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“Don't try to lose more than one pound of fat a week. Reduce your calorie consumption slightly. Increase your calories expenditure slightly. RIPPED 3 (Ripped Enterprises)

Small Calorie Reductions = Large Weight Changes 

I’ve long maintained that fat cells notice small calorie reductions, but we don’t. That has been my experience over many years. A new study from the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, confirms my long-held belief. (The study was published in the October, 2011, issue of the journal Appetite. Doctoral student Carly Pacanowski co-authored the study with Cornell professor David A. Levitsky.)

The study design is relatively simple, but the mechanism illustrated may be the most powerful tool in the weight control tool box. It’s one of the secrets to losing weight and keeping it off—without hunger.

Seventeen volunteers ate all meals and snacks from food provided by the researchers from Monday through Friday for five consecutive weeks. For the first week, all participants selected food from a buffet where each food was weighed before and after eating. This allowed the researchers to measure the total amount consumed each day. Participants were allowed to eat whatever they wanted. For the next two weeks, half of the group selected their lunch from one of six commercially available portion-controlled meals; each lunch contained the same number of calories. They were allowed to eat as much as they wanted at other meals or snacks. For the final weeks four and five, the other half choose from the potion-controlled lunches. Food intake was closely monitored throughout the study. Bodyweight was also carefully monitored.

Consuming the portion-controlled lunches reduced consumption by 250 calories per day.

“More importantly,” the two researchers wrote, “no sign of calorie compensation was evident across the 10 days of testing, an observation substantiated by a significant loss of body weight.” Participants were free to eat more after eating the calorie-reduced lunches, but they didn’t.

In confirmation, participants lost, on average, 1.1 pounds during the two weeks of calorie-reduced lunches. The correlation between energy intake and weight loss was “highly significance,” the researchers reported.  

Interestingly, measures of hunger taken before consumption of the smaller lunch did not change over the 10 testing sessions despite an increasing cumulative energy deficit. There was also no change in hunger prior to dinner following the smaller lunch.

Moreover, the weight loss suggests that the participants didn’t overeat on weekends. There was no significant weight change from Friday to Monday, according to the authors. In addition, there was no change in hunger ratings from Friday to Monday.

“The results suggest that the mere substitution of one smaller meal each day is sufficient to cause reduction in daily energy intake and a significant amount of weight,” the co-authors concluded.

Over a year, a loss of 1.1 pound every two weeks would total over 25 pounds—without feeling the need to compensate by eating more to make up the lunchtime calorie reduction. (The body adapts, so the rate of reduction may decline over time. See article # 317, Weight Loss Is a Dynamic Process.)

What’s the explanation?

“It seems that the reduction in total daily energy occurs because humans fail to accurately compensate for the reduced energy of the meal replacements by increasing intake at succeeding meals, at least over a period of 10 successive days of measurement,” the authors wrote. Apparently, humans do not regulate energy intake with any precision. In other words, we don’t notice small daily calorie reductions.

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My general practice is to make small changes in what I eat throughout the course of the day. In my book Great Expectations, I describe the changes I made in each meal to prepare for photos at 70. Those who have read the book will know that the changes seem almost inconsequential. That’s the point. Over time, small changes will have a meaningful impact.

This approach has worked for me over and over in the last 40 years. It will work for you as well. Remember, small calorie reductions, consistently, over time, produce large weight reductions. I know, it sounds too simple, too easy, too painless, but it does work. Ask Carly Pacanowski and Professor Levitsky. 

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