Why Eating on the Run May Ruin Your Diet

On-the-go eating may promote mindless eating, weight gain

For those in fast-paced lifestyles, lunch is often an afterthought. But on-the-go eaters may want to think twice about their habits.

A new study from the UK found that eating on the go may increase food intake later in the day and ultimately lead to weight gain — especially for dieters.

"Eating on the go may make dieters overeat later on in the day," said lead study author Jane Ogden, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Surrey in the UK, in a press release. "This may be because walking is a powerful form of distraction which disrupts our ability to process the impact eating has on our hunger. Or it may be because walking, even just around a corridor, can be regarded as a form of exercise which justifies overeating later on as a form of reward."

Dr. Ogden and team recruited 60 adult women to participate in an experiment under the guise of a taste test. Some of the women were dieting, while others were not.

Upon arrival to the lab, the women were given surveys to assess their food desires.

The women were given a cereal bar to eat during one of the following assigned tasks: watching five minutes of a "Friends" episode, having a five-minute conversation with another participant or walking through the corridor for five minutes.

Afterward, the women were given a taste test of various snacks, including M&Ms, Hula Hoops (crispy potato rings sold in the UK), carrot sticks and grapes.

They were told to eat as much of these snacks as they liked.

Dr. Ogden and team found that dieters who ate the cereal bar while walking had eaten more snacks than any other group — specifically five times more chocolate.

"Even though walking had the most impact, any form of distraction, including eating at our desks can lead to weight gain," Dr. Ogden said. "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 recognize the food that has just been consumed."

According to these researchers, this finding is of special significance in the midst of the global obesity epidemic.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight in 2014.

This study was published Aug. 20 in the Journal of Health Psychology.

No funding sources or conflicts of interest were disclosed.