This isn’t the first time that someone has suggested that you not eat in front of the television. Generally the reasoning is that you will pay more attention to how much you are eating when you are not focused on your favorite show. The BBC is reporting recent research that suggests that the background noise of the television actually diminishes how much you taste the foods you are eating. The lead author on the study, Andy Woods, explained that they wanted to try to understand why airline food is notoriously bad. I had always figured it was a cost-cutting and logistics issue, but maybe not.
Experiment participants were asked to rate the overall flavor, sweetness, saltiness, and crunchiness of foods while blindfolded and wearing headphones. The headphones of the control group played no sound, while the experimental group heard white noise, like what you would hear on an airplane or with a fan nearby. The louder the white noise was, the less sweetness or saltiness the participants reported; however, they did report more crunchiness as noise increased.
For the majority of people, our brains weed out several sensations at a time, allowing us to focus on the task at hand. As I am writing this, I just took off my watch because I found it distracting from thinking and typing. How distracting would it be to hear the shower running, see the dogs at the door wanting to come back inside, smell the food that just finished cooking, and feel my socks in between my foot and my shoes… When you do notice those things, doesn’t it pull you away from what you are doing?
When you eat in front of the television, you may be less aware of how much you are eating, you may not experience the full flavor of the food, and you will likely get less enjoyment out of what you are eating. All of these can tempt you to eat more than planned or go for the extra sweetness of dessert. Silly or not, convenient or not, sitting at the table and focusing on what you are eating is probably a very effective technique to control how much you ingest.