Scarfing down food while you run around town may seem like a time saver, but this habit could lead to weight gain. In fact, a recent study found that dieters who ate on the go, while walking around the office, were more likely to overeat later in the day.
The researchers hypothesized that because walking is a powerful form of distraction, it could disrupt our ability to recognize the amount of food we're eating and notice when we feel full.
"When we don't fully concentrate on our meals and the process of taking in food, we fall into a trap of mindless eating where we don't track or recognize the food that has just been consumed," the study's author, psychology professor Jane Ogden of the University of Surrey, said in a statement.
The timing of when we eat also plays a role in weight loss. Experts say nighttime snacking is often not a result of true hunger and can result in overeating. "It's more often than not associated with boredom, mindless eating or emotional eating," Rosenthal said. "Before reaching for a late night snack or fourth meal, ask yourself if you are actually hungry or if something else is going on. If you aren't sure, drink some water or other non-sugary drink. Our bodies often confuse hunger and thirst."
A study from the Salk Institute suggests that restricting food intake to an 8- to 12-hour period during the day may help prevent high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity.
Furthermore, eating less than two to three hours before lying down in bed can lead to gastrointestinal issues like heartburn.
Research shows eating outside of the home can lead to weight gain -- and fast food isn't the only culprit. One study found that dining at full service restaurants is comparable to -- and in some cases, even less healthy than -- eating at a fast food outlet.
"Eating out is often viewed as a social gathering, so people spend more time and eat more leisurely, which can lead to more food intake," the study's author, Rupeng An, assistant professo in the department of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois, told Reporters.
Experts suggest cooking meals at home whenever possible and planning ahead before you eat out. Rosenthal's tips include: checking out the menu before arriving at the restaurant to choose the healthiest option; asking for sauces and dressings on the side; and sticking to baked, broiled, grilled, or steamed dishes.
Gobbling down your food too quickly can lead to overeating because it doesn't give your body enough time to realize you are full. Experts say pacing yourself during meals is key to maintaining a healthy weight.
"The problem is that we eat like snakes," Rosenthal said. "We inhale our food, barely chewing or tasting anything. Food tastes good when we actually taste it. When we eat mindfully and slow down, studies have found that we create food memories. These increase our enjoyment and leave us feeling more satisfied."
The ?clean your plate? rule
As a child, your parents probably told you to always clean your plate, but experts say this isn't advice that should be followed. "Weight management is a mind and stomach game," Rosenthal said. "Both must feel satisfied for us to be successful. A full, small plate leaves us feeling more satisfied than a large, half empty one."
According to one study, many parents today are still telling their kids to be a member of the "clean plate club," a finding which surprised the researchers.
"In the 1950's, cleaning your plate meant something different," the study's lead author Katie Loth told HealthDay. "Portion sizes have gotten bigger over time, and if you encourage kids to rely on environmental indicators, like how much food is on their plates or the time of day, they'll lose the ability to rely on internal cues to know whether they're hungry or full."
Experts recommend making a small, balanced plate, then putting the rest of the food away. "Proximity can play a big role in improving our control," Rosenthal said.
Shopping on an empty stomach
Grocery shopping while hungry can lead us to make impulsive decisions and load the cart full of unhealthy foods.
"Never food shop on an empty stomach. When we are hungry, we are more likely to fall victim to temptation," Rosenthal said.
She suggests having a meal or snack, like a piece of fruit, before going to the store. Also, make a list before food shopping and stick to it. "Planning is the key to success in life, and it is no different when it comes to eating healthy," she said. "Take a look at the upcoming week and see what you have planned -- work, appointments, social commitments, etc. Next, choose meals for each day."
(Eating before you shop could save you money as well as calories. One study shows that shopping on an empty stomach at the mall or online can even lead to spending more on clothing and other nonfood items.)
Skipping meals may seem like a shortcut to losing weight but the habit can quickly backfire. "Contrary to popular belief, skipping meals does not promote weight loss, only a slower metabolism and poor choices later," Lori Rosenthal, a registered dietitian specializing in weight management and bariatrics at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, told Reporters. "Yet many of us wind up skipping at least one each day."
She explained that "when we let ourselves get to the point of 'starving,' we tend to consume larger portions and eat very quickly. The faster we eat, the less likely we are to be able to catch when we are starting to get full to stop."
Recent research shows that skipping meals -- and the overeating that often follows -- could be directly related to an increase in belly fat, which can lead to a number of health problems, including heart disease and diabetes.