Pay Attention While Eating

Monitoring quantity of food consumed leads to faster satisfaction

(RxWiki News) It can be easy to open a bag of chips and mindlessly start snacking until there's nothing left. But keeping track of how much goes in can help end the munchies.

A recent study shows that paying attention to how much you actually eat leads to feeling fuller and more satisfied faster.

"Count your bites of food."

A three-part study lead by Joseph Redden, assistant professor of marketing and logistics management at the University of Minnesota, found that learning to stop enjoying unhealthy food is key to combating obesity in the US.

In the first study, 199 college students were told to pick and consume a snack from a selection of items researchers classified as either healthy or unhealthy. After the first and last bites, participants answered a series of questions on their level of satisfaction.

Then after watching a video and receiving a second bag containing more of their chosen treat, participants then completed a 13-item questionnaire measuring their level of self-control.

The findings show that those with high self-control felt satisfied faster when eating unhealthy foods versus healthy ones. Those with low self-control showed less difference in their level of satiation across food types.

“When people talk about self-control, they really imply that self-control is willpower and that some people have it and others don’t when facing a tempting treat,” Redden said in a press release.

In the second part of the study, 154 college students were each given 30 grams of Teddy Grahams and a description of the snack depicting it as either healthy or unhealthy. They then completed a questionnaire on how nutritious they felt their snacks were.

Those who received the unhealthy framing rated the snack as more unhealthy 81 percent of the time compared to those with the more positive description.

The final part of the study had 465 college students choose and consume a snack from a variety of healthy and unhealthy options. To bring attention to how much they were eating, half the group was asked to count how many times they swallowed the snack during the course of the study.

The high self-control group felt satisfied faster after eating the unhealthy foods versus when eating the healthier items. And those with low self-control were satisfied at a faster rate given the cue.

“People can essentially use attention for how much they are consuming instead of relying on self-control,” Redden said. “Really paying a lot more attention to the quantity will lead people to feel satiated faster and eat less.”

The authors did not find evidence that participants' emotions, including regret and guilt, affected the results although previous studies show that both positive and negative emotions affect food consumption.

They also note that counting the number of times food is swallowed may be counterproductive if if it also reduces desire for healthy foods. Further research should be done on how environmental situations and varying nutritional values of food come into play.

The study was published online July 10 in the Journal of Consumer Research. The authors do not report any conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
August 21, 2012