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Can eating smaller mouthfuls make us eat less?

By Kathy Oxtoby

A study has suggested that eating smaller mouthfuls may help us eat less and feel more full, even if we eat while we’re distracted - for example, while watching television.

What do we know already?

This isn’t the first study to suggest that taking smaller bites helps people to eat less. By taking small bites, people may believe they have eaten more than they actually have, which can help them to feel full more quickly.

Other research has found that people tend to eat larger meals if they eat while distracted, for example, while they watch television or when eating with friends.

In this new study, researchers wanted to find out whether taking smaller bites affected the amount of food people ate, even if they were distracted during their meal.

Fifty-three people (33 men and 20 women) aged between 18 and 35 years took part in the study. All those who took part were healthy and had a normal weight. People were given soup at lunchtime and were asked questions about their food while they ate, such as how it tasted. This was to encourage them to focus on their meal, so they didn’t feel distracted about eating.

The people were divided at random into three groups. In the first two groups, people took either small or large sips - all of which were pre-measured. The third group could take sips of whatever size they wanted. All three groups could eat as much as they wanted and could choose when to stop eating.

To find out whether eating small bites of food could help people feel fuller even when they were distracted, the researchers then asked the three groups of people to eat while watching a film.

What does the new study say?

The study found that the people who took small sips of soup ate about 30 percent less than those who took large sips or those who could choose the size of their sips.

In the second part of the test, people in all three groups ate more when they were distracted by watching a film. But even when they were distracted, those who had small sips still ate 30 percent less than those who were having large sips or could choose the size of their sips.

How reliable are the findings?

While this is an interesting study, it’s important to remember that it was very small. Only 53 people took part, which means that there were only about 18 people in each of the three study groups. We would need a much bigger study of this kind to be sure of the results.

The researchers only looked at people who were eating soup. So this study can’t tell us what the results would have been with different types of food.

What does this mean for me?

If you’re trying to lose weight, eating smaller bites of food or switching of the TV while you eat certainly won’t do you any harm. But this study on its own doesn’t provide enough evidence that it helps.

We know that eating a balanced diet and taking regular exercise can help people stay healthy and control their weight. If you are worried about your weight you talk to your GP for further advice.


Bolhuis DP, Lakemond CMM, de Wijk RA, et al. Consumption with large sip sizes increases food intake and leads to underestimation of the amount consumed. PLoS ONE. 2013: 8: e53288.

Jan 24, 2013