Written By: Elizabeth Fay, MS, RD, CSPCC, LD, CNSC
Registered Dietitian, Certified Specialist in Pediatric Critical Care, Certified Nutrition Support Clinician
As we’ve reviewed previously, eating mindfully encourages you to be aware of your meal, surroundings (including any distractions), appetite, pace, and emotions at meal and snack time. All of these components help shape us to be more mindful at each meal and snack. Eating mindfully not only helps us meet our nutrition goals, but it provides surprising benefits, such as promoting meal enjoyment and gratification. In the past, we’ve talked about the importance of meal pace and slowing down our meal and snack times. As we venture on our journey to learn more about mindfulness at meals, let’s review the importance of distraction at mealtime.
Distraction is a valuable component that we can try to reduce when eating meals and snacks. When we are distracted, we are removed from being in the moment. When it comes to meals and snacks, this means that being distracted reduces our attention span. We pay less attention to the foods’ flavors, the pace of our meal, our hunger/fullness cues, as well as the hard work put in to prepare the meal. If we pay less attention to our pace and hunger/fullness cues, then we are likely to consume more than our body requires. On the other hand, if we are distracted and aren’t mindful of our portion sizes, then we may also not nourish our bodies enough. Distraction can also draw us away from paying attention to the meal or snack details. The flavors of our foods are so rich and varied. Paying attention to these flavors and enjoying them plays a significant role in our ability to nourish our bodies and feel satisfied. Taking note of the hard work you or someone else put in to prepare the meal or snack creates appreciation for the meal, which helps to add satisfaction to the meal or snack.
Reducing distraction at meals takes some self-awareness. Reducing distraction is possible no matter where you are when you eat your meal or snack. If you typically eat meals at home at the dinner table, take note if the television is on or if your phone is nearby. Evaluate who you eat with as well and if they bring distractive items to the table. Eating with others is less of a distraction and more of an asset to your meal if all members are engaged in the meal and with each other. If you are on the run and find yourself eating in the car, can you wait to eat your meal when you park or when you arrive to your destination? Driving while eating is very distracting and can also be unsafe. If you typically eat at your desk at work, see if you can take a moment to pause and eat, instead of working while eating.
Most of these behaviors have become habit for many of us, so making a change may take time. Start small with these behavior change goals and work to achieve a new habit over time. For example, if you typically eat with the television on each night at dinner, aim to reduce screen time by 1 night every week. If you typically eat while driving, see if you can plan to eat either before or after driving once each week. For those people who eat while they work at their desk, choose one day each week to take pause and eat lunch away from the computer or workload. Even if this means eating half your meal away from your workload at first, know that you’re making progress!
For some people, removing these distractions feels like an uncomfortable change. You can easily substitute non-distracting behaviors in place of distraction to help you stay mindful at meals. For example, if you typically eat meals in front of the television, see if you can replace the television with some of your favorite music. If you are eating with friends or family, engage in conversation. Encourage children at the table to talk about the meal and all of the ingredients it takes to make something so delicious. Take the time to talk about your day or things that are on your mind with your family or friends. If you’ve chosen to limit eating while working but feel tempted to just pick up your phone instead, see if you can try just a few minutes at a time sitting and eating without any screens or work. Take note of the foods you’re consuming. If you eat near a window or outside, take in the view if possible. If you’re not near a view and are sitting at your desk with the computer and phone off and your workload put aside, take note of the flavors in your meal as you enjoy your food bite by bite.
It may feel a bit out of sorts at first but taking the time to mindfully eat with less distraction is a powerful tool to keep you on your nutrition and wellness journey. Touch base with your Nuleeu Registered Dietitian to review how you can individually reduce distraction at meals. These recommendations will be tailored just for you to help you meet your individual goals and stay on track because we all have our own specific goals.