In our busy society, many people feel so pressed for time they think they’re unable to have breakfast before heading out the door or peel away from their workspace for a lunch break. A comprehensive meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating while multitasking can lead to consuming significantly more food at the present meal and later that day. When you don’t pay attention, your brain doesn’t recognize you’re nourishing your body and, as a result, tends to crave more fuel the rest of the day.
Distracted eating delays our body’s recognition of when it’s full. Our brains aren’t skilled at multitasking, so when we’re preoccupied, our brain isn’t processing how food tastes, how much we’re eating or when we should feel full. Distracted eaters in one study ate faster, couldn’t remember what they ate and reported feeling less full. It takes your body 20 minutes to register feeling full, so when eating while unfocused, you may consume more than what’s needed to reach your satiety point. The science behind this phenomenon suggests that mentally taxing tasks can dampen perception of taste because the cognitive demands of the distractions compete with other sensory inputs (e.g., taste) for our attention.
Many Americans multitask while eating. Even when nothing is pressing, people often seek distractions during mealtime, such as scrolling social media or checking email. If you eat while distracted you end up compromising the experience. And isn’t food one of life’s greatest pleasures? Liken it to talking on the phone while watching your favorite show; you may only partially pick up what your friend is saying and there may be a disconnect. It’s time to reconnect with food.
Fortunately, there’s a free solution to this problem: mindful eating. It can lead you to consume fewer calories, help your body register when it’s full and make your food taste better. Mindful eating involves taking in the colors, textures, smells and flavors of food and ridding yourself of distractions such as watching TV, reading or working at your computer. Mindful eating encompasses more than savoring food; it includes paying attention to our thoughts, feelings and motivations around eating and hunger cues.
Tips for practicing mindful eating and encouraging it in your workforce:
- Before eating, take a moment to ask yourself if you’re hungry. You may realize there are times you reach for food simply out of boredom or habit (e.g., treats in the office breakroom).
- If mindful eating is new to you, don’t quit distracted eating cold turkey. Start off eating one meal a day mindfully.
- Serve yourself a normal-sized meal, set a timer for 20 minutes, and take that amount of time to eat it.
- If you’re having trouble slowing down, eat with your non-dominate hand.
- Think about the food you’re eating, including what it took to plant, grow and harvest it. A lot of time and resources went into that food so you could enjoy it. You might need to eat in silence for a few minutes to focus on this.
- Take small bites and chew your food longer than you normally would. You may be surprised to discover the flavors unlocked by chewing longer.
- Introduce your employees to the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating. Create something they can hang in their workspace, post a flier in the lunchroom or send out an educational email.
- Provide a healthy snack break at which you walk employees through a mindful eating practice. Employees who aren’t hungry can save their snack for another time but can still pick up helpful tips.
Concentrating on the food you eat can help you control your intake and experience the complexities of flavor. It’s time to make mealtime more fulfilling.