Are you a habitual multitasker? More to the point regarding your food problems, how does it affect your ability to eat mindfully? I am now able to eat, and by that I mean eat “normally,” while doing any activity because for many years I practiced eating without distraction until eating mindfully became ingrained. However, you will never get to this point unless you eat with a sole focus on this one activity for quite a long while.
In his book, The Organized Mind, Daniel Levitin, a McGill University professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience, tells us why doing several activities at one time does not work: “We now know that the brain doesn’t multitask. Rather, the brain shifts rapidly from one thing to the next. That causes us to not be able to focus attention on any one thing, and this dividing of our attention makes us less efficient. The reason we think we’re good at it is just self-delusion. The brain is a very good deceiver. Multitasking puts us in a kind of dopamine addiction loop…each time we do some little new task, our brain rewards us with a tiny shot of dopamine, the pleasure neurochemical. For our ancestors, this was a motivating force to be active and get things done” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 9/23/14, “The science of organizing our busy lives,” page 20E). So what happens is that while you’re eating and doing another activity, you get a pop of dopamine each time you shift from one task to the other.
Levitin describes an area in the brain “just above the outside of your eyebrows” called Area 47 which “contains prediction circuits that are scanning and monitoring the environment and trying to figure out what’s going to happen next.” He says, “Keeping Area 47 happy is tricky. If everything in the environment is utterly predictable, you become bored. If it’s unpredictable, you become frustrated.” And then he offers this bit of wisdom: “Pleasure results from having Area 47 experience an optimal balance between predictability and surprise.” This reminds me of the difficulty disregulated eaters have with structure and freedom, swinging wildly from one to the other.
Now, can you understand why eating without doing anything else may initially feel dull and boring, which is why you want to do something while you’re eating or eat while you’re doing something else? Area 47 likes unpredictability, but do you have to give it some. Of course not. You can use your frontal lobes to override the urge for unpredictability by focusing on the positive rewards you’ll get from sticking to eating mindfully and “normally.” Really, is that tiny burst of dopamine from switching activities worth eating mindlessly and likely overeating?