A new study published in the online journal Appetite compared the impact of eating the exact same food, but with one labeled as a “snack” and the other labeled as a “meal.” The findings were astonishing!
At the University of Surrey, researchers asked 80 participants to eat pasta that was offered as either a snack or a meal. Both dishes contained the same amount of pasta.
To distinguish between the two, the pasta “snack” was presented as one might eat a snack, out of a plastic container with a plastic fork, standing up. The pasta “meal” was presented at a table with a chair, on a ceramic plate with a metal fork.
After finishing their meal or snack, they were invited to partake in an additional taste test of different foods like Animal Crackers, M&Ms, and Mini Cheddar Crackers.
The researchers found that those who ate the pasta presented as a “snack” ate significantly more than those who ate the pasta presented as a “meal.” The group that ate the pasta “snack” standing up ate 50% more total calories, total food mass, and total sweet mass than the group who ate the pasta “meal” sitting down.
This suggests that marketing food as a “snack” leads to increased consumption and continued overeating. (1)
The researchers concluded that when eating a snack, we eat faster, are more easily distracted and, therefore, are not fully conscious of how much food is actually being consumed. When sitting down at a meal, we are more aware and more conscious of the amount of food we are eating. Foods labeled as snacks unconsciously provoke overeating. When snacking, some of us are completely unaware or may not even remember what we have just eaten compared to when we eat a meal.
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3 Tips to Become a Conscious Eater
According to Ayurveda, snacking is taboo. Sitting down and relaxing during a meal is considered by some to be even more important than the kind of food you are eating! In the west, we argue and debate over what diet we should be on, but rarely lend credence to the importance of how you eat. Eating consciously is of utmost importance in Ayurveda.
Traditionally, Indian mothers would threaten their children with the quote, “If you eat standing up, death looks over your shoulder,” to encourage them to become conscious of how they were eating.
Tip #1: Eat with your Fingers
Yes, I said it. Eating with your fingers forces you to slow down, become conscious, and intimately engage yourself in the process of eating. It is quite unappealing to answer your phone, text, use the TV remote, or flip through a magazine with fingers full of food acting as your utensils.
Tip #2: Relax and Take Time to Dine
Studies show that when you eat your food in a relaxed, calm manner, the rest-and-digest parasympathetic nervous system engages. Taking your time when you eat literally strengthens your digestive ability. When you eat standing up or on the run, you stimulate the fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system which literally turns off the digestive system. (2)
Tip #3: Eat Until you are Just Three-Quarters Full
Centenarians (humans who live to be over 100) also practice this technique of only eating to three-quarters full and, therefore, never stuff themselves or overeat. This is also a classic Ayurvedic eating principle. By going into a meal knowing you are only going to eat until you are three-quarters full, there is a natural tendency to slow down, take time, actually chew, and enjoy every bite. This is conscious eating.