Have you ever been engrossed in binge-watching your favourite show, only to look down and realise you've eaten a whole bag of chips, or box of popcorn, because you weren't paying attention? You're not alone. This phenomenon is called "mindless eating", and it essentially boils down to clearing your plate or polishing off the bag of snacks because you're too distracted to notice the feelings of satiety or fullness.
This is less of a big deal if you're eating healthy: if you're watching TV at mealtimes and you've eaten a few too many pieces of lean chicken prepared with the one of the best health grills, it's not so much of an issue. However, it's more often the case that it's a big bag of chips or tub of ice cream, something high in saturated fat or sugar.
In today's world of addictive apps on your devices, designed like casinos to make it difficult to pull your attention away, mindless eating has become a real problem according to a report from Harvard University (opens in new tab).
Dr. Lilian Cheung, a nutritionist and lecturer at Harvard School of Public Health, wrote: "Because we're working, driving, reading, watching television, or fiddling with an electronic device, we're not fully aware of what we're eating. And this mindless eating—a lack of awareness of the food we're consuming—may be contributing to the national obesity epidemic and other health issues."
Whether scrolling on our phones or binge-watching episode after episode of The Office, it's well-known Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, Netflix and other popular apps are designed to hold our attention for as long as possible, literally training our brains to want more by artificially triggering the dopamine, or reward chemical, in our brains. This means we're simply eating on autopilot, and we don't notice when we begin to feel sated.
To combat this mindless grazing, the Harvard report suggests incorporating practices of mindful eating into our daily lives. This generally includes turning off the distracting screens in order to better focus on the food in front of you, appreciating all the different nuances. While this sounds like a practice you might be asked to perform over a quinoa salad, it's just as applicable to a dirty cheeseburger or cheat-day pizza: after all, if you're only going to treat yourself once in a while, why not enjoy the experience?
However, if that all sounds like quite a lot of bother, the next best thing is to cook foods which are friendlier to your waistline, so you don't mind mindlessly munching. If roasted and fried foods are a staple, you can reduce the calorie content and avoid drowning things in oil by using an air fryer.
Air fryers use a very small amount of oil and hot air currents to provide everything with a more even coating, frying things the same way with a fraction of the added calories. Not got one? Our best air fryer list is a great place to start shopping.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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