The music you listen to at meal times can affect the type of food you eat. That’s the finding of a new study from Aarhus University in Denmark, which compared food choices when people listened to different types of music.
One group heard slow music, the other a fast, less harmonious composition played in a minor key, known to trigger emotions such as sadness or suspense.
Writing in the journal Appetite, the researchers report the slow-music group was more likely to pick healthier foods.
Perhaps because the group wasn’t distracted by, or experiencing, negative emotions from the music, they gave more consideration to better food choices.
The music you listen to at meal times can affect the type of food you eat. That’s the finding of a new study from Aarhus University in Denmark, which compared food choices when people listened to different types of music
This is not the first time noise has been shown to affect what we eat.
In 2013 researchers at the University of Birmingham analysed 24 studies into the effects of distraction by noise and visual stimuli such as television and found that not only do we eat more food at a meal when we’re distracted, we eat more at the next one, too.
It’s thought this is because when deciding what to eat at a meal, we subconsciously factor in consumption at the last one, too, balancing our intake.
But if we’re distracted, our recall of the last meal isn’t so strong and our internal balancing system doesn’t work as well.
In fact, some experts say any music — or other disturbing noise such as the TV or conversation — should be avoided at meal times, and suggest it is an effective tool for controlling food consumption.
In New York, a movement to start the day with a silent breakfast at home gained momentum as a way to cope with the stress of the pandemic.
In fact, some experts say any music — or other disturbing noise such as the TV or conversation — should be avoided at meal times, and suggest it is an effective tool for controlling food consumption
Meanwhile, ‘mindful eating’ (part of which is focusing on eating slowly, without interruption) is listed in Germany’s national dietary guidelines as a way to approach all meals and snacks. But how does eating in silence help you?
‘Quite simply, it reduces distractions that can promote over-consumption and potentially increases enjoyment of the meal,’ says Professor Jason Halford, a specialist in psychology and obesity, at the University of Leeds. It also triggers a phenomenon dubbed ‘the crunch effect’ by researchers, who believe that hearing yourself eat noisy foods encourages you to slow down your eating.
The term was coined in 2016 by scientists at Colorado State University in the U.S., who found that people ate 31 per cent fewer pretzels when they could hear themselves eating.
‘We think the sound of crunching creates natural ‘pause points’, a moment during eating when the consumer becomes more aware of their behaviour and may consider the amount of food they have consumed,’ study co-author Professor Gina Slejko told Good Health. As a result, they may then slow down or stop eating.
Silent eating can also focus your attention on taste.
‘We’ve had people in our mindful eating workshops who have eaten the same type of sandwich for lunch for 20 years realise they don’t actually like it after eating it more mindfully, i.e. more slowly and thinking about how the food tastes, smells and feels,’ says psychologist Christine Wade-Ramsey, from the Centre for Appearance Research at the University of West England, Bristol.
‘Others realise it’s the first bites of a chocolate bar they enjoy most and so they don’t need the whole bar. Focusing attention on taste and enjoyment also helps you realise feeling full and feeling satisfied are not the same thing. This can change what you consume.’
And there’s another reason to adopt quiet consumption.
A study published last November in the Korean Journal of Medical Science found that talking loudly in indoor spaces was linked to greater transmission of Covid-19.
But total silence may not work for all. ‘It can be particularly difficult for people who use food to hide or distract them from their feelings,’ says Christine Wade-Ramsey.
She suggests that sitting in silence may force them to dwell on these feelings, and says ‘it can be harder than you think because we’re just not used to sitting quietly without distractions’.
So if you do find it hard to sit in silence, try playing quiet background music as you eat, but make sure it has a slow beat.
This is because your body tends to match the beat of the music and chewing slowly can give your body time to register satiety.
‘If you don’t want to spend your whole meal in silence, focus on just eating the first five bites of your meal without speaking but paying attention to everything about the food instead,’ suggests Christine Wade-Ramsey.
You could then progress to a silent meal a day or even a week. ‘It will feel strange at first, but it’s a skill you can relearn,’ she adds.
It might help you to regain appetite control, and if nothing else, you may enjoy your food more.