Shopping on Empty

June 3rd, 2013 by Andrea Bennett

Turns out there’s some truth in an old dieting adage.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

It turns out there is actually medical evidence for that old maxim that advises against hitting the grocery store on an empty stomach.

Go to the store after a meal – with a list, and with a plan. Shop the periphery where the produce lives. These are all the pieces of advice dieters have been following as they try not to get enticed by the preservatives and fat-laden fare that lurks within.

Now, researchers from Cornell University have published a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association to measure the effectiveness of this age-old diet advice. Here is the question posed by the researchers: “Food deprivation has been shown to alter the quantity of food people buy or consume. However, little attention has been given to how fasting affects the composition of people’s food choices. Do people just buy more when food deprived, or do they specifically increase purchases of high-calorie, relative to low-calorie, foods?”

The study was carried out in two phases. In the first phase, a mixed group of 68 men and women were brought in to a lab on two separate days after not eating for five hours. They then shopped for food in a simulated grocery store that offered a mix of lower calorie, “healthy” foods like fruits, vegetables and chicken breasts and higher-calorie food such as candy, salty snacks and red meat. Products were displayed without prices. Before shopping, half of the volunteers had a snack. Both groups purchased similar numbers of items, but the hungry shoppers picked higher-calorie foods.

In the study’s second phase, 82 actual shoppers were tracked in a grocery store. They found that people shopping at times when people were most likely to be hungry – 4pm to 7pm – were also more likely to opt for calorically dense foods than those shopping at traditionally “less hungry” times (1pm – 4pm).

What do you think of this new research: speculative or sound? And does this dieting wisdom hold for you, too? Share here.