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Physiol Behav. 2008 Mar 18;93(4-5):975-83. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2007.12.014. Epub 2007 Dec 26.

Short-term dietary compensation in free-living adults.

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Purdue University, W Lafayette, IN, 47907, USA.


Evidence suggests that compensatory behaviors operate in infants and pre-school children, such that the high variance characteristic of single eating occasions is much reduced over the day. However, the concept has not been fully explored in adults. The present within-subject, observational study investigated short-term dietary compensation patterns in fifty, weight-stable, normal weight (n=27), overweight (n=14), and obese (n=9) free-living adults (11 M, 39 F; age 30+/-11 y; BMI 26.3+/-5.9). Twenty four-hour diet recalls were obtained for 7 consecutive days, by the multi-pass technique. Each 24-h period was divided into 7 eating occasions. The coefficient of variation for energy intake was calculated for each adult, for each eating occasion, and over each 24-h period. Sub-group variability was assessed by BMI and frequency of consumption of sweetened energy-yielding beverages. The mean coefficient of variation for energy intake for the 7 eating occasions was 110.5%, compared to 28.9% for the day as a whole. Correlations between energy intakes at successive eating events were uniformly negative. No significant differences were noted in the sub-group analyses. Significantly greater variation in energy intake was noted for snacks compared to meals (P<0.0001). These data suggest that adults regulate energy intake over a 24-h period more closely than they do at individual eating occasions, similar to the pattern previously observed in children. Further studies of compensatory responses by larger sub-groups of individuals at risk for weight gain are warranted.

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