Can you walk and chew gum at the same time? Lyndon Johnson is credited for creating this idiom during an interview talking about Gerald Ford. It is worth noting that Johnson reportedly said, “He can’t fart and chew gum at the same time.” In the interest of decency, the press chose a more PG version of Johnson’s remark!

Johnson was referring to Ford’s clumsiness but these days the saying has taken on a different meaning: the ability to multitask. You are aware of the the toll multitasking takes on productivity. Today I am going to focus on the toll multitasking takes on your waistline.

An estimated 66% of Americans watch TV while eating dinner, and 65% eat lunch while working at their desks. Twenty percent of meals are eaten in the car. What else do people do while eating?  Walk, ride the subway, talk on the phone, read a magazine or book, put on makeup and walk the dog are common responses. In the spirit of remaining PG, I will refrain from mentioning some of the others.

Whatever you do while eating, beware of your next bite. Not paying attention to your food may be making you fat. Distracted eating leads to mindless eating.

A study explored the effect of multitasking on food consumption and food flavor. The findings: taste perception is limited by our capacity to pay attention to multiple things at once. When you are not focused on what you are eating, it doesn’t taste as good, you crave stronger flavors (please pass the salt), and you miss the satiety cues your body is trying to send you that you are full.

This study goes hand in hand with research about how surroundings influence the experience of a meal. Ambience, lighting, and sound can make a good meal taste even better.  The reverse is true too—a noisy, ugly, overly bright room will take away from the flavor and experience of the food.

A famous restaurant in Paris, Dans Le Noir, serves dinner in total darkness. The idea is that visual sensory deprivation enhances the flavor and taste of every bite. It is the very opposite of multi-tasking while eating. The singular focus is on the food and by most accounts it is a sublime experience.

You don’t have to go to Paris to eat mindfully. Harvard’s health blog offers some helpful tips:

Try eating with your non-dominant hand; if you’re a righty, hold your fork in your left hand when lifting food to your mouth.

Use chopsticks if you don’t normally use them.

Eat silently for five minutes, thinking about what it took to produce that meal, from the sun’s rays to the farmer to the grocer to the cook.

Take small bites and chew well.

Before opening the fridge or cabinet, take a breath and ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” Do something else, like reading or going on a short walk.

The bottom line: When it’s time to eat, it’s time to eat. Turn off the computer, the iPhone and the TV. Sit down at a table, put a napkin in your lap and savor every bite. Not only will the food taste better, you’ll eat less.

I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman