Your stomach isn’t the only thing that feels ‘full’ from eating: your brain does too. And, it can also not feel full, depending on how much attention you paid to your previous meal.
Environmental factors such as eating with other people, portion size, visibility and availability can trigger eating as an automatic behaviour, occurring without awareness or control. Many people now eat during a commute to or from work, or in an otherwise distracted environment.
In one study, subjects were divided into two groups, one of which ate lunch with no distractions and the other that ate lunch whilst playing computer games. Both groups were then presented with a snack of biscuits 30 minutes after the lunch, and allowed to eat as much as they liked, while the researchers recorded how much subjects in each group ate. The distracted group reported being less full after lunch, and consumed significantly more biscuits after lunch than the non-distracted group.
Why? Believe it or not, it is to do with memory. Multiple studies have shown that eating while distracted increases the amount of food eaten in meals later that day, and have confirmed that enhanced memory of food intake reduces subsequent consumption.
This has generated the term ‘mindful eating’, which is a bit esoteric for most people so let’s keep it simple: slow down, and pay attention to your meal. Also, by paying more attention to how we eat, we in fact become more conscious of what we’re eating, and develop the awareness that allows us to make better decisions as to what we eat.
Attentive eating is one of the most effective and sustainable behaviours you can develop with food. It is the simplest and most effective way of improving both the quality and quantity of your diet.
Practical tip: try placing your your fork and knife down on the plate between each mouthful, and try not to pick them up again until that mouthful has been swallowed!