How Good Manners Can Help You Slim Down

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Mind your manners, your mother reminded you at the dinner table each night. She was concerned about etiquette, but her affinity for proper decorum also created healthy habits. Good manners can help you make a good impression if you're ever invited to a state dinner, but they'll also help you with your weight-loss efforts.

Here's how:

Eat at the table.
Past generations ate dinner as a family at a table every night, and, it should be noted, they were also remarkably thinner and more active.

Many of us use our dining room table as a dumping ground for keys, coats and clutter (mea culpa) or restrict it to special occasions. Clear the junk, pull out real plates, and have a seat with your family. With no outside distractions, you can focus on eating and spending time with loved ones.

Eating in front of the TV has been linked to weight gain and mindless eating. Commit to eating at a proper table and you might find that you're more cognizant of what's going in your mouth at mealtime.

Read on for nine more tips on that help with weight loss--and one modicum of etiquette that healthy eaters should forget.

Make polite conversation.
Your favorite people are surrounding you, and you have their attention. There is no television, no iPod, no cell phone. Just you, them and food. Put down your fork and talk to your dinner companions. Make eye contact. The table is a great place to catch up.

By taking some time between bites and enjoying a leisurely meal, you allow yourself adequate time to digest.

Sit up straight.
Proper posture matters when you're eating. Maintaining good posture and sitting in a chair helps your body digest food properly. Your digestive system works better when you're in an upright position.

Resist the urge to do as (ancient) Romans. They gorged on food and binged drank wine, all the while lounging around on any horizontal surface they could find. Lying down or lounging might feel more comfortable, but your body prefers to be sitting up.

Use a knife and fork.
Whether you choose American style (alternating the fork between hands) or Continental style (fork in left and knife in right hand throughout the meal), use both your knife and your fork. Using both utensils requires a bit more effort with each bite. You'll also control the size of the bites you take and likely increase the number of bites, therefore giving your body more time to realize that it's full. It's hard to eat with a knife and a fork when you're not at a table, reinforcing another good eating habit.

Resist the urge to eat with a spoon to expedite your meal. Even with rice, small pasta, mashed potatoes, etc., use a fork to control the size of your bites. Leave spoons for soup, yogurt and the occasional bowl of ice cream.

Cut only one bite at a time.
Though it might seem easier to cut your entire steak or plate of pasta at the beginning of the meal, don't. By breaking up that large hunk of meat or slice of lasagna into bite-size pieces, it's harder to judge how much you've eaten, especially if you've been served gargantuan portions at a restaurant. Never take a bite that is larger than your mouth. If you have to cram in a bite of food, it's too big. The rule applies to salad, too. If you pick up a forkful of greens that are too big for your mouth, use your knife to fold or cut them. (Follow the lead of the French, who always fold, never cut lettuce.)

Put your fork down between bites.
Most meals are about more than eating and drinking. They're about spending time with friends and family, catching up on their lives and enjoying the experience and environment as much as the food and drinks. Never resting your fork means you're eating too fast, depriving your brain of the time it needs to receive the message from your stomach that you're no longer hungry.

Keep a full water glass at the table.
Drinking water between bites helps aid digestion and is another way to stall your stomach so your brain can catch up. A small sip of water between bites is a great way to get in some of your eight cups a day.

Swallow food, then drink.
If you have to wash down food with an immediate gulp of a beverage, you're eating too fast. You're also diluting the flavor of your food. Stick with small sips between bites. Just as eating too quickly can cause indigestion, so can drinking too much too fast.

Don't talk with your mouth full.
Conversation is important, but wait until you have swallowed your food to start talking. It's better to create silence while you chew and swallow than to give a garbled answer because you're talking around a mouthful of chicken. Eating while carrying on a conversation makes it easier to wind up overindulging.

Close your mouth when you chew.
When you chew with your mouth open, you swallow air, which can lead to flatulence and indigestion. Spare your dining companions the "see-food" and save yourself the tummy troubles later.

Don't clean your plate.
Was the "Clean Plate Club" de rigueur at your house? Enforcing clean plates forces us to eat a specific amount, regardless of whether we're still hungry. When we focus on whether the plate is empty rather than whether our stomachs are full, we lose touch with the sensations of hunger and satiety. Worried about wasting food? Serve smaller portions and save leftovers for omelets or stir-fries the next day.

