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If you’re dieting and trying to lose weight, eating “on the go” is a nonstarter. That’s according to new research, which shows that grabbing a bite to eat while walking around may trigger more overeating later, compared to eating in a sit-down setting. Eating on the go was worse, even, that other types of distracted eating, such as eating mindlessly while sitting on the couch watching television, or while talking to a friend.
In the experiment, conducted in England and published in the Journal of Health Psychology, dieters were assigned to eat a cereal bar under three different scenarios. One involved walking the halls of the research facility. The second involved eating the bar while watching a television clip, and the third involved eating while sitting opposite a friend and having a conversation.
Afterwards, subjects completed a questionnaire and were asked to perform a taste test of four different snacks. How much of each snack they consumed was carefully measured afterwards. Dieters who had eaten the cereal bar while walking around tended to eat considerably more of the snacks than other subjects. In particular, they ate five times as much chocolate as other subjects.
"Eating on the go may make dieters overeat later on in the day," said lead author, Professor Jane Ogden, from the University of Surrey. "This may be because walking is a powerful form of distraction which disrupts our ability to process the impact eating has on our hunger. Or it may be because walking, even just around a corridor, can be regarded as a form of exercise which justifies overeating later on as a form of reward.”
Ogden seemed to think that any form of distraction while eating may be the bane of a dieter attempting to lose weight. For optimal results, the best strategy would appear to be to eat mindfully. That is to say, pay attention to each and every bite and try to derive full satisfaction from it. Perhaps this forces you to eat more slowly, too, which could impact the body’s ability to perceive satiety, or the sense that one has had enough.
"Even though walking had the most impact, any form of distraction, including eating at our desks can lead to weight gain. When we don't fully concentrate on our meals and the process of taking in food, we fall into a trap of mindless eating where we don't track or recognize the food that has just been consumed,” said Ogden.
Jane Ogden et al. Distraction, restrained eating and disinhibition: An experimental study of food intake and the impact of ‘eating on the go’. Journal of Health Psychology Ogden, August 2015 DOI: 10.1177/1359105315595119