Spy on yourself: catch distracted dining and forgotten food

How easily distracted are you? A quick private quiz for you ...

Put up your hand if you have ever done or do any of the following:

    1. read a magazine, newspaper or book whilst eating
    2. eat or drink in the car whilst driving
    3. txt or watch digital screens, TV or DVD whilst eating
    4. eat or drink whilst watching a movie at the cinema
    5. work whilst eating or drinking at meetings

I suspect you will have raised your hand at least once. You, like most other people including me, are a distracted diner. I doubt there is one person I know that would honestly say "I have never ever done any of those things".

You are normal. It turns out that we are all distracted diners at some time. To be a totally aware and attentive diner or conscious consumer is a rarity.

Did you realise that distracted dining is somewhat of a health hazard?

Distracted diners forget that they've eaten, forget what they've eaten or misjudge how much they've had.

Distracted dining leads to overeating of both amount and total kilojoules. Whilst that may be fine for frail or elderly folk who need to consume more overall, distracted dining is destructive for those who want to improve their health and reduce body size.

You've possibly experienced the surprise moment when you reach for another morsel only to find the plate is bare and the packet is already empty yet you were the only eater. It happens to me when I work by the computer at breakfast time to meet a deadline. My toast disappears yet I have little memory of eating it and feel almost cheated when I discover it is finished. Crumbs on the empty plate are evidence.

If you are not sure why you are are not making headway with your health or weight and you keep a food and exercise diary but it is not revealing anything, it could be time to spy on yourself.

You are searching for destructive distracted dining but how can you spot it if you aren't even aware of doing it?

How to spy on yourself?

Whilst pedometers are a simple low-tech fitness spy, there is no serious equivalent chew-ometer to spy on your own eating.

Take a tip from nutrition researchers who use point-of-view (POV) wearable cameras to observe and record food and drink consumption for their experiments and data collection. We know that written food diaries only capture what you remember to record or what you choose to record. When worn correctly, POV cameras capture every moment of your consumption as well as footage of everyone else in range.

To do this at home, you could invest in a discrete wearable spy-style POV camera and sit through hours of recorded footage to spot the eating events or you could try the following:

  1. Hardware shops sell inexpensive d-i-y motion sensor alarms that you could set up across the entrances to the food supply (kitchen, fridge and pantry doors). When you cross into the food zone, the security alert switches you from auto-pilot to total awareness of impending auto-eating or distracted dining that may follow. Sensor alarms don't use much power and are brilliant if you live alone or want to catch the pet out when he sneaks into the kitchen but alarms are annoying when there are many people in and out of the kitchen.
  2. A hunter's game camera is another option. This may seem a little crazy but night-vision game cameras are becoming more mainstream and even come up at supermarket sales! Buy one or a few online or from a camping, fishing, outdoor shop. Fix the game cameras in locations where you suspect distracted dining occurs (in your office area, lounge or dining room) and check the footage daily. A game camera only takes footage when movement is detected in front of the camera. The battery life is quite good but you still have to scroll through lots of footage to spot the fridge and pantry raiding and distracted dining events. Game camera footage doesn't stop you but it does boost your awareness.
  3. Set up wireless computer surveillance cams to monitor each room and record your every movement but again, there will be a lot of unnecessary footage to view before you spot the distracted dining unless you work out how to set these to motion detection.
  4. Lastly is an extreme POV action camera designed to capture extreme sport footage but also useful to capture everyday rather than extreme eating. Mount it on your chest or wrist, point at the fridge and pantry or set it up in a location where you suspect distracted dining is a risk, for example pointing at the lounge or office chair. The downsides to extreme action cams is their high cost. They also take continuous footage which means you have to look back on a lot of your recorded day to spot the distracted dining events and the battery life is a limitation unless you are stationery and can keep them charged up.

Whilst none of these tips will stop your distracted dining, they may help you spot it. Once spotted, you are able to stop it or at least control it and move on to become a discerning diner rather than a distracted one.

Pure eating without distraction can make a difference to overall consumption; the amount, quality and total kilojoules.