If you're anything like me, more meals than not may be dotted with the steady flow of interruptions from email, work calls, and OK, marathon episodes of "Hart of Dixie" on Netflix. This sad but true reality primes you to overeat since you're not consciously enjoying your food or engaging in dinner-table conversation to slow down the pace of your fork to flank steak. In fact, many studies confirm that so-called "distracted eating," such as dining in front of a computer or in your car, may be to blame for sneaky weight gain.
Enter: The electronics bowl. This savvy tip has helped me enjoy countless meals for the past six weeks distraction—or, should I say Instagram—free and it couldn't be easier. Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN and nutrition partner of The American Macular Degeneration Foundation explains her simple technique: "Instead of having everyone constantly check their electronic devices, have everyone put all their electronics into one large bowl," Amidor says. "I take out the bowl when everyone walks into the dining room and have them empty their pockets or hands of any devices even before they sit down." She says that everything stays in the bowl until after dessert. "This technique helps with mindfulness, which means becoming more aware of your eating habits, satiety, and it could even lead to weight loss," says Lisa Hayim, New York City-based registered dietitian and founder of The Well Necessities
No surprise here, but research has also shown that families who eat dinner together are the healthiest; as they're probably eating more slowly and consciously rather than guzzling down bites between commercial breaks. A bonus perk of using an electronics bowl, Amidor says, is that you are giving your eyes a rest from the blue light emitted by your smartphone or other electronic devices that may lead to macular degeneration.
"It's easy to unknowingly swallow hundreds of excess calories that contribute to weight gain as you mindlessly munch while you are distracted on your electronic device," say both Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, and authors of The Nutrition Twins' Veggie Cure. Here are three more smart ways to boost weight loss and make the most of your meal, sans smartphone:
Know Your Hunger Level
"Before a meal, ask yourself how hungry you are on a scale of 1 to 10. Level one being starving and 10 being so full you couldn't eat a thing," says Hayim. Once you have chosen a number, select how much food you load up on your plate to complement where you fall on the scale. "If you were an 8, you wouldn't fill your plate to its brim, and if you were a 2, you'd want to be more conscious of when the satiety cues start to hit before jumping into a second helping," she says.
Assemble your plate in the kitchen
Out of sight, out of mind. Hayim says you should be aware of the nutrients of the food your putting on your plate, choosing vegetables, one grain, and one protein. "Aim to make it colorful!" she says. Then, leave the food behind in the kitchen so it's not seducing you into seconds (or thirds) throughout the meal. To promote mindful noshing even further, sit down to a carefully set place at the table, as the thought that goes into laying out a placemat and silverware signals it's time to slow down. The Nutrition Twins also suggests using a salad-sized plate rather than a large one, to minimize portions and calories.
Breathe like you're in yoga class
"Take five deep breaths before eating, observing all of your surroundings, taking the time to enjoy the appearance of your food and allowing your meal to appeal to your senses—its appearance, smell and texture—and be sure to chew each bite slowly to truly savor the flavor and appreciate it, your company and conversation, say The Nutrition Twins. "When you appreciate your food you're less likely to overeat from stress or lack of satisfaction," they add. This strategy can also be useful in the middle of a meal as a break and helpful way to check in with yourself, says Hayim.
Research agrees: One study on mindful eating found that all participants who participated in a mindful eating program lost weight, and had a reduction in c-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation and stress). One of the program's components was emphasizing mediation with eating, to enable participants to individually examine their hunger and satiety cues.