A researcher found that bite counting was worth trying for someone wanting to lose weight but who was intimidated by calorie counting.

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The holiday season is famously ruinous to waistlines. But a new study suggests we may be able to avoid gaining weight and even drop a few pounds in the next couple weeks by taking note of every time we put teeth to food or drink.

It is scientifically established and also logical that to lose weight, we must consume fewer calories than our bodies burn on a given day. By doing so, we create an internal energy deficit.

Deprived of sufficient fuel from that day’s meals, our bodies turn to stored energy, primarily in the form of body fat, to fuel themselves, and we lose weight.

But to produce this desirable result, we must commit to counting calories, and “people hate counting calories,” said Josh West, an associate professor of health sciences at Brigham Young University who led the new study, recently published in Advances in Obesity, Weight Management & Control.

Counting calories is, after all, complicated and time consuming, he pointed out, requiring that you know how many calories are contained in the foods you eat, how much of each food you eat, and how many calories your body uses each day.

“Most people don’t know those things and don’t really want to learn those things and are daunted by how complex it all seems,” West said.

So he and his colleagues recently began to consider other ways to spur weight loss, he said, a quest that led them to bite counting.

Counting bites to lose weight is not a new idea. Many weight-loss programs suggest that people chew slowly and thoughtfully, paying close attention to the sensory experience of eating.

But West wanted to do more than have people be mindful of their chewing. He wondered whether, by promoting bite counting, he might help people, almost unknowingly, reduce their calorie intake.

To find out, he and his colleagues recruited 61 overweight or obese men and women from the campus community. They ranged from 18 to 65, and all of them told the researchers they wanted to weigh less.

The researchers weighed and measured the volunteers and provided them with a 10-minute introduction to bite counting, which involves tracking how many times you chew or swallow. Every food or liquid except water should be counted.

The researchers asked the volunteers to write down the number of bites after each meal and snack and, at the end of the day, to send the total to the researchers. The volunteers were also asked not to change their eating habits — at least at first.

After a week, the researchers calculated each volunteer’s average daily bite count.

By this time, 16 volunteers had quit. Several said counting bites had been too difficult, and others cited medical or other personal issues.

The researchers then asked half of the remaining group to reduce their daily bite counts by 20 percent, and the others to take off 30 percent. The researchers counseled both groups to concentrate on eating foods that would fill them, because they would be eating less, but did not provide other nutritional advice.

Each day for the next month, the volunteers reported their bite counts, and each week they reported to the laboratory for a weigh-in.

At the end of the month, the participants in both groups had lost an average of about 3.5 pounds.

Interestingly, the weight loss was about the same whether someone had cut his or her daily bites by 20 percent or 30 percent.

That result suggested, West said, that those in the group asked to chew 30 percent less had turned to higher-calorie foods.

He said that the volunteers in both groups did report that bite counting had seemed “doable and tolerable,” although he added that anyone who had found the process particularly onerous probably quit the first week.

The study also was small and short-term, and didn’t show whether people would continue to count bites over a longer period and sustain their weight losses.

But the findings suggested, West said, that bite counting was worth trying for someone wanting to lose weight and intimidated by calorie counting.

West had practiced bite counting for three years, he said, without regaining the pounds he lost at the start of this routine and without curtailing his enjoyment of food.

To count bites during the holidays, however, you must first determine your normal number of bites during a day.

Ideally, start now. Note every time you chew or swallow. During upcoming feasts, maintain or cut that number, with a reduction of 20 percent seeming the most efficacious for weight loss, West said.

Bite counting does not, of course, free you from paying attention to basic nutrition, he added. Concentrate on eating primarily fruits, vegetables and lean meat.

“Fewer bites won’t help you lose weight,” he said, “if every one of those bites is dessert.”