Distracted Eating: What did I have for lunch?

Recently, I attended the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE) in San Diego. This is the annual premier event of the American Dietetics Association (changing its name soon to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).There, I learned more about an increasing body of research into what has been called “Intuitive Eating” or “Mindful Eating”.It is truly fascinating!

This research is based on the idea that today, many are eating “mindlessly” or while distracted.Like “distracted driving”, distracted eating may have negative consequences.Distraction can come in many forms.Do we do something else while we are eating?Are we watching TV, playing computer games, talking with friends without paying any attention to our meal?These and other distractions have led us to developing habits related to eating that may be contributing to weight gain and unhealthy lifestyles.

In her FNCE presentation, “Mechanisms of Mindless Eating”, Professor Marion Hetherington of the Institute of Psychological Sciences cited a number of recent studies.In these studies, there were several situations that increased the amount of food people ate.In one study, participants were given soup.One group ate, unknowingly, from bowls that continuously refilled. This group ate more soup than the group eating from normal bowls that did not refill.

However, as pointed out in the presentation by Dr. Hetherington, food does not even need to taste good for people to overeat.Another study she cited stated that participants were given popcorn in medium or large containers.Those eating from the large containers ate more.But some of the participants were given 14-day old STALE popcorn…they still ate MORE from the larger container!

What is this about?!Why would we eat stale food?We are not paying attention to our meals.We have allowed distractions to take over our mealtimes and we are no longer enjoying our food.

I have long believed and taught that the increasing portion sizes have contributed to our obesity problem in the United States.In restaurants, we are no longer served on dinner plates, but platters. While an appropriate serving of soda is ONE cup, we can buy an 8-cup (64 oz) portion size from many convenience stores.(By the way, these 64 oz portions can have close to 800 calories, and 1 cup of sugar!)But maybe distracted eating is helping to increase our portion sizes as well.

In a recent presentation, I was discussing portion sizes with the audience.One woman said that she and family recently went to a high end restaurant where the meals were around $30-$40 dollars each.She said they were surprised and a bit unhappy to see the considerably smaller portions they were served (probably closer to an appropriate serving than we get in most restaurants) for the price of the meal.However, she said when she was finished with the meal, she was surprisingly satisfied.Could this have been because she was concentrating more on the food she was eating because it was a special occasion?

Family meals used to be more of a “special occasion”, I believe.Time was spent on preparing a wholesome, delicious meal, and time was spent eating it and enjoying it.Today, we are too much in a hurry, so we are eating less healthy foods more often.These foods also tend to come in larger portions than we need.

Think about your own daily routine.Are you eating “mindlessly” or with distractions?Or are you thinking about your food, and enjoying it more…and maybe eating less?

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