How to Stop Eating in Front of Screens

By February 6, 2018Food for Thought
Eating food while working

How do you stop eating in front of screens – phone, computer, television?

Such an easy answer but tough to do. Just don’t do it. We’re in control of what we feed our face, right?

Yes. And no.

It’s so easy to build habits of snacking a little here or there while working or relaxing in front of the TV or eating lunch real quick while working on a busy day.

When we eat in front of screens, we don’t savor our food. Food can bring us joy, especially when shared with good company. Finding pleasure in food isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s a great thing. Our brains are looking for those happy signals that we get from food. If we are focusing on something else, we miss those happy signals and our brain tells us to look for those signals. ‘Hey, don’t you want a cookie?’

A research study suggests that this is because we have fuzzier memories of eating when we eat while distracted by a screen. Another study found that distracted eating lead to eating more. Participants in the low distraction group at 28% more snacks than those in the no distraction group. Participants in the high distraction group at an astounding 69% more snacks than the no distraction group.

Besides feeling the pleasure from food, being mindful when we’re eating helps us feel the signals our body sends us when we’re satisfied and feeling full. Without those signals we’re more likely to eat more. Now eating more isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We need to eat to nourish our bodies without restricting our intake; however, it’s easy to consume in excess and if we’re not able to fully enjoy that food, it seems like a lose-lose (but not weight) situation..

I’ve got a bad habit

I used to be so good at not eating lunch at my desk, but work has been busier than normal with an uptick on some exciting projects. I also have more meetings and phone calls scheduled at lunch. With meetings at noon and often back to back meetings before and after, I quickly had no time to eat without rushing or eating during a call.

That makes me sad, because I make delicious food and I want to enjoy it. And I don’t want that afternoon sugar craving urging me to snack on the sweets and treats stocked in my office.

So I have decided to tackle this behavior like I would if I were working with a client. I’m going to replace my bad habit of eating at my desk with a good habit of savoring my food and relaxing during meals. I will do it through a series of assessment and experimentation periods. It’s going to be goal driven, so I’ll know every day whether I’m being successful.

Take some time to observe

In the first three days, take notes. Write down when and where you are eating. Be honest. The goal isn’t to be perfect in these three days. The goal is to better understand your current habits and patterns. So don’t do anything different besides writing things down. Your notes for one day might look like this:

  • 7:00 am breakfast (kitchen table – no screens) scratch that, checked my work email to figure out what the day’s schedule looked like.
  • 11:45 am lunch (rush to eat before noon call and catching up on tasks before back to back meetings this afternoon – at my desk in front of my computer)
  • 3:00 pm sweet snack after back to back meetings (at my desk – on my computer following up on messages and emails after being away from my desk for a few hours)
  • 6:30 pm dinner (kitchen table with Josh)
  • 8:00 pm cup of tea (on the couch, reading a book on my Kindle)

Once you have three days worth of notes, examine them for patterns. Maybe you find yourself scrolling through social media on your phone at meals when you aren’t eating with someone (or even if you are). Or maybe you eat at your desk while working. Or maybe you snack in the evenings while watching Netflix.

Pick one small thing to work on for a week and then come up with a plan of how you are going to change it. Remember that getting rid of habits is difficult. It’s easier to replace bad habits with better habits. I would recommend picking something you have control over. For example, I wouldn’t pick eating dinner without the television on if other people in your house aren’t interested in turning the television off. Pick the low hanging fruit first.

For example after I reviewed my notes for three days I made the following observation and plan.

Observation: I eat meals and snacks at my desk and they are often in a rush before I feel like I need to get back to work.

Plan: I am going to eat lunch in the kitchen in my office instead of my desk.

  • I will set a recurring appointment on my calendar for lunch. On those days that I already have a call or a meeting scheduled at noon, I moved the lunch to the closest time.
  • I will put my lunch in the work fridge in the kitchen with tables, so I’ll heat it up in the kitchen where I can eat at a table rather than eating it up in the kitchen near my desk where I’ll be more likely to eat at my desk while working.

Then, once you have your one thing, work it for a week. Then spend another few days taking notes. Keep working on the one thing while you are taking notes. Then review your notes. Did you improve on the one thing you were trying to change? If so, awesome! Look for something else that you could make some improvements to. If not, why not? Work on a plan that will account for the challenges you faced.

Then repeat the cycle.

The power of focus

It may be tempting to want to change multiple things at once. If you work on multiple things at once, then you’d meet more goals faster, right? Don’t do it. Break it down to something that is entirely realistic to accomplish and then build on it bit by bit. You’ll be more likely to succeed if you do break it down and come up with a specific plan. This allows you to be much more intentional about forming new habits.

Also don’t skip the observation time period. When you observe and take notes, you will have an opportunity to look for patterns you can replace with good habits as well as see how you are improving over the month.

Your observations should be the source of where to create new habits, but if you are looking for some ideas you might consider these:

  • Keep your phone off the table while eating. Put it in your purse, pocket, or better yet another room!
  • Eat meals at the table instead of front of the television. Even if it is on (because others in your household prefer it), you can turn your back to it.
  • Take a coffee or tea break. Step away from your desk. Catch up with a coworker. Savor that delicious coffee or tea.
  • Savor snacks like you savor meals, away from your computer, television, and your phone. Sit down at the table to eat a snack.
  • Find a colleague to be accountable to and make a lunch date to eat together in the breakroom or cafeteria regularly – completely unplugged.
  • If you are eating because you are bored or burnt out at work, look for ways to make your job more engaging or less stressful. (See article here)

Account for challenges

Even if you narrow your goal down to something realistic, you still might face challenges. Here are a few challenges you might face and how you can creatively overcome them.

  • Your schedule is crazy, you must eat while working. How to overcome: Start small. Pick one day a week to carve out time. Next week pick two days. Or if your calendar is booked up for weeks, put time on your calendar when it opens up. And try to find ways to decline meetings.
  • Everyone needs something from you. You can’t get peace while you eat. Your phone is going off. Hide. Seriously. Get away for 20 minutes. Hide from people in your office, your family (if needed), and your phone.
  • Just because your office culture is go go go and it’s a badge of honor to be overly busy doesn’t mean you need do conform. You can choose to take 20 minutes to just eat your lunch.

After a few days of observation, tell me what habit you are going to target first and how you’re going to do it. If you face challenges, feel free to share them in the comments. We’ll work on the goals together.


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