Kleef told redOrbit.

As you continue your New Year’s resolution of curbing a little of that belly fat off your body, consider the words of these experts, and remember that portion matters. You still have to live a little, just don’t go overboard.