Dangers of Distracted Eating

Dangers of Distracted Eating

In This Article

About Secondary Eating

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, secondary eating is defined as “eating while engaged in another activity.” This includes watching TV, opening mail, reading, talking on the phone, texting, and of course, driving, standing or eating on the run.

By now, we should all know that, according to Ayurveda, secondary eating is a no-no. According to recent interviews with best-selling author Michael Pollan, Americans spend 78 minutes a day engaged in secondary eating – which means they are doing something else while eating. He went on to say that 20% of all food intake in America happens in the car.

A 2006 to 2008 survey by the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Cancer Institute came up with similar findings. (1) According to the survey, the average American spends 67 minutes eating and drinking per day, but spends an additional 23 minutes each day eating while engaged in something else. Interestingly, they found that 63 minutes per day involved drinking beverages while doing other activities.

It’s TV Time!

They also found that obese Americans spent 37 more minutes per day watching TV compared to normal-weight Americans. (1) But even the normal weight individuals spent 2.7 hours a day in front of the tube, which may explain a lot about our culture. Obese individuals did spend a little more time watching TV, clocking in at 3.1 hours a day.

According to the exercise segment of this survey, normal-weight individuals exercised an average of 18 minutes a day, while obese individuals exercised only 12 minutes a day. (1)

(Ironically, I have been teaching clients for decades how to be healthy by doing 12 minutes of exercise a day, and with great success! This is where the type of exercise performed comes into play and makes a huge difference.) You can read an assortment of my articles on exercise from a multitude of different angles here.

All Work and No Play

Normal weight Americans worked an average of 3.6 hours a day (average calculation including weekends and holidays) and just overweight (not obese) individuals worked 3.9 hours a day, while obese Americans worked 3.7 hours a day on average. (1) One possible conclusion is that overworking can result in not taking as good care of our bodies as we want to be, and it may be an unfortunate trend in our culture to push ourselves as hard as we can until a physical limitation such as obesity forces us to back off. Americans have a reputation for working very long hours with little vacation time compared to other countries.

The (Deceptively Simple) Remedy for Secondary Eating 

When I first returned from my Ayurvedic training in India, I co-directed Deepak Chopra’s Ayurvedic Center in Massachusetts. It was an Ayurvedic center that was famous for treating cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. I would always ask each patient after their week-long stay, “What was the most important thing you learned here this week?”

What I heard over and over again from these often terminally ill patients was, “I learned to stop, slow down, eat and enjoy my food in a relaxed way.” Many related their previous eating habits to filling their car with gas: “Fill it up as fast as you can and go!”

Perhaps the takeaway from this research is that we must slow down and enjoy what we are doing while we are doing it. Eat in the moment!

If we practice presence while eating, we elevate the act of eating to the same plane as any other meditation. Presence is a deceptively simple exercise, with the mind offering up a conveyor belt of constant distractions! A regular meditation practice can help us be comfortable doing one thing at a time. Find information on LifeSpa’s Transformational Awareness Technique 6-week meditation eCourse here.


  1. USDA Economic Research Service. 2006-08 Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey and ERS eating and Health Module Data. More at: https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/eating-and-health-module-atus/

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Dr. John

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