BEHAVIOR
August 15, 2019

Zombie Eating

Mindless munching as you watch TV or scroll your phone is a recipe for weight gain. Focus on your food.

Distracted eating is a real thing, a study finds, and it could be wrecking your diet. Over time, eating while watching television, playing video games or even working at your computer may cause you to eat more and contribute to weight gain.

Sometimes called “zombie eating,” eating while staring at screens is becoming common practice in today’s society. We can’t tear ourselves away from our phones, our email, our social media accounts, video games or television. As a result, adults and children alike are eating mindlessly.

Turn off your phone, turn off the television and enjoy the people with whom you are sharing a meal.

Researchers at Michigan State University followed 55 adults, average age 26. Participants, mostly women, kept food diaries for three days. The diaries not only included what they ate, but when they ate and whether or not they were spending time on a computer or smartphone while eating.

People in the study were using some form of media as they ate meals about 18 percent of the time. About 25 percent of that occurred during breakfast, lunch and dinner hours. Five percent of media time happened while eating snacks.

The zombie eaters ate 149 more calories during the day compared to people who ate media-free. They also had higher intakes of protein, carbohydrate, fat and saturated fat. The increase in calorie intake was likely due to increased portion sizes rather than poorer food choices, according to the researchers.

The study adds another piece to the obesity puzzle. Although much of the previous research on this topic has taken place in laboratory settings, researcher Robin Tucker of MSU explained, this study took place in a real-life setting, demonstrating what people actually do while eating.

For those struggling with their weight, this should be enlightening. Eating while not paying attention to what you are doing is a recipe for diet disaster. Registered dietitian/nutritionists encourage mindful eating — paying attention to the foods and beverages you put in your mouth rather than just mindlessly eating unmeasured amounts of whatever foods or drinks are in front of you.

Meal time is a good time to unplug. So turn off your phone, turn off the television and enjoy the people with whom you are sharing a meal. If you’re eating alone, listen to some calming music, and enjoy your meal without distraction.

The study is published in Obesity.
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