The Case For 'Quiet Eating'

Yes, it's important to consider noise during mealtime.

Eating well isn’t just about the nutritional content of what’s on the plate. It’s also about where you’re eating and what’s going on around you.

More often than not, meals become yet another opportunity to multitask during busy days: a rushed breakfast post-gym, a sad desk lunch, or a hurried late-night dinner spent watching TV and catching up on e-mails. And while you probably already know that TV is not conducive to healthy dining, there’s new evidence to suggest that any distracting noise, save that from the conversation taking place around the table, can have negative consequences.

In a recent study in the journal Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, researchers looked at what happens when a group hears a loud noise while eating dinner. Half of the people in the study heard a vacuum cleaner outside the room where they were eating while the other half ate in a quiet room, free from any noisy distractions.

The researchers found that the participants with noisy meals ate less healthily, in this case choosing more cookies, than those without any outside noise. And while a vacuum was used in this case, the more common distraction these days—an e-mail notification or buzz from your phone—can have the same result.

“One of the potential health benefits to sharing meals together is paying attention to each other and communicating in ways that demonstrate that you care about each other’s daily activities,” says study co-author Barbara Fiese, PhD, a professor of human development and family studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “If you are distracted by media, cell phones, or other devices you may not reap these positive benefits.”

Whereas a quiet environment leads to a calm meal, one with distractions prevents you from having a chance to recharge.  

“[Eating at peace] during meal times provides an opportunity to slow down from a hectic day and reconnect,” Fiese says.

Although it may be tempting to work through lunch or eat dinner while catching up on Netflix, it’s worth it to seek out somewhere quiet and take the time to eat. Experts advise to put your phone in airplane mode and turn off any other devices that could be distracting.

Plus, quiet eating can affect something else: your tastebuds. According to a study at Cornell University, loud noises can compromise the taste of food—yet another reason to keep it down at dinner time.