Are you guilty of any of these dining faux pas? We don't always eat at the table, but I use a knife and fork for almost everything--even pizza! (I don't like greasy fingers when I eat.)

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Amazing article, we try to have Dinner together as a family at the table. We take our time to eat, and talk about everything. Report
I'm with you on everything except the clean plate club. I have traveled to a part of the world where having enough to eat is really a luxury and I can't bear to waste food. The key is putting small amounts on a small plate and going back for seconds, rather than trying to guess the right amount first time. Report
As a nurse, it's really hard some days to eat a nicely paced meal. At home, I really try to sit down with my husband, eat slowly, talk, and avoid the TV. Does it always work? No. But as a former clean plater, that's been the hardest thing-that it's okay to not eat everything served. Report
All good - we need to work on conversation at our dinner table. We all sit to eat at the table at least for every dinner, but with 2 teens the conversation leaves much to be desired...will keep working on it! Report
I especially liked the link about folding lettuce. I have never heard of that and will try it next time. Cutting little bites one at a time is a great way to slow down. Michael Pollan- InDefense of Food- suggests that how you eat is as important as what you eat. Wonderful advice to absorb as I move forward to a healthier lifestyle. Report
Good manners was mandatory in our house of 6 children... Clean plate club was also... In order to stay in the clean plate club I just put less food on my plate. Report
I was born and raised a member of the clean plate club. We were taught not to waste any food. So now, I have to really make a conscious effort to leave a little food on my plate or order smaller portions to start with. It really does make a difference. Report
After my parents were apart, we seldom ate at the table, unless we had company or we were at someone else's house. I think it would have been better because of the weight, (we always ate in front of the tv) and we never talked. The two girls of my sister haven't ever had any of their lives were they ate at the table. Besides the manners that are learned, the talking that is done, the eating that is controlled better, one thing is the prayers that are said expressing the gratitude to God for the food that we have. There are lots of reasons why it would be better to eat at the table. When we ate at the table we fixed meals. My sister's girls, I don't know about one of them, the other lives with us, and she has done little to no cooking either, she can read and follow directions on packages but it isn't the same as cooking meals with Mother. I made an Easter cake with her every year but that isn't much compared to really cooking dinner every night. Report
I still have a habit of cleaning my plate, but I have been using smaller plates and reducing my portion size. This way, even though I eat everything on my plate, I've already limited what's available to me. And I often eat on the floor or on the couch while watching TV, so it would be beneficial for me to move to the table for meals. Report
Hi Stepfanie,

Thanks for sharing! As both a mathematically minded person and an enthusiastic SparkPeople member, I cannot help but wonder if there is a correlation between the cited link found between eating in front of the TV and weight gain (and mindless eating) and that of eating in front of the computer and similar results (i.e. weight gain and mindless eating)??? I am quite confident that I am not the only “Sparker” out there who enjoys snack or eats a meal while perusing the pages of
My nan was a single parent to 7 children and times were hard for her. She taught her children that not finishing food was wasteful and when my mum had me and my brother she passed it on to us although her portion sizes left little to be desired. For example, our plates would contain 5 pieces of chicken, chips and a salad big enough to feed an army. An hour after dinner she would then give us cake for dessert and later bring out crisps and biscuits to eat in front of the t.v. I now live alone and although I try to regulate my portion sizes and snacks it is a very hard habit to break. Report
This is a great way to think about this - thanks for this. Report
I'm so good at cleaning my plate - I should get an Olympic medal for it! I do try very hard to portion control in the first place but it's really tough in a restaurant. Report
I don't think I'd enjoy dining with this dude in the picture who's eating spaghetti ;) Report
It's true that growing up we were taught to clean our plates. It's always been part of my family's southern culture, & it's something that has followed me into adulthood. Like JANETTS57 said, if I'm having a restaurant meal that I know will be too much food for one sitting, I'll split it up & save some for later. This is a good way to eat less & it saves money - sometimes I'm able to get 3 meals from one restaurant serving! Report
Very good information. Anything to help me eat less is good! Report
One way that I eat slower and take small bites is by using chop sticks, it's also a good find motor skill! Report
A friend of mine likes to go out to eat when we get together (a few times a month). As we both are physically disabled, sitting in a restaurant gives us quality, face-to-face time together. At first, I was concerned that these meals out would become too much for me (too many calories and unhealthy choices, but mostly too much temptation, leading to a rebound-binge).
HOWEVER, I always leave the restaurant feeling completely satiated! Despite healthy choices and no extras, I often don't even finish my meal. Now I understand, it must be the wonderful conversation we share that makes this eating experience so different than my usual! Report
guilty glutton over here Report
I am guilty of sitting in front of the TV and not being able to find my dining room table under all the junk. My husband sits at the table and he is considerably thinner than I am. I think I may have to find the rest of that table. Report
Ah...I am guilty of the shove it in the mouth and a few others. I work as a Respiratory Therapist at a hospital and we don't gave covered lunches, so we are always available if someone needs us. We often times start to eat and get called away multiple times which leads to shoveling in the food when we can. It's a survival technique really. Otherwise you go hungry and never get any food.
My husband grew up in a family where if you didn't eat everything you dished up, you didn't get dinner the next night. So he is now able to eat very large portions in one sitting. He is working on it, but is feeling some hunger pains because he doesn't eat many vegetables to help fill the plate. Report
Ah, yes. When I was young we ate our supper together. (Breakfast was not together since we all left the house at different times, and lunch was at school.) I do remember the clean plate thing, but since we served ourselves, rather than having a loaded plate put in front of us, we were advised to take no more than was comfortable to eat.

