Listen to Yourself Eating to Cut Calories
Most of us don't eat in silence. Let's face it, we often eat in front of the television or with music playing, even when we've got dining companions. After all, what are we going to do, just sit and listen to the sounds of our own chewing? Actually, that's exactly what we should be doing. New research suggests that listening to ourselves eating may affect the amount of food we eat.
The study, which was conducted through Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah and Colorado State University in Fort Collins, found that hearing the sounds we make while eating may keep our consumption levels lower than when they are drowned out by other noises.1 There were three separate versions of the experiment performed in order to test what the scientists call the "crunch effect."
For the first of the series, the subjects were 223 undergraduates who answered a survey with questions about eating and the senses. They discovered that, at least according to the survey and as opposed to other senses such as taste and the sight of food, the sound of a food being chewed was not identified as being nearly so important in the consumption experience. The thought that the sound of a food might typically be ignored, on the other hand, led to the theory that it might still influence eating habits but in a subtle way.
Therefore, the second of the investigations involved 182 participants who were also college students. They were provided with eight crunchy (rather than chewy for maximum impact) chocolate chip cookies. Each volunteer was told to consume the cookies as they normally would in their typical style of quiet or loud eating. In either case--whether the students were noisy or not-so-noisy eaters--they ate fewer cookies when they were in a quiet location rather than a more raucous environment, suggesting that an awareness of the sound of your own chewing can curb consumption. Or, at the very least, that not being in a loud environment that draws your senses outward, makes it easier to internalize and be more aware of the eating experience.
Finally, for the third experiment, 71 college students were recruited as subjects. Each of them was provided with a pair of headphones to wear as well as a bowl of pretzels. The participants were randomly divided into two groups. One of the groups had loud white noise playing through their headphones to conceal the sound of their chewing. The other group, in contrast, had very soft white noise playing, which meant they could hear every crunch and swallow of their mastication. The group that heard their own chewing sounds ate fewer pretzels than their counterparts listening to louder noise, with an average consumption of 2.75 versus four pretzels.
While one pretzel and a bit of another is not going to make a huge difference in your calorie intake for the day, think about how that effect might be multiplied at a meal. When there is a large portion of food on your plate or the opportunity to take extra helpings on the table, you may very well eat quite a bit more when you are unable to hear your own chewing.
The research was definitely limited by its small pool of participants, but the fact that multiple varied experiments lead to the same conclusion gives it more strength. And, even though the focus was not on hearing the sounds of eating per se, a 2010 study at the University of Manchester in England determined that when people eat in a loud atmosphere, their sensitivity to food flavors such as sweet and salty is diminished, making the food taste more bland and less appealing.2
Ultimately, this doesn't mean we should sit silently eating and only concentrate on our chewing noises. But it is a good reminder of a couple of important things. First of all, there is no benefit to watching television while we eat, only a downside. Focus instead on the company you are with or, if eating alone, read a book or newspaper or just take a few minutes to quietly relax during a meal. And if you do find yourself in a noisy restaurant or even just snacking in front of the TV, be aware of this factor. Cut back the portion size of your food accordingly so that it is more difficult to overeat simply because you're not able to hear your chewing.
- 1. Elder, Ryan S. and Mohr, Gina S. "The crunch effect: Food sound salience as a consumption monitoring cue." Food Quality and Preference. July 2016. Accessed 30 March 2016. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0950329316300271
- 2. Woods, A.T.; et al. "Effect of background noise on food perception." Food Quality and Preference. January 2011. Accessed 31 March 2016. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0950329310001217