portion control

Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows once again that paying attention while you eat helps you eat less—and that eating while distracted causes you to eat more now and later.

Researchers looked at the results from 24 different studies on the impact of awareness, attention, memory and distraction on how much food we eat and came up with some pretty convincing conclusions. It turns out that paying attention while eating, remembering previous meals, and generally being more aware of what we’re eating universally helped people to eat less. And eating less is a key to losing weight.

Strategies like writing down previous meals, using visual reminders of previous meals (like snapping a photo with your phone), or even keeping food wrappers in plain sight instead of hiding them in the trash helped people eat less at their next meal. Even just thinking about your last meal seemed to help. 

“Our research found that if people recalled their last meal as being filling and satisfying then they ate less during their next meal. This could be developed as a new strategy to help with weight loss and maintenance and reduce the need for calorie controlled dieting,” said Dr. Eric Robinson, from the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society.

The study didn’t quantify which method of remembering meals or paying attention had the greatest impact, and researchers said more study into the specific techniques was needed. But it seems easy enough to employ one or all of the mindful eating techniques to find out which works best for you.

On the flip side, the research also showed that eating while distracted resulted in overeating. Activities like watching television, checking your phone or computer, reading, and even listening to music caused people to pay less attention to their meal and therefore overeat. Perhaps most telling, the effect wasn’t limited to the meal at which participants were distracted. Because they were less able to remember the previous meal as being satisfying, participants continued to overeat at subsequent meals.  

And that might be a good enough reason to turn off Facebook next time you’re eating lunch.

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