Eating more slowly may be the key to losing weight - along with cutting out after dinner snacks and not eating two hours before bedtime, according to a new study.
Researchers discovered that slowing down the speed at which you eat, as well as putting late suppers and midnight feasts to bed help to shed the pounds.
Their findings, published by the online journal BMJ Open, show that changing these eating habits was strongly associated with lower obesity and weight and smaller waist circumference.
The researchers based their findings on health insurance data for nearly 60,000 people with diabetes In Japan who submitted claims and had regular health check-ups between 2008 and 2013.
The claims included information on the dates of consultations and treatments, while the check-ups included measurements of body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference, and the results of tests for blood chemistry, urine, and liver function.
During the check-ups, the participants were questioned about their lifestyle, including their eating and sleep habits as well as alcohol and tobacco use.
Study author Dr Haruhisa Fukuda, of Kyushu University Graduate School of Medical Sciences in Japan, said: "They were specifically asked about their eating speed, which was categorised as fast, normal, or slow.
"And they were asked whether they did any of the following three or more times a week: eat dinner within two hours of going to sleep; snack after dinner; and skip breakfast."
More than a third of the participants (36.5 per cent) had one check-up over the six years, while just under a third (29.5 per cent) had two. One in five (20 per cent) had three.
At the start of the study, 22,070 people routinely wolfed down their food; 33,455 ate at a normal speed; and 4,192 lingered over every mouthful.
Dr Fukuda said: "The slow eaters tended to be healthier and to have a healthier lifestyle than either the fast or normal speed eaters."
Around half of the total sample - just under 52 per cent - changed their eating speed over the course of the six years.
Dr Fukuda said: "After taking account of potentially influential factors, the results showed that compared with those who tended to gobble up their food, those who ate at a normal speed were 29 per cent less likely to be obese, rising to 42 per cent for those who ate slowly.
"And although absolute reductions in waist circumference - an indicator of a potentially harmful midriff bulge - were small, they were greater among the slow and normal speed eaters.
"Snacking after dinner and eating within two hours of going to sleep three or more times a week were also strongly linked to changes in BMI. But skipping breakfast wasn't."
The researchers pointed out that it was an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, added to which eating speed was based on subjective assessment.
But they said eating quickly has been linked to impaired glucose tolerance and insulin resistance.
Dr Fukuda said: "This is possibly because it may take longer for fast eaters to feel full, whereas this might happen more quickly for slow eaters, helping to curb their calorie intake."
Dr Fukuda added: "Changes in eating habits can affect obesity, BMI, and waist circumference.
"Interventions aimed at reducing eating speed may be effective in preventing obesity and lowering the associated health risks."