Feature Archive

The 'Bite' Diet: Counting Down the Pounds

Experts weigh in on a controversial new plan that says the key to weight loss may be counting bites not calories.

By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Michael Smith

Forget counting calories. Don't bother calculating fat or carbohydrate grams, either. If you want to lose weight, just count the number of times your fork goes to your mouth -- and keep that count under 70 a day to lose big.

That's part of the theory behind a somewhat controversial new weight loss plan known as the "bite" diet. It's the brainchild of Miami nutritionist Meredith Luce, MS, RD, LD/N, and New York Pilates instructor Joan Breibart.

"After a very long time of blaming themselves for fat thighs and diets that fail I think people finally began to realize that the information they were being given about weight loss was by and large wrong," says Breibart. Today, she says, they have discovered the "bite" diet because it's nutritionally sound, and she says, it really works.

At first glance the eating plan appears simple: You can chow down on a variety of foods, spread out in three regular meals -- and one smaller meal -- a day, with no more than 18 bites per meal. And a bite, says Breibart is what fits comfortably on a normal-sized fork.

"You don't stuff your cheeks like a chip monk or use a serving fork as your eating utensil," she says.

But, if you're thinking 16 bites of Boston cream pie for lunch and 18 bites of lasagna for dinner, well think again. The diet requires that you eat very specific foods -- in very specific amounts -- every day. And oh yeah, not a pie, cake, or cookie in sight!

"This is a completely balanced diet, maybe not at every meal but within any given day -- and we believe that this balance is intrinsic to weight loss," says Breibart.

And, in fact, upon closer inspection the "bite" diet is a very strict 1,000- to -1,100-calorie-a-day eating plan, with very strict portion sizes.

"What it comes down to is, this is a low-calorie diet -- it's just another gimmick for getting people to decrease their portion sizes and decrease their caloric intake," says Lona Sandon, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and a professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

While the concept of eating less is a good one, she says the confines of the "bite" diet make it too hard to follow. "I think it's going to be of very limited value in terms of how many people it's going to help," she adds.

Others agree that it's not as easy as it sounds.

"Portion control and balanced meals are important, but each individual must understand how they react to food and how food interacts with their unique genetic makeup and you really need a dietician's personal advice to do that," says Noralyn Wilson, RD, national media spokeswoman for the ADA from Columbia, Md.

Dieting: More Than Counting Calories

While counting calories is important, Breibart believes the real key to weight loss lies in retraining the stomach to be satisfied with less food -- and, she says, part of the success of the "bite" diet is that it teaches us how to do just that.

"What we are doing with this plan is getting the hand and the body and the mouth and the brain to respond to very specific and smaller quantities [of food]," Breibart tells WebMD.

To show just how different the "bite" weight loss philosophy is, Breibart compares a typical nutritious diet snack -- a bowl of grapes -- to a traditional diet "no-no" -- a bowl of 12 M&M candies, both equal in calories. In the traditional diet, says Breibart, we have been conditioned to choose the grapes instead of the candy, to emphasize getting more volume for our calorie load.

The "bite" diet takes the opposite approach.

"You eat the candy and forget the grapes," advises Breibart. While the diet doesn't advocate eating candy, she uses it as an example, she says, because, it represents the choice of small over large, which she says, in the long run, is what retrains your stomach to be satisfied with less food.

To help convert our eating habits, the initial phase of the diet is 21 days -- the time that research shows it usually takes to change a behavior pattern.

To further help in this direction, the diet reinforces the theory of "sameness" -- all meals are roughly the same size, with the same amount of bites, to be eaten at the same time every day. And it's a principle that Breibart says also helps us lose weight.