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The Worst Time To Eat Is…

Updated: Jan 16

Unfortunately, eating usually becomes just another task added on to multiple other tasks. Do you eat while e-mailing? I admit, I do. How about while watching television? I'm guilty also. I know some people who actually eat while out for their morning walk or jog. And guess what? A new study abstract published in the Journal of Health Psychology has found the very worst activity to mix with your meals: eating while you walk.

Researchers at the University of Surrey in England looked at three groups of women to test multiple forms of distracted snacking. One group watched a 5-minute clip of "Friends" on TV while eating a cereal bar; another ate that cereal bar while walking; the third group ate the bar while sitting opposite a friend and talking. After the experiment, all of the groups were asked to complete a questionnaire and taste-test chocolate, carrot sticks, grapes, and potato chips. (Looking to conquer your weight issues?

When the study participants left, the researchers measured how much of each snack each group ate and found that the women who'd been asked to eat while walking consumed 5 times more chocolate than the other groups. (Finally, an explanation for the ever-dwindling stash of candy I keep in my desk drawer.)

Susan Albers, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic who specializes in mindful eating and author of EAT-Q: Unlock the Weight Loss Power of Emotional Intelligence, says she thinks it's because of the number of distractions that can pop up while you're on the go.

"When you're walking, you're engaged in so many activities, like paying attention to where you're going and trying not to run into things," says Albers. "It's next to impossible to actually focus on what you're eating, which can keep you from processing how it's having an impact on your hunger." The study authors also hypothesized that because walking is a form of exercise, it may be used as form of justification for eating more later on.

If you can't avoid eating while walking, Albers suggests wearing your headphones. "They can help block out external noises and minimize the number of distractions," she says, "which means you can be more mindful about what you're eating." It also doesn't hurt to get a bit more mindful about when and where you eat in general, says Albers, who offers these 5 "S"s for staying distraction-free when you eat:

1. Sit down.

"Only eat when you're off your feet," says Albers. When you sit, you're inherently more focused, which means you're more likely to make better choices and give your body a chance to recognize how much you're consuming—and how full you are after you eat, preventing a pig-out later on.

2. Slowly chew.

This is nearly impossible to do in any of the scenarios the researchers tested, says Albers. "Whether you're eating while walking, chatting with friends, or watching TV, it's common to match your eating pace to whatever pace that's around you." Albers' trick: eat with your non-dominant hand, which can slow you down by about 30%, she says. It takes the brain at least 15 minutes to know that the stomach is full, so if you eat slowly, you'll allow your brain to catch up and not eat beyond the point of satiation.

3. Savor.

This is the fun part—the part where you really get to taste what you're eating and recognize that piece of fruit or granola bar or whatever it is you're munching on as the delicious sustenance it is. To learn how to really taste your food, do a little experiment: Eat just 5 cashew nuts, one at a time, as slowly and mindfully as you can, and write down what they taste like, how they feel in your mouth, how the texture changed as you chewed them, and so forth. My children have looked at me with a crazy stare over the years when I have suggested that they eat with their eyes closed!

4. Simplify your environment.

When Albers eats at her desk (Rejoice! Even mindfulness experts do this!), she swivels her chair away from her computer monitor until she finishes lunch. She also turns off her phone. "Even if my cell phone is across the room, if I hear it ding, my attention goes from my plate to who's trying to contact me," she says. Also put healthy food in a convenient location, and avoid buying junk food that you know you won't be able to resist.

5. Smile between bites.

It may sound silly, but Albers says it creates a gap moment between the thought, "I want more," and actually having another bite. "Smiling also pumps feel-good chemicals throughout your body that can help reduce stress and emotional eating," she says.


These suggestions will not only help you eat less, it will allow you to really enjoy the process.

(Some of the content in this blog is from an article printed in Prevention Magazine, online. The book referenced in this blog is EAT-Q: Unlock the Weight Loss Power of Emotional Intelligence, by Susan Albers, PsyD.)

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