In your mind’s eye, see yourself eating lunch during a typical workday. Chances are you’ve grabbed something quick and are eating in between distractions. You might even be eating at your desk while answering emails or responding to Facebook messages.
Many people eat while distracted, and this generally leads to consuming way more food than we’re even aware that we’re eating. This is especially true when eating while watching a screen or in the car. Distracted eating is practically synonymous with overeating.
Now imagine you’re on vacation. Or it’s a holiday meal. You have family or friends around the table. You’re engaged in pleasant conversation. In situations like this, mealtime tends to be extended and your body has plenty of time to digest and send a signal to your brain that you’ve had enough to eat.
Obviously, not every meal can be that leisurely. But one surprising trick to prevent overeating is to eat with other people. Ordinary conversation will generally slow down the pace of your eating.
Here’s a second surprise trick.
Put the phones away.
I have a friend whose phone interrupts every restaurant meal we’ve ever shared. She answers calls, takes pictures and responds to her phone’s every blip and beep. As a companion, it’s hard to compete with the phone for her attention.
Instead of everyone putting their phone beside them during a meal, have everyone stack their phones in the middle of the table. We did this once at a family meal and the rule was that the first person to reach for his or her phone during the meal had to pay the whole check. That was a powerful incentive to pay attention to one another and not to the screen.
Another option is to have everyone put their phone, at the beginning of the meal, into a big bowl that’s placed out of reach. After the meal is over, people can take their devices back. But while eating, the focus is on one another and on the conversation.
Why do these two tricks – eating with others and eating without distraction – help to prevent overeating? In both cases, you eat more slowly and are better able to notice the signals of fullness that the stomach is sending.
Rebeca Espinoza writes about health, fitness and weight loss for Spatz Medical, makers of the Spatz3 Adjustable Gastric Balloon. You can find her on Google+ or at firstname.lastname@example.org.