Is Distracted Eating Sabotaging Your Health?

How often do you sit down at a table with no distractions and chew your food thoroughly? Or take a proper lunch break at work? In today’s hyper-connected world it’s important to get back to basics not only with your food choices, but also in how you consume your meals.

You might thoughtfully prepare your own lunch and pack healthy snack foods, but do you end up snacking throughout the day at your desk – mindlessly eating nuts, energy bars or fruit despite not actually being hungry? Or perhaps at the end of a long day you relax on the couch and find yourself pecking on even more snacks.

According to the latest studies, 28% of American employees don’t take a break for lunch, while 39% break for lunch but choose to stay at their desks.1 After work, things don’t seem to get better as two out of three people eat dinner in front of the television.2

Should this be a concern? Does distracted eating – e.g. having lunch or snacking while working on your laptop – negatively impact your waistline and overall health? Let’s take a look at the research.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recently reported their findings of a meta-analysis of 24 well-designed studies and the results were eye-opening. People who eat distracted by laptop or TV were more likely to over-eat at mealtime and much more likely to have a bigger following meal or snack.3Interestingly, the memory patients’ had of their previous meal also greatly influenced their behavior in subsequent meals. The better their memory – or less distracted – the smaller the size of their subsequent meal.

So, it looks like not being “present” or “mindful” when you eat can negatively impact your waistline and your health. What can you do about it?

From an evolutionary point of view, our Paleo ancestors didn’t have TVs, smartphones and the countless artificial stimuli that distract us at mealtimes today. It was virtually impossible to be a distracted eater. They also went longer periods of time without eating anything, which contrasts the common tendency to constantly snack at the office.

Here are five quick tips to help curb distracted eating so you can look, feel, and perform your best at work or in the gym.

1. Make The Time To Eat

In today’s 24/7 society, constantly eating your breakfast on the run or lunch while working at your desk seems inevitable. The reality is you need to make the time to eat. Skipping meals and eating at your desk inevitably compromises your cognitive function and ability to perform quality work. You don’t necessarily need to carve out a full hour for lunch, but even 10-30 minutes at a table away from work will go a long way.

2. Get Off Your Phone or Laptop

Monitoring your phone and email or doing any number of other tasks while eating negatively affects your digestion and hunger hormones. Eating while working shunts blood away from your digestive organs, compromising your ability to digest your meal. It also blunts the release of satiety hormones, leading to greater cravings and more frequent snacking throughout the day.

3. Take A Break From Mindless Snacking

I often hear clients say they like to snack on nuts or fruit at their desk during the day. When I ask them if they are actually hungry, the majority aren’t exactly sure. While snacking at your desk can sometimes be a healthy option, watch out you aren’t mindlessly knocking back handfuls of nuts or snack bars throughout the day.

Recently, the British Journal of Nutrition found that eating ‘attentively’ at mealtime reduced mindless snacking by 30%.4  Try two weeks without snacks during the workday; if you need a replacement try increasing your water intake or adding some herbal teas to help make it to your next meal.

4. Chew Your Food

For many people eating at a desk during the day and in front of the TV or a laptop at night has become the norm. This is not how we were designed to eat. With so many distractions and lack of attention on chewing your food, you substantially affect the digestive process and alter the satiety signals sent to your brain.

A randomized cross-over study of 45 normal, overweight, and obese subjects found that increasing the number of chews to 150% and 200% above normal resulted in approximately 10% and 15% reductions in food intake.5 This is a significant finding, so be sure to slow down, chew and enjoy your meals.

5. Curb Late Night Eating

It’s a common scenario: you’ve had a long, busy day at work and finally you have a chance to relax on the couch and watch TV. Despite just finishing your dinner you crave something sweet like ice cream or chocolate to help you unwind. Stress triggers cravings for sweet or salty foods and simple carbohydrates, as your body seeks instant energy sources. The trouble with late night eating is you begin to set a pattern – like Pavlov’s dog – and your brain constantly craves a treat when you sit on the couch and watch TV, just like Pavlov when the bell rings.

A recent study in the journal Nutrition found that watching TV increased the consumption of sugary and salty treats and reduced the intake of fruits and veggies.6 To help curb mindless late night eating, take a break from watching TV for the next few weeks, or swap out your sugary snacks for fruit or herbal teas to help kick the late night cravings.

Make sure you’re truly reaping the nutritious benefits of your food choices and take time to eat. Your behaviors are strongly influenced by your environments. Constantly being on the go, working at a desk all day, and watching TV and laptops all influence your brain and behaviors when it comes to food choices. Bring your focus back to your food, be mindful when eating and chew thoroughly to improve your health and your waistline.

(This article originally appeared @ThePaleoDiet.com)

  Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

 

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REFERENCES

[1]http://money.usnews.com/money/careers/articles/2013/10/09/the-vanishing-lunch-break-2

[2]http://www.statisticbrain.com/television-watching-statistics/

[3]Robinson R et al. Eating attentively: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of food intake memory and awareness on eating1,2,3,4 Am J Clin Nutr April 2013. 97 no. 4 728-742

[4]Robinson E, Kersbergen I, Higgs S. Eating ‘attentively’ reduces later energy consumption in overweight and obese females. Br J Nutr. 2014 Aug 28:112(4):657-61.

[5]Zhu Y, Hllis J. Increasing the number of chews before swallowing reduces meal size in normal-weight, overweight, and obese adults. J Acad Nnutr Diet 2014 Jun;114(6):926-31.

[6]Ramose E et al. Effect of television viewing on food and nutrient intake among adolescents. Nutrition. 2013 Nov-Dec;29(11-12):1362-7.