Eating less? Three tips from the science of eating behavior

This post is also available in Dutch.

Is your new year’s resolution to drop a few kilos? Ideas on what is considered healthy food can differ widely but one thing is clear: you lose weight when you consume less calories than you burn. Here are some tips, derived from scientific studies on eating behavior, on how to eat less.

plate-403597_1280Picture via Pixabay (CC0 1.0 licence)

Tip 1: A smaller plate
Thirty years ago, the average plate had a diameter of approximately 25 centimeters.  By now, this has increased by 5 centimeters, and our portion sizes have grown accordingly! This is because the same amount of food seems less on a big plate than on a smaller plate. Due to our habit of emptying our plates, we eat bigger portions with ease even though we don’t really need the calories.

Tip 2: Eating slowly
A smaller fork or spoon may help. Not just to serve less food, but also to get satiated more easily, and therefore stop eating earlier. Most people gobble down their meal within ten minutes. However, it takes at least twice as long before your brain realizes you are full. Using smaller cutlery makes you take smaller bites and increases your meal duration; at least, if you don’t start chewing less on each bite. Chewing longer also creates more exposure to the food, which allows satiety signals more time to do their work. Major fatteners are, for example drinks full of calories (e.g., juice, soda and milkshakes). While you need some time to eat 500 grams of apples, you can drink the same amount in just a few sips.

Tip 3: Less distraction
Distraction during a meal – like eating in front of the TV – leads to consuming more. You don’t just eat more during that meal, but you will also be hungry again sooner after eating. You will be more likely to snack more after a meal, probably because don’t remember too well what you ate. For example, eating at the dinner table (sans TV) leads to less distraction and, hence, less food intake.

The solution: Mindful eating
You can counteract eating without chewing, without attention, without being aware of the portions we gobble down, by becoming more aware of your eating behaviors. We call this mindful eating. Mindfulness – awareness without judgment – requires training, which is accomplished by practicing meditation. Training for mindful eating can lead to a reduction in belly fat; not just by eating with more awareness, but also by increasing awareness of (real) hunger, gaining insight in your snacking behavior, and making healthier food choices. So it seems that mindful eating can be the brake on impulsive, hasty eating; with the extra benefit that you’ll enjoy your food more, even if it they’ll be in smaller quantities.

So why not enjoy your meal mindfully? Chew longer,  eat without distractions, and use a smaller plate. There’s a big chance that you’ll eat a whole lot less this New Year!

Read more
Website about Mindless Eating, a book by Brian Wansink
Article about slow food, fast food and the control of food intake
Article about eating while being distracted
Article about mindfulness training for obesity-related eating behavior
Previous blog on different aspects of eating behavior

This blog is written by Esther Aarts. Esther is a senior researcher at the Donders Institute. She leads a research group on human eating behavior and the brain. Here she explains in a 3-minute video what her research is about. 

Edited and translated by Lieneke

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