Feeling Hungry? Why Eating Lunch Away from the Desk is Best

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Playing Scrabble online with friends or stalking an old flame on Facebook can be totally addicting. But recent research suggests zoning out in front of the computer during lunch might actually lead to overeating [1]. So stop checking those status updates (c’mon, fess up!) and consider focusing on that yummy salad or sammy instead!Photo by Marissa Angell

Gimme a Break — Why it Matters

Americans spend an average of eight and a half hours a day staring at their computer screens, TVs, and cell phones. So take a break at lunch! Research suggests that extra screen time could wreak havoc on the eyes — and maybe even the waistline [1] [3]. In one study, subjects who played Solitaire on a computer while chowing down reported feeling less full than non-distracted participants. The computer gamers also ate nearly twice as much when presented when a post-lunch snack [1].

Spending too much time in front of the computer can also contribute to eye problems like computer vision syndrome, which can cause pesky symptoms like eye strain, blurred vision, and light sensitivity [3]. Powering down mid-day can have some social benefits, too. Studies suggest people who regularly socialize with others (and no, email doesn’t count!) display better cognitive function — just from chatting it up with friends [6].

Living in a technology-obsessed culture makes it hard to step away from the screen, even for meals. But it’s important to have some computer, cell phone and television-free hours every day. When lunchtime rolls around, try taking a walk outdoors (fresh air — ahhh!), or getting together some co-workers for a team lunch. Interacting with real live people may seem foreign in the world of texting and Twitter, but studies show communal eating can contribute to a happier mood and healthier meal [7].

Need another reason to focus on food and only food during lunch? In another study, researchers found that food-focused diners showed enhanced “meal memory,” (damn, that turkey sandwich was good!), which kept them feeling satisfied longer [8]. Subjects who were asked to read a newspaper while eating, by contrast, had more trouble keeping their hands out of the cookie jar after lunch [8].

The Takeaway

Turn the computer, phone, and TV off during lunchtime to prevent overeating and unnecessary eye strain. Instead of chowing down while perusing Facebook, meet friends or coworkers for a lunch date or enjoy nature by dining al fresco in a local park. 

Originally posted on September 14, 2011. Updated September 2013 by Sophia Breene.  

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Works Cited

  1. Playing a computer game at lunch affects fullness, memory for lunch, and later snack intake. Oldham-Cooper, RE, Hardman, CA, Nicoll, CE, et al. Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2011 Feb; 93(2):308-13.
  2. Playing a computer game at lunch affects fullness, memory for lunch, and later snack intake. Oldham-Cooper, RE, Hardman, CA, Nicoll, CE, et al. Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2011 Feb; 93(2):308-13.
  3. Computer vision syndrome: a review of ocular causes and potential treatments. Rosenfield, M. SUNY College of Optometry, NY. Ophthalmic & Physiological Optics: The Journal of the British College of Ophthalmic Opticians (Optometrists) 2011 Sep; 31(5):502-15.
  4. Playing a computer game at lunch affects fullness, memory for lunch, and later snack intake. Oldham-Cooper, RE, Hardman, CA, Nicoll, CE, et al. Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2011 Feb; 93(2):308-13.
  5. Computer vision syndrome: a review of ocular causes and potential treatments. Rosenfield, M. SUNY College of Optometry, NY. Ophthalmic & Physiological Optics: The Journal of the British College of Ophthalmic Opticians (Optometrists) 2011 Sep; 31(5):502-15.
  6. Mental exercising through simple socializing: social interaction promotes general cognitive functioning. Ybarra, O, Burnstein, E, Winkielman, P, et al. Department of Psychology, Research Center for Group Dynamics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 2008 Feb; 34(2):248-59.
  7. The Association between Family Meals, TV viewing during Meals, and Fruit, Vegetable, Soda, and Chips Intake among Latino Children. Andaya, AA, Aredono, EM, Alcaraz, JE, et al. National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Rockville, MD. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 2010 Oct 20.
  8. Focusing on food during lunch enhances lunch memory and decreases later snack intake. Higgs, S., Donohoe, J.E. School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, West Midlands, England, UK. Appetite 2011 Aug: 57(1):202-6.
  9. Focusing on food during lunch enhances lunch memory and decreases later snack intake. Higgs, S., Donohoe, J.E. School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, West Midlands, England, UK. Appetite 2011 Aug: 57(1):202-6.

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