Distracted Eating Doesn’t Necessarily Make You’ll Eat More

Multitasking, it’s what we do to get more done.

Eating is one of those things that are so instinctive and that we’re so proficient at, that doing it while doing something else is very easy. And it’s not just a time saving ploy: I derive great pleasure from reading a novel while munching on an apple (ok, I’ll admit it, chocolate is what I really want), and we all know how movies are better with popcorn.

Since eating while doing something else is totally acceptable, we’re now doing it while driving, working and walking down the street. A larger portion of our day is spent eating and snacking. A study found that Americans spend, on average, 25 extra minutes daily eating than we did 30 years ago; most of that eating is done, however, while concentrating on something else. The time spent eating as a primary activity has declined, as did the time spent preparing food.

Does distracted eating play a part in our pattern of overconsumption and in the spread of obesity?

A new study in the Journal of Nutrition tests how 119 healthy, non-dieting student volunteers eat when they’re distracted. In the distracted setting students were taken to private booths in food sensory lab, and were given a computer based 10 minute cognitive task – they were asked to identify and series of consecutive odd or even numbers. A plate of 10 small spinach and cheese quiches was served during the task, the students were told to eat as much as they wanted, and the leftovers were measured after the task was completed. The control condition was much the same, except without the cognitive task. Volunteers acted as their own controls, experiencing the alternative condition a week later.

After the task, all participants were rested for 30 minutes, and then taken again to private booths, where mini chocolate chip cookies and grapes were waiting for them, and they were instructed to help themselves, while they waited for the exit survey.

In the exit survey the participants were asked to assess how much quiche they ate, and were also asked about feelings of hunger, fullness and enjoyment of the food they received.

And the results:

To the surprise of the researchers the distracted volunteers ate significantly less quiche than when they were not distracted, and in the subsequent snacking there were no significant differences in grape or cookie choices and consumption among the groups.

As the researchers hypothesized, in the distracted state the volunteers’ memory of what and…

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