I consume a lot of health-related content but I also forget a lot of what I read - with a few exceptions. One of those exceptions is an article in the Journal of Gastroenterology about distracted eating that I read many years ago. It stated that eating on autopilot is stress-eating. Something I pondered for a while because I couldn't make the connection.
As someone who experiences many discomforts after eating and who isn't totally convinced that my doctor's "IBS-C" diagnosis is necessarily accurate, pieces like these left me thinking and doing further research.
One day, not long ago, as I was eating on the sofa with the dinner try on my lap as I caught up on the episodes of The Blacklist that I had missed while watching someone get their brains blown out on TV, the essence of the article came back to me and I thought: Could this be stress-eating?
It turns out that the answer is yes.
Here's how eating in front of the TV causes stress eating
Eating while you’re slouched over is a terrible position for digestion because it increases the chance that food will get trapped causing gas, heartburn, and bloating.
When we’re eating while watching TV, we tend to eat more because we’re paying less attention to our internal processing food cues which tell us when we’re full.
The habit of eating in front of the TV feeds into the habit of nighttime snacking.
Nighttime snacking can lead to sleep disturbances, and we don’t get refreshing sleep then.
Late-night snacking leaves more undigested food behind in the colon, causing more belly fat and stomach distention.
And, there’s a risk of lower back pain associated with sitting on soft sofas.
There I was, on the one hand, doing so many things right in order to maintain my weight and control my IBS symptoms but with poor habits like these, I was sabotaging my hard work.
I recommend finding alternatives to eating in front of the TV and making those alternatives attractive.
Here are some you should consider:
1. Make Your Dining Area Pretty
We’re pleasure seekers, it’s true, but it’s not just food that can give us a pleasurable dining experience. Flowers, a fruit bowl, or a pair of beautiful candlesticks on the table, can make your table more attractive. I also like seeing a beautiful light fixture above my head when I'm eating. Upholstered or comfortable dining chairs can glam up your dining area too and give the space an upgrade.
2. Dine alfresco
Having meals outside is another way to make eating alone more pleasant. Some of the smallest balconies and outdoor spaces can be turned into living areas with space for dining. No outdoor space at home? You can take advantage of public spaces like parks, especially at lunchtime during the workweek.
3. Turn on the Music
Music goes with everything and after you’ve been doing it for a while, you might agree that it’s a better accompaniment to food than TV. Several studies show that calming music aids digestion minimizes eating distractions, and releases feel-good sensations that heighten our dining experience.
4. Have Wine with Dinner
I'm sure I've been influenced by movies and TV here, but I find it classy when I'm having wine with dinner. Somehow, wine with dinner in front of the TV doesn't go over that well. Having just half a glass of wine with dinner does something else which has a positive psychological effect on me: it makes me feel special and that makes me want to eat less.
5. Eat well
I’ve never been a fan of cooking, but I’ve had nutritious meals prepared by great cooks who could open a restaurant because their food tastes so good. Along the way, almost as if by osmosis, these chefs have taught me there can be pleasure in eating well.
No one is going to call me a great cook any time soon, but I’m learning to make real food taste good, and that has elevated my dining experience. I feel proud when I follow a recipe and it comes out tasting great. Over the years, I've even perfected my soup-making skills to the point where people come back for seconds.
Eating well, I now believe, includes having good eating habits, which is not having all my meals in front of the TV. It's not a moral (right or wrong) question anymore. I actually feel better about myself and closer to my aspirational self when I do things like these the right way — the healthier way.