Are You Stuck In an Eating Rut?

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It’s so easy to fall into an eating rut. Having the same cabbage soup diet, work in the short term.

But aside from the imbalance of nutrients found in such a restrictive diet, the problem comes with boredom, which can send dieters on a quest for their favorite forbidden foods. “Dieters should welcome variety as an ally,” she says.

Still, too much variety — especially of the wrong type of foods — can backfire and lead to overeating, Rolls says. The problem is a mechanism in people and animals called sensory-specific satiety. This mechanism served our early ancestors by promoting nutritional variety and thus the species’ evolutionary success. But it works against modern people who don’t expend mega-calories foraging for food.

“Satiety is that feeling of being full,” says Rolls. “Sensory-specific satiety occurs when pleasure decreases as you continue to eat a certain food, such as a salty bag of chips. You don’t want more chips, but something sweet will taste good. If we have too much variety, and if it’s high-calorie food, we end up eating too much.”

She says the key to losing weight on a varied diet is to choose foods with low calorie density and avoid those with lots of calories packed into a small serving. For example, 1/4 cup of raisins has 100 calories. Their low-density counterpart is grapes, which have 100 calories in 1 2/3 cups.

Variety Is the Spice of Life

Are you boring yourself silly with your eating rut? Think about it from a historical perspective. A few centuries ago, people would have killed to break the monotony of the same-old, same-old. In fact, they did. They fought each other in the Spice Wars.

But you don’t have to go to such extremes. Here are some ideas for getting out of the rut:

  • Next time you go to the grocery store, venture out of the familiar aisles. Buy brown or wild rice instead of white, pita pockets instead of white bread, and pears instead of bananas.
  • Challenge yourself to try one new food each week.
  • Pick up a healthy dinner from a restaurant instead of having pizza delivered.
  • Have the sandwich you usually choose for lunch for breakfast instead.
  • Try slight alterations to your old standbys: accessorize your sandwich with spinach leaves instead of lettuce, stir sliced veggies into your scrambled eggs, choose a new type of cheese for your casserole.
  • Don’t say “Yuck” when friends want to try an ethnic restaurant that serves unfamiliar cuisine.
  • Visit a farmers market.
  • Have a healthy potluck at home or work with a theme: Tex-Mex, Mediterranean, Chinese, etc.
  • Take a cooking class.
  • Buy a new cookbook or get a subscription to a healthy cooking magazine.

And don’t forget to enjoy the adventure!

Originally published Sept. 2, 2003
Medically updated Sept. 1, 2004.