Mon Plaisir

A Reason to Put Down the Phone When You Eat

Maybe the screen can wait. A pair of recent studies tell us that distracted eating might lead people to consume more calories at a meal. Plus, there’s no evidence that people compensate with fewer calories at the next meal. So that extra food could add up over time. Thus it might be smart to put down the phone and focus on the pleasure of the meal.

Meals and Phones, Cause and Effect

Plenty of studies have shown how distracted eating can mean eating more. Researchers have studied many kinds of distractions – phones, games, television, and music, to name a few. Many of those studies were in tightly controlled laboratory settings. That’s great for establishing causality.

For example,  Renata Fiche da Mata Gonçalves and colleagues studied 62 adults given experimental snack tests on four different days. The conditions varied between no distraction, using a smartphone, or reading a text. It didn’t matter whether the distraction was text or phone. In each case, people ate more than they did when they had only the food before them. The difference was between 56 and 87 calories.

In particular, older men tended to eat more in the distracted state.

Real World

The obvious question, though, is what happens in the real world? This is where an observational study can add insight to experimental data. So Morgan Ellithorpe and colleagues looked at differences in meals paired with media use compared to meals without the distraction of any media. That media could be any type.

In this study, the researchers found an even bigger difference. Meals with media had an average of 149 more calories. Subjects consumed more fat, carbs, and protein in their media meals than they did without media. The results showed no evidence that people compensated for those extra calories at their next meal.

So the message here is simple. Put down the phone. It can wait. If you want to enjoy a meal, pay attention to it. Make time to enjoy your meals, free from distractions.

Click here for the Ellithorpe study and here for the Gonçalves study. For further perspective, click here.

Mon Plaisir, photograph © Garry Knight / flickr

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August 11, 2019

One Response to “A Reason to Put Down the Phone When You Eat”

  1. August 11, 2019 at 7:55 am, Mary-Jo said:

    So true. Another aspect other than eating more when distracted by phone, TV, music, etc. is the Pavlovian effect of needing, or triggering, to eat when checking your phone, watching TV, listening to music, reading. B.F. Skinner and other behavioral psychologists pointed that out in the ‘70s and I remember many studies being done, then, re: overeating behavior associated with TV watching and other distractions and the ‘operant conditioning’ leading to overeating when distracted.