Dietitian and healthy food blogger Sophie Clarke explains the benefits of turning off the technology and sitting down to a proper meal
When was the last time you just ate your food? No phone calls, no text messages, no TV, no Facebook - just you and your lunch? Multi-tasking has become a way of life and our mealtimes are no exception. It's fantastic to be able to check-in with your friends online anytime or see if that important email you've been waiting for has arrived, but there are disadvantages to having these distractions around you when you are eating.
Doing something that involves a lot of concentration, or even just idly watching television while we eat makes us likely to take in more food than we otherwise would. The impact of our diverted attention really starts to have an effect when you’re settled in for an evening in front of the television with a super-tasty, high-fat treat. Research study student volunteers given pizza and macaroni cheese to eat in front of the television ate an extra slice of pizza or a whopping 70% more macaroni cheese compared with eating at an equivalent television-free mealtime.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that this talk of distraction isn't really very relevant if you tend to wolf down your lunchtime pre-packed sandwich at your desk. After all, what are you going to overeat once the sandwich has gone? But it seems the effects of being distracted while you eat don't end at the mealtime in question - researchers at the University of Bristol Psychology Department have found that distraction continues to have an effect for quite some time after eating. When two groups of people were given the same lunch, half without distractions and half with a game of computer solitaire to play, the distracted group rated themselves less satisfied by their lunch than those who had no distractions while they ate. When these same individuals were offered biscuits half an hour after their lunch, those who had spent their lunchtime playing solitaire ate substantially more biscuits than the group who had paid attention to their lunch and found it satisfying.
If you can pay attention to what you're eating a whole series of wonderful things happen; you can enjoy your food, be more satisfied by what you’ve had and be more able to stop eating when you've had enough. The good news is that you don’t need to eat each meal in a zen-like state of silent contemplation to reap these benefits. Listed below are just a few different approaches you can use to start paying more attention to your food.
Switch off some technology
Phones, mp3 players, ipads, laptops, TVs are all a drain on our attention and it's not unusual to have more than one of these on while eating. Even turning off just one can help you to pay more attention to your food.
Protect your meal times
In hospitals mealtimes are protected so that patients can eat their meal without distraction from medical tests, drug rounds and doctors questions. Find a way to protect your own mealtimes in some way, for example by booking thirty minutes out in your diary or eating your evening meal in a room without a TV.
Eat food you need to pay attention to
As a nation us Brits are becoming known for shying away from foods that are complicated to eat, preferring food we can scoop in from a bowl without even the need for a knife. Try savouring some fiddly but delicious foods like whole shellfish, big, slurpy noodle soups, fish with bones and rice eaten with chopsticks.
Take small steps
If eating at the table every mealtime sounds daunting try to start small and build up. Eating just one meal each week at the table without distraction will get you used to the sensations of savouring and enjoying your food. Breakfast is a good time to try eating undisturbed, leaving aside computers, televisions and newspapers for a blissfully unhurried start to the day.
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