How many times in your life have you mindlessly destroyed a bag of chips or popcorn while watching a movie or scrolling through your Facebook feed?
What about wings? I'm sure you've been deep in the flow of your favorite team's big game and kept em coming. I mean they're only 50 cents, covered in delicious buffalo sauce, and you'll work them off tomorrow.
Oh and then there is your job. That candy dish at reception has no chance against you. You'll keep going back for more peanut M&Ms, maybe snag some skittles, and oh look a box of Milk Duds.
Does any of this sound like you?
Chances are it does and that is because we are all guilty of mindless eating. Eating is not calculus after all - we can do other things while we do it. Just ask any parent about their eating habits. Once there a few little ones running around to worry about, then all bets are off; they'll eat when they can.
As we continue to fret about the busy nature of our days it has become normal for us to multitask while we eat. But we shouldn't. Most importantly, we shouldn't be doing it while tied to a screen. Seriously, you shouldn't be eating your meals while preoccupied by the addictive nature of digital content.
your brain all day, everyday, why would you eat during this?
This isn't an isolated incident either. It happens all day. We eat breakfast while we scroll our phone for the latest news, gossip, or political fodder. We make our way into our jobs and often end up so swamped with tasks that we choose to work through lunch - once again eating in front of our screen. Then, once at home there is no family element of eating, thus leaving you to consume your dinner was you watch your favorite TV show.
Some of you might even be eating as you read this...
Lord knows I've done it, and at times, still do it. It is not uncommon in the day of a trainer to only have a half hour between a large block of clients. We need to eat, but we also need to send out some emails and answer texts - so we multitask.
And I'm still guilty of coming home after a long day and eating dinner while watching Shark Tank. We don't have a kitchen table in our apartment and I hate sitting at the little bar counter because I stare directly at the closet door. It just drives me nuts.
But as of late I've made a more concerted effort to eat meals there or to eat all meals with the TV off regardless of what I'm doing. It is paying off. I don't have as many digestive issues and I am more aware of my eating speed and calorie consumption.
But this isn't about me...
This is about why you shouldn't be eating while viewing a screen of any form.
The primary reason this is a problem is due to the fact that you effectively make eating a subconscious activity when it should always remain a primary one. This behavior has an impact on how your brain processes its hunger and satiety cues, the amount of blood flow dedicated to digestion, and even the flow of hormones in and out of the gut.
The biggest problem, at least in terms of your body weight, is when you become preoccupied by a screen while eating something for which you have multiple servings of. Hence, the bag of chips image from the beginning of this blog. Instead of eating a few handfuls and moving on you'll end up working all the way through the bag because you do not even realize your eating.
Can't you see how this causes a problem?
You are actively ingesting calories and not even realizing it. The act of eating itself helps fill you up and satisfy hunger, and so denying this visual cue because your brain is preoccupied with what you are doing is very literally making you eat more. Not just at that meal/snack, but later when your hunger returns.
Some studies have even suggested that the mindless consumption of food can also lead to an unhealthy relationship with food since you aren't taking the time to appreciate it, enjoy it, and feel it satiate you. The problem is once again made worse when people sit down with a larger portion than they should, or with lightweight but calorie-dense snacks such as chips, pretzels, and sugar filled candy.
You'll crush 1 thousand calories between the hours of 11AM and 5PM and not even realize it when you sit down at your desk with a bag of chips. That pizza you wanted to order tonight? If you turn on the TV while you eat, then you should predict eating at least one more slice than normal.
This isn't my opinion either. It is a studied fact that people consume 25 to 50% more food when presented with larger serving sizes. (An excerpt from Mindless Eating). So, if a pizza has 8 slices and you normally eat 3..you will definitely eat 4 or 5 if you sit down with the whole damn thing.
To recap: Eating while distracted makes you -
A - Eat MORE calories
B - Not register that you are eating, often leaded to post meal hunger
C - Disregards the emotional satisfaction of eating
D - Slows the release of blood and hormones to the gut
None of this will help you lose weight. In fact, it is the behavior of mindless eating that often leads to tremendous weight gain. A study of obese individuals in 2016 showed that the overwhelming majority of the participants didn't even realize they were gaining weight - until they had at least gained 40 pounds.
Let that sink in: It took bad behaviors and 40 pounds for people to finally say to themselves, "oh shit, I'm getting heavy".
Mindless eating and mindlessness of the body are not inseparable.
So HOW do I do better?
You have two roads with this one. You could either cut out eating in front of your phone, computer, and television all together. Or, you could constrict your serving sizes (and resist the urge to re-up) when you are eating in front of your screen.
If you choose option A, which is complete removal, it is important to focus on one meal at a time before moving to the next. If you regularly watch your screen at all meals, then pick the one that is least important to you (probably the morning or night) and start there. Continue the habit of screen-less eating for at least 21 days before worrying about expanding into the next meal.
With option B it is all about taking the time, and exuding the discipline, to limit your servings. Don't take the whole bag of chips with you to your desk. Don't bring that massive burrito bowl in front of the TV if you can't finish it when you sit in at the restaurant. Limit your servings to better portions that prevent the over consumption. Then, only return to food once you've truly realized that you are hungry..and not just because you are bored and want to snack.
I'm not trying to ruin your fun. Eating popcorn and watching movies is an amazing experience. We all have work to do too. So, sometimes you'll violate the rule and that is just the way it goes. No rules in life are so concrete that they can't bend to our needs.
But, if you are serious about losing weight then you need to examine your eating habits. Its not just what your eating. Its how and when you are eating it. Hell, even if the allure of weight loss doesn't appeal to you - focus on the benefits to your body, your brain, and your emotions. Eating while distracted is no good.
You can't have good sex and watch a movie at the same time. You can't get a great workout and hammer out the PNL sheet at the same time. So why in the heck do you think it is OK to eat and be preoccupied?
Make the effort. The effort will lead to change and the change will lead to results.