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Eating any food—even healthy snacks—while in motion may lead to weight gain, according to research published in the August 2015 Journal of Health Psychology. That's because it can cause you to overeat later in the day, especially if you’re on a diet.
Researchers at the University of Surrey in England divided 60 female study subjects into three different groups and gave them a 70-calorie cereal bar to eat under different conditions: while watching TV, while walking around a corridor and while chatting with another participant who was also eating a bar. Afterwards, the women completed a follow-up questionnaire and a "taste test" of four snacks, including chocolate, fruits, vegetables and chips.
Going into the experiment, the women were asked about their eating habits and whether they tended to be dieters. Those who self-identified as dieters ate more snacks—including five times more chocolate!—if they had walked while eating.
Why walking and eating don't mix
A few physiological factors may be at work. Any form of distraction can lead to mindless eating, as previous research has shown. But for dieters, it may also be that walking might also feel like exercise and a reason to eat a little more later on as a reward, according to lead author Jane Ogden.
Ogden expands on this idea, saying that the pace of modern life can also be deceiving for many of us, resulting in a double-whammy of less activity and more calories.
"Unfortunately, although we are busy we are not more active which means we grab snacks (rather than having meals) and not only do these tend to be high in calories, but they also tend not to be registered by our bodies as we don’t think of them as meals.”
When those foods are packed with calories, we feel less full and can eat more later in the day, which can lead to becoming overweight or obese.
The solution, according to Ogden: "Food should be eaten as meals, preferably during an allocated time so that we can watch and monitor what we eat to enable our bodies to code it."
In other words, when we eat meals and snacks mindfully, our brains and bodies better remember what we’ve eaten and help us resist unplanned indulging later in the day.
Read on for more healthy eating habits and how to eat well at work.