Mealtime Distractions May Increase Overeating

During a time in which nightly news reports and daily restaurant menu adjustments remind us of the rise of obesity in the United States, it seems to be no secret that a high percentage of individuals consume significantly more food than is necessary. The drive to seek out more well-balanced meals, fewer processed products, and an overall healthier diet has come to pervade both the media and the general public’s discourse. However, despite this ever-increasing consciousness, the prevalence of less healthy eating and exercise habits has continued to be an ongoing challenge. Child obesity studies have attributed the causes of this trend to larger meals and decreased physical activity. Recent adult studies in the U.S. and England, however, have begun to collect evidence indicating that distractions during the meals themselves might also be a large contributor to overeating habits. In a recent study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, randomly selected participants were given the same meals, but half were instructed to play a computer game while eating, and the second half simply ate their lunches undistracted. Those in the first group, upon evaluation several hours later, were significantly more hungry and inclined to snack than were those in the second group. This “distracted” group not only ate a great deal more of a snack which was offered at that later time, but also had notably weaker memories regarding what they had eaten for lunch only two to three hours earlier. Researches have postulated, and have found empirical evidence supporting their hypothesis, that this hazy memory of what had been eaten previously became a marked contributor to overeating later in the day. Although there is a great deal of data supporting healthy diets and exercise, it seems that what you do while you are eating is actually of great importance as well. If distraction causes weakened memory of our meals and, in turn, a greater tendency to eat more again throughout the remainder of the day, perhaps simply avoiding such distraction can be of great help to those who are trying to shed a few pounds – or at least simply trying to maintain their current weight. Despite the tendency to barrel through the day, multi-tasking along the way, we might now have a simple behavioral technique to help us bolster healthier eating habits with minimal effort. Who knew that a meal without distractions could be so beneficial?