02/19/2015 02:05 pm ET Updated Apr 21, 2015

Distracted Driving, Distracted Eating

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A few weeks ago, an Alabama man was stopped by a policeman for eating a cheeseburger while driving and cited under the distracted driving law. The charges were later dropped.

The story got remarkable attention, and although I have no idea whether the driver should have gotten a ticket, I'm glad that it brought the issue of distracted driving into discussion.

The other issue that we should think about more is distracted eating. We seem to be eating most of our meals while doing something else. And while eating might take your mind off the road, traffic also takes your mind off your food. 

study in Public Health Nutrition that looked at people's food-related time use over 30 years revealed that besides the dramatic shift in how much and what Americans eat, there's also been a big shift in the way we eat. 

The study found that we now do almost 50 percent of our eating while concentrating on something else, up from just 20 percent 30 years ago.

Eating is now done while driving, watching TV, walking down a street and working -- as we all know, it's now perfectly acceptible to eat while doing pretty much anything -- and food's available for nibbling and sipping everywhere.

We're eating most of our calories while distracted. Does preoccupied eating explain overconsumption and the upward trend in our collective weight? I think so, at least in part. Mindful eating is an important technique that helps people modify their food intake and we should give some thought to how we eat, and perhaps try to multitask a little less during the time we have food in our mouths. Food that's eaten at a table, slowly, attentively, is more effective at filling you up. Food that's celebrated is more satiating. 

Mind you, I'm as guilty as anyone of eating lunch at my computer. But I do have some rules that I've been able to stick to: We eat a family dinner every day, un-rushed, no electronic distractions allowed, and I limit eating-while-distracted to low caloric density, highly nutritious foods, such as veggies and fruit.

A good start would be eliminating eating while doing these two things: watching TV (huge amounts of calories can be consumed mindlessly in front of a screen) and obviously driving. Eating slows your reaction time to dangers on the road. Driving slows your reaction time to food. 

Dr. Ayala