I’ve recently been watching the TV show Gogglebox on Channel 4. It’s an entertaining hour of TV watching us, watching TV.
The setup is that groups of friends and families are filmed commenting on the week’s top shows. It’s occasionally funny, sometimes touching and they don’t pull any punches when it comes to puncturing the egos of on-screen talent.
But something I noticed after the last programme is that most of the participants munch their way through huge amounts of food and snacks while viewing.
This is something they have in common with a large proportion of the clients I see, who are seeking help to lose weight. And there is a growing quantity of scientific research that indicates that eating while watching television makes you eat more.
Researchers at the University of Birmingham have found that diners who are distracted while having a meal consume far more unhealthy food afterwards than those who are paying close attention to what they eat.
Diners who felt least hungry after eating were those who had focused closely on the flavour, texture and appearance of the food as they ate.
The research concludes that sitting down for formal meals and focusing on the food could help dieters to cut down on unhealthy snacking.
Dr Suzanne Higgs, a psychologist who led the research said: “Our findings suggest that avoiding distraction like watching television or eating on the go is a good idea.
“We think it is linked to memory and the way it influences our food intake. When we are making decisions about what we are going to eat, we are unconsciously factoring in information from our memories about what our last meal was.
“If you interrupt that process by being distracted then you will see effects on the amount consumed. The reason why people ate more later after watching television was because it impaired the encoding of that meal into their memory.
New research from the Netherlands notes another effect. The report, published in the journal Psychological Science finds people eating or drinking while mentally distracted actually don’t taste their food as well when otherwise occupied. As a consequence they require greater concentrations of sweetness, sourness, or saltiness to feel satisfied.
Psychologists Reine C. van der Wal and Lotte F. van Dillen write: “Our results suggest that limited attentional resources reduce sensory experience, which may be an important cause of overeating,”
“When people’s attention is burdened by a demanding activity, they will need to consume more of a certain food to obtain an optimal taste experience.”