NEWS2U Health & Wellness
Living Healthy in an Unhealthy World

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Latest Weight-Loss Advice:
Slow Down and Pay Attention


Most diet plans focus on what foods we eat. But there's mounting evidence that how we eat our food matters, too.

While it's still the case that eating too much and exercising too little is what makes you fat, a number of researchers are looking at other factors that influence our weight. How fast we eat, whether we eat when we're distracted, and even the size of our plates and glassware appear to have a powerful influence on how many calories we ultimately ingest.

In November, University of Rhode Island researchers showed how the speed at which we eat influences caloric intake. They served pasta to 30 women in a laboratory setting. In the first test, the women were told to eat quickly, finishing in about nine minutes. In the second, they were encouraged to slow down and chew each mouthful 15 to 20 times, finishing in about 29 minutes. They were asked to stop eating only when they felt full.


• Try to be the last person to start eating.

• Decide how much to eat before sitting down.

• Use smaller dishes so portions look larger.

What do you think about these recommendations? What other tricks have you found to reduce mindless eating? Share your comments and your tips in my new online reader forum.1 I'll check in occasionally to see what you've said and share my thoughts.The women ate on average 67 fewer calories when they ate slowly. Cutting 67 calories at dinner every day would translate into seven pounds of weight loss in a year. The women also reported feeling more full after eating slowly.

It may be that fast eaters simply outpace the body's own satiety signals, causing them to ingest food faster than it takes for the body to figure out if it's full. Or it could be that slow eaters drink more water between bites, giving them a feeling of fullness sooner.

There's a lot of evidence that simply changing your habits and attention level while eating can make a difference in the quantity of food you ingest. In the new book "Mindless Eating," researcher Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab in Ithaca, N.Y., argues that external factors -- such as family habits, food packaging, distractions and even the location of food on the table -- often influence eating habits more than hunger. His research shows the average person makes about 200 food decisions every day, but puts real thought into only about 10% of them.

In his book, based on his own research and that of others, Dr. Wansink lists several examples of what he calls "mindless eating." Here's some of what he found.

Container size influences how much we eat. Moviegoers given five-day-old stale popcorn still ate 53% more if it was served in a big bucket rather than a small bucket.

We eat more if we like what we're drinking. In one study, diners drank the same wine but were told it was either from California or North Dakota. Those who thought they were drinking California wine ate 11% more food.

We don't pay attention to the extras. Five minutes after dinner, 31% of people leaving an Italian restaurant couldn't remember how much bread they ate and 12% of the bread eaters denied having eaten any bread at all.

We eat more if the evidence is removed. In a study of chicken-wing eaters, waitresses removed the bones from half the tables while letting them stack up on the other half. The diners who still had piles of bones on their plates ate 28% less.

Too much variety makes us overeat. In one experiment, snackers were given bowls of M&Ms with either seven colors or 10 colors. Snackers with 10 color options ate an average of 43 more candies than those with just seven colors to choose from.

Friends make you eat more. You'll eat 35% more dining with a friend than when eating alone. A person will double the amount of food ingested when dining in a group of seven or more.

To break the mindless-eating trap, Dr. Wansink suggests taking a closer look at your eating habits at meals, snacks, parties, restaurants and your desk or car. Make three small changes you can live with. Some suggestions: Eat chips only on days you exercise; don't eat in front of the TV or in the car; cover half your plate with veggies or salad so there's less room for less healthful foods; and leave serving bowls in the kitchen instead of on the table so it's more of a hassle to reach for seconds.