You’re watching a movie at the cinema, the main character, gun to his own head, is about to pull the trigger, and your hand hits the bottom of the popcorn box. You rummage around in there, but it’s all gone. You eye up the person sitting next to you, certain they must have stolen popcorn while you weren’t looking.
Later that week, you’re in a restaurant, sitting opposite someone who just won’t stop talking about how great they are — how amazing their life is — and you ram the cheesecake into your mouth with more force than normal. And when it’s done, you’re not satisfied. You eye up the brownie that the person next to you has ordered.
Distraction is everywhere: TV screens, the internet, other people, and even our own thoughts can all be forms of distraction. Does distraction lead to overeating? And if so, what can we do about it?
Let’s take a quick look at some research.
Jaffa Cakes and Pong, Anyone?
Firstly, if you’re not from the UK and you’re wondering what the bloody hell a Jaffa Cake is…
This is a Jaffa Cake. (Yes, it’s officially a cake, and not a biscuit )
And, by Pong, I’m talking about the Atari game from the 1970s.
In this study [Brunstom, Michell, 2006], 88 females ate Jaffa Cakes while playing Pong, while a control group did not play.
Jaffa Cake Pong, anyone?
- The people not playing Pong reported a significantly greater increase in fullness, and a significantly greater reduction in desire to eat.
Another study [Stroebele, de Casto, 2004] experimented on the effects of TV viewing on meal frequency on 76 participants.
- Participants ate more often on days when they ate in front of the TV.
- Although meals in front of the TV were smaller, the net effect was an increase in calorie intake (which was independent of the day of the week, or time of day they were watching TV).
- It didn’t even matter how interested they were in the TV show: participants still ate more calories, and more frequently, even when they reported not being very hungry.
So not only does distraction interfere with your fullness signals, it also messes with your desire to eat, and it causes you to eat more frequently. Talk about shooting yourself in the face.
And, man, I see it everywhere. People eat at their desks at work, left hand sandwich, right hand mouse. On the train, I see people stuff noodles into their face while their eyeballs are glued to their phone.
So, first, if you’re struggling with overeating, try experimenting by eating without looking at a screen, without listening to music, without anyone else around. Try sitting, just you and the food.
This is an important relationship: it’s time you two spent some quality time together.
Distraction doesn’t just mean playing Pong though. It’s not just about watching Netflix, either. You can be eating in total silence, but still be drowning in your thoughts.
You can be eating in total silence, but still be drowning in your thoughts.
When I used to binge eat, I wasn’t focussed on the food I was throwing into my mouth. I realised I was always thinking about the thing I was going to eat next. So on my way through a loaf of bread, I was thinking about the steak in the fridge. Then, while I was on the steak, I was thinking about the jam in the cupboard…
So how can you reduce these, and all the other distracting thoughts?
Narrow Your Focus With The Just This Bite Method
No one ever binged when they were calm, when their heart rate was low, when they had everything under control.
Here’s one way to get into that cool, collected state:
- Take a deep breath.
- Relax your jaw.
- Feel the food on your tongue, and in your mouth.
- Say to yourself:
Just this bite.
You can repeat this phrase to yourself as often as you need while you’re eating, to slow down, to focus on this bite, this moment, right here and now.
You can use this in any situation when you’re already eating, to awaken you out of the trance of your own thoughts:
- When you’re thinking about how good another person’s food looks: just this bite.
- When you’ve already eaten half of the contents of the fridge: just this bite.
- When you’re mindlessly throwing in the M&Ms through your 8th consecutive episode of Game of Thrones: just this bite.
If you’re eating with other people, I promise you they won’t know. The brilliant thing about talking to yourself is that no one will notice.
This Is Not The “Just This Bite” Diet
Although it’s going to be really helpful to eat without distraction, and refocusing your thoughts onto the food in your mouth, if you forget to do it, or if you intentionally decide to not do it, it’s fine.
These days, I eat very well, but sometimes I still eat while distracted, sometimes I nail a pizza while watching a movie, just because. This is the real world. So please don’t beat yourself up. Just experiment, and see if you notice a difference.
Personally, I found the Just This Bite method to be an incredibly powerful way to calm down, to create space, and to be satisfied with less, because I could actually taste, and enjoy my food even more.
To Sum It Up:
- Distraction interferes with your ability to feel full, it means your desire to eat remains, and it causes you to eat more frequently overall.
- Distraction doesn’t just mean TV screens and the internet. Your thoughts can be a big source of distraction.
What To Do Next:
- Experiment by eating without distraction: turn your phone off, and use the Just This Bite method to narrow your focus back onto what you’re eating.
- Don’t make this a “Just This Bite diet”. It’s completely fine to smash a pizza while watching Netflix, if you genuinely enjoy doing that. We’re aiming for improvement, not perfection. You have my permission.
How is the Just This Bite Method working for you? Let me know in the comments.
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 There was an age old dispute if Jaffa Cakes are actually cakes, rather than biscuits. The makers (McVities) even had to prove this in a tribunal in 1991. In the UK, cakes are considered a “staple of living” (you’re damn right!) and are therefore not taxed. Chocolate covered biscuits, on the other hand, are a “luxury”, which means that they are taxed. McVities argued that a cake goes hard when it turns stale, but biscuits turn soft. Since Jaffa Cakes turn hard when stale, they must be a cake, proving not only that Jaffa’s are exempt from tax, but that they are, in fact, a staple for living. 🙂