We’ve been hearing research about the worst time to eat since we were kids.
“If you eat sweets before you go to bed, you’ll have nightmares.”
“Wait at least half an hour after eating before you go in the water.”
“Food and sex, those are my two passions. It’s only natural to combine them.”
Ahhhh, George Costanza how dearly you are missed.
While those wildly informal data points have stuck with us well into our adult years, most of us crave more recent research. Almost as much we crave a Jos. Louis with our morning coffee.
Take it easy, I said “almost”.
The University of Surrey has tried to answer the call. In the Journal of Health Psychology, researchers from the UK school published findings from a study they conducted in an attempt to identify eating habits most likely to lead to weight gain and obesity. Specifically, they wanted to evaluate which activities performed while eating are most likely to result in troubling patterns of consumption.
Based on their research, the worst activity to perform while eating is walking.
Their group of female subjects were randomly split up and asked to all eat the same snack but under three different conditions: watching television, having a conversation, or walking around. After consuming the snack, the participants were then asked to complete a “taste test” with four different additional snacks: carrot sticks, grapes, crisps, and chocolates.
The participants who ate while walking consumed significantly more snacks than the other two groups and about five times more chocolate.
Jane Ogden, lead author of the study, commented on the potential power of diversions during food consumption:
“Even though walking had the most impact, any form of distraction, including eating at our desks can lead to weight gain. When we don’t fully concentrate on our meals and the process of taking in food, we fall into a trap of mindless eating where we don’t track or recognise the food that has just been consumed.”
Now, it is worth noting that the study distinguished participants as either “dieters” or “non-dieters”. The relatively significant increase in post-walking consumption appears to have only been associated with the “dieters”. So it’s possible that the people who gorged the most on after-snack snacks did so because they were already teetering on the edge of starvation and just pounced at the first opportunity to inhale chocolate when none of their friends were looking.
Either way, the effect of distraction on our eating habits – physical activity especially – is one worth considering. Sometimes there’s no getting around a stroll-and-a-salad and every once in a while, you will need to take a bagel into a meeting. As with any loving relationship though, it’s probably important to have some relaxing alone time with your food.