FRIDAY, April 19 (HealthDay News) -- Few situations can trip up
someone who is watching their weight like an all-you-can-eat
But a new research letter published in the April issue of the
American Journal of Preventive Medicinesuggests two
strategies that may help dieters survive a smorgasbord: Picking up
a smaller plate and circling the buffet before choosing what to
Buffets have two things that raise nutritionists' eyebrows --
unlimited portions and tons of choices. Both can crank up the
calorie count of a meal.
"Research shows that when faced with a variety of food at one sitting, people tend to eat more. It is the temptation of wanting to try a variety of foods that makes it particularly hard not to overeat at a buffet," says Rachel Begun, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She was not involved with the new study.
Still, some people don't overeat at buffets, and that made study
author Brian Wansink, director of the food and brand lab at Cornell
University in Ithaca, N.Y., wonder how they restrain
"People often say that the only way not to overeat at a buffet is not to go to a buffet," said Wansink, a psychologist who studies the environmental cues linked to overeating. "But there are a ton of people at buffets who are really skinny. We wondered: What is it that skinny people do at buffets that heavy people don't?"
Wansink deployed a team of 30 trained observers who
painstakingly collected information about the eating habits of more
than 300 people who visited 22 all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet
restaurants in six states.
Tucked away in corners where they could watch unobtrusively, the
observers checked 103 different things about the way people behaved
around the buffet. They logged information about whom diners were
with and where they sat -- close or far from the buffet, in a table
or booth, facing toward or away from the buffet. Observers also
noted what kind of utensils diners used -- forks or chopsticks --
whether they placed a napkin in their laps, and even how many times
they chewed a single mouthful of food.
They also were taught to estimate a person's body-mass index, or
BMI, on sight. Body-mass index is the ratio of a person's weight to
their height, and doctors use it to gauge whether a person is
The results of the study revealed key differences in how thinner
and heavier people approached a buffet.
"Skinny people are more likely to scout out the food. They're more likely to look at the different alternatives before they pounce on something," Wansink said. "Heavy people just tend to pick up a plate and look at each item and say, 'Do I want it? Yes or no.'"
In other words, Wansink said, thin people tend to ask themselves
which dishes they most want out of all the choices offered, while
heavier people ask themselves whether they want each food, one at a
Thin people also were about seven times more likely to pick
smaller plates if they were available than those who were
Those behaviors also appeared to help people eat less. People
who scouted the buffet first and used a smaller plate also made
fewer trips to the buffet, whatever their weight.
There were other key differences in how thinner and heavier
people acted, Wansink said. Thin people sat about 16 feet farther
away from the buffet, on average, than bigger people. They also
chewed their food a little longer -- about 15 chews per mouthful
for those who were normal weight compared with 12 chews for those
who were overweight.
Those behaviors weren't associated with taking fewer trips to
the buffet, but researchers think they may be habits that help
thinner people regulate their weight.
"The interesting thing was that almost all of these changes were unconscious to the person making them," Wansink said. "They essentially become habits over time."
A nutrition expert who was not involved in the study praised the
research, but questioned whether these strategies might really be
powerful enough help.
"As with all of Wansink's observations, these are insightful and useful," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, in New Haven, Conn. "But in some ways, they are like looking for the reasons why some people got wet sooner than others when the Titanic went down. The bigger issue was: The ship was sinking, and everyone was in the same boat."
Katz said the best advice for dieters might be to avoid a
buffet's temptations in the first place. "By all means, survey the
scene and choose a small plate," he said. "But, better yet, avoid
the all-you-can-eat buffet altogether."
For more on weight loss, head to the
American Heart Association.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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