If you're trying to keep a limit on how much you eat, cutting down on the food you take in while on the move is probably a good start. In a recent UK study, those who ate while walking around had a tendency to consume more calories later on than those who ate while watching television or talking to friends. In other words, it's harder to stick to a diet if you're snacking while on the go, even if it's a healthy cereal bar.
Of course, in this hectic and time-squeezed modern era, it's not always possible to sit down for a meal, but the authors of the study say that eating on the go can be a real impediment to losing weight, irrespective of the types of food being chosen.
The team from the University of Surrey gathered 60 female volunteers, pooled both from women who were dieting and those who weren't. Each participant was given a cereal bar to eat, under the impression that the purpose of the task was to rate the tastiness of the bar. Some were given it while walking down a corridor, some while watching a quick burst of '90s TV staple Friends, and some while talking to other volunteers.
Afterwards, those involved in the study were left with a choice of snacks in another room - including M&Ms, carrots, grapes, and hula hoop crisps - and asked to rate those too.
In the snacks room, those who were dieting ate less than those who weren't, as you'd expect. However, of the dieters, the women who had eaten their cereal bar 'on the go' consumed more calories than the others - specifically, more M&Ms. The results have been published in the Journal of Health Psychology.
So what's happening here? The study was a small-scale one carried out in artificial conditions, so it's difficult to reach a definitive conclusion, but the researchers suggest that eating on the move distracts us from what we're consuming, or perhaps confuses the body as to how much food is being taken in. Another theory is that the act of walking as exercise gives our bodies a feeling of being entitled to some extra indulgence later on.
"Even though walking had the most impact, any form of distraction, including eating at our desks can lead to weight gain," said lead author Jane Ogden in a press release. "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 recognise the food that has just been consumed."
If you're trying to lose weight, you might want to change your eating style: the more deliberate, the better.