For those who find it hard to resist the biscuit tin, a simple tip could help.
To eat fewer biscuits, write a short description of the last meal you ate – because remembering the feeling of fullness may help to rein in snacking.
The finding comes from a study of 77 people, aged 18 to 73, who were invited to eat chocolate chip cookies, digestives and chocolate fingers.
Those asked to write about their last meal, including its ingredients, ate about half a biscuit less and consumed 70 fewer calories.
This was compared to biscuit consumption after remembering a meal the previous day – which worked much less well – and after describing the last meal in greater detail, which actually increased biscuit consumption.
The finding comes from a study of 77 people, aged 18 to 73, who were invited to eat chocolate chip cookies, digestives and chocolate fingers
Joanna Szypula, who led the Cambridge University study, advised people to ‘avoid mindless eating, despite the temptation’.
She added: ‘If they reflect on what they have eaten previously, they could become more aware of signals from their body that they are full.’
A group of people in the study were asked to write about what they had for breakfast or lunch that day, including the amount of food and the meal’s ingredients, in at least 30 characters.
Then they were told to do a ‘taste test’ of three types of biscuits, rating features such as their sweetness and crunchiness.
The taste test was a ruse, so that people did not realise the number of biscuits they ate was being measured.
But they were told to take as many as they liked, because the snacks would be thrown away after the experiment.
The results show people ate 14 per cent fewer biscuits after writing a short description of their previous meal.
Over the ten-minute experiment, they ate about nine grams less of the biscuits, which is a reduction of 70 calories. The volunteers had been given 300 grams (about 10oz) of biscuits, broken into pieces.
In the real world, that means someone using the tactic would eat about half a biscuit less from the tin.
The decrease in snacking was compared to when the same people repeated the experiment, but instead wrote a description of breakfast or lunch the previous day.
The Cambridge University (pictured) study found that when writing a brief description of the meal you ate decreased how many biscuits you ate. But when asked to write a detailed description of their last meal, people ate more biscuits
Those writing down a short description of their most recent meal, ate almost 54 grams of biscuits on average, compared with almost 63 grams when describing yesterday’s meal.
The study also tried another tactic, asking people to describe their last meal in greater detail.
This meant answering ten questions, including where they had the meal, who they were with, and questions about the food’s texture, taste and predominant flavour.
But people actually increased their snacking by about half a biscuit after writing this detailed description of their last meal, compared to one the day before.
This result suggests thinking too much, for too long, about a meal, and the specific types of food it contained, may just make you hungry again.
Instead, people recalling a meal to stop them snacking should do so briefly to regain the feeling of fullness.
The ‘meal-recall effect’ was found to cut people’s snacking regardless of their levels of willpower or attitude towards dieting.