Distracted Eating

Posted: Mar 23 in Weight Management Strategies by
Distracted Driving

We are all familiar with distracted driving. People are using their phone, checking Facebook, sending texts, and before they know it they have caused a car accident. This is more common than you’d think – how many people did you see driving while using their phone today? In fact, according to the CDC, in the U.S. in 2018, over 2,800 people were killed and an estimated 400,000 were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver. Driving while using a phone is a deadly accident waiting to happen.

I read in the news a few months back that it is estimated that the average teen growing up will spend 8 years of their life staring at a smart phone, based on current usage statistics. And from where I sit, this is becoming a bigger problem every year as phones get more and more sophisticated, apps more and more engaging.

A far more common but less recognized problem is distracted eating. In the good old days, a family would sit down, talk about the day past and plans for tomorrow and enjoy a meal together. With the arrival of the television, this started to change – people started eating in front of the television. Instead of paying attention to each other we started paying attention to electronics. Instead of enjoying our food, eating began to change to a time for other types of entertainment. The “TV Dinner” was born.

An Accident Weighting to Happen

Now, we eat in front of our phones. Similar to driving, we are sending tweets, checking Facebook, reading news headlines, watching YouTube videos and emailing friends and colleagues (and dare I say working) right through dinner. And, unfortunately, current scientific evidence suggests that this is an accident weighting to happen.

Back when I started in medical weight management, we had people fill out a history where we asked questions about distracted eating – when / where / why do you eat? Do you eat in the car? In front of the TV? Etc. I should update that questionnaire to include “Do you use your smart phone while you eat?” However, I think that this question is unnecessary because virtually 100% of the time, the answer will be a simple “Yes.”

How to Feel Satisfied

People who successfully lose weight and keep it off learn many skills – how and when to fall asleep at night, how to deal with stress without turning to food, how to establish structure during the day. But they also learn how to enjoy their food. One key to this is to pay attention while you eat. Put down the phone. Enjoy every bite. This helps your brain recognize the delicious meal you’ve eaten.

Distracted eating while using technology results in your brain not even noticing you’ve eaten. Second helpings, third helpings. Until the plate is empty or the stomach is completely stuffed, the brain is not given the proper signals and we lose the sense of satisfaction the eating would have provided had we not been so distracted.

How to win the Smart Phone Fight

If you want to drive safely and avoid distracted driving accidents, and similarly, distracted eating accidents, the best strategy is to TURN OFF THE PHONE (or toss it in the trunk / leave it in another room – this goes for the smart watch and TV as well).

Not only will this lower your risk of being involved in a deadly car accident, you will also avoid being involved in a health-threatening eating accident. Enjoy your meal. Enjoy your family / spouse / partner / dog. Chew every bite and discover new flavors and textures in your foods. Your phone will wait. Don’t let it control you!

In addition to these strategies, be sure to read about self-monitoring. Self-monitoring is a great tool to promote mindfulness and reduce distracted eating.

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