The small daily habit that could lead to long term weight loss

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Could it really be as simple as this?

Planning is the key to dietary success and it now seems that specifically planning our lunch goes a long way when it comes to calorie control on a daily basis.

New research published in the Journal of Marketing Research (conducted by the University of Pennsylvania) has found that the simple act of planning your lunch immediately after breakfast can significantly cut calories on a daily basis and result in long term weight loss.

Researchers investigated the lunchtime habits of more than 900 workers and university students who were regularly purchasing lunch from on-site canteens. They found that lunchtime habits were significantly impacted by the times in which lunches were ordered and/or planned in advance.

The longer participants waited after breakfast to order their lunch, the higher the number of calories ordered at lunchtime. Waiting just an hour before ordering lunch rather than buying impulsively cut as many as 40 calories off a lunch order, while planning lunch immediately after breakfast cut up to 240 calories (which is equivalent to a Dairy Milk chocolate bar or the amount of calories burnt off in a 3.2km walk).

These findings were explained according to a number of theories. The first being that planning lunch in advance when feeling satiated and full from breakfast allowed more mindful food decisions to be made.

Next, the simple act of planning allowed for more considered choices and a tendency to make healthier choices. While calories were reduced by as little as 40 calories per day, as lunch in the workplace is consumed out of habit and ritual these calories add up, which could result in significant weight gain in the long term.

Long working days, a tendency to eat lunch at the desk, frequent trips to food courts and skipping lunches are all common work day habits. The health consequences are well documented with overweight and obese workers linked to a range of negative outcomes including; reduced productivity, increased sick leave and increased absenteeism costing workplaces billions of dollars.

This new data suggests that simple workplace strategies encouraging workers to plan ahead, make their lunch decisions early in the day and commit to a regular lunch break has significant positive outcomes for workplaces in general. As such, greater investment in workplace health, wellbeing and lunch breaks is warranted.

For busy workers, making healthy lunch choices can be complicated. Food courts are filled with high calorie, high fat options, often offering twice as much energy that is required by sedentary workers.

My advice as a nutritionist

Lunch should be taken more seriously and considered an important part of the day. Not only is it a time for workers to take a break, re-energise, get some sunlight and movement but now the importance of good nutritional intake is clear.

A well-balanced lunch at work will be consumed early in the day, by 1pm, and include; lean proteins for fullness, whole grain carbohydrates for energy and plenty of fresh salad and vegetables for nutrition.

For individuals who frequent the local food court, making a concerted decision early in the day about which menu choice you will make is a positive step from a calorie perspective. Even better, planning your lunch the night before so that you start the day with a clear idea of what you will be eating appears to go a long way when it comes to daily and long term calorie control.

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Susie Burrell is one of Australia’s leading dietitians, with 2 Honours degrees in Nutrition & Dietetics and Psychology. Susie is especially known for her practical, easy to understand approach to diet, nutrition and wellbeing. Early in her career, she spent almost 10 years working at The Children’s Hospital and with elite sporting teams including the St George Illawarra Dragons and the South African Blue Bulls where she gained much applied experience working with children, families and elite athletes. Susie is currently the resident sports dietitian at Sydney University Sport. In 2004 she started representing the Dietitians Association of Australia as a media spokesperson and regularly began appearing in both print and television media commenting on all areas of diet, weight loss and nutrition. Since then, she has been the resident nutritionist on Mornings with Kerri-Anne, Fresh TV and for Dolly magazine, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph Body and Soul, Cosmopolitan, ALPHA and GQ. Susie is currently the resident dietitian on Channel’s 7’s SUNRISE and has a weekly radio segment on the top rating 2GB Afternoon Program with Chris Smith. Susie currently contributes regularly to smh.com.au, Australian Women’s Fitness, CLEO and Woman’s Day magazines and she is the consultant dietitian at Sydney University Sport, Body Science International, Go Natural Foods, Peppercorn Food Company and SIMPLE skincare. Currently Susie is also completing a Master’s Degree in Coaching Psychology at Sydney University which takes up much of her spare time but as you would expect, she is a fan of all things health and wellbeing, and so in her limited downtime can usually be found indulging in long walks around Sydney or entertaining friends with healthy, home prepared meals. She also has an incurable love of Icehouse, Burmese cats and eyelashes.

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