02/23/2016 07:30 pm ET Updated Feb 23, 2017

How to Eat Less but Enjoy Your Food Just as Much

I know it from my own personal experience: When I'm reading a book or browsing Facebook, it is much, much easier to overeat. And I see the same thing with my clients.

It has always been clear to me, in an intuitive way, that it's just hard to get as much pleasure from food when I'm not paying full attention to it.

But new scientific research published by Dutch researchers in the Journal of Psychological Science can tell us more about why that is.

Their high-level findings?

When we're not paying attention, it's harder for us to notice flavors.
As a result, we eat more to try to get the same amount of flavor sensation.

But how does that happen, exactly? Let me break down the details of some of their experiments.

In one experiment, participants had to eat crackers with salted butter. Half of the participants had an attention-absorbing task to do while eating their salty, buttery cracker: memorizing a string of seven numbers. The other participants only had to remember a single number.

The results? The people who were doing the challenging task perceived the same cracker as less salty as the people who had the easy task.

And, even more interestingly, the participants doing the challenging task had to eat more of the cracker to even be able to notice the salt level well enough to explain it to the researcher.

In other words: The distracted participants had to eat more to get the same amount of salty pleasure.


But it's not just saltiness. In a later experiment, a students were recruited to a create their own lemonade by combining water and grenadine. (I know, it's tough to be a scientific study participant these days.)

Again, there were two groups: One group did the challenging task of memorizing seven numbers. The other group just had to think about a single number.

And what happened? First of all, participants doing the challenging task put more sugar in their lemonade. But the most interesting part is that "they did not perceive their drink as sweeter or more pleasant."

Can we talk about this?

These distracted, number-memorizing participants needed more calories to have the same amount of pleasure, just because they were concentrating on something.

They ate more.
But they didn't get more pleasure.
Because they were distracted.

Are you following me?

My takeaway is that eating without distractions has a huge bang for its buck. You can eat less salty butter and sugary lemonade, but enjoy just the same or more.

And, personally, I want a life filled with salty, salty butter.


I'd love to hear from you in the comments: Do you eat more when you're distracted? Do you also like salty butter?


Are you used to "having it together" in your life, but your eating + weight is the little piece that's not going right? Check out Katie's free "What's Your Eating Style" ebook -- a 22-page ebook that lets you identify your eating archetype, and offers detailed, personalized practices to try TODAY.

If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.