When it comes to snacking, I often think about one iconic line from Jack Black’s role as Dewey Finn in School of Rock:

mindless eating and video games

No, Dewey. It is not a crime to have a penchant for eating. However, snacking can get pretty unhealthy, especially when it’s done mindlessly. This is often the case for gamers. Be honest – how many times have you grabbed a crunchy snack before plopping down in front of your gaming setup? I’m guilty of it. Much like Dewey, I like to eat. And I tend to mindlessly munch on my snack as I’m playing, which health experts say is a no-no.

We all know that feeling when we accidentally eat three quarters of a bag of Cheetos (at least, I hope that’s not just a me thing). You’ll think you only ate a handful while you waited on loading screens, but then you reach the end of your gaming sesh and realize that most of that brand new bag is empty. As scientists have come to find out, video games are actually a very common distraction when it comes to estimating food consumption.

Mindless eating and video games

Wheeling Jesuit University’s Department of Psychology’s 2007 study sent 90 participants into a room with a bowl of M&Ms and a gaming console. They were asked to rate their hunger levels before the trial began. Some people then played one of two video games for 30 minutes, while others didn’t play anything, but all were invited to munch on the M&Ms. At the end of the trial, participants again rated their hunger levels and estimated how much they ate.

The research revealed that “playing either video game decreased both male and female participants’ ability to adequately estimate how much was consumed.” So, when you’re playing video games with a snack at the ready, you may end up mindlessly eating more than you thought you would, because the game is a distraction to your grazing.

video games and snacking

The effects of mindless eating on daily habits

Eating isn’t usually something that requires our full attention, so we often multi-task while we consume meals or snacks. Whether it’s getting work done over lunch or watching television at dinner, these distractions can affect our ability to accurately judge how much we ate. This also tends to create a snowball effect for the rest of the day, because our brains don’t recognize that we’re full and we eat more later.

As Psychology Today reported, a study conducted by University of Birmingham’s Dr. Suzanne Higgs had some participants eat a meal while watching television or playing a video game. Other participants ate without distractions. “Participants who watched TV or played video games while eating had poor memory of what they ate,” Psychology Today’s report read. “They also ate significantly more at their next meal and felt [hungrier] than their non-distracted counterparts, even if they ate the same amount of food.”

When we focus on our meals, we tend to eat slower and really take in the taste of the food and how much of it we’re eating. We can recognize that we’re full and likely won’t have as big of a meal later on. Even if it just seems like a small snack while we’re gaming, it can have a big effect in the long run.

What gamers are eating – and what they should be eating instead

NewZoo conducted another study just last year that explored mindless eating during gaming sessions. The study also discovered exactly what most gamers are munching on as they button-smash away. (Hint: it’s not vegetables.) According to the study, “80 percent of gamers regularly eat or drink while playing.” In North America, 49 percent of gamers go for salty snacks at game time, while 39 percent prefer sweet snacks. So, not only are we mindlessly eating too much food; we’re mindlessly eating too much of the wrong stuff.

The best way to avoid mindless eating is to eat meals and snacks without distractions either before or after the gaming session. However, if you do want to bring a snack, it helps to portion the food into a small bowl rather than bringing the entire bag. Once you’re out of food, that’s it. As Digital Trends reported, Mindless Eating author Dr. Brian Wansink also told the National Institute of Health that keeping your food at a distance helps, too. Remember the six feet COVID-19 rule? Apply that here. “The six feet gave people pause to ask themselves whether they were really that hungry, and half the time, they would answer ‘No,’” he said.

It’s worth checking out a few healthier snack alternatives for your gaming session. According to Esports Healthcare, nuts and nut butters like peanuts, almonds, cashews, and pistachios are a great option, so long as you have water handy if you opt to buy salted nuts. Try to eat the nut butters with celery or another veggie rather than crackers or bread. Beef jerky and guacamole are two other alternatives. Happy (healthy) snacking!