Desperate to lose weight? Cut calories by ordering your food one hour BEFORE it’s time to eat

It is a scenario familiar to many – wandering the aisles of the supermarket consumed by hunger only to pile the basket high with foods you didn’t need or even want.

The added calories a shopper is inclined to consume can hamper their best dieting efforts.

Far better, then, to only embark on a shopping spree after eating a suitably filling meal. 

And now, a new study has revealed the same can be said for ordering food in a restaurant or takeout.

For experts have suggested that if a dieter wants to cut calories and make healthier food choices, they should place their order up to an hour before they plan to eat.

A new study has found that ordering food one hour before you intend to eat can help cut the number of calories you consume

They say their findings could have significant implications for the nation’s obesity epidemic.

And, add that restaurants should allow customers the option of ordering in advance. 

Lead author, Dr Eric VanEpps, of the Penn Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics, who conducted the study while he was a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, said: ‘Our results show that ordering meals when you’re already hungry and ready to eat leads to an overall increase in the number of calories ordered.

‘And the results suggest that by ordering meals in advance, the likelihood of making indulgent purchases is drastically reduced.

‘The implication is that restaurants and other food providers can generate health benefits for their customers by offering the opportunity to place advance orders.’ 

Dr VanEpps and his team conducted three studies to arrive at their conclusions.

The first two examined online lunch orders placed by 690 employees using an onsite corporate cafeteria. 

Meanwhile, the third saw researchers analyse 195 university students as they selected from catered lunch options.

Across all three experiments, the researchers noted that meals with higher calorie content were ordered and consumed when there was a shorter – or no – waiting periods between ordering and eating.

The first study was an analysis of secondary data from more than 1,000 orders, that could be placed any time after 7am, to be picked up between 11am and 2pm.

Dr VanEpps and his colleagues found that for every hour of delay between when the order was placed and the food was ready – an average of 105 minutes – there was a decrease of approximately 38 calories in the items ordered.

The second study randomly assigned participants to place their orders before 10am or after 11am.

The researchers found those who placed their orders in advance, with an average delay of 168 minutes, had an average reduction of 30 calories, compared to those people who ordered closer to lunchtime – with an average delay of 42 minutes between ordering and eating.

Meanwhile, the third study randomly assigned university students to order their lunch before or after class, with lunches provided immediately after class.

The experiment revealed that students who placed their orders in advance ordered significantly fewer calories – an average of 890 calories – compared to those who ordered at lunchtime – an average of 999 calories. 

In all three studies, lower calorie totals were generally not confined to any particular group.

Researchers found people were more likely to opt for indulgent, unhealthy options if they ordered and ate immediately

The researchers noted that a failure to eat breakfast did not emerge as a factor in the effect of time delay on total lunch calories.

Nor were there any noted differences in meal satisfaction between meals ordered in advance and those ordered to be eaten immediately. 

‘These findings provide one more piece of evidence that decisions made in the heat of the moment are not as far-sighted as those made in advance,’ said George Loewenstein, PhD, the Herbert A. Simon University Professor of Economics and Psychology at Carnegie Mellon, and senior author on the study.

‘For example, people who plan to practice safe sex often fail to do so when caught up in the act, and people who, in dispassionate moments, recognize the stupidity of road rage nevertheless regularly succumb to it. 

‘Unfortunately, pre-commitment strategies are more feasible when it comes to diet than to many other ‘hot’ behaviors.’ 

Based on findings from other studies, Dr VanEpps says there is a potential concern that people who cut calories in one meal might ‘make up’ for the calorie reductions later, whether at dinner or via snacking, though there is little evidence that participants in these studies were aware that lunches ordered in advance had fewer calories. 

The authors suggest future research in the form of longitudinal studies that measure eating decisions over a longer period of time would be useful in addressing this issue. 

In addition, because the two employee workplace studies provided discounted food and the university-based study provided free food, future research examining analogous situations where participants pay full price for their meals would be beneficial.

The findings are published in the Journal of Marketing Research.