How Good Manners Can Help You Slim Down

By Stepfanie Romine, for SparkPeople

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.)

Related links:
4 Ways a Famous Food Critic Maintains His Physique
Quick Tip: Eat Slowly When You're in a Group
10 Requests to Add to Your Dining Repertoire editor Stepfanie Romine is a certified yoga teacher and co-author of "The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight." A vegan and runner, she has lived and cooked on three continents.