Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mindless Eating Pitfall #5: Distractions, Distractions

Mindless Eating Pitfall #5
Many of us manage very tight schedules at home, school, and work, and when the holidays roll around, we take our already jam-packed scheduled and times it by...oh, 100! And I think we're all guilty of this mindless eating pitfall...eating while distracted.  We're eating while driving, working, watching t.v., reading, watching a movie, cooking, cleaning up after dinner, playing video games, or watching a sporting event.  I know someone reading this right now is probably eating!  Distracted eating can be one of the most destructive types of mindless eating.  Why?  We have so many opportunities to do it, and what and how much we consume during these episodes can wreak havoc on our diet...and our waistlines.

There are three primary reasons distracted eating causes us to consume more food.  First of all, when our attention is diverted away from the act of eating, we are not as focused on how we feel as we're eating.  In these situations, it's very easy to override our natural satiety cues and become stuffed before we know it.  We also feel dissatisfied because we didn't really pay attention to what we ate, and therefore, we didn't get to enjoy it.  In some cases, we will eat things that don't even taste good.  A few years ago, Brian Wansink and his team gave movie attendees free medium or large-sized buckets of fresh or 14-day old stale popcorn.  Even those offered large buckets of stale popcorn ate 33.6% more than those given medium buckets of stale popcorn. Stale popcorn!  When we aren't focused on eating, we also might eat longer than we normally would.  If we're watching t.v., a movie, or a game, we might continue eating until the entertainment is over rather than when we feel physically satisfied.  Last but not least, it's a habit.  Is every person who eats popcorn at the movies actually hungry or have they simply developed a habit of eating popcorn at the movies?

These may seem like minor infractions, but even 100 additional calories per day from distracted eating can lead to a little over 10 pounds of weight gain in one year! On a more positive note, the simple nixing of that 100 calories of mindless eating can lead to 10 pounds of weight loss in one year.   

Strategies to Manage
  • Detach.  Distract yourself with t.v., video games, the newspaper, etc. before getting something to eat. This way you're not eating when you start. Mindless eating averted.   
  • Pre-portion your portion.  Serve yourself a smaller amount of food (minus refills) before engaging in another activity to reduce the impact of mindless eating.
  • Location, location, location!  Only eat while seated in a certain room or place.  At home? Have a seat at a distraction-free dining table.  At work? Head to the employees' lounge or cafeteria to eat. 
  • Switch it, change it, rearrange it.  Substitute a new habit for your old one (eating).  Instead of eating while watching television, do some...knitting?  Okay maybe not, but how about some stretching or crunches? Shake up your routine. Are you used to grabbing a coffee and muffin on the way to work in the morning? Take a new route to work. Before dishing yourself ice cream before your fave t.v. show comes on, munch on an apple or sip on a cup of hot tea instead? Consume food with your less dominant hand. When you do this, you actually need to focus more on what you're doing since you're not used to it, and you'll be able to monitor your intake better.
For more on mindless eating, check out, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.


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