As for sneezing into the crook of an elbow, that is not possible for some older people who do not have shoulder flexibility and can't get that elbow to their mouth. So handwashing or antiseptic wipes are advisable! Report
We do eat at the table for every meal. And the table manners and etiquette I remember my mother teaching me, I am trying to pass on to my step sons. Not an easy task at times. ;) Report
I honestly am guilty about eating everything on the plate. I guess that's how we were raised: that leaving food on the plate is like wasting money or "not appreciating the hard work the farmers had done to bring food on your plate."

Now I have to "force" myself into getting smaller portions into my plate. Report
Good article. When we were growing up, my mother was a clean plate mom. She would say if we did not eat all of our food, we would have to eat it the next day. My brother and sister both were skinny and never ate all of there food. I ate my food and probably there leftovers too. I did not desire to eat the same food the next day. I was also given a plate suitable for a grown man, her boyfriend, and that is how she always fixed my plate. I will not blame her for me being over weight since 4th grade. I take responsibility for my own actions. I could have easy joined in with my brother and sister, but there was just the fact that I was not a picky eater as they were. My overeating started that way.

I am learning to chew my food slowly, counting, and I do put my fork down, but not after every bite. I am so used to eating with a spoon; the idea to eat with a fork is great. I still feel uncomfortable eating out in formal settings. Wondering who is watching my eating habits. I also have to watch the not eating at the table habit. My young adult children both work most nights and we do not get to eat together often.

This blog was very informative. Thanks for more like it! Report
Great article! I am one of those with a messy table full of mail, newspapers, keys, etc. I'm working on breaking the habit of eating in front on the TV...this was a great motivator. I also get confused as to whether drinking H2O with a meal is good for digestion or bad...this set the record straight. I LOVED the French idea of folding their lettuce. The French have made an absolute art form out of relaxing & enjoying life & friends. Loved it! Report
I need toget the table thing working for us! most of the chairs are in need of repair so if I do that rather than munch on something I can burn calories and get us to the table. Tha's a two'fer! Report
In my house the only time we have to sit down as a family is supper. Even on the weekends. Thats the time when we all are together and talking about each others day, what happened at work/school. And when I see one of my kids with bad table manners I try to correct it before it becomes a bad habit. So all in all I'd say were not doing all that bad with our table manners. Report
OMG..... don't even get me started on table manners!! I have 4 boys (11,9,9,5)...... need I say more?!? Report
We need a page on Manners not just at the dinner table.
I hate when people chew gum and have to pop it all the time and chew with their mouth open. They look like Cows chewing their cud.
And when they sneeze they do it in their hand and never go wash. If you have to sneeze do it where your elbow bends. There are a lot of manners we need to review again.

