Here is how you should cut calories, according to new study

Weight-control programs like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig and diet app MyFitnessPal tell dieters to set a daily calorie budget.

In a study, researchers question whether that is the best approach for calorie setting.

They wondered if setting calorie budgets by meal and adding them up to get a daily calorie budget would make any difference to dieters.

The research was conducted by an international team from the University of Michigan and other institutes.

In the study, the team asked consumers to set calorie budgets either by day or by meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks).

They found that consumers set lower daily calorie budgets if they set them by meal versus by day. They call this the ‘contraction effect,’ a very apropos term given the context of food and dieting.

The researchers also found that the daily calorie budget was lower by at least 100 calories when study participants set the daily budget by meal rather than by day.

This may not sound like much on the surface, but it translates to a pound of extra weight loss every five weeks.

In addition, dieters are motivated to cut calories and, therefore, treat each instance of calorie decision-making as an opportunity to cut them.

Setting calories at each meal provides more calorie-cutting opportunities compared to calorie setting by day.

The findings show that in the budget-by-day approach, people thought about cutting calories for meals such as snacks and dinner where they were most likely to overconsume, but did not think about cutting calories for other meals.

In the budget-by-meal approach, they cut calories in all meals and this drove down the calorie budget in the by-meal approach.

The researchers also demonstrate that the lower daily calorie budgets set in the by-meal approach also translate into lower calories being consumed.

The results are relevant for controlling how much one eats, and also how much one smokes or drinks—basically for any context where people have a motive to reduce their consumption.

One author of the study is Aradhna Krishna, professor of marketing at Ross School of Business. The study is published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

If you care about weight loss, please read studies about how to lose weight through exercise, and 5 steps to lose weight and keep it off.

For more information about weight loss, please see recent studies that major weight loss may reverse heart disease risks, and results showing 10 small changes you can make today to prevent weight gain.