How to Avoid Mealtime Multitasking Mania | The BridgeMaker

How to Avoid Mealtime Multitasking Mania

By on Jan 30, 2010


Tell me what you eat, I’ll tell you who you are. Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Article written by BridgeMaker contributor Paul D. Fitzgerald. Follow him on Twitter.


I’m so ready for lunch. Let’s grab a bite and we can catch up on messages and emails. Besides, I have to check in about the plans tonight.

Multitasking at mealtimes is so taken for granted in American culture that nothing in the sentence above would surprise anyone. In fact, watching someone eat a meal who does not multitask seems odd.

Next time you hear a statement similar to the one above, ask them to give you their cell phone and laptop for the duration of the meal and watch for the shocked look on their face.

What harm can it really be?

Here are four common consequences and the cumulative consequences of mealtime multitasking can be quite serious:

  1. Turns eating into mindless grazing marathons where we have no real idea what we’ve really consumed or the quality of the taste. Some of us couldn’t make a list of exactly what we’ve eaten today let alone yesterday.
  2. Increases the likelihood of choosing poor quality food and combinations that are filling but empty of the nutrition we need. Try walking around with a healthy salad while you check email on your mobile phone but a fat-saturated burger or hot dog works well.
  3. Results in consuming more food than we realize. We miss the “full” signal from our stomach and feel stuffed which leads to feeling lethargic when we might need our full focus after the meal.
  4. Sbotages the digestive system when we don’t chew food sufficiently, making digestion more difficult than necessary. “Chew your food 32 times!” is a smart lifestyle choice.

Research shows

Guess what, there really is a correlation between the pace at which we eat and weight changes. Just this month British Medical Journal reported a study that measured the pace of eating and weight changes over 12 months in 106 referred youth age 9-17, a population generally at-risk for obesity.

A computerized method measured the rate food was taken off their plate and gave them a slow pace to match while asking for self-reports about how full they felt. At the end of the 12 months the group using the slow eating protocol had a lower gain in Body Mass Index that the control group and maintained the difference over the full 18 months of the study.

Certainly, we could question whether the results with children would be the same in the average adult. Other studies found that it was only as food moved to the lower part of the stomach that the brain received the “full” signal so eating slower allows time for that to happen and avoid overeating to feel full.

Seven Steps toward unitasking meals

  1. Breathe deeply several times and exhale slowly. Stop all other activities and allow yourself to come into the place you are going to actually eat the meal instead of where you’ve been or where you may be going later.
  2. Look at your food and notice the different colors, textures, smells and the way it is presented to you.
  3. Take s minute and really take in the mixture of flavors in the first bite of each kind of food before you begin chewing it. Become aware of the textures of the food. Is it tender or tough; crisp or soft.
  4. Put your eating utensil completely down on the table between each bite and become aware of the experience of chewing food completely.
  5. Reflect on the possible origin of the raw ingredients in the food, what it took to plant, harvest, transport, and prepare the food you are eating. Allow a grateful attitude toward all those whose lives have been involved in getting the food to you.
  6. Turn off or try to tune out music during the meal. Restaurants often use fast-paced music to non-verbally quicken our pace of eating so they can turn the tables over faster and make more money – at the expense of our digestion.
  7. Plan for at least a 30 minute period of quietly walking around after the meal to aid your digestion and relax to prevent indigestion.

Coming clean

I feel the need for making a confession to the readers. First let me get this out of the way: “Hi, I’m Paul and I am recovering mealtime multitasker.”

This article was not written for you but for me. I wanted to see in black and white what I know in my head but struggle with internalizing in my lifestyle. Maybe you are among the masses who can identify with my challenge. In fact, it occurs to me that we could start a new support group – MMA (Mealtime Multitaskers Anonymous).

Let’s get some people together over lunch or dinner sometime and talk about how we could organize it.

Footnote: “Treatment of childhood obesity by retraining eating behavior; randomized controlled trial.”

Dr. Paul Fitzgerald is a Life Coach and offers several dimensions to help clients move toward personal wholeness and create a fulfilling life. You may contact Dr. Paul at

  • LOL – I am so guilty of eating something while I am working online. Eating slowly and chewing is fenitely an area I need to work on. Thanks for the reminder Paul!

    🙂 Lorraine

  • Archan Mehta

    Thank you, Paul, this is a timely piece for sure.

    “There is more to life than speed,” according to Mahatma Gandhi.

    I think we really need to slow down.

    Be conscious of the food you eat, period.

    Even eating your meal can be approached as a meditation: it can become a process of creativity.

    There is no reason why we need to “wolf down our food” or rush through life without consciousness.

    I appreciate your research and your practical tips as well. Your writing reflects your wisdom.

  • I too have been guilty of multitasking while eating…Dr. Phil’s book 7 keys to ultimate weight loss addresses this issue too. My problem continues to be eating slowly…chewing and just taking time to enjoy the flavor and textures of the food.