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Study: How you eat may affect how much you eat

April 11, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Experts say we do 50 percent of our eating while concentrating on something else, including driving, working and watching TV. But all that comes with a downside.

Fitness trainer Bonnie Matthews was once 130 pounds overweight. The 47-year-old blames most of that weight on poor lifestyle and food choices.

"I would eat whatever: sandwiches, ice cream, pizza," said Matthews.

At the time, she worked from home as a freelance illustrator. Most of her day was spent typing, drafting and eating at the same time.

"If you're not paying attention to what you're doing, you tend to forget almost that you're eating and potentially eat more than you would have if you were focused on strictly active eating," said Dr. Jonathan Rich, an internist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

In a new story, Dr. Rich shows how you eat may affect how much you eat. It found distracted eaters couldn't recall as much of their meal just 30 minutes after eating. They were also less full after eating and ate more during the study's taste test. All that may mean weight gain, as Americans spend 25 more minutes eating per day than we did 30 years ago.

"It's really a matter of paying attention to the fact that you're eating and to not treat it as a secondary activity," said Dr. Rich.

Matthews knows the benefits of focusing on food. Fewer distractions led to massive weight loss, and a spot on the Dr. Oz TV show.

"Portioning out my meals, thinking about what I'm going to have, when I'm going to do my intense workouts and what kinds of foods I need for that day," said Matthews.

Now, whether it's weight plates or the dinner plate, Matthews knows what to target and when.

Researchers say memory plays a key role in the regulation of food intake and any distractions may cause a disruption.