GET PACKING: If you make your lunch at home you've got much more control over what goes in it.
GET PACKING: If you make your lunch at home you've got much more control over what goes in it. iStock

Lunching by example

WE OFTEN hear about the daily breakfast habits of those who seem to be naturally slim, but less frequently do we talk about what slim people are doing at lunchtime. Yet there appears to be a few key eating behaviours and habits those who maintain their weight routinely embrace that are likely to play a significant role in keeping their weight under control.

They prioritise lunch

The US Weight Control Registry, a database of more than 5000 individuals who have lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off, has repeatedly shown that those who maintain their weight consume small but regular meals. This means that lunch is not skipped or consumed at 3pm, it is eaten every day, at lunchtime. In general, the earlier in the day you eat lunch the better it is for hunger and weight management.

They bring their own

When we pack and bring our lunch to work, not only are we taking control of our nutrition, but our choices are likely to be healthier, and we are also likely to be consuming half the calories of a lunch we would order in cafes or at food courts.

Large portion sizes, meals with a large volume of carbohydrates such as large sandwiches and rice and noodle based dishes along with tons of dressings and oils mean that our favourite cafe lunches are often a complete calorie overload.

They load up on salad and vegetables

Research from the lab of Dr Barbara Rolls, an expert in "volumetrics”, or the study of the way low energy density foods such as salads, soups and vegetables helps us to eat less has repeatedly found that when dieters load up their plates with extra soups and salads they eat up to 10 per cent fewer calories in a single meal.

It is for this reason that those who base their lunches around soups and salads are more likely to eat less, feel more satisfied and are less likely to experience hunger and cravings later in the day. Simply adding plain soup or salad to your favourite lunch choice is all you have to do to help control your own calorie intake at lunch.

They focus on the 'full factor'

It may be via some wholegrains, lean meat, fish or eggs or even avocado but ensuring your lunch contains a specific nutrient such as protein or good fats that helps to keep you full is a crucial component of a well-balanced lunch.

For this reason slim people do not skip the carbs completely, as they know a little brown rice, sweet potato or wholegrain bread will help to keep them from craving sweet foods later in the day. And for some of us, avocados (if you can afford them) may even be a lunch superfood we had not considered before.

Research has shown that dieters who consumed half a small avocado with their lunch were 23 per cent more satisfied after their lunch and ate less at dinner than dieters who did not include the avocado.

They take their time

Forget scoffing down a sushi roll in front of the computer each day - taking time to savour and enjoy your meal is a crucial part of a healthy lunch that supports weight control.

A study of more than 60,000 Japanese people published in the British Medical Journal Open found that those study participants who ate more slowly had smaller waists, a lower BMI and fewer obese individuals than faster eaters.

It appears that the simple act of chewing slowly, and pausing in between bites, helps to give the brain more time to register fullness and as such helps us to consume fewer calories and prevent overeating. This means that taking time away from the desk to slowly eat your lunch is one of the easiest ways you can help to reduce your overall calorie intake.

Susie Burrell is a dietitian and nutritionist. Follow her on Twitter @SusieBDiet


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