Weight Control: Mindless Eating and Weight Gain (cont.)

Slow down. "The faster you eat, the less likely you're paying attention to your food," says Spangle. "Consider setting a timer or your watch alarm for 20 minutes, then make sure that your meal lasts that long. For those who tend to quickly wolf down their food without noticing it, the 20-minute timer will completely change the way they eat."

  • Savor the food. "Build the habit of starting your meal by taking very small bites and paying attention to all the details of the food, including the temperature, texture, seasoning," says Spangle. "By really noticing these things, you'll totally change your awareness of your eating. You'll also find you can get a lot of satisfaction from a very small amount of food."

  • Watch for the "eating pause." "This subtle cue is related to the body indicating that it's had enough food," says Spangle.

    During a meal, most people unknowingly take a break, put their fork and knife down, and stop eating for a few minutes. This is the "eating pause." What usually happens next is mindless eating.

    "After a minute or two, they will look down at their plate, notice the food that's left, and start eating again to finish their meal," says Spangle. "Interestingly, when people do this 'eating pause' they are usually at the point of being satisfied by their food -- not too full, not still hungry, but totally satisfied."

    So the trick is, when you run into the eating pause, don't just take a break from eating -- stop altogether instead. Using this technique helps you keep your mind on your food and prevents you from overeating.

  • Don't be seduced by labels. "When food is advertised as healthy or low fat, people fall for that," says Wansink. "We find that when people think they are eating healthy food they overeat by 40%, or they compensate by putting cheese or mayo on the food or ordering cookies or dessert because they think they deserve it, and that has a huge impact on our calorie intake."

  • Don't eat by the clock. "When people eat by the clock, they might eat even when they're not hungry because the clock strikes noon," says Susan Moores, RD, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "It's more important to pay attention to hunger and eat when your body tells you to instead of your watch. When people are a slave to a clock it can backfire."

  • Separate food from technology. "Don't watch TV, surf the Internet, or read the paper when you eat because it's too easy to become distracted and forget about the food you're eating," says Moores. "Or if reality has it that you are going to read a paper or watch a football game and eat, put a finite food in front of you so you're not sitting there with a big box of snacks and an endless amount of food that you eat without a second thought."

  • Be satisfied with your food. "What we hope people will get is satisfaction from food or from the occasion of eating," says Moores. "If people get better at listening to their body and eating when they're hungry and eating food they enjoy, they'll be satisfied by it and eat it mindfully. It becomes what we call 'intuitive eating,' or the act of listening to your body and eating what your body is calling for and then by and large, you'll be satisfied by it."

  • Published Oct. 27, 2006.

    SOURCES: Susan Moores, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association, St. Paul, Minn. Linda Spangle, RN, MA, author, Life is Hard, Food is Easy and 100 Days of Weight Loss. Brian Wansink, PhD, author, Mindless Eating; professor and director, Cornell Food and Brand Lab, Ithaca, N.Y.

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