“Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavor.”
William Cowper, British Poet
Much of the resounding nutrition advice hinges on variety. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables or eat a variety foods as you’re more likely to meet your nutritional needs or even eat a variety of of fish so you lower exposure to mercury or PCB’s. However, is variety the “spice of life” when weight loss is concerned? Perhaps, when things are too “spicy” there is more temptation.
Carolyn and I were discussing this in the office lately as she’s running our 4-week Dine & Detox program. Despite the fact that participants are without meat, wheat, sweets (and then some) there are few complaints and great results. Many new clients mention being confused about what to eat, fewer choices can increase clarity. One of Carolyn’s clients said “the guidelines are very clear, not having a ton of choices makes it easier to choose foods at the grocery store.”
Some of this is emotional but there’s a physiological component too. Hollie A. Raynor, M.S., R.D., and Leonard H. Epstein, Ph.D., of the University of Buffalo authors of a study on the subject reported “we found that dietary variety could increase food consumption in both humans and animals. Both people and animals will eat more food when a meal or diet contains greater variety of food, which can eventually cause weight gain.”*
Our food supply plays on this principal. From healthy food to junk we are bombarded by newness. How many flavors of M &Ms do we need? Or what about the mango nectarine or pluot? We were all fine with the regular nectarine but depending on your eating habits, curiosity makes you want to try the new thing. While I am the ultimate guinea pig with new foods, I can’t help put think about the old cat and curiosity…it didn’t end well.
I had a client I saw over 10 years ago. Whenever I urged him to switch things up he’d make only the most minor changes. Perhaps cucumber would change to tomato in his lunchtime salads. He didn’t want to waver too much. He lost weight and lowered his cholesterol and I didn’t see him for a long time. Years later, he came to see me; he wanted to “check in”. When we discussed his eating I realized he was still eating the same exact way. Boring worked for him.
Boring can also backfire. If you’re so bored with fish dinners that you’re fantasizing about pasta, you want to plan some flexibility. You also want to have a rotation. When starting a weight loss plan have two items in a weekly rotation. You can also add some “spice” within a template. If your two breakfast choices are eggs or yogurt there are plenty of ways to change things up without feeling confused about what to eat.
Another tip is to reduce the number of foods at one sitting. Work with two to three items per meal if you want to test out “boring” eating. We are more likely to get satiated with fewer tastes at one sitting. This is anti-buffet eating. While variety may be the spice of life, we have an exercise we do with clients called a “KISS Day”. It’s a play on “keep it simple stupid” but we prefer to call it “keep it simple skinny”.
Would you describe your eating as varied or boring? Do you like pluots or the new M and M flavors? What was your eating like 10 years ago?
*”Dietary Variety, Energy Regulation, and Obesity,” Hollie A. Raynor, Ph.D., and Leonard H. Epstein, Ph.D., University of Buffalo; Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 127, No. 3