Don’t chow down at your next catered company lunch: You’ll eat just as much after picking at a small lunch as you would after pigging out at a buffet, says a new Cornell University study.
In the study, people didn’t compensate for a small 200-calorie lunch by eating more the rest of the day. In fact, they ate just as much later in the day as those who ate a buffet lunch of about 600 calories.
But it’s not because the 200-calorie lunch was high in protein and filling. People chose between a granola bar, Chef Boyardee, a sandwich, a Lean Pocket, or Campbell’s soup—showing that the nutritional composition of the food didn’t matter.
“Our bodies aren’t sensitive enough to detect small differences in calories,” says study author David Levitsky, Ph.D., and professor at Cornell University. “Most of our eating comes from external cues.” Think about it: You eat dinner even when you’re not hungry because, well, it’s dinner. You’re supposed to.
This is why the buffet group didn’t cut calories throughout the rest of the day. Everyone simply ate as they normally would—without thinking of what they had for lunch, which is why the meal-replacement group had a caloric deficit.
“Choose smaller meals,” says Levitsky. “Large meals won’t stop you from eating later, and smaller meals won’t make you eat more.” Try the best fast-food meals under 500 calories and pick up a copy of Cook This, Not That! for recipes under 350 calories.