How do you eat your meals? Do you have dinner with your family or dine in company? Do you eat while watching TV, or at your desk? Does how we eat really matter?
A study in Public Health Nutrition, looking at American’s food-related time use over 30 years reveals that besides the dramatic shift in how much and what Americans eat, there’s also been a big shift in the amount of time we spend eating, and in the quality of that time.
The study looked at four nationally representative time-diary surveys from 1975, 1985, 1998 and 2006. A time-diary assesses the use of time through a form that’s filled over 24 hours, in which participants list every minute activity. Sounds boring, but the results reveal some interesting trends:
• Eating as a primary activity declined in the past 30 years.
• On the other hand, eating as a secondary activity rose dramatically in the past 30 years.
• When we combine the primary and secondary eating time we see that overall we’re spending, on average, 25 more minutes daily eating than we did 30 years ago.
• Eating as a secondary activity comprised just 20 percent of overall eating-time 30 years ago. We now do almost 50 percent of our eating while concentrating on something else.
Eating is now done while driving, watching TV and working—as we all know, it’s now perfectly fashionable to eat while doing pretty much anything—and food’s available for nibbling and sipping to provide just that opportunity everywhere mouths are idle.
And the picture emerging from these dry statistics is pretty clear: We’re eating most of our calories while distracted. Could our eating habits explain our overconsumption and the upward trend in our collective weight? I think so, At least in part.
Mindful eating is one important technique used to help people modify their food intake, and it seems that we should all give some thought to how we eat, and perhaps try to multitask a little less during the time we have food in our mouths.
Much has been said about the French Paradox; there’s plenty of controversy about it (some even doubt its existence). Regardless, there’s a valuable lesson from French food culture that’s worth imitating: The French truly celebrate food. After all, food is one of life’s pleasures we can indulge in daily. Taking the time to truly enjoy and celebrate food, taking the time to savor the taste and beauty of good food makes overeating a bit less likely.
I’m as guilty as anyone of eating while doing something else—I’m writing this sentence while munching on a bell pepper—but I’ve set some ground rules that I’ve been able to stick to: We eat a family dinner every day, unrushed, no electronic distractions allowed, and I limit eating-while-distracted foods to low caloric density, highly nutritious ones, such as fruits and vegetables.
The absolute worst combination is munching while watching TV; huge amounts of calories can be consumed unregistered that way. That’s one habit I’d really like my kids to avoid.
Do you have tricks and rules for mindful eating?
Eat slowly and help lower the risk of obesity
Reposted as part of Food Renegate's Fight Back Fridays--go join the food fight!