Science Sunday: How to eat less but enjoy your food just as much.

I’ve written about it before: eating without distractions makes a difference.

I believe it because I’ve seen it play out deeply in my life and with my clients. When we pay attention to our food and eat without going on Facebook or working or reading news articles, we enjoy it more and need less of it to feel satisfied.

But you know who agrees with me? SCIENCE.

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The reason distracted eating can be a problem is complex, but one compelling piece of the puzzle may come from the results of a series of experiments published by Dutch researchers in the Journal of Psychological Science.

Their findings? 

When we’re not paying attention, it’s harder for us to notice flavors.
As a result, we eat more to try to get the same amount of flavor sensation.
 

In one experiment, participants had to eat crackers with salted butter. Half of the participants had an attention-absorbing task to do while eating their salty, buttery cracker: memorizing a string of seven numbers. The other participants only had to remember a single number.

The results? The people who were doing the challenging task perceived the same cracker as less salty as the people who had the easy task.

And, even more interestingly, the participants doing the challenging task had to eat more of the cracker to even be able to notice the salt level well enough to explain it to the researcher.

In other words: the distracted participants had to eat more to get the same amount of salty pleasure. 

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But it’s not just saltiness. In a later experiment, a students were recruited to a create their own lemonade by combining water and grenadine. (I know, it’s tough to be a scientific study participant these days).

Again, there were two groups: one group did the challenging task of memorizing seven numbers. The other group just had to think about a single number.

And what happened? First of all, participants doing the challenging task put more sugar in their lemonade. But the most interesting part is that “they did not perceive their drink as sweeter or more pleasant.”

Can we talk about this?

These distracted, number-memorizing participants needed more calories to have the same amount of pleasure, just because they were concentrating on something.

They ate more.
But they didn’t get more pleasure.
Because they were distracted.

Are you following me?

My takeaway is that eating without distractions has a huge bang for its buck. You can eat less salty butter and sugary lemonade, but enjoy just the same or more.

And, personally, I want a life filled with salty, salty butter.

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Your challenge this week is to eat a meal that you’d otherwise eat with distractions, completely un-distracted. How does it feel? How much food do you need, compared to when you are typically distracted?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments: Do you eat more when you’re distracted? Do you also like salty butter?