Do you remember dinner time when you were a child?
You probably used to sit at the dinner table with the rest of your family, waiting patiently as your parents put the food on the table.
You then all started eating, enjoying light conversations about your day, school, etc.
Today however, most people are "eating while distracted".
At lunch, you're eating at your desk, with one hand holding a fork while the other holds the mouse on your computer.
Chances are that you don't even remember what that lunch tasted like: your mind was focused elsewhere, and the flavour of the food didn't really "register".
At dinner, you're sitting in front of the TV, eating while catching up on the news or the latest episode of Games of Thrones.
Well it turns out that this may be exactly the reason why you're struggling to control your calories and lose weight.
Eating when distracted leads to higher calorie consumption, among other things
As this study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition illustrates: "attentive eating is likely to influence food intake".
The study came out with 2 clear conclusions:
- Being distracted during a meal resulted in people eating more during that meal.
- While being attentive during the meal resulted in an overall lower consumption.
In other words: slow down, be aware of what you're eating, savour each bite, and you'll end up not just enjoying your meal better, but you will also eat less food.
Why is that the case?
It takes on average around 20min for your brain to receive the message from your stomach that "you are full".
If you're distracted during those 20min, you're likely to continue to eat, unaware of the fact that you're now "beyond the hunger satisfaction" level of food.
There is also another element: when you're multitasking while eating, your brain doesn't "consolidate the memory of that meal": in other words, you're likely to get hungry again sooner because the memory of your previous meal is weak and distant.
2 other drawbacks of "distracted eating"
You don't chew enough
When you're distracted, you tend to chew less.
As a result, you (i) don't fully activate your digestive enzymes to break down the food you're eating, and (ii) you increase the stress on your digestive system, which has to deal with food that hasn't been fully broken down by your teeth and salivary enzymes (enzymes in your mouth) first.
You eat more "crappy" food
Eating when distracted means you're not focusing on (i) the taste of the food, and (ii) how it makes you feel.
(i) When you slow down and focus on the taste of every bite, you become more "picky" about the flavour and quality of the food you're eating, you become more "aware" of how it tastes. You will naturally reject "low quality food", which of course leads to a number of health benefits (in addition to overall satisfaction as well).
(ii) I can guarantee you this: slow down when eating that Big Mac and you'll start feeling the "sweats", "increase in blood pressure", "mental fogginess" and "digestive stress" well before you're done eating it. As you become "aware" of those "symptoms", you will naturally stop yourself from eating the whole thing and making yourself feel even more terrible.
Some tips for mindful eating
- Start with 5min of "zero distractions" on your next meal, and gradually increase the time.
- Increase the number of times your chew and focus on the flavour of what you're eating.
- Take smaller bites.
- Try to describe to your meal partner (or to yourself) how the food tastes and how it made you feel (physically, mentally).
- Try to be aware of the point during the meal when "you're no longer hungry".
- Avoid drinking (even water) while you're eating. Water dilutes your digestive enzymes and forces your digestive system to work harder to compensate.