This article appears in Sept.-Oct. Family magazine.
When it’s time to sit down to a meal, do you pass the peas or pick up a device? In addition to binge watching our favorite shows and being glued to our screens, Americans are “zombie eating.”
A small poll of 2,000 people from the snack company Pretzel Crisps found that 88% of people stare at screens while eating and dubbed us zombie eaters, or people who look at a screen while they eat. Reading or sending email is the No. 1 reason (50%) Americans are zombie eaters.
Among the other findings:
• Nine out of 10 Americans watch TV while eating.
• 83% have had food go cold while they decide what to watch.
• 86% have forgotten to eat because they were preoccupied by a screen.
• 48% stay to surf social media after eating.
• 36% focus on work-related activities.
• 67% take their lunch breaks in the office.
• 22% eat lunch in front of their computers.
It may have a catchy name, but distracted eating is nothing new.
“While I haven’t heard it called zombie eating before, I am fully aware of the possible detriments of eating while staring at a screen or essentially not being aware while eating,” said Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and adjunct assistant professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “It is something people should watch out for because when we do not pay attention to our senses, whether that be appetite, satiety, fullness or frankly even taste, we tend to overeat and/or be out of touch with how it feels to be satiated or satisfied, which can lead to overeating.”
Distracted eating can lead to a larger waistline.
“If we are not paying attention to our satiety, we will keep eating long after we should, adding calories to our meals,” Hunnes said.
Focus on the food
By focusing on your food and how that food makes you feel while eating, a person can make better food choices, eat more appropriate portions and enjoying the foods more.
“Take the French for example. They will sometimes eat a meal while socializing for two hours, but they are typically eating healthy-ish foods, and are enjoying and are in the moment,” Hunnes said.
Break the habit
“Schedule your time to eat, as you would anything, and put down your electronics or your screens. Put down anything that would distract you from the food on your plate,” Hunnes said.
If you’re so addicted you can’t put down devices and turn away from screens, Hunnes recommends eating with a friend or a family member. Describe the tastes, flavors and textures you notice with each bite.
“Just enjoying your food and being present can go a long way,” she said.
Enforce rules on kids
“Children especially should not eat in front of a television or tablet, or other screen. This is the time of life when we develop our tastes for foods, and if children are mindlessly eating junk and not even tasting it, it is programming their taste buds to expect salty, fatty, etc. So, as much as possible, eat with your children, and not while distracted by screens,” Hunnes said.