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Manners can be helpful if you're trying to make a decent impression on a date, at a business meeting, or on any social occasion -- they might even help keep a marriage together. However, there is an even better reason to eat with etiquette: It can help you lose weight. Here are a few table manners that will help you look better in two ways -- your waistline and your eating style.Don't Talk with Your Mouth Full
Take a peek around the next time you're at a restaurant -- most people have forgotten this classic rule. "No one likes to see a mouth stuffed full of food -- especially if the mouth is also attempting to talk. Do put down your fork or chopsticks occasionally and direct your attention to the conversation," says Robin Abrahams, The Boston Globe's manners expert.
"Not only will this remind your dining partners that the food is but an excuse for their company -- not the other way around -- but it will give your body a break in which it can tell you, 'We've had enough, thanks,'" says Abrahams. When you eat with your mouth closed you typically take smaller bites, so you probably will not eat as much. Also, research shows that chewing with your mouth open, swallowing air or a large quantity of food, and eating too fast are the main causes of indigestion, acid reflux, and heartburn.
According to Susan Fox, the founder of Etiquette Survival and author of Etiquette for Dummies (Wiley, 2007), the rule is to not take more on your plate than you can eat. Overeating is bad for your health, and it isn't polite to overload your plate. Keep portions small; you can always take more later, says Fox. We tend to clean our plates. So, by keeping portions small, and having to make a conscious decision to get more, you'll eat less.
Always prepare a nice table for dinner -- even if you're eating alone. "Make the effort to have nice place mats or a tablecloth. Add some flowers that will complement the color of the tablecloth. Add the glass for the wine, if any, and a glass for the water. Do not forget the napkin always placed at the left side of your dinner plate," says Michele Wilson, creator of the DVD Manners by Michele: Restaurant Etiquette and Wines Plus How to Set the Table. Play smooth music to add to the ambiance. This may seem over-the-top -- but it works. Maybe getting just a little more formal than eating out of the container while standing by the fridge would work, too.
You have the decor, now dress the part. Don't eat in sweat pants. Put on a nice outfit. You don't have to do this every night -- just most nights. Appreciating the food you eat means you eat consciously, and as a result eat healthier foods, and less food altogether.Keep It Straight
"Pay attention to your posture and body language. During the meal, keep both feet flat on the floor or cross your feet at the ankles. Don't cross your legs at the knees, and don't prop your feet on chair rungs or table legs," says Fox. She also recommends that you sit up straight on the front three-quarters of your chair. "This way, you shouldn't have to bend over your food; you can simply bring your utensils to your mouth. Don't rush when you lift your food from the table to your mouth. Don't bend closely over your plate or try to meet your utensils halfway."Stay Balanced
According to Fox, you should keep pace with others at the table; do not eat too slowly or too quickly. "Dining is about balance. Everyone should be doing the same thing about the same time. Watch and be aware of the other diners. You do not want to be sitting there with an empty plate when everyone else still has food left," says Fox. Not eating too quickly and being consciously aware of what you're eating also help to control consumption. Your stomach will catch up with your mind -- you'll realize how much you've eaten, and eat less.
"If everyone else wants dessert, order a cup of decaf or herbal tea so that they'll feel you're keeping them company. If you order only an appetizer or salad, make sure it's brought out with the dinner," says Abrahams.
Not only is it bad manners to reach across the table and pick a morsel off your dining companion's plate, but those little "tastes" can add up to a lot of extra calories.Leave It Alone
Leave your plate where it is when you finish the meal. Seeing the remains (even if it is just sauce) keeps you aware of what you just consumed. The server will know to remove it if you have placed your utensils across the plate in the rest position.Don't Dip
Fox advises against dipping, dunking, or wiping sauces with your bread. The only time dipping is acceptable is if there's a small dish of olive oil on the table or if you're eating fondue. Those gravies, sauces, and the bread can also add up to lots of extra calories, says Fox.American Way
If you want to use the "American way" of eating, you will cut a small piece of food, put your knife on the corner of your plate, put the fork, until now in your left hand, into your right hand, and eat. You do not cut the whole portion of food at one time (as your mother did when you were a child). It's always ONE piece at the time, says Wilson. Eating this way slows you down and allows your stomach a chance to "feel" the food.
Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate, founder and editor of DietDetective.com, the health and fitness network, and author of The Diet Detective's Calorie Bargain Bible. Copyright 2008 by Charles Stuart Platkin. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission from www.dietdetective.com, September 2008.