People tend to eat more when they're distracted, but taking smaller bites may help prevent such mindless overeating, a new study from the Netherlands suggests.
The study involved 53 healthy people ages 18 to 35 who sipped soup while watching an animated film. On different days, the sips were pre-measured to be either small (5 grams or 0.2 ounces ) or large (15 grams or 0.5 ounces). On a third day, people sipped whatever amount they wanted (called free sips). In each instance, people were allowed to stop whenever they felt like it.
Results showed that people ate more soup when they were distracted by the film than when they were told to focus on the flavors of the soup.
And soup consumption was 30 percent lower when people took the small sips compared to when they took larger sips or free sips, regardless of whether or not they were distracted.
Afterward, people who had taken large sips or free sips underestimated how much they ate; when they took small sips they tended to overestimate how much they ate, the researchers said.
Designing foods that require smaller sips or bites "may prevent overconsumption and decrease the prevalence of obesity," the researchers wrote in the Jan. 23 issue of the journal PLOS ONE.
The number of bites and swallows that occur while eating may play a role in satiation, the researchers said. Small bites increase the number of both bites and swallows needed to finish eating food. [See Portion Size Influences Full Feeling.]
Some people who participated in the study said they chose to stop eating during the small-sip portion because they didn't like the way the food was delivered. However, even when accounting for personal dining preferences (small sips versus large ones), there was a link between taking smaller sips and lower food intake, the researchers said.
Pass it on: Taking smaller bites or sips may keep people from overeating when they're distracted.
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Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.