Distracted eating may add to weight gain

Howard LeWine, M.D.

Chief Medical Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

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If you are worried about your weight, paying more attention to what you eat, not less, could help keep you from overeating. Multitasking—like eating while watching television or working—and distracted or hurried eating can prompt you to eat more. Slowing down and savoring your food can help you control your intake.

That’s the bottom line from a report published in the April issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. A team from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom scoured the medical literature for studies that have looked at how attention and memory affect food intake. All of these studies had at least two groups, such as one group that ate a particular meal while watching television and another that ate the same meal without television.

These studies point to two key conclusions:

  • Being distracted or not paying attention to a meal tended to make people eat more at that meal
  • Paying attention to a meal was linked to eating less later on.

These results make good sense. Hunger isn’t the only thing that influences how much we eat during the day. Attention and memory also play roles. For example, after you start eating, it takes 20 minutes or so before the brain begins to start sending out “I’m full” or “I’m not hungry anymore” signals that turn off appetite. If you are hurrying or not paying attention, it’s easy to take in many more calories than you need in 20 minutes.

If you aren’t mindful of what’s going into your mouth, you don’t process that information. That means it doesn’t get stored in your memory bank. And without a memory of having eaten, you are more likely to eat again sooner than you might have if you ate mindfully.

Mindful eating

Mindful eating is an application of a broader approach to living called mindfulness. It involves being fully aware of what is happening within and around you at the moment. You can practice mindfulness during any daily activity—including eating.

Applied to eating, mindfulness includes noticing the colors, smells, flavors, and textures of your food. It also means getting rid of distractions like television or reading or working on your computer.

If mindful eating is a new concept for you, start gradually. Eat one meal a day or week in a slower, more attentive manner. Here are some tips that may help you get started:

  • Set your kitchen timer to 20 minutes, and take that time to eat a normal-sized meal.
  • Try eating with your non-dominant hand; if you’re a righty, hold your fork in your left hand when lifting food to your mouth.
  • Use chopsticks if you don’t normally use them.
  • Eat silently for five minutes, thinking about what it took to produce that meal, from the sun’s rays to the farmer to the grocer to the cook.
  • Take small bites and chew well.
  • Before opening the fridge or cabinet, take a breath and ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” Do something else, like reading or going on a short walk.

Mindful eating can reduce your daily calorie intake. By paying attention to what you are putting into your mouth, you are more likely to make healthier food choices. And you will enjoy meals and snacks more fully. That’s a pretty good three-fer!


  1. JD Johnson

    Great information DR.LeWine. I try to tell my clients to do many of these things you posted.

  2. Charles Alberti

    From the moment I was eating and sitting before the television I was gain weight in no time. No I bought a trampoline and I loss weight in 1 month. Wel it sounds easy, but I make a choiche not to eat before the television, but train and discipline me more then before.

  3. gold coast removalist

    sometimes I am like this I have my attention on the other things while eating and could care less about the volume I have ate. I am avoiding to eat while watching t.v except for drinking water ofcourse.

  4. What a lovely post – you’ve really made me miss New Zealand! I would love to go for a wander somewhere with such a beautiful rural setting!

  5. Jual Jersey

    Good Article. We need to be more mindful about meal preparation (not always being in a rush), planning in advance so that we are sure to make better meal choices, being mindful of our daily nutrition habits.

  6. Bob

    Great point on the distraction that can cause us to eat more during the course of a meal. I also found that spending time at least tracking or guiding my meals helped me be more self aware. Of course I’m not a big fan of having a micro-managed calorie counter, but a general understanding has helped me by leaps and bounds. Thanks for this great article!

  7. Dying to visit your shop! Who the hell is commenting on your blog? It sounds like the inmates at an insane asylum were just handed a computer.

  8. Doctor Shadow

    Most of the people I see spend most of their lives worrying about their own version of crooked stitches—the size of their thighs, their hips, their abdomens. As if those things signify something true or real about their lives. As if when we get to the end of our lives, a number on a scale will mean anything at all.

  9. veluza

    amazing,,great article,,i like this site,,thanks

  10. lorajuali

    Great tips.Actually I was worried how reduce and fit my body.I didn’t decide what type of the foods is perfect for me.But here i got informative tips and some discusser people also said.Thanks

  11. Johnny Rickards

    Great article, I was actually told by one of my friends (a personal trainer) that I should take my time eating if I want to lose weight. This has seemed to work for me so I’ve been searching the net for more information on the matter and I came across this terrific article!

    I’d love to read an article on the importance of body fat percentage in regards to personal health and fitness. I’ve been using this body fat calculator for a few weeks now (http://percentagebodyfat.com/calculator) and I feel it has kept me motivated and helped a lot.

    My body fat percentage and total weight has decreased dramatically over the past few months and I believe the main reason for this is that I have been taking my time while eating and not just snacking all the time because I’m bored!

  12. Bobby Bloomfield

    Are you of the mind that there is such a thing as food addiction? If so, is it a neurological issue or a gut issue, or both?

    Bobby Bloomfield

  13. Calvin

    I absolutely agree with you. Mindful eating is the way to control our weight. Informative article.

  14. Virginia

    I agree with this completely. Mindful eating is key to keeping weight under control…. if not aware, it’s way too easy to eat too much!

  15. press bd

    its a amazing ARTICLE.NICE JOB.

  16. percy

    This post is out of the ordinary, luck and I loved it.

  17. fivestarherbal.com

    I’ve made the mistake of rushing and eating while watching tv. I’ve started taking my time and actually turning the tv off and it’s definitely helped. And, sometimes when I’m “hungry” but not really, I decide to drink my infused water (cucumber-lime and lemon are used for curbing hunger) and it helps.

  18. michael

    Thanks you made some good points here i like the part about using a timer set for 20 minutes, I tend to over eat while watching sports. Wahat do you think about weight loss programs like http://bodybyviplan/


  19. Debbie Ward

    Good topic. Mindful eating is not only to practice healthy eating habits but also being mindful of what we are about to eat. We need to be more mindful about meal preparation (not always being in a rush), planning in advance so that we are sure to make better meal choices, being mindful of our daily nutrition habits.

    Debbie Ward from Canada

  20. Fiona Jesse Giffords

    Watching television or talking while eating is most mistakes made by people who make them overeating. That results in more weight gain rather than losing weight.

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