Why can eating a variety of foods lead to weight gain?

Dr. Mike Clark, DPT
Variety is less likely the issue, however, amount of food you eat is.

Watch this video to learn more. 

Stefanie Sacks, MS
Nutrition & Dietetics
I actually believe that a well balanced variety of foods is central to a healthy diet. It is more about the portion size that can lead to weight gain, and if there are multiple options, people are likely to eat too much of each offering. So please don't disregard variety, just approach it from a different angle. 
Jessica Crandall
Nutrition & Dietetics
Eating the right amount of nutrition and balancing your plate is important to be healthy. However, if you're overeating portions of any one food group, it can yield weight gain. Excessive amounts of any macronutrient (carbohydrates, fat or protein) will yield excessive calories, which in turn can cause weight gain. Main point: Eat an adequate amount of all nutrients, but be cautious of your portions, as it is easy to let your stomach or eyes guide you to more than what you really need.
Amy Jamieson-Petonic
Nutrition & Dietetics

Eating a wide variety of foods is recommended, but some folks struggle with knowing HOW MUCH food to consume. The palm of a ladies hand is about a portion size of most foods. Dining out may also lead to overconsumption as well... Eating too much of any one thing is not recommended.

Eating a variety of foods is not a bad thing. By consuming a variety of different foods, you will be providing your body with a variety of the necessary nutritents the body needs, provided you are choosing healthy, nutrient dense foods of course!

Weight gain occurs when we consume more calories than we burn. Whether you are eating the same foods or a variety of foods, if you do not control your portion sizes and consume too many calories, you will more than likely gain weight. Calories can add up quickly, especially if you do not pay attention to what and/or how much you consume. Eating a variety of foods can sometimes make it easier to consume more calories than you really need.

To enjoy a variety of foods, but avoid weight gain, choose a balanced variety of lean protein sources, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat, calcium rich, dairy products. These foods will provide you with the necessary amount of nutrients, fibers, antioxiants, and phytochemicals. Be aware of your portion sizes and remember that physical activity also helps burn calories and keep off those extra pounds.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Variety may be the spice of life; but it can also expand your waist. When you have a lot of choices for a meal, it's a lot easier to slip out of good eating habits and into bad ones. Think about it: When you sit down at a diner and are presented with a menu that's the size of a phone book, it's easy to suddenly crave the pastrami special when you had been thinking salad up until that moment.

This is why eliminating choice for at least one meal a day is one effective way to get away from fat-bombs. Pick the one meal you rush through most and automate it. For most people, it's lunch. So find a healthy lunch you like -- salad with grilled chicken and olive oil, turkey on whole-grain bread -- and have it for lunch every day. Every day. Yes, every day.

More and more research is showing that putting a cap on the variety of foods and tastes you experience will help you control your weight. (Think of your dog: Penelope stays the same weight when she has her regular food every day. But as soon as she starts gorging on the variety of nightly table scraps, the puny poodle looks more like a massive mastiff.)

How does it work? It seems that when you have meals rich in flavor variety, it takes more and more calories to keep you full (think of Thanksgiving, when you eat a lot of different things, stuff yourself, and still have room for pumpkin pie). So when we experience meals with lots of diverse flavors -- think Mexican or Indian cuisine -- we tend to eat more to satisfy our taste buds.

Now, we don't want you to be more bored with food, but if you make this a habit for at least one meal a day, it'll decrease your temptations and help you stop thinking about food so often. In fact, I usually prescribe two meals that are the same each day for my patients. It's one of the ways to automate your brain so that your habits follow. Of course, I don't want you to stop enjoying the wonderful diversity of flavors, but it will help control your appetite.
YOU: On A Diet Revised Edition: The Owner's Manual for Waist Management

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YOU: On A Diet Revised Edition: The Owner's Manual for Waist Management

For the first time in our history, scientists are uncovering astounding medical evidence about dieting -- and why so many of us struggle with our weight and the size of our waists. Now researchers...
Jennifer L. McDaniel
Nutrition & Dietetics
Diets are often created with the intention to limit variety. Take for example the extreme restricting diets: Cabbage Soup or Grapefruit diet! Is there rationale for limiting variety to lose weight? Several studies have shown than when variety increases, so does the amount we eat. As example, a study from Penn state found that when people were offered 3 different flavors of yogurt, they ate 23% more than when they were offered only one. That might not sound like a big difference, but over time, those calories add up!

One reason "variety" might cause us to eat more is based on a concept called "sensory fullness/satiety." This concept is centered on the theory that the first bite of something is always the best, and subsequent bites diminish in pleasure. Therefore when you have lots of foods to choose from, those "first bites" = more calories consumed. Think about what happens at a buffet!

The good news is that variety does not have to lead to weight gain. Use variety to your advantage when trying to lose weight and fill your day with a variety of fruits and vegetables and limit your variety of calorie dense, high sugar/fat foods. 
Ruth Frechman
Nutrition & Dietetics

Have you ever been to a brunch or buffet? Yikes! There are so many choices. You have to at least try everything. Right? Every bite could be an extra 25 calories, which could add up to a lot of extra calories for the meal. If your choices were limited, you would not be eating as many calories and most likely, not gain weight.

Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics
Including a variety of foods in your diet is important for nutrient content and satiety. If you eat the same thing all the time you get bored and more importantly do not take in a wide range of nutrients. It is important to make the variety you choose full of healthy, whole foods and limit refined foods. Variety of healthy foods is good but a variety of junky foods is not!

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.