Posts Tagged ‘Distractions’
You don’t have to be a senior to experience a “senior moment,” meaning you forget an otherwise familiar word or name, or can’t exactly remember what you planned to do the next minute. It happens throughout life, it just seems to happen more frequently with age.
But it’s not always due to mental decline in our later years that we lose track of things. Much of what we ascribe to forgetfulness may actually be a matter of loss of focus, concentration and attention span that begins much earlier.
In our busy lives, distractions are ubiquitous and nearly impossible to avoid. Most of us are in fact used to juggling several chores at once – a.k.a. multitasking – day in and day out. It has become so much part of us that it almost feels strange to dwell on just one subject matter for too long.
Unfortunately, there is a price to be paid for all this. Studies have shown that the brain actually suffers from being pulled in too many different directions.
For example, researchers from Stanford University found that talking on the phone or sending text messages while doing other things or having other interactions at the same time can cause what they coined “impairment of cognitive control”.
We admire people who act with great efficiency, and it can be a real asset to be able to function this way. But participants in tests showed that when they were regularly bombarded with multiple streams of information and demands, they paid less attention, could often not remember important details, and switched from one job to the next with less ease, compared to others who completed only one project at the time.
Moreover, the multitaskers had a harder time figuring out which information was relevant and which wasn’t to a specific project. People who get inundated with data and messages can become “suckers for irrelevancy,” as one study author put it.
Especially an intense (some say, addictive) use of media may impact the brain in ways we are not yet fully comprehending. Clinical studies have already detected changes in the minds of adolescents and young adults who spend a lot of their time on social media. Since the technology that drives such behavior is relatively new, long-term outcomes are still unclear.
However, experts do agree that a constant exposure to media and communication in the so-called digital age does indeed shorten the attention span most people can muster.
While more research is needed to establish direct connections, the effects of distraction and lack of focus do seem real, and may become more pronounced as people grow older.
As it gets harder to digest information or commit data to memory, it becomes ever more important to remain mentally engaged. It may take longer to learn new skills, or even just read through a newspaper article or an entire book, but it’s definitely worth the effort, and the benefits are myriad.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”
Part of our ongoing struggle with weight problems is that most of us eat without thinking, according to Brian Wansink, professor for marketing at Cornell University and author of the landmark book, “Mindless Eating – Why We Eat More Than We Think” (Bantam Books, 2006). “Distractions of all kinds make us eat, forget how much we eat, and extend how long we eat – even when we are not hungry,” he writes.
Although distractions are easy to come by in our busy lives, it doesn’t mean that we keep munching all day long without noticing, although for some that may be the case. Mostly, however, we tend to fall into the mindless eating trap when we are relaxing, for example on a vacation, over a nice dinner out, or when we get a little tipsy. That’s when our control mechanisms seem to break down the fastest.
“Vacations take us away from our regular routine,” says Lori Rice, a nutritionist and health and travel writer. “This is beneficial to our mental wellness because we experience new scenery and can rejuvenate ourselves, but it also can take us away from our healthy habits.”
Of course, you should allow for some splurges when you go on a holiday, but don’t use it as an excuse for getting completely off track, only to be sorry later on for the damage you’ve done to yourself, she advises.
Especially on cruises, vacationers tend to throw all caution to the wind. When the food you’ve already paid for is laid out so seductively, it can take considerable willpower to resist temptations. Seeing your fellow-travelers indulging with abandoned pleasure doesn’t help either.
But even the atmosphere in a simple eatery can lead to overeating. You don’t even have to like the food all that much. A nice ambience with candlelight and soft music can have you dig in more than you should, says Wansink who has conducted numerous experiments on people’s behavior in restaurants, from fast food joints to high-end establishments. We follow our expectations, he says. If we expect to have a good time, or it’s a special occasion, we will make the most of it. And that often means too much of a good thing.
Another factor is alcohol. As a recent study found out, most people eat more unhealthy foods on days they drink. When participants in the research had two or three alcoholic drinks with their meals, they consumed on average 100 to 200 more calories from food (not the drinks) than when they had none. The types of food they chose also changed. Both male and female participants ate about nine percent more fat when they drank alcohol.
The best way to counteract these tendencies is obviously to increase awareness. But instead of becoming your own party-pooper every time you are ready to let loose a bit, it might be more helpful to set a few parameters upfront.
For example, if weight gain is a regular occurrence when you are away from home, you may want to choose a kind of travel that challenges you to be more physically active and less exposed to culinary pleasures.
If you have a lot of time to kill at airports and hotels, be sure you don’t fall for convenience stands, vending machines and snack bars. Instead, bring some healthy snacks and lots of water, in case you need a quick energy boost or get dehydrated.
When it comes to alcohol consumption, you are the only one who can judge your responses. For some, there is a fine line between relaxing and becoming uninhibited or losing control. A lot of people also don’t know or don’t think about how many calories are in their drinks.
Perhaps a good way of keeping things together is to ask yourself: How do I want to feel when this is all over? Will it be an altogether great memory or will I have to deal with regrets and start over?
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).