In a previous post I talked about how habit affects our eating patterns. Watching TV while eating is another factor here. Not only do we get into the habit of eating while watching, but studies show that TV viewing has a number of effects that make eating more problematic.
Firstly, if we're watching TV (also reading, surfing, etc) while we eat, studies show we will eat more. This is because we're not being mindful of our eating, and so are less likely to pick up on the signals our body sends us to tell us we're full. These signals are, in any case, much weaker than hunger signals. After all, in the grand scheme of things, if you didn't notice you were hungry and do something about it you'd die, whereas not noticing you've had just about enough simply means you store a bit for later, which the body doesn't think is necessarily a bad thing.
Secondly, watching TV changes our brain waves to a more relaxed state, which slows our metabolism down. So, eating while viewing TV we not only eat more, but process it more slowly.
Thirdly, sitting in front of the TV contributes to a sedentary lifestyle, which also slows the metabolism.
So, a treble-whammy making eating in front of the TV a weight-gain combo!
What, then, is the alternative? Fritz Perls, in Ego, Hunger and Aggression suggests paying attention to what you eat, to the flavours, textures and tastes. Deanne Jade talks of mindful eating and makes some suggestions to help make it feel more of an occasion, such as eating off your best plates, wearing something nice while you eat, and being aware of the presentation of the food to make it as appealing as possible. There's a bit of a L'Oreal feel here - because I'm worth it :-)
However, especially if you eat with others who are also in the habit of eating in front of the box, changing this may meet with a lot of resistance. Deanne suggests trying to make just one meal a week mindful to begin with, and see how that goes. Personally, I have found this quite tricky, in part because of the emphasis there is in our culture about being productive. Just eating seems like a waste of time, when I could be doing some thing else at the same time. If I watch TV with dinner, it leaves more time after dinner to do "worthwhile" things. Or else I read something work-related while having lunch, and surf and answer emails while eating breakfast.
I think perhaps I need to reframe this. Spending time on eating mindfully is a way of saving time spent in the gym or agonizing in clothes shops, or just feeling bad about myself. So, productive in a less obvious but still very real way.
Do you eat while watching television? How would it feel to try to change this habit? Looking forward to hearing your experiences, I could do with some help on this one!