The findings suggest the following conclusions:
- Being distracted or less attentive to the food you're eating tends to make you eat more at that sitting.
- Paying attention to what you're eating tends to make you eat less later on.
- Even those who are dieting -- called "restrained eaters" by the researchers -- may eat more if they are distracted than if they are able to focus on their food.
Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University at St. Louis, said the research reinforces what dieticians have known for a long time: If you don't pay attention to what you're eating, you will eat more. But she said the new research adds something to the science: Eating while distracted will also affect what you eat later.
"That's a big part that people may not have really thought about before," she said.
Yet for many busy families, slowing down meals may seem impossible. "We've become a grab-and-go-society," she said. "People will eat meals in less than five minutes."
Diekman suggested that even those who dine alone should set a place at the table, cook a meal and enjoy it. "Don't automatically turn on the TV," she said.
Even if you're eating while working at your computer, you can still focus a bit more on the food, Diekman added. "Eat, and then look at the computer, and then eat a few more bites," she said. "Slowing down may be important because it allows you to focus on your food."
For Diekman, the message is simple: "It's all about making a meal an experience and not just eating food," she said.