TV Binge Watching and Eating
A new study shows that eating while your attention is engaged is likely to lead to over-eating. In other words, if you’re so engaged in what you’re watching, then you might not be thinking about what you’re putting in your mouth.
Researchers at the University of Sussex published a paper in the journal Appetite that found that people who weren’t paying attention to what they were eating were likely to eat more than their fill. The research findings showed that a distracted mind is a hungry mind.
People who were less distracted while eating tended to ingest fewer calories. They were able to determine when they were full, and participants had the self-control to stop eating. So, if you’re binge watching a series on Netflix and eating snacks, chances are high that you’ll finish the bag of chips before you know it.
That’s because your perception is not on the bag of chips.
The University of Sussex team tested 120 participants by giving them high and low-calorie drinks as meal supplements. They were asked to engage in tasks that demanded high and low levels of attention. After the drinks, they were given a follow up snack.
The researchers found that participants who were thoughtfully engaged were munching through the snacks regardless of whether they had the low-calorie drink or the high calorie drink. If their attention was focused on something else, they didn’t know when to say when.
Yet, when the participants were less distracted, they could refuse the second helping of food.
Why Do You Eat More When You’re Distracted?
Your mind can only manage a few tasks at once, even though it’s an incredibly complex biological machine. Some things can slip through the cracks when you’re distracted or doing too much multi-tasking.
So, when your attention and perception are intensely engaged, your brain filters out some of the sensory data that its receiving. You might have noticed this if you’re running late in the morning, grabbing items that you need for work, trying to eat a quick breakfast, and then you can’t find your keys because they’re already in your pocket or in your hand.
That’s because your brain is trying to manage so many perceptual inputs all at the same time. It can’t juggle everything. That’s how you can sit on the couch watching a really great show on Netflix and accidently eat a whole pack of Oreos.
Professor Martin Yeomans from the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex had this to say about his research:
“Our study suggests that if you're eating or drinking while your attention is distracted by a highly engaging task, you're less likely to be able to tell how full you feel. You're more likely to keep snacking than if you'd been eating while doing something less engaging.”
Why is This Research So Important?
There are a couple of reasons to be concerned about the findings of this new study. For starters, people are watching a lot more streaming videos because of the global pandemic. Being stuck at home means a lot more free time to watch an entire season or two.
Professor Yeomans goes on to say that “This is important for anyone wanting to stay a healthy weight: if you're a habitual TV-watching snacker — watching, say, an engaging thriller or mystery, or a film with a lot of audio or visual effects — you're not likely to notice when you feel full. Video-gamers and crossword solvers should also take note!
“We already knew that feeling full could be affected by the texture and appearance of food, as well as pre-existing expectations about how full we think a type of food should make us feel. Now we also know that feeling full depends on how much sensory information our brains are processing at the time.”
Netflix Doubles Down on Binge Watching
In a related story, Netflix just announced a new feature on its streaming platform to help you cure boredom by watching more content. Netflix is already the largest streaming service in the world with 167 million subscribers. According to a company press release, Netflix users spent 140 million hours a day watching content in 2017.
Now, Netflix has a shuffle mode for people who can’t decide what to watch. Previous versions of shuffle mode had defeatist names like “Play Something” and “Play Random Episode”. Perhaps other functions like “Fill the Void in My Soul” and “Just Stay on the TV” didn’t quite work out.
Here’s the skinny on shuffle mode.
When you engage shuffle mode, Netflix will automatically play something from your list, something the Netflix algorithm chooses for you, or simply re-run something you’ve already watched before.
It’s not designed to introduce users to new content. The Shuffle Mode works with the Netflix algorithm to take some of the incessant scrolling out of your user experience so that you can watch something as soon as you log-in.
To be fair, the shuffle mode is on a trial run and it’s only available for users who watch Netflix on their television. The company will decide later whether to roll out the binge-prolonging shuffle mode on all its interface platforms at a later time.
The University of Sussex study is a reminder for everyone who loves to eat snacks while watching movies on the couch. When you binge watch your favorite show you might also be binge eating your favorite snacks without giving much thought to what you’re actually doing.
You might want to consider taking a break from TV to eat your food so that you’re more perceptive of how your body feels. You could also set a time limit on how much time you’ll spend streaming videos.
Netflix and other streaming platforms like Hulu, Disney+ and Amazon Prime are happy to have you spend more and more hours watching their content. So, you won’t get a courtesy reminder to put away that second bag of chips.