Fast-paced programs lead to mindless overeating. In a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine, researchers studied the eating habits of 94 undergraduate students while they watched one of three things: the movie The Island with sound, the TV talk show Charlie Rose and The Island without sound.
The subjects were given unlimited amounts of snack food, including M&Ms, cookies, carrots and grapes. At the end of the experiment, those who watched The Island with sound ate 206.5 grams of food, which is 98% more than Charlie Rose viewers, who ate just 104.3 grams. Participants who watched the movie without sound ate 142.1 grams, which is still 36% more than the Charlie Rose viewers.
The difference is clear. The drier, less exciting program didn't provoke much eating, while the action movie — a fast-paced thriller with lots of drama — did.
Anecdotally, the results make a lot of sense. If you're distracted by something you're watching, you're less like to be aware of how much you're consuming. A program like Charlie Rose tends to be on the dusty side, which allows you to pay attention to other things, like how much junk food is going into your body. On the other hand, if you do decide to concentrate, it requires more of your mind than an action movie would, thus leaving less time for food.
This mirrors previous research on the subject. A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating when distracted, such as while watching TV or working, resulted in an increase in how much food was eaten. Similarly, a 2011 study in the same publication found that those who multitasked while eating were hungrier afterward than those who did not.
What's more, according to research from Psychological Science, when we're distracted, we need higher amounts of sweetness, sourness or saltiness in our food to feel sated. So not only do we tend to eat more when we're doing other things, the things we crave aren't exactly healthy, either.
Given the ever-increasing obesity rate — clearly shown in the maps below, which compare data collected 23 years apart — these habits are not doing us any favors.
A warning for your next movie trip: The study in JAMA Internal Medicine used a small sample size, which is something to keep in mind when making generalizations.
However, given the other studies on the subject, this most recent research seems to point to a pattern: The more distracted you are while eating, the more you're likely to overeat. Next time you catch a movie with friends, you may want to put down those Doritos earlier than you think.
h/t The Week