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WEDNESDAY, Jan. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Ever find yourself wolfing down snacks as you're watching your favorite sitcom? Studies have shown that people eat more when distracted by TV or other pastimes.

A new study finds, however, that there may be a simple way to slow down food intake in these situations: take smaller bites.

In the Dutch study, participants were given a meal of soup to consume as they watched a 15-minute animated film. Two groups ate pre-measured volumes of either small or large sips, while another group was free to take whatever size of sips they wanted.

All the participants could eat as much as they wanted and were later asked to estimate how much they had eaten.

In all three groups, the distraction of watching the film led to a general increase in the amount of soup consumed. The people who ate the pre-specified small sips of soup, however, consumed about 30 percent less than those in the other groups.

The other two groups -- who took bigger sips -- also tended to think they ate much less of the soup than they actually had consumed, said researchers led by Dieuwerke Bolhuis and colleagues from Wageningen University.

"The idea that taking smaller bites would potentially counteract the effects of eating while distracted makes sense from a physiologic standpoint," said registered dietitian Rebecca Solomon, who was not connected to the study.

"We know that it takes approximately 20 minutes for the sensation of 'satiety' or fullness to kick in," explained Solomon, who is nutrition coordinator at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. "When we eat too quickly, we tend to overeat -- whether distracted or not -- because we unknowingly may eat past the point of what I call 'gentle satiety,' an appropriate level of after-meal fullness."

"Taking smaller bites necessarily makes the meal or snack take longer to eat, therefore reducing the amount one would eat within that initial 20 minutes when the feeling of satiation is not yet registered by the brain and stomach," Solomon said.

Another expert agreed.

"The old advice of taking small bites in order to lose weight may have more evidence," said Nancy Copperman, director of public health initiatives in the Office of Community Health at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y.

Her advice? "Avoid inhaling large bites or gulps," she said. "Focus on what you are eating and drinking, enjoy the taste of the meal or snack, and try to avoid distractions when eating."

The study was published Jan. 23 in the journal PLoS One.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases offers advice about food portions.

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