Anyone who has followed a calorie-reduced diet has probably witnessed their weight loss slow months into his or her program – often as strict adherence gradually wanes. And for many dieters, lost pounds can creep back on.
According to a new report published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, you may not need to rely on vigilant calorie counting or food monitoring to be successful at losing weight and keeping it off. Instead, becoming an "attentive eater" may be the best tactic to battle the bulge.
The report – a review of 24 well-controlled studies – revealed that employing three strategies can help you eat less during the day: avoiding distractions, thinking about your food while eating and remembering what you ate at your previous meal.
The analysis found that eaters who were distracted by television, radio or reading ate more at that meal, but even more at the next meal. As well, study conditions that caused participants to be less aware of the food they consumed – eating in a dimly lit room or removing empty plates from tables in a buffet restaurant – also caused people to eat more.
The results were similar for unrestrained eaters and restrained eaters (individuals who watch what they eat to avoid gaining weight).
Studies that instructed participants to recall the foods they ate at lunch showed they ate less at an afternoon snack compared to people who were not told to pay attention to their food intake. If a meal was remembered as satisfying and filling, it reduced later calorie intake.
The theory: Anything you do to enhance your memory of what you eat can help control how much you eat at that meal and especially later on. Scientists speculate that when we make decisions about eating, we draw on memories about the satiating effects of our most recent meal.
While these findings point to an approach for weight control, most studies enrolled people whose body weights were within a healthy weight range. Even so, it certainly seems logical that attentive eating can help weight-loss efforts.
Don't get me wrong – portion size still counts when it comes to cutting calories. But given that 60 per cent of Canadians are overweight and obese, and 77 per cent of us report eating at least once a day while doing something else, incorporating attentive eating strategies may give you an edge in shedding excess weight and staying lean.
The following tips can help you eat mindfully and, very likely, maintain a healthy weight.
Ban eating distractions. Eating in front of the television, while reading, checking e-mails, or while driving takes your focus off the foods you are eating. Doing so will make you more likely to overeat, and be less likely to remember what you ate at your last meal. Reserve the kitchen or dining-room table for meals and pay attention to the fact you are eating.
Think about food when eating. Be conscious of every bite while you are eating to help regulate how much you consume. Engage your senses to notice the smell, taste, texture and colour of foods being eaten in the present moment.
Cue your food memories. When you sit down to eat, recall your last meal or snack. Make a mental list of the foods you ate, how they tasted and how satisfied you felt after eating.
To help you feel satisfied, include a source of protein at meals and snacks such as lean meat or poultry, egg whites, tofu, legumes, nuts or Greek yogurt.
Pay attention to hunger. It takes practice, but listening to your body's hunger cues can help you reduce your calorie intake. Take a moment to determine how hungry – or satisfied – you feel before you eat, halfway through a meal and after you finish eating.
The signal to stop eating is when you feel satisfied. That means you should no longer feel hungry, but not full. If you wait until you feel full, chances are you've overeaten.
Slow your pace. Eating slowly forces you to savour your food and eat less. It also leads to better digestion. After every bite, put down your knife and fork. Chew thoroughly. Take sips of water between bites.
Dine to music. Research shows that listening to soft music can help reduce anxiety, irritability and depression, emotions that can lead to overeating. To slow your eating pace, consider dining to relaxing music with a slow beat.
Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is the national director of nutrition at BodyScience Medical. She can be seen Thursdays at noon on CTV News Channel's Direct. www.lesliebeck.com