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First Foods Most: After 18-Hour Fast, People Reach To Starches First and Vegetables Last

Wansink, Brian and Aner Tal (2012). First Foods Most: After 18-Hour Fast, People Drawn to Starches First and Vegetables Last. Archives of Internal Medicine, 172(12), 961-963. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.1278

Previous research on consumption after food deprivation has only examined calorie levels rather than the type of foods consumed. In this study, we focused on what food deprived people eat first and most when they finally eat.

For our study we recruited a total of 128 college students who were randomly assigned to one of two conditions: 1) avoid eating 18 hours prior to the experiment (no food or drink after 6 pm) or 2) not fast at all. The study took place across 12 weekday lunches, attended by 10 to 12 people at a time in both conditions. The lunch featured a buffet of two starches (dinner rolls and French fries), 2 proteins (chicken and cheese), 2 vegetables (carrots and green beans), and a beverage, which were rotated across sessions to avoid an order bias. Consumption was unobtrusively videotaped, and the amount of food participants served themselves was surreptitiously weighed using scales embedded in the tables. When done with their lunch participants filled out a questionnaire indicating whether they had skipped breakfast or not and the order in which they had tasted or eaten each of the foods they had for lunch. Food intake was calculated by deducting leftovers from amount served for each participant.

We found that people in the fasting condition started with high calorie foods, namely starches and proteins, more often than people in the non-fasting condition (75% vs. 44%). Furthermore, fasters were more likely to eat a starch first (35%) rather than a vegetable (25%). The most surprising finding was that people will eat the most of the food they took first, 46.5% of their total calories.

And while these results have implications for anyone who is either an occasional or a frequent faster, they are particularly relevant to hospitals and cafeterias that deal with food deprived individuals (patients and dieters). Given that fasters will reach first for starches as opposed to nutrient-dense vegetables, and to help them avoid such biasing choices, they should make healthier foods (vegetables, salads and fruit) more readily convenient, visible and enticing!