Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

No Free Lunch

Think skimping on calories at lunch will help you lose weight? Think again.

Skimping on lunch and eating a sensible dinner might seem a logical way to lose weight. But what you don't eat at lunch may come back to haunt you at dinnertime.

In one study, people who determinedly limit fat and carbohydrate intake at lunch unintentionally consume more fat and carbs later. And those who restrict calories at their midday meal eat more calories at dinner.

Our brains are just trying to be helpful, says John Allred, Ph.D., Ohio State University nutrition professor. "There seems to be biological signals that regulate our food intake," he explains.

His three-week study involved 25 male college students, each of whom was given a Carnation Instant Breakfast shake every day for lunch. Some shakes were prepared with whole milk, some with skim milk, and some consisted of skim milk and sugar.

Students who consumed the fatty, low-carb, whole-milk drinks compensated by eating less fat and more carbs later. Those who drank the low-fat, low-cal, skim-milk shakes ultimately upped their calorie intake, and those who drank the high-carb, low-fat shakes ate more fat but fewer carbs throughout the afternoon.

That's not to say a salad for lunch always means a sundae at dinner. The biochemical urges that control our food choice can be overridden by willpower, says Allred. Just don't expect it to be easy.