Mindfulness vs. multi-tasking

Last week I listened to a teleseminar from The Center for Mindful Eating, “Multi-Tasking and Mindful Eating,” with Donald Altman, author of a number of books on mindfulness.

Altman said that we can very easily become mindless through the process of multitasking, and that affects our relationship with food. When we eat mindlessly, we may be “filled up” physically by food, but we lose the other sensory aspects of eating that contribute to true satisfaction and help prevent overeating. When we don’t focus on our food, it gets reduced to a mere fuel source.

He cited research from Brian Wansink that found that people don’t taste their food as much when they multitask while eating, and that people who eat while watching a sad movie tend to eat about 30 percent more than they would otherwise.
Altman said that since the advent of TV dinners and convenience foods, we’ve lost the cohesive family meal and the uninterrupted face-to-face time together, time that is important for fostering relationships and allowing us to connect securely with others.
When we don’t experience our meals deeply, and feel present and alive while we eat, we’re missing out, he said. The remedy is, in part, to set healthy boundaries around mealtime.
  • Physical boundaries: Turn off or limiting electronics and reduce the level of stimulating electroluminescent light from computers and other devices. It also means creating a mealtime space free of other things that might cause us to multitask.
  • Time boundaries: Give yourself enough time to eat that you can enjoy and savor your meal. Allow yourself time and attention to feel the physical sensations of satiety so you don’t overeat. When you multitask, it’s easier to miss those internal cues that tell you you’ve had enough food.
  • Environmental or space boundaries: Create an environment that’s conducive to eating. Even lighting a candle or taking a few deep breaths before you take a bite can make a meal feel more special. It can also be beneficial for some to create a ritual that signifies that the meal is over, such as mindfully cleaning up the dinner dishes, or going to another room and having a cup of tea.
Putting these ideas into practice, I’ve been endeavoring to be more mindful when I eat. While I avoid screen time while eating, it’s hard for me to not read a book or magazine while I eat lunch, because even though I work at home, that’s my midday “me” time. I compromise by eating some meals totally without distraction, and when reading material can’t be resisted, I make a point to pause several times during the meal and really pay attention.
Even outside of mealtime, multitasking doesn’t make us more efficient, it makes us less productive and erodes our ability to focus. I’ve made a concerted effort recently to make a to-do list each day, then focus on one task at at time. That includes concentrating email and social media business to a few chunks of time through the day, instead of letting myself be distracted constantly. I really do get more done, feel productive and satisfied, and overall end the day happier. Multitasking is so 2004.
Some of TCME’s teleconferences are members-only, but this one is not, and you can access the recording on the website. Another free teleconference, “Multitasking: Saving Time or Losing Enjoyment at Meals,” with Megrette Fletcher, M.Ed, RD, CDE, is coming up in December.