Mindful Eating: How did I just finish a whole box of crackers? Oh-that's right. I did not pay attention.

  • 22 October 2015
  • sjanicke
I recently participated in a 21 day mindful technology challenge which really spoke to me since I had my big cereal bowl sitting in front of me, trying not to spill any almond milk and cereal pieces on my precious laptop. Mindful technology use? Not so much. Even though I am practicing meditation and try to be as mindful as can be during the day, eating in front of my computer is a really stubborn habit that is just so hard to fix. I blame grad school for this, but this is another story. Why is it so hard to translate the science into action? I mean, it is well documented that multitasking (and I consider holding a spoon, chewing, writing, thinking and using the mousepad of my laptop as multitasking squared) first and foremost doesn’t really exist, (and second) engaging in
“multitasking” only makes us slower in finishing tasks, more prone to mistakes, and less able to filter out distracting information 
(yap, that FB tab is clearly calling my name) (i.e., Adler & Benbunan-Fich, 2012, Carrier, Cheever, Rosen, Benitez, & Chang, 2009; Ophir, Nass & Wagner, 2009). In addition, I know that my brain is probably fried anyways (Your Brain at Work by Dr. David Rock) because I just came back from teaching 2 classes and I haven’t really taken a break before that too. Clearly, I am a victim of the third person effect here. After all, being an academic does make me feel invincible every once in a while (and then really stupid afterwards). An insider story about Dolf Zillmann, a guru of media effects and media processes research, specifically pornography and excitation transfer theory, goes that he had to stop researching porn because he realized its effects on his marriage. So effects are there, if we want them or not and science does its' thing if we change our habits or not. 
So, yes, multitasking does also affect me super invincible academic! 
While I am slowly getting to the bottom of my breakfast bowl, I probably depleted just the last tiny bits and pieces of my brain power, setting myself up for trouble when tackling the journal article revision in a few minutes. Note to self: take a break. Eat mindfully. Without technology. Oh, yes: That was part of the 21 day mindful technology challenge. Eat a meal without any devices on around you: No TV, no phone on the table
Yes, research has shown that the mere presence of your phone can impact not only the quality of your conversations but also your task performance on a cognitive challenging attention test
(see Thornton, Faires, Robins, & Rollins, 2014; Przybzlski & Weinstein, 2013 ). Now, thinking back, I actually do that every once in a while: Eating away from my computer. However, even without my computer in front of me, the phone certainly lures with some enticing objects of attention. When my willpower is very strong I can abstain that too, and unplug for real for a meal, but what happens then is everything BUT mindful. My mind starts talking extremely loud: don’t forget to send out this email, oh, you really need to do your nails girl, man, I feel tired, oh wait, did you pay your credit card bill yet?….WOW. I mean, how amazing is that? So much blablabla without actual talking.
Research has shown that mind wandering, so not being in the present moment (independent of if the moment is pleasurable or not), causes (yes, I used the “c”word here!) unhappiness (see: Killingsworth, & Gilbert, 2010). How can I be happy then?
Luckily, through my meditation practice I know how to minimize the effect those thoughts have on me, which, quite frankly, does make me more happy. While eating, this practice comes particularly handy. In meditation retreats, one part of it is always to make eating a meditation. When I did this the first time I thought the lady was nuts. Am I arranging my food in a crossed legged position before eating it or what? Ok, no it just meant eating really aware, intentionally, and slowly.  After trying it I realized things in my food I never really thought about: textures, spices, smells, temperatures; all of a sudden  a symphony of tastes developed in my mouth I didn’t even know existed. Also, it seemed like time would slow down, which, given the busy academic work days we have, is really a nice thing to experience. There is research now that shows how mindful eating interventions help with eating disorders (i.e., Kristeller & Wolever, 2010). Not that I think that my excessive indulgence in fruits - I am a bit weird like that :) - is an eating disorder but interesting to know, just in case.
Now, unfortunately, the retreat I have been to is already months ago and I lost touch with my mindful eating practice. I am glad the 21 day challenge reminded me of it. While the knowing-doing gap is certainly a bridge that will never completely close, I am very thankful for the little reminders and nudges that come to me to re-activate those “good” habits and set me up to a path of aware being. Being on autopilot is nice for some things but when it comes to such precious things as eating, really, the computer is not interested in my cereal, but my stomach and taste buds are.
So, challenge for myself: Mindful eating in the office unplugged for the next 21 days! Day 1 (today) epic fail. Good. Then success is what’s next. 
Check out the mindful eating and taking #RealBreaks community on Facebook. More info here: 
Adler, R. F., & Benbunan-Fich, R. (2012). Juggling on high wire. Multitasking effects on performance. International Journal of Human Computer Studies, 70(2), 156-168. doi:10.1016/j.ijhcs.2011.10.003 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1071581911001431
Carrier, L.M., Cheever, N.A., Rosen, L.D., Benitez, S., & Chang, J. (2009). Multitasking across generations: Multitasking choices and difficulty ratings in three generations of Americans. Computers in Human Behavior, 25(2), 483-489. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2008.10.012 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563208002033
 Ophir, E., Nass, C., & Wagner, A.D. (2009). Cognitive control in media multitaskers. PANAS, 106(37), 15583-15587.  doi: 10.1073/pnas.0903620106
Are you Multitasking your Life Away? Cliff Nass at TED Stanford (2012)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PriSFBu5CLs
Kristeller, J. L., & Wolever, R. Q. (2010). Mindfulness-based eating awareness training for treating binge eating disorder: The conceptual foundation. Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention, 19(1), 49-61. 
DOI: 10.1080/10640266.2011.533605
Thornton B, Faires A., Robbins M., &Rollins E. (2014). The Mere Presence of a Cell Phone May be Distracting: Implications for Attention and Task Performance. Social Psychology, 1-10. DOI: 10.1027/1864-9335/a000216
Przybylski A.K. & Weinstein N. (2013). Can you connect with me now? How the presence of mobile communication technology influences face-to-face conversation quality. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30(3), 237-246. doi: 10.1177/0265407512453
Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilbert, D.T.  (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science, 330, 932. https://www.ted.com/talks/matt_killingsworth_want_to_be_happier_stay_in_the_moment?language=en#t-352680