How often do you mindlessly shovel down your meal, focused on a blaring TV or a spreadsheet on your computer? For many of us, this scenario probably happens more times that we would like to admit. Our days are crammed full of to-dos and distractions, and it's hard to take a break to sit and simply "be" with our meal.
However, your rapid, mindless eating could be causing more health issues than your post-meal indigestion. In this era of constant distraction and high-stress lifestyles, many studies have emerged demonstrating the negative effects that mindless eating has on our health. Other studies have highlighted the health-boosting effects that we're losing when we cram in a quick meal. By not taking the time to fully immerse ourselves in a meal, we are taxing our body more than we are nourishing it. Let's examine some of the effects that mindless eating may be having on our health:
- Eating mindlessly makes us eat more: One study examined the desire to eat and the food intake of participants in four conditions: watching TV, driving, socializing, and eating alone. The researchers discovered that those watching television consumed more food than any of the other eating conditions. They also found that those eating socially tended to have an increased desire to eat, even after they ate sufficient food.
These results demonstrate the importance of paying attention to what and how much you're eating, especially when surrounded by distractions. Ideally, you should always turn off the TV or step away from your computer to reduce your risk of overeating. When you find yourself eating in a social situation, be sure to take moments throughout the meal to listen to your body - when you feel satiated, respect your body and say no to another shared plate or dessert, even if your dining companions are pressuring you to join in.
- Eating mindlessly may deprive us of a better mood: A recent study looked at the effect that eating chocolate mindfully has on our mood. Participants were asked to eat chocolate either mindfully (listening to a recording that gave instructions how to eat the food slowly, purposefully, and mindfully) or mindlessly (told to eat the chocolate while awaiting further instructions). The control group ate crackers mindfully or mindlessly. The findings revealed that those who ate the chocolate mindfully had a significantly higher positive mood afterwards than those who ate it mindlessly.
Fortunately, it's easy to bring mindfulness into your meal and reap the mood-boosting benefits. While you're eating, focus on all aspects of the food - the farmers and producers who brought the food to your plate, the various sensations of the food as you chew and swallow it, and the immediate effects it has on your body and mind. You may also try incorporating a gratitude practice into your eating for additional benefits.
- Mindless eating may make us choose less healthy food options: Eating in front of the TV may do more than increase your portion size - it has also been linked to the food choices we make. The researchers discovered that families who ate in front of the TV chose less healthy foods than families who weren't distracted by the TV. Even having the TV on in the background was linked to worse food decisions. The TV tempts us with commercials for fast food and unnourishing snack foods. Turning it off when you're eating is as simple as pressing a button, but can have powerful effects on your food choices and your health.
Clearly, the first step of eating mindfully and reaping the health benefits is to create a distraction-free eating environment. For each meal, set aside 30 minutes of your day where you step away from your desk, power off your devices, and find a distraction-free place to indulge in your meal. Eat in a park outside if weather permits, or near a large window overlooking nature. Savor each bite of your meal, and tune into your body throughout the meal. Your meal should stop when your stomach indicates that it's full, not when your plate is empty.
Finally, you may consider incorporating music into your eating routine to increase your mindfulness. One study found that listening to "smooth" music that matched the creaminess of the chocolate enhanced the creaminess and sweetness of the chocolate reported by participants. In your next meal, try matching your food with music - fresh, upbeat music to accompany your crisp salad, or a rich symphony with a heavy, saucy main - to see how it affects your perception and enjoyment of your meal.