"This complex defensive response affects both psychological and physiological parameters. When you do start choosing and eating foods, the body directs you to go for high-calorie foods to replace calories lost and to store up in case of another famine," Heller said.
To make their point, the researchers did two experiments. The first was a lab experiment in which people were told not to eat five hours before the study.
Before the test began, some of the 68 participants were given crackers to appease their hunger. Then, they all were asked to "shop" in a simulated, online grocery store. Hungry people tended to choose higher-calorie foods such as regular ice cream over low-fat ice cream, the researchers found.
In a second study, the researchers followed 82 actual shoppers during the course of the day at times when they were most likely to be full or hungry.
Again, Wansink and Tal found that hungry shoppers bought more high-calorie products, compared to shoppers who weren't hungry.
Nutritionist Heller said this very small study indicates that skipping meals, fasting and restrictive dieting, even for short periods of time, is likely to backfire if weight loss is the goal.
It is important to eat at relatively regular intervals, she added. "This signals the body that fuel is readily available. Metabolism can run at optimal levels. Energy is available for biological functions and daily activities," Heller explained. "The immune system has the wherewithal to keep the body healthy. Mood improves," she said.
"Choosing healthy foods, eating regularly, monitoring portions and getting in daily exercise is the best way for your body and mind get happier and healthier," Heller advised.
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