If you’re having a snack while you read this article, here’s a great reason to put your fork down: Distracted eaters–people who dine while watching TV, surfing the Web, playing video games, or reading–tend to consume more calories, according to a review of two dozen earlier studies, published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
In fact, distracted eating can boost the amount of calories consumed by up to 50 percent, reports lead study author Eric Robinson, of the University of Liverpool, in the UK. Additionally, mindless munching during one meal or snack also increased the amount the person gobbled up at the next meal by up to 25 percent.
Attentive eaters, on the other hand, had the opposite pattern. Remembering what they’d eaten earlier in the day reduced the calories they consumed in subsequent meals that day. The researchers classified study participants as “attentive” if they had such habits as sitting quietly and making a mental note of how much they’d eaten (or kept a food diary), while distracted eaters had the opposite habits.
In the studies that were analyzed, some participants were given food in situations that influenced their attention, memory, and awareness of what they were eating. For example, in one study, people snacked on pistachio nuts and the researchers immediately removed the shells, so it was harder for the participants to recall how many nuts they’d eaten.
In another study, people who ate while watching TV were compared to those who weren’t staring at a screen as they dined. On average, attentive eaters consumed about 10 percent fewer calories than their distracted counterparts. Based on the findings, the researchers recommend that dieters include mindful eating in their weight-loss plan as an easy alternative to rigorous calorie counting.
In my book, The Omni Diet, I offer strategies to avoid “zombie mode” for both eating and shopping. One twist that makes mindful eating even more effective is to plan ahead. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail! Here’s how to effectively journal and plan ahead: