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Mindful Eating and Multitasking

Saturday, February 09, 2013

I did this mindful eating challenge a couple days ago, and part of it was to blog about my experience, and I've been thinking it over. Suggestions included sitting at the table, turning off electronics, savoring each bite, setting my utensils down and sipping water between bites, enjoying the company of others present at the meal, and letting the meal take at least 20 minutes.

Last week I noticed I sometimes want to get through with eating so I can get back to something else. I was eating on the stairs that day because I let the baby fall asleep on my bed and I needed to be close at hand in case he woke up. So I was sitting on the stairs eating and trying not to think about what I wanted to be doing, which was a google search. (This was not the challenge day, I was just trying to eat mindfully). I struck a deal where I stopped reading while I took a bite and chewed it, but I switched back to reading while I swallowed. This got me thinking about multitasking.

A lot of the discussion on multitasking concerns distracted driving, and I've heard it asserted that we don't actually multitask, that our attention can only be on one thing at a time, and if we do anything else while driving, no one is at the wheel. I find this a little improbable since driving itself is a multitasking activity. I borrowed my mom's stickshift a while back, and went right back to clutching and moving the stick alongside my usual thinking of where I needed to go, reading signs, steering, and not speeding. I think it's true that we are already doing about as many things as the average person can do simultaneously (or in some kind of attention multiplexing) so that talking on the phone, texting, or using a computer is going to be overly taxing.

But what if you're not an average person? The latest research shows an interesting phenomenon, that people who enjoy multitasking are actually worse at it than people who are uncomfortable multitasking. In particular, the pro-multitaskers show less ability to identify which of the competing inputs are most important or relevant to their task. At least, I think that's what this article is saying:

Researchers theorize that people multitask not because they are so good at it, but because they can't inhibit the impulse to follow other distractions, that multitaskers are not more connected, but less connected. I'd suggest that when it comes to distracted eating, it is a way of unplugging.

I mean, how does emotional eating even make sense? We have a feeling we want to get away from, so we eat? I don't think the purpose is to drown out the feelings with food, but to make to two compete so that we wind up experiencing neither. When I'm eating mindlessly, I don't fully experience my food. My portion is all but gone, and I wonder where it went.

Well, I'm not sure that I'm ready to implement all the suggestions of an ideal mindful eating experience. To do so would take too much attention, I'm afraid. I am willing to try and make some little changes. I'm not ready to put my utensils down between bites, but I have been working on having water with my meal. Again, not every bite, but every few. I think the goal, in the end, is not to have so many things happening all at once, but to attend to the most relevant feeling, which is enjoyment of my food. As I did the actual mindful eating challenge this week, I decided that however I'm dealing with the meal, however long it takes, if I am feeling gratitude for my food as I eat it I will make progress in becoming a more mindful eater.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    I agree 100%. I think there must be a happy medium. I try to not be on the computer and slow down a bit and pay attention to what I puting my mouth, otherwise it is just gone. But it would be a great challenge to put all the possible practices in place. HUGS 2U!
    1887 days ago
    Sounds like a plan. Baby steps is always good.
    1892 days ago
    Interesting read... I know I need to be mindful with my eating because just as you write I often have my mind on the next thing, even if it's just cleaning up from dinner. I think your plan to start with some doable steps is wise. You've given me something to think about and think about what my plan will look like. I tried putting the fork thing down and wrote it with my other goal tracker but did it about a week and that was the end of it. Finally I deleted the goal because I just wasn't doing it anyways.

    1895 days ago
    Have had those meals that were gone before I knew it too! And I've been really trying to enjoy my food lately, since I've been working on dropping a few pounds, and in a deficit, it really means I want to enjoy the food I am eating more! I think for me, cooking more means I really want to savor my meal more so than if I was eating a frozen dinner, which used to be my go to lunch. Now I bring home cooked food, and really savor it!
    1895 days ago
  • SUGAR0814
    emoticon I'm guilty of using my phone, or watching TV, & even being on the computer (SP) while eating!
    1896 days ago
    I'm with NEEDBU66 if she was being serious. The way I slow down my eating is to have breakfast and sometimes lunch with SP. I take a bite (or a forkfull) and type or read and comment etc. Then another bite etc. The prevailing wisdom of taking a bite and thinking about the food doesn't work for me. I'm probably atypical in this regard, but for me it seems to put too much emphasis on the food. Slowing down is a good idea, however you go about it. I agree with that.
    1896 days ago
    I think as with many things, we must learn to have focus. I think one cannot do only one thing, after all we must breath, pump blood, fight pathogens. However, we can learn to make some behaviours more or less reflexive. Part of my practice of Taiji or Chi Running is to work on the very small elements of one aspect of a movement, and then allow that to become unconscious. I do this for a few minutes at a time, and then go on with my activity. By coming back to the practice of the micro skill regularly, it eventually finds its place in the whole activity.

    I wonder of this same approach might work for mindful eating. That is, a few times throughout a meal, really focus on the elements; taking a drink, putting down the fork, really tasting the food, the texture, etc. It seems to work well for complex things like Taiji, running and walking.

    1896 days ago
  • NEEDBU66
    Excuse me. I had to put my plate down in order to write this comment. emoticon
    1896 days ago
  • -AMANDA79-
    Easily distracted! I wouldn't call what I do multitasking. It's more like lack of focus. I try to not use my phone at the table, but I need to try harder.

    Good blog!
    1896 days ago
  • STHAX10
    1896 days ago
  • KANOE10
    That was an interesting blog. I think you are right. Focus on the enjoyment of food as you eat. I have had too many mindless meals in the past where the food disappears and you barely remember eating it nor was it enjoyable.

    1896 days ago
    It is in the practice of Zen Buddhism that mindfulness is addressed. It is to be followed not just for eating, but practiced for all things. The belief is you can find peace if you live mindfully. Very hard to do in our electronic and technological culture. My wife and I moved a little closer to it by giving up some of the technology. Mindful eating would be a real challenge for a food shoveller like me. I eat very quickly. Thanks for your entry. Thoughtful blog. Glenn
    1896 days ago
    Very interesting points, and I thank you for posting them. I am probably not terribly qualified to comment on multitasking, beyond saying that I don't like doing it. But I definitely agree that it is only too easy to have one's mind elsewhere while eating, and discover that the food has disappeared - and I didn't even notice. I do better at mindful eating when I am eating in front of (non-family) others. I eat more slowly, more carefully, more mindful of manners, etc. I also eat more mindfully when I only have a small portion. If I only have a bite of dessert, for instance, because I am sharing someone else's, I REALLY savor and appreciate that bite. Or even if I just allow myself a small portion because I am trying to eat less - then is when I eat mindfully. I should learn a lesson from that, I think.
    1896 days ago
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