File picture: An overweight person eats at a bench in London. - AP
File picture: An overweight person eats at a bench in London. - AP
Kenny Motsamai eating breakfast as he reads a newspaper at his home in Katlehong. Picture: Itumeleng English
Kenny Motsamai eating breakfast as he reads a newspaper at his home in Katlehong. Picture: Itumeleng English

Switching off the television at dinner time helps you lose weight, a study suggests.

Researchers found that people taught mindful eating – savouring every mouthful and having no distractions – lost more than six times as much weight as other slimmers.

They were encouraged to remove all distractions while eating, including turning off the television if at home and not eating at their desk at work.

Overweight people who followed the mindful eating mantra lost four and a half pounds in 15 weeks, compared with other slimmers, who just lost only two-thirds of a pound.

Six months after the US trial stopped, three-quarters of participants in the mindfulness programme had kept their weight off or lost even more.

Researcher Dr Carolyn Dunn, of North Carolina State University, said: ‘Mindful eating is eating with purpose, eating on purpose, eating with awareness, eating without distraction... when eating, only eating – not watching television or playing computer games or having any other distractions, and not eating at our desks.'

Dr Dunn, presenting her findings yesterday at the European Congress on Obesity in Porto, Portugal, said the approach does not involve any ‘prescriptive diet' or calorie counting.

People are positively encouraged to carry on eating the foods they like – but instead of wolfing down an entire portion of, say, chocolate mousse, they should eat just one or two spoonfuls, savouring the flavour.

‘We instructed people to eat them in a mindful way,' Dr Dunn said. ‘For example, if one was going to eat a food that has very high calories, we would tell them to eat one or two bites, but to eat those with awareness, so they are getting the most pleasure out of those bites.

‘Other research has shown that those first two bites are associated with the most enjoyment – eating more will give you more calories but not more enjoyment.'

Her trial of 80 overweight adults involved them taking part in weekly online classes to instruct them in the philosophy of mindful eating.

‘People did increase their mindfulness and they did absolutely decrease their weight,' Dr Dunn said.

Professor Hermann Toplak, president of European Association for the Study of Obesity, said people should also relax before eating, to put them into the right mindset. ‘Reducing stress before eating is one of the most important things,' he said. ‘If you have stress in your job, don't go [straight] home for dinner.

‘You have to reduce your stress levels before – walk or do something restful – then you will eat differently.'

Eating while stressed makes you eat faster and choose unhealthier foods, he said. ‘And if you reduce stress levels you will eat salad, you will eat vegetables, because you are in the mood to eat things like that also.'