Where you are influences how much food you consume, says Geeta Padmanabhan going on to pinpoint the places to avoid when hunger strikes

“A small experiment,” says Smita, 35, biting into murukkus. “Over a week, I monitored my eating habits carefully. I was eating dinner, like all of us, at the dining table, in the kitchen and in front of the TV. I discovered it made a difference.” In what? “In how much I ate.” She put down the details. The conclusion was clear: it is not just how much and what kind, where you eat too makes a significant difference to your weight. A samosa is a samosa in the kitchen or the living room, you'll argue. Is it? Are there places to avoid when hunger strikes?

“Absolutely,” says consultant dietician Sheila Swarnakumari. “At home, you tend to be a disciplined eater while a restaurant visit is time for binging.” She certainly isn't suggesting you stay off restaurants of all sizes and specialisation. “The frequency must be considered. Indulge, but not often.”

Meal zones

We discussed the meal zones at home. The sofa in front of the TV set is a “no zone” she says. You eat mindlessly, engrossed in what is on the screen, not what is on the plate. Is it more, or less? There's no check. You pay little attention to what's going in. Research has shown you can't estimate accurately how many calories go in when you eat while watching TV, and people eat approximately 40 per cent more food than when they eat at the table. Elementary school kids eat almost 20 per cent of their daily calories in front of the TV, and that can't be good. Admit it, don't you keep eating till the show is over, and not stop even when you're no longer hungry?

“The kitchen isn't the ideal place to have a snack or a meal either, especially if you do the cooking,” she says. You could exceed the amount needed while “tasting”. Research shows we tend to grab what we see. If bajjis are coming off the oil in golden rounds, why would you go for a dried fruit in the cabinet? There is temptation to bite off mouthfuls of packed foods pulled off the pantry or fridge, with no idea of how much we gobble.

Do you carry baby chocolates to the bedroom? Wrong companion. Fried, fatty/spicy/sugary food and caffeine rob you of uninterrupted sleep. They mess up the sheets, stick to your clothes and invite bugs. You can't sleep, so what do you do? Go for more snacks, which spoil deep sleep and so... well, it is a nasty cycle. Your work station is as bad. Eating here is to prove you can multi-task, save time and meet deadlines. You'll be the star performer, maybe, and get paid more, but only after you pay a price. You can't remember if you ate more or less, not sure if you feel full. You eat at odd times, and swallow whatever is in the box or on the plate. Working and eating just don't go together.

Smita confesses she also “picks from my kid's plate.” It's not really a meal, so does it count? Yes, it does. Why would you eat when you are not hungry? How do you know you are not adding to your daily intake? Don't let temptation and a sense of guilt determine your calorie requirement. Hunger and need should be the judges here. The car, of course, is a total no-zone. You bite into a sandwich or nibble on pizza pieces, slug down a drink while steering with one hand. You are watching the GPS, and the phone buzzes. Do you know how much you are eating, and what? Most on-the-go choices are high-calorie packs. Not to mention how dangerous eating while driving is.

“Sit at the table and concentrate on what you are putting in,” is nutritionist Sheila's advice. “Eating anywhere you feel like is an abused habit.” Find the right posture to eat, she says, not the way you chomp while bending over the phablet. See that you get your “Rainbow” meal of “fighter nutrients”, chew well and eat calmly. Bad posture affects digestion, gulping down food could lead to choking. The food you have chosen to eat is worth this attention, you are worth the attention.

Dos and Don'ts

- Turn off TV, sit at a table, and enjoy the meal with family. If TV is a must, choose a healthy, portioned snack.

- Keep off your kids' plates. What are you teaching them?

- Take a break, put work aside, focus entirely on the meal. An unsatisfying lunch will keep you hungry all day, make you less productive.

- When you eat, put all distractions away. Concentrate on what you eat.

- Have to eat on the go? Always choose fruit.

- Store food in small portions. My sevai gets packed in small boxes, fruits are stacked at eye-level.

- Peckish at night? It could mean lack of nourishment during the day.