The Journal of Gastroenterology once published a study about distracted eating, which I happened to read probably as long ago as 2010. According to the researchers, eating on autopilot is stress eating and it can lead to digestive problems.
I consume a lot of health-related content. I love behavioral science research and things of that nature, But a lot of what I read, doesn’t usually stick with me. For me, it’s like reading an article in a women’s magazine; I would forget everything by the time I drop that publication onto the magazine pile.
Not this article. For some reason, this idea of what constituted stress eating stuck with me because, in the article, they said that eating and watching TV can be stress eating. I do that all the time and I also happen to have more than a few digestive issues. So, although I kinda put it out of my mind, I couldn’t forget this idea (or the awareness) that eating and watching TV can be stress eating.
Although I wasn’t obsessing about it, I would often wonder, as I’m eating in front of the TV, whether I could be stress-eating. Not long ago, as I was doing my usual and catching up on The Blacklist, the once whisper became a shout: Of course this is stress-eating!!!
Now, you have to understand why I was so shook.
I have several digestive complaints including IBS diagnosis. I have various food intolerances, and at the time, I was experiencing a lot of gas and bloating.
Could I be contributing to my digestive problems even as I was making such a concerted effort to eat well? The answer, I learned, is yes.
How eating in front of the TV causes stress eating
- The stress caused by distracted eating throws off our metabolism and digestion.
- Eating while you’re slouched over is a terrible position for digestion because it increases the chance that food will get trapped causing gas, heartburn, and bloating.
- When we’re eating while watching TV, we tend to eat more because we’re paying less attention to our internal processing food cues which tell us when we’re full.
- Eating in front of the TV feeds into the habit of nighttime snacking, which can cause sleep disturbances.
- That sleep disturbance means we don’t get refreshing sleep and are more tired and have less impulse control the next day… then end up eating more.
- Late-night snacking leaves more undigested food behind in the colon, so you grow a gut.
- The habit of eating late at night can lead to depression.
- And, there’s a rise in lower back pain associated with sitting on soft sofas.
It occured to me that while I’m trying to maintain my weight, have a flat stomach, sleep better, etc., this one little habit (that I saw as me being productive!), could be sabotaging my hard work in ALL those other areas? Thankfully, in some areas, I am a fast learner. I didn’t resist. Instead, I immediately started figuring out ways I could work my way out of this pattern. I did quite a few things, and now I want to share some of my favorites with anyone who wants to eat in front of the TV less often.
1. Make your dining area pretty
We’re pleasure seekers, it’s true, but it’s not just food that can give us a pleasant dining experience. You might see a colorful or inspiring dining area that you’ve styled to look pretty, as a nicer place to eat. Add flowers to the table, a fruit bowl, maybe great candlesticks, and infuse the area with a nice scent. I also like a beautiful light fixture and upholstered chairs in my dining area. They give it that upgraded feel.
2. Dine alfresco
Taking it outside is another way to make eating alone more pleasant. Some of the smallest balconies and outdoor spaces can be turned into living areas with space for dining. No outdoor space at home? Take advantage of public spaces like parks, especially at lunchtime.
3. Turn on music
Music goes with everything and after you’ve been doing it for a while, might agree, that it’s a better accompaniment to food than TV. Several studies show that calming music aids digestion, minimize eating distractions and releases feel-good sensations that heighten our dining experience. Even eating a sandwich in the park can be turned into a beautiful experience with the right playlist.
4. Have wine with dinner
There’s something so classy about having wine with dinner that makes you want to elevate your dining standards. Having just a half a glass of wine with dinner, makes me feel special. And usually, it makes me want to eat less. Bonus!
5. Eat well
I’ve never been a fan of cooking, but over the years, I become a fan of eating well and nourishing my body. I’ve had home-cooked meals prepared by chef-level cooks whose nutritious dishes were so orgasmic, I still remember the experience years and months after. These experiences taught me that with a little effort, eating can be a real pleasure. And they’ve even made me want to do more in the kitchen than just pop a cut of salmon and chopped veggies in the oven. I’m no chef, but I’m learning to make real food taste good. When I’m eating a meal that I put effort into, I want to eat on real plates, sit at the dinner table, and use a knife and fork. I even want to invite people over for dinner on Tuesday night!
It was for gastro reasons that I started making the effort to eat in front of the TV less, but I’m certain the effort is shaping me in other ways. I can’t say for sure, but I think that eating off the sofa, is even helping to flatten my stomach.