Chowing Down on the Run Could Boost Overall Snacking

two teen woman friends

Sometimes it’s hard to find time to get meals in. Whether you’re running to a meeting or trying to get your kids out the door, it might seem like sitting down to eat always takes the backseat to other events in your life. But new research has found that all that eating on the move may play tricks on your body when it comes to deciding whether to snack later on and may even boost your eating in a way that leads to weight gain.

How does distraction affect the way I eat?

Past research has indicated that how much you eat depends a lot on what you’re doing when you eat, where you eat, and who you eat with. Past research has shown, for example, that eating with people who tend to fill their plates more and eat larger portions also leads you to eat more than you would with people who do the opposite.

But distraction can also play a role in how much you eat. You’ve probably been at cocktail parties where you’ve lost track of how many plates you’ve eaten or how many glasses of wine you’ve had because you’ve been more focused on the conversation. Studies have found that people who are distracted while they eat, such as watching a TV show for example, tend to eat more than those who eat in less distracting situations. It’s that distraction factor that may prevent your brain from really keeping track of how much you’ve been eating and that this research team wanted to have a closer look at.

How did the team study the effect of walking while eating?

The researchers gathered a group of 60 women and split them into three groups. The first watched a TV show for five minutes while eating, the second walked around for five minutes while eating, and the third sat and talked to a friend for five minutes while eating. Each woman was given a cereal bar to consume while they performed the task. After eating the bar, the women moved on to a room with four bowls of snacks: carrots, chocolate, grapes, and potato chips. They were told to taste test the snacks in the bowl and rate them in a questionnaire. They were also told they could have as much of the snacks as they liked during the tasting. After they finished and left the room, the research team measured the amount of food each woman ate from each bowl and overall.

What did the research team find?

The women who had walked around while eating their cereal bar ate more total snacks compared to the other two groups. On top of that, women who self-identified as dieters and who ate while walking beforehand ended up eating about five times more chocolate than non-walkers. Interestingly, this effect wasn’t seen in walkers who weren’t dieters. Those women ate similar amounts of chocolate to other participants. Also surprising was the fact that TV watching didn’t seem to increase snacking as much as walking in spite of its distraction factor.

How did the team explain the results?

The researchers think that the distraction of walking may affect your brain’s ability to keep mental track of just how much it’s eaten. If you don’t count these calories taken in while on the go, you’re more likely to think you need a regularly sized meal whenever you next sit down to eat. The team also thinks that the perception of doing exercise while eating may justify the later indulgence to the walker, which might explain why the dieting women who ate while walking indulged in more chocolate than dieting women who didn’t walk.

How does this apply to me?

This study is different from prior studies examining distracted eating because it looked to see how distracted eating might affect future consumption. While other studies have shown that being distracted can make you eat more in the moment, these results seem to indicate that distracted eating could also lead to more eating during your next meal. Taking more time to sit down and appreciate your meals could help you feel more satisfied and make you less likely to indulge when you’re tempted with snacks later on.