Remember hearing about the risk of overeating if you dine as you watch TV or read? But what about while sending tweets or updating your Facebook page? Cindy Kuzma, writer for Men’s Health magazine, warns that combining the events can be hazardous to your waistline:
Eating has always been a social activity. And as our relationships have moved online, so have our meals, a new survey finds.
About one-third of Americans tweet, use Facebook, or otherwise connect on social media while eating or drinking. Among Millennials (people born roughly between 1980 and 2000) the percentage jumps to almost half, reports the Hartman Group, a consumer research and consulting firm.
There could be upsides: Virtual connections can make solo dining seem less lonely, says Gary Small, Ph.D., a UCLA psychiatrist and author of The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program.
But diet experts say if you’re not careful, stuffing your mouth while updating your status could expand your waistline. “When you’re posting, tweeting, or surfing, your mind will be focused on your device, not your dinner. You may come to the end of your meal feeling stuffed but strangely unsatisfied,” says Michelle May, M.D., author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle.
Your Brain on Twitter
To understand wired dining, it helps to know what’s happening in your brain when you try to do it all at once. Neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley, M.D., Ph.D., has used functional magnetic resonance imaging and EEG to study multitasking in his research lab at the University of California, San Francisco.
As you’re working on one task—say, composing a tweet or status update—your brain activates a neural network to help you remember and process the information you need, he says.
Introduce a second task, and those connections are basically broken. “After the interruption is done, you have to reactivate that memory network,” he says. “It’s not really multitasking—you’re switching between these tasks when you’re trying to do them both.”
Eating, however, is a bit of a different chore, and one that requires far less brain-processing power, Gazzaley explains. Since we’ve done it so much, it’s become almost a reflex, and that may be part of the problem. “We’re a fast-food nation; we’re gulping all our food down,” says Small. And when you eat in front of screens, you tune out your body’s fullness signals, so you eat more than you need, says May.
The effects may last beyond your current meal. In a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who played a computer game while eating lunch consumed twice as many cookies 30 minutes later and couldn’t recall the order of the foods they ate. The results suggest distracted eating may actually interfere with our ability to encode new memories about our meals, contributing to overeating throughout the day.
Unless food or nutrition is part of your job, save social media for after your meal, May says. She advocates mindful eating as a way to manage your weight and enjoy your food more.
To do it, set down your iPhone and take time to appreciate the appearance, aroma, and flavor of your food. Put your fork down between bites and savor the food that’s in your mouth. And consider that if it’s boredom driving you to Twitter, that’s a sign you’re getting full.