Between texting, “liking,” and tweeting—and everything else we do to keep our minds off what we’re supposed to be doing—it’s not surprising that the American multitasking lifestyle is wreaking havoc on our diets and waistlines.
It’s well known that people who log the most screen time (whether on TV, computers, or smartphones) are at higher risk for health problems. New research is showing it’s not necessarily due to a lack of exercise, as most of us may think. Research suggests that sedentary Web and channel surfers are at risk for being overweight because they eat while doing these other activities.
“Eating while doing something else is like speaking to someone on the phone who you know is doing something else at the same time,” explains Evelyn Tribole, a registered dietitian and co-author of Intuitive Eating. “They’re not really present with you, and it’s not a very satisfying conversation.” When the mind is not present while eating, it will keep sending signals to fill up.
Recent studies are shedding light on what happens when the brain is distracted while we eat, and how that impacts our overall calorie intake and satisfaction. The results suggest that eating while doing something else—whether it’s reading, watching TV, playing a computer game, or watching a movie—leads to less satisfaction with eating, eating too much later, and issues with managing your waistline.
A recent study tested these effects. The researchers measured consumption at the test meal (eaten while playing a computer card game) and on a subsequent snack. Their results found that distracted eaters ate up to 100% more after the meal, and that eating while watching TV increased subsequent snack intake by 20% to 100%. Distracted eaters also reported being less satisfied and had significantly more trouble remembering what they ate.
Tribole counsels patients to be more mindful when eating. She suggests adopting the following habits.
Do nothing during mealtime—except eat. If you’re consumed with multitasking, start by eating dinner without the TV on and without any electronics at the table. Keep a mental note about what you ate and when you ate it, as research shows that the more mindful we are of what we eat, the less we’ll eat overall. When we eat with our minds racing, we naturally eat more.
Learn that doing nothing is OK. This is contrary to our “must-always-be-busy” American way, but research shows that people are less satisfied now than ever before; constant distractions may be eroding our overall quality of life. Tribole suggests having a day (or hour) that you literally unplug, meaning no access to email or anything else distracting.
Find pleasure in food and mealtime. Make meal and snack times your chill time and don’t let other things disrupt you. Doing this will make your food seem more special and, in the end, you’ll be more satisfied and less likely to overeat later in the day.