Eating, reading in front of TV 'leads to snacking'

Eating, reading in front of TV 'leads to snacking'

Researchers have found that diners who are distracted while having a meal can consume far more unhealthy snack food afterwards than those who are paying close attention to what they eat, the 'Appetite' journal reported.

The findings suggest that making time for formal meals at a table rather than grabbing food while on the run or in front of the television could help dieters to cut down on unhealthy snacking.

Dr Suzanne Higgs, a psychologist who led the research at the University of Birmingham, said focusing on the flavour and texture of food while eating seemed to be the best way to decrease snacking.

She said: "Our findings suggest that avoiding distraction like watching television or eating on the go is a good idea. We think it is linked to memory and the way it influences our food intake. When we are making decisions about what we are going to eat, we are unconsciously factoring in information from our memories about what our last meal was.

"If you interrupt that process by being distracted then you will see effects on the amount consumed. The reason why people ate more later after watching TV was because it impaired the encoding of that meal into their memory.

"We have studied amnesic patients who cannot remember what they have just eaten. If we bring them more food then they will keep on eating."

Volunteers in the study, were asked to eat a sandwich and crisps for lunch before being offered biscuits in a tasting session later in the afternoon. One group was asked to think about the flavour, texture and smell of the food as they ate while another group were given an article about food to read. The third group were left to eat food without a task.

Members of the group who were left to eat without instructions and those who had been reading ate around two and a half more biscuits on average than those who were asked to concentrate on the taste of their lunch.

A second study by the same group of researchers also showed that eating while watching television increased the intake of biscuits during tasting sessions later, 'The Daily Telegraph' reported.

Higgs added: "We thought those who were given the article about food to read might eat less because it might help them make food memories, but they still snacked as much as those in control group who were asked to do anything.

"We think they were so distracted by reading that even they were reading about food, they still didn't form memories properly and so were hungrier later."

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