For people with hectic schedules, eating “on-the-go” almost seems like a necessity. Unfortunately, eating on-the-go means eating in a hurry, which doesn’t really give us time to enjoy the food. It also means our bodies don’t recognize how much we’re eating. A recent study conducted at the University of Surrey has found that eating while walking around can lead to overeating later in the day.

"Eating on-the-go may make dieters overeat later on in the day," said Professor Jane Ogden from the University of Surrey, in a statement. "This may be because walking is a powerful form of distraction which disrupts our ability to process the impact eating has on our hunger. Or it may be because walking, even just around a corridor, can be regarded as a form of exercise which justifies overeating later on as a form of reward."

Ogden and her colleagues recruited 60 females who were self-reported “dieters” or “non-dieters” and gave them all a cereal bar that they were asked to eat under three different conditions. One group ate their cereal bar while watching a five-minute clip of Friends. Another group ate their cereal car while walking around the corridor. The last group sat across from a friend and had a conversation while eating their cereal bar.

Following the cereal bar experiment, each participant was asked to complete a follow-up questionnaire and a taste test that involved four different snacks, including chocolate, carrot sticks, grapes, and potato chips. Researchers also calculated the amount of food participants ate after they left the room. “Dieters” ate more snacks if they also ate the cereal bar while walking around the corridor, specifically five times more chocolate.

"Even though walking had the most impact, any form of distraction, including eating at our desks can lead to weight gain," Ogden said. "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."

Between a full workload, classes, and family activities, sometimes we can’t help but grab a sandwich and scarf it down on our commute. If we are going to eat on-the-go, it's best we have a healthy dieting plan to ensure we don’t overeat or eat the wrong kind of food. We can start by planning our weekly menu at the start of the week and prepacking all snacks so we know exactly how much we eat.

Source: Journal of Health Psychology. 2015.