Distracted Eating Leads To Overeating
March 18, 2013

Distracted Eating Leads To Overeating

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Trying to lose weight by watching what you eat? Don´t get distracted by television, playing games or reading, says a new study, as this type of multi-tasking can lead to overeating.

According to a new research review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, ℠distracted eaters´ tend to consume more food in a sitting than ℠attentive eaters,´ and those same distracted eaters are more likely to consume more food later that same day.

"Some studies have individually shown this before, but the evidence has never been put together," lead author Eric Robinson, from the UK´s University of Liverpool, told Reuters.

The review also showed that if a person recalls a previous meal, they tend to eat less food later on.

"Even though we make decisions about what and when to eat with apparent ease all the time, these decisions are actually very complex and can be easily disrupted," said co-author Suzanne Higgs, a psychologist at the University of Birmingham in the UK.

In the review, the team of UK researchers assessed data from 24 different studies conducted between 1997 and 2011. The studies involved experiments that affected participants' attention, recollection and awareness of eating food.

While many of the studies used different methods, all were checked to see that they were tightly controlled and monitored. For example, in one study adults watched television while eating. In another, participants were instructed to eat pistachio nuts as experimenters immediately removed the discarded shells from view. Most of the study participants were college students who were of normal weight, rather than overweight or obese.

The review found that eating while distracted increased food intake by about 10 percent, compared to attentive eaters. The researchers also found that distracted eating increased the amount a person ate at a later meal by more than 25 percent.

The review authors said their findings lead to improved weight loss regimens as an alternative to calorie-counting. Robinson suggested that a mobile phone application could be developed to keep the attention of distracted eaters focused on the amount of food they are eating.

Because the studies involved individuals of normal weight, Michael Lowe of Drexel University, who was not involved in the new study, told Reuters that research results could be different for people who could benefit the most by controlling their food intake.

"The findings, strictly speaking, only apply to those in the normal weight range," Lowe said. "Even if you use the same laboratory setting, it's difficult to know if these same interventions would apply to obese individuals."

"There are some additional big steps before it's plausible that these findings could ultimately help people keep their weight off," he added.

Lowe also noted that previous weight loss programs have involved attentive eating, many of them unsuccessfully.

"The learned habits tend to dissipate after the program ends and most individuals regain the weight they lost," he explained.

Robinson and Higgs told Reuters that their current research involves looking at how distracted eating impacts overweight and obese participants.