Researchers gave 71 participants a bowl of pretzels each and told them they could sample as many as they wanted. All participants wore headphones, and the researchers manipulated the sound so that some heard loud white noise, while others heard the same noise at a softer level. The result: Those in the loud group ate 45 percent more pretzels compared to those who could more clearly hear themselves chewing.
What's wrong with listening to some tunes while you snack? Hearing yourself eat could serve as a "consumption monitoring cue," says study author Ryan S. Elder, an assistant professor of marketing at Brigham Young University. In other words, the crunch you hear when you're not wearing headphones helps you realize how much you're actually eating. "This is similar to a visual cue of how many chicken wing bones are on your plate," says Elder.
The study confirms what nutrition professionals have long known, says Marjorie Nolan Cohn, MS, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Mindful eating reduces the amount people eat, period."
show that chowing down while distracted makes you eat more, while tuning in can help you consume less. And research has also shown that mindful eating
and mindfulness meditation
-based interventions are effective for limiting binge eating, too. By paying greater attention, you're more likely to notice triggers that typically cause you to overeat, like always reaching for sweets when you're stressed or sad, or wolfing down an entire sleeve of Oreos when you're catching up on Netflix.
The bad news: Eating in silence, alone and without any sort of stimuli is the best way to really concentrate on what you're consuming, says Cohn. Kind of sounds like a drag, right? Since eating in an anechoic chamber isn't exactly realistic for most of us, she recommends limiting distractions to something that only requires one sense. For example, you're better off enjoying a snack while reading, which engages your sense of sight, instead of watching TV, which takes both your eyes and ears off your food.
But what do you do when you're catching the big game with some friends at a bar? It can be difficult to limit the distractions in an environment like that. We asked Cohn for advice on situations that could overload your senses and set you up for overeating.
Three Loud Eating Scenarios (And What to Do)
1. In a Noisy Sports Bar
When you're out at a bar with friends, every single one of your senses is engaged. And before you know it, your intention to have just a few fries and wings could easily turn into a mindless binge. Your action plan: Eat before you go. If you're planning on being out for a while, you'll probably get hungry, so Cohn recommends looking at the menu ahead of time and making a plan
. "Even a sports bar probably has some basic sandwiches or burgers you can customize, like a turkey burger without the fries," she says.
2. At Your Desk With Headphones On
If your lunchtime M.O. is blasting Spotify on your headphones while catching up on emails, you're more likely to overeat, says Cohn. Lose the distractions and take advantage of your lunch break by getting away from your desk. Don't feel like you can unchain yourself from your inbox? Plan ahead and bring a well-portioned meal. (Need ideas? Here are seven healthy lunch recipes
.) If you buy a large lunch, put what you don't think you truly need in the office fridge right away, so it's not right next to you when you're checking emails. "People tend to eat more when it's readily available," says Cohn.
3. Commuting With the Radio On
When you're rushing in the morning, you're focused on anything but your breakfast, says Cohn. From driving through traffic to thinking about the workday ahead of you and listening to the radio, your mind won't register how or what you're eating. That egg sandwich
could wind up devoured in mere seconds! Instead of scarfing down food in transit, you're better off waking up a few minutes early to leave yourself time to slowly enjoy breakfast before starting your day.
If that's not an option and you absolutely must eat on-the-go, then plan, portion and pack, says Cohn. That way, "there's no chance of overeating, like when you're eating from a big bag of trail mix and next thing you know you've eaten the entire bag."