Are Our Table Manners Are Making Us Fat?

It sounds daft but it could be true. Clue – it’s all about time, and giving yourself enough of it to feel full. Let’s be honest, how many of us use a knife and fork for every meal? Lots of children don’t even know how to use a knife and fork, and some struggle with a spoon – now that is shocking. Don’t believe me? Next time you’re in a café/restaurant/coffee shop take a look around at the other diners…

I’ve seen children literally head-first into their meals, eating straight from the plates like dogs – and I don’t mean babies, these were schoolchildren and their parents clearly saw nothing wrong with this behaviour. Possibly because they were eating things like cottage pie, rice and coleslaw with their fingers (yes, really). And if I got a pound/dollar each time I saw someone lick their plate in public I’d have enough for a new canteen of cutlery by now!

It’s happening everywhere, from the most expensive restaurants to the crummiest greasy spoon café. Sneak a peek – everyone licks their fingers, most people pick up chips or pizza, lots will gnaw round meat bones and quite a few never use a napkin. And nearly all diners seem to have adopted the American habit of using only a fork.

But many meals don’t even involve the table, let alone the manners. It’s a sad fact that one quarter of UK households haven’t got a dining table: meals are grabbed at random and eaten in bedrooms, on the sofa, standing up or on the way out of the door.

Lots of our meals are specifically designed to be eaten in one hand, while we use our free hand to do other things – like using a mobile phone, reading, surfing the net or the television, holding a drink, or even driving. Fast foods and takeaways such as burgers, pizzas, fries, sandwiches, cakes, kebabs and so on are very easy to eat. As the saying goes, a moment on the lips but a lifetime on the hips! It’s no accident that most of these foods have a soft texture inside, so they can be eaten quickly with the minimum of chewing.

The key thing linking poor table manners and eating on the move is speed. We grab a bite to eat as fast as possible, so that we have more valuable time left over to do other things – such as having a second helping because we’re still hungry. That’s because our brains are what tell us we’ve had enough to eat but our stomachs are where the food goes, and it takes a while for the stomach to realize it’s full and send a “no more food please” message to the brain.

Food retailers will try almost anything to get us to buy (and eat) more and it’s not about an altruistic need to satisfy the hungry hordes, it’s about profit. While larger helpings may be nice at the time, when our bellies finally realize they are uncomfortably full we’ve already eaten too much and we’ll probably suffer later with hiccups, burping and indigestion. And if we keep on doing it our stomachs will stretch to accommodate all the extras we stuff into them, so we end up eating even more. Meals become a habit rather than a response to hunger.

How often have you been for a coffee (OK and maybe a cake as well) and in the time it takes you to enjoy it, the person at the next table has scoffed a full plate of food and left?

To watch some people eating you wouldn’t think that food was fun at all, they approach it with all the determination of a builder shoveling sand and cement into a concrete mixer, ramming in as much as possible in just a few minutes.

But – shock news here – eating isn’t a race. We don’t have to eat a certain amount at set times, or graze at every opportunity. Maybe we should all try listening to our bodies a bit more; we’re more likely to take pleasure from food if we eat it slowly so that we can really taste each mouthful and be satisfied. Then our stomachs can have a chance to catch up and say “whoa, enough already” to our brains. And we’ll probably eat a bit less as well, which is all good for our waistlines.

Good table manners, apart from making us look a bit more civilized, help to slow down the journey of our food from mouth to stomach. It takes time to eat tidily! But it’s time well spent, time that our digestions will thank us for…