Smaller Bites Can Help The Distracted Eater, Study Finds

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I often have two dilemmas at dinnertime. First, my older daughter picks up a book as soon as she comes to the table, and if given the chance, always reads while dining — the very opposite of "mindful" eating. (She grudgingly stops when we tell her, but we have mixed feelings, frankly, because her love of reading is, well, lovely.) The other problem is my younger daughter's jokey inclination to stuff her mouth with huge chunks of food, which allows her to finish quickly and then rush off to her next activity.


Both of these behaviors are not only impolite, they can lead to overeating. But according to new research out of the Netherlands, simply taking prescribed smaller bites (or sips of soup in this case) can counteract the negative impact of distracted eating. The study was published in PLOS One; here's more from the news release:

Previous studies have shown that taking smaller bites helps people eat less. Other research has also shown that people tend to eat larger meals if eating while distracted.

In this new study, the authors assessed whether taking smaller bites or sips of food affected meal size if eaters were distracted during their meal. Participants in the study were given a meal of soup as they watched a 15 minute animation film. Two groups ate in pre-measured volumes of either 'small' or 'large' sips, and the rest were allowed to take sips of whatever size they liked. All participants could eat as much as they wanted, and were later asked to estimate how much they had eaten.

The authors found that people who ate pre-specified 'small' bites of food consumed about 30% less soup for their meal than those in the other two groups.

The latter two groups also under-estimated how much they had eaten. Across all three groups, distractions during the meal led to a general increase in food intake, but even when distracted, people who ate pre-specified small sips of soup consumed less food than the others. According to the researchers, their results suggest that reducing sip or bite sizes during a meal may help those trying to lower their food intake, even if they are eating while distracted.

The other option would be to simply eliminate the distraction. (Note that all of the groups ate more when distracted, despite bite size.)

Readers, tell the truth, do you read, check your phone or otherwise disengage when eating? Can you share any tricks for eating more mindfully?

This program aired on January 24, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

Rachel Zimmerman Twitter Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 




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