Also a good one is to chew your food 15 times and enjoy what you are eating

So this article was great do more on manners
UGH the "Clean Plate Club!" My mom never did it, but my stepmother did. It gives me some satisfaction today to know that she was wrong all along! Report
I heard my mother's voice in my head as I read this article, reminding me to "Sit up straight" and "Don't talk with your mouth full." Everything in the article was good advice, but I would have difficulty with drinking water after each bite and chasing after the last little bit of rice with a fork. Report
Good advice. Report
I don’t use hardly any of these practices consistently anymore, if I ever really did… except for chewing with my mouth closed. No problem there… but they all seem good advice to me. Except of using a knife on pizza of course, it’s possible to carry things too far after all. ;)

Everything is so rushed anymore though, and seems only to be getting worse as I try to cram more and more into my day.

Truth is, I’d prefer not to eat at the table much of the time but I do eat less usually whenever I do. It’s obviously much easier to maintain mindfulness when your not clacking away at a computer or watching the tube.

This is a good reminder… and I need to use every trick I can to remember to slow the pace and keep the focus on a healthy lifestyle.

I have terrible posture at the table and at the computer. How to gain good poster at 43 I don’t know. I slump and lean and wriggle all over the place trying to stay comfortable. I just don’t pay enough attention to it on the whole I guess, of course losing weight will help when it comes to it.
I once dated a guy who ate everything like it was his last meal on the planet .... it was like watching a feral animal inhale garbage it had found ... it was SO bad so that was the end of that ... so I set him up with one of my sisters (whose manners are just as bad) and they got along famously.
(yes, both are still as over-weight to this day and are both still binge-eaters!) Report
Good Advice, time to get back to basics. Thank You for Sharing! Report
I like the idea of having the knife and fork in your hands, not using a spoon to speed of the eating, [which I have been guilty of] and conversation which allows the food to cool down and become less appealing. Report
These are such basic suggestions and so often ignored. Thank you for reminding me! Report
Too often we forget our manners...and forget that others are watching us. I'm reminded of a potluck luncheon at work when someone ate like the proverbial pig and others just stared with dropped jaws. Good article to remind us. Report
We eat at the table but all of us are reading something
newspaper or books or magazines
nobody is interacting with each other
and while eating ur attention is on the reading so mindless eating
We are just as guilty as anyone, but this is my goal for the new year is to use a table for meals, no food in the living room.

Shiela Report
Really good points, very well explained.
My family is certainly guilty of not eating at the table unless it's a special occasion. This is something that needs to change in my house. Report
Good Points that I've not always adhered too. I'll work on some of them Report
this is great.. i tell my kids this kind of think all the time.. my son will fork up meat and just take bites that way i tell him that it is rude to do this and to cut up his meat .. he is 14 and know it all LOL.. he will be going to australia this summer with people to people and he need manners to go with it.. I cut up my 8 year old meat for her.. My 12 year old does a good job.. It is gross at best to see some one eat like it is there last meal... When my kid's were little i taught them how to eat with manners.. I sure hope that they do this at there friend houses.. the manner thing just respect to the family.. we eat at are table no tv no phone calls .. I tell my kids that it is rude to call some one or to be on the phone when we are eating.. I got a phone call form a friend and took it at dinner and my 12 year old told me that it was rude of me .. It was my boss.. So what do you do.. Took the call and told my daught that it was rude but i had to find out what he need LOL I guess it did sink in .. LOL Report
Loved the article. Lots of good reminders, for sure. I think JEANNIEPEP is missing the point of the article, which is SLOW DOWN while you eat. It CAN help, and is not the ONLY thing you can do to lose weight, but definitely it has an impact. I can attest to this, having had gastric bypass. I cannot eat fast, cannot drink with my meals, and cannot eat large bites. All of this (along with good nutrition, portion control, and exercise) has helped me lose 220 pounds! Report
OMGOSH!!! I have completely forgotten my manners!!! No wonder my kids don't have any either! They are 17, 14, and 8, maybe it's not too late??? Report
Interesting about the French and lettuce. Never knew that! I need to find a YouTube video on how to fold lettuce. Report
I think that sometimes we take the idea that we know to do these things for granted instead of watching to see if we do what we know. I think that being more aware of what you are doing helps. Report
We eat dinner at the kitchen table every evening. It is our time to come together as a family and share about our day. Great time to find out what is up with the kids, both at school and socially. They ask me about my day too, which I love. Just one more benefit. And the one about putting your fork down between bites, so that I can feel full/satisfied without eating as much, is one I am concentrating on. These are great reminders. Thanks. Report
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