Multitasking During Mealtimes Impacts Appetite and Digestion

Multitasking and Food

While humans are not always designed to multitask, we do it anyway, especially when it comes to mealtime. We have all been guilty of snacking in front of the television, having lunch while working and eating dinner while reading or listening to music. While seemingly convenient, it has a large impact on our health and how our body treats hunger and nutrients. 

While you’re eating, your body has two very important jobs:

    1    To tell you when you're full

    2    Digest food and absorb nutrients

If you’re eating and working on your to-do list, your body and brain won’t be able to focus on those two jobs. As a result, you’re more likely to overeat and you won’t be digesting your food as well, which means you’re not getting all the nutrients you need. 

Taste Perception Leads to Fullness

Researchers in 2013 concluded that multitasking individuals who were consuming food were more likely to overeat1. Here’s how it works: your body needs something called Taste Perception in order to feel full. Taste Perception is your brain’s way of clocking in the five tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. When you're paying attention to other things, your brain isn’t able to register the five tastes. It will then signal your body to continue eating until it is able to experience Taste Perception, resulting in a higher likelihood of overeating. 

Improve Digestion Through the CPDR

Secondly, multitasking impacts your digestive system and it’s ability to absorb nutrients2. Here's how this one works: for your digestive system to perform at it’s best, your body needs something called the CPDR (cephalic phase digestive response), which is simply a very long and complicated way of describing how your body pays attention and experiences food. Have you ever smelled food and your mouth immediately started to salivate? How about seeing a really yummy dish and your tummy started to rumble?  That would be your CPDR preparing your body for digestion by prepping an elite team of biochemicals that your body needs to break down food. Once your food is broken down, your body can then absorb the nutrients. In fact the CPDR can be responsible for up to 30-40% of your digestion- which is why it's important to let your body pay attention to your food instead of on other things! When you digest well, you’re more likely to absorb the nutrients you need.

Mindful Eating

So, what now? What can we do to prevent overeating and maximize our digestion? We can start by practicing Mindful Eating, which is essentially the act of paying attention to your food. Mindful Eating in itself is a huge topic, but let’s focus on two small exercises that will be the most effective when it comes to multitasking and eating.  

First, treat your meal like a first date. Put away your phone, shut off the television, close your laptop. Give it your undivided attention (aka, stop multitasking.) That way, your body can focus 100% on food and it will give your body a chance to develop Taste Perception. Then, pay attention to the five tastes. 

Secondly, eat with all five senses - not just taste. How you experience food through sight, smell, sound and touch is important! Pay attention to what your food looks like - the colors, textures, etc. What does it smell like? What does it sound like? Is it sizzling? Does it crunch when you bite into it? Lastly, what does it feel like? What are the textures? Is it creamy, crispy or chewy? 

So the next time you’re tempted to have dinner while watching your favorite Netflix show (Stranger Things, anyone?) or eat lunch while reading something for work, see if you can put off the television or to-do list for 20 minutes so you can enjoy your meal. Your body and brain will thank you for it. 

References

1. van der Wal, Reine, and van Dillen, Lotte. “Leaving a Flat Taste in Your Mouth: Task Load Reduces Taste Perception.” Psychological Science, vol. 24, no. 7, 2013, pp. 1277-1284. 

2. David, Marc. The Slow Down Diet. Healing Arts Press, 2005.