One of the perks of living in the UAE is the famous Friday buffet that many hotels offer. With an abundance of fresh food to please any palate, these all-you-can-eat spreads can be a true test of willpower, leaving even the most mindful eater with a glazed look in their eyes and their belt a notch or two looser upon departure. So how does one successfully navigate a bountiful buffet without having to work off the extra calories for the rest of the week? New research shows it goes beyond skipping the obvious calorie traps of fried food, creamy sauces and decadent desserts. Relatively simple tactics can go a long way to keeping you on track - the position of your table, size of your plate and even amount of times you chew your food can determine how much you indulge.
Believe it or not, where you sit in relation to the food can have an influence on how much you eat. It's not rocket science to know that sitting close to a tempting spread makes it easier and quicker to serve yourself more. As they say, out of sight, out of mind. If you sit in a booth, or with your back to the food you'll probably consume less. Study findings released last year in the journal Obesity found that people with a healthy weight were twice as likely to sit at a booth, and 15 per cent less likely to sit facing the food compared to those who were obese. What's more, at the end of the meal, people with a healthy weight had not finish everything on their plate and left more than 10 per cent - twice as much as obese diners.
So, first of all, try to score a booth. Then, before you reach for a plate, take look to see what you really want to eat. This strategy is all about choosing wisely. Apparently 71 per cent of people of a healthy weight browse a buffet before serving themselves, compared to only 33 per cent of obese people. Showing up hungry is a sure-fire way to overindulge, even if you had the best of intentions. For your first plate, fill it with fresh fruit, vegetables and salads. Low in calories and loaded with fibre, they can take the edge off your hunger and allow you to make choices that aren't based on impulse. The journal Appetite found that having soup before a meal can significantly reduce the likelihood of overindulgence. In a study it conducted, people who opted for a soup starter consumed on average 20 per cent fewer calories with their meal and didn't report feeling any less full at the end. For the most benefit, skip cream-based recipes and opt for broths containing vegetables, beans and lentils.
Once you have browsed and taken the edge off your hunger with a soup or salad, it's time for the main course. Here's where things get tricky. Despite wanting to make the most of your visit to the buffet, swap the dinner plate for a smaller lunch or salad plate. People rely on visual cues when determining how much to eat; large plates mean overgenerous portions and more calories. One study found that when participants were eating from soup bowls that were being discretely refilled without them knowing, they consumed 73 per cent more, yet didn't believe they had eaten more, nor did they perceive themselves to be any more full than those eating a single bowl. Stick to a smaller plate, and even if you make numerous trips to refill it, you'll most likely consume less overall.
You may have excellent hand-eye co-ordination when it comes to getting all that food into your mouth, but eye-stomach co-ordination is less refined. It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to send a signal to your brain to let it know it's full. Tempted with so many tasty dishes, a lot of food can be eaten in this time, so it's best to take it slow, and chew - a lot. The Obesity study found that thinner people tended to chew each bite 15 times, while obese diners only chewed 12 times. Those extra few chews allow you to savour your food and give your stomach a chance to let your brain know when it's time to stop.