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I will be the first to admit that I am a fast eater. If I am not careful, I can scarf down an entire meal without even knowing I’ve done so. But this is a habit that I know I must change, because I hate the feeling of being disconnected from the food I am eating, and I know it isn’t good for me. Many people eat too fast, don’t taste their food, and eat while multitasking, so they aren’t even paying any attention to what goes in their mouth. And this can be very detrimental to your health. One major reason that distracted eating is so bad for you is that it can often lead to overeating and becoming overweight. Mindful eating exercise can help with this issue, as we discuss below and in “Lose Weight With This Mindful Eating Exercise.”
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The Problem of Eating While Distracted
Eating while watching TV, eating while driving, and eating while working are all common habits. But what is wrong with each of these situations? In our fast-paced lifestyles, our focus is often not on our food, but on the other tasks we need to get done. And research shows that if we eat when we are distracted, we tend to eat more.
In a review of 24 studies on the topic, researchers found that eating while distracted led to an increase in immediate food intake. And distracted eating doesn’t just increase immediate food intake; it is also associated with increased food intake in later meals.
Dieting Exaggerates the Effects of Distracted Eating
People who are dieting may be even more negatively affected by distracted eating. In a study published in August 2015, participants were asked to eat a cereal bar in five minutes.
They were put in one of three scenarios for the five-minute session. In one, participants watched an episode of the TV show Friends, in another they sat across from another person and talked, and in the last they walked along a corridor at their own pace.
Later, the participants were given various food options (healthy and unhealthy) and were allowed to eat as much as they wanted.
Restrained eaters (people who were trying to lose weight by eating less) in the group that walked ate more total food, calories, and chocolate at the later meal compared to those who had watched TV or interacted socially. This suggests that eating on the go (whether on the way to work, at your lunch break, or between meetings) is a particularly dangerous habit, especially for people trying to lose weight.
The authors believe that “higher levels of dietary restraint may make individuals more susceptible to distraction.”
Overall, this research suggest that being more attentive when you are eating may influence your food intake and portion sizes; switching to mindful eating habits may be an effective tool to aid in weight loss efforts.
Mindful Eating is Associated With a Healthier Weight and Eating Habits
To be mindful is to be fully aware of the present moment. Mindfulness is a practice that can be used to treat depression, manage pain, and more. The idea of mindfulness can be applied to eating as well.
Mindful eating means to be fully present and aware as you eat, taking in the flavors, thoughts, emotions, and other sensations you experience.
There are numerous studies showing mindfulness to be associated with healthier weight and eating habits. In one study, for example, men who had higher mindfulness scores were less likely to be obese, and more mindful women were less likely to be obese or overweight.
In another, daily mindfulness was associated with smaller portion sizes of energy dense foods. Mindful eating, specifically, was even more effective at reducing food intake.
Mindful Eating Exercise Can Help You in Numerous Ways
Being mindful as you eat can help in numerous ways. For one, if you aren’t distracted as you eat, you’ll likely eat slower, which helps to reduce food intake (it takes a while for your body to start sending your brain signals that it is full).
Mindful eating may also help by making you more aware of what you are eating and how much of it you eat. This can help in the immediate meal as well as afterwards; researchers believe that the more you remember what you previously ate, the less likely you are to overeat later.
In this way, mindfulness serves as a way to make you more aware of your food intake, helping you to identify unhealthy eating habits.
Read on in Part 2 of this series to learn a mindful eating exercise and how to incorporate mindfulness into your daily eating habits.
Share Your Experience
How often do you sit down to a quiet meal where you focus on your food? Do you notice that you eat more when you are distracted compared to when you try a mindful eating exercise? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
 Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Apr;97(4):728-42.
 J Health Psych. 2015 Aug 20. [Epub ahead of print]
 PLoS One. 2015 Jun 3;10(6):e0127447.
 Appetite. 2013 Aug;67:25-9.
This article was originally published in 2016 and is regularly updated.