It is more or less taken for granted that people eat more when they are distracted, which may account for part of the explanation for why movie theater popcorn sizes are so large. Previous research has also found that people eat less when they take smaller bites. These findings caused researchers from the Netherlands to wonder whether smaller bites could counteract the desire to eat greater quantities of food while distracted. They found that, yes, taking smaller bites may prevent overeating when distracted. The finding could have implications in the fight against obesity.
The researchers studied 53 participants between the ages of 18 and 35 who were asked to sip soup while watching an animated movie. The study was split into three days. On one day, the participants took pre-measured small sips that measured 5 grams or 0.2 ounces. On another day, the participants ate using large sips that measured 15 grams or 0.5 ounces. On the last day, the participants were allowed to sip whatever amount they wanted; researchers called these sips "free sips". On each day, participants were allowed to stop eating whenever they wanted.
According to WBUR, researchers found that, regardless of the sip size, all of the participants were inclined to eat greater quantities of food if they were distracted. Nonetheless, the small sips caused the participants to consume 30 percent less soup than the large or free sips, even when they were distracted.
MyHealthNewsDaily reports that the small sips caused participants to overestimate how much they had eaten, while the large or free sips caused participants to underestimate their food intake. Some participants stated that they ate less with the small sips because they did not like the food delivery system. Even when researchers adjusted for preference, though, eaters still consumed less food when they had small sips.
Researchers believe that phenomenon exists because small bites increase the number of bites and swallows needed to complete a meal. They believe that bites and swallows impact feeling full.
The researchers write in the journal PLoS One, "Designing foods by food industry that involves consumption of small bites/sips may prevent overconsumption and decrease the prevalence of obesity."