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May 2013

How to Help Your Clients Avoid Late-night Snacking


How many times have you heard this from your clients: “I was so good all day, but then I couldn’t stop eating [fill in the blank] all evening.” Evening or late-night snacking can derail the most dedicated weight-loss efforts, but a new study suggests that what a person eats first thing in the morning could hold the key to reducing the urge to binge on unhealthy foods.

Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia recruited 20 overweight or obese women, ages 18 to 20, all of whom were habitual breakfast-skippers. Over a period of six days, the women either consumed a 350-calorie breakfast of ready-to-eat cereal or eggs and lean beef, or continued to skip breakfast. The meals were matched for dietary fat, fiber, sugar and energy density, but the high-protein breakfast contained 35 grams of protein. In addition to completing questionnaires and providing blood samples throughout the day, the participants’ underwent brain scans prior to dinner. Specifically, researchers tracked brain signals that control food motivation and reward-driven eating behavior.

The women who consumed the high-protein breakfast reported greater “satiety” and feelings of fullness—feelings that were supported by brain scans that showed reduced brain activity in the areas responsible for controlling food cravings. And, compared to those who ate cereal or skipped breakfast, those who consumed more protein were much less likely to snack on high-fat or high-sugar foods in the evening.

“Eating a protein-rich breakfast impacts the drive to eat later in the day, when people are more likely to consume high-fat or high-sugar snacks,” explains lead researcher Dr. Heather Leidy, an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at the University of Missouri-Columbia. “These data suggest that eating a protein-rich breakfast is one potential strategy to prevent overeating and improve diet quality by replacing unhealthy snacks with high-quality breakfast foods.”

Despite a huge body of evidence confirming the importance of eating a healthy breakfast, an estimated 31 million Americans skip it every day. And even more young people do—as many as 60 percent of young adults, by some estimates. Given the high prevalence of obesity among all age groups, consuming a healthy, high-protein breakfast may be an effective tactic in helping to improve diets and encourage weight loss.

Still, you will likely find that some clients find the idea of eating food early in the morning to be unappetizing, at best. But Leidy says most people’s bodies can adjust to eating breakfast in just a few days—like any healthy habit, it simply requires a little dedicated effort. And, for those who can’t stomach the thought of eating beef in the morning hours, there are plenty of other high-protein options to choose from, including Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, egg-and-veggie scrambles or burritos, or even a high-protein smoothie or shake. You can find more healthy breakfast options here.

Although the debate continues as to which dietary approaches are most effective for weight loss, it seems clear that the satiety benefits that come with consuming protein—especially at breakfast—can go a long way toward bolstering individual weight-loss efforts.

Source: Heidy, H.J. et al. (2013). Beneficial effects of a higher –protein breakfast on the appetitive, hormonal and neural signals controlling energy intake regulation in overweight/obese, ‘breakfast-skipping,’ late-adolescent girls. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 97, 4, 677-688.


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