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I spent an entire week eating without the distraction of my phone, laptop, or television. Spoiler alert: It sucked.

Rochelle Bilow
March 23, 2018

You don’t have to preach to me—I know how important it is to eat mindfully. I write about food, and I’m an advocate for eating disorder recovery, a wellness blogger, and a yoga teacher. Like, I get it: Be in the moment. Stay present. Get your head out of your phone. I’m all about that lifestyle.

And yet, somewhere along the way, I have become completely, hopelessly addicted to my cell phone. I use social media to promote my yoga and writing business, but frankly, there’s no excuse for how many times I scroll through feeds, “check in” on my friends, or stalk obnoxious celebrities I just can’t seem to unfollow.

The problem reached a fever pitch earlier this year when I found myself newly single. I had always used my relationship as an excuse to follow a “no phones at the table” rule (ex-boyfriends are good for something, right?). It’s so much easier to leave your devices in another room if you have a living, breathing person in front of you—IRL conversation is more satisfying and fulfilling than hanging out in a virtual world of your own making.

But with the dissolution of my relationship, I had no one to keep me company at mealtimes. The funny part is, I enjoyed the newfound freedom to cook exactly what I wanted to eat. For the first time in over a year, I immersed myself in making healthy meals for myself. I spent hours in the kitchen simmering together soups and concocting salads bursting with lean proteins and colorful veggies. And then, when it came time to eat them, I sat on a stool at my island, opened Instagram, and didn’t look up from the phone until my bowl was empty.

I knew my habit had become a problem when, earlier this month, I ate an entire chicken sandwich without even tasting it. It was time for an intervention, so I decided to hit the reset button hard and go totally screen-free for a week.

This meant banishing my cell phone, laptop, and television during meals. For an entire week, I ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner—mostly by myself—without any digital distractions. And you know what? It was hard. Really hard. I’m normalizing back to meals without rules, but I’ve definitely made some adjustments to my behavior and attitude. Here are the the four lessons I’m bringing with me from my analog experiment.

Podcasts are a lifesaver.

I decided to dip my toes in slowly (eating in silence and staring at the wall in front of my kitchen sink seemed too drastic of a leap). For my first few meals, I queued up podcasts and played them through my Alexa speaker. Although it was still, technically, a “distraction” from my food, I found that some podcasts, like Fresh Air, made me feel like I was part of a real conversation. I even found myself eating slower and chewing more thoroughly, to make the meal last through the duration of the program.

You don’t have to do everything for the ‘gram.

Truth time: Pretty regularly, I find myself editing, captioning, and posting a food pic as I’m still eating it. I mean, whoa, right? That salmon pic isn’t going anywhere—so, what’s the hurry? Once I freed myself from the compulsion to post the perfect Instagram picture ASAP, I found myself caring less about the aesthetics of my meal and more about its nutrition.

I made healthy-eating choices I wouldn’t have if the plate was destined for social media fame. So while my pinto bean purée was laughably brown and wouldn’t have gotten many likes, it filled me up with wholesome fiber and protein that kept me energized for hours. I stressed less about whether or not my broccoli had gotten “too crispy” for a photo op. I ate less perfectly sliced and arranged avocados, which, honestly, was probably good for my budget. And best of all, I reconnected to the intention that my meal was meant to nourish me—not my followers.

Sitting at a table helps.

Raise your hand if you eat 90% of your meals on your couch. (*raises both arms high to the sky*) Slouching into the sofa is so inviting when you’ve got a fork in one hand and a phone in the other. But if you’re not diving into a digital black hole, there’s less reason to get crumbs all over the cushions. I moved my snack fests and meals from my living room to my kitchen island and immediately felt a greater sense of respect for the food I was about to eat. I actually took the time to enjoy the smell of spices, and to notice how each bite tasted. Bonus: It helped my posture, too!

Hard emotions are going to surface—and that’s okay.

Turns out, all that scrolling, double-tapping, and commenting wasn’t just for entertainment. It was a distraction from myself and my emotions. As a culture, we tend to harbor some pretty heavy baggage around food and eating. These ingrained patterns and feelings aren’t immediately apparent when we’re sharing a casserole with family, but when it’s just you and the pan, things get real, and they get real pretty fast.

Without my phone, I was forced to experience my emotions, whether they were anxiety, stress, fear, or just loneliness (remember that breakup I just had?), I began to acknowledge how quickly I turned away from the challenging stuff by turning to my screen. When I noticed this happening, I set down my fork, closed my eyes, and really let myself feel it for two minutes. By engaging fully in the muck, I was much more able to gracefully release it and enjoy my dinner—the complete opposite of half-heartedly eating a meal because I was both distracted by technology and reeling in a low-grade panic attack.

So now that I’m no longer restricting myself, am I still screen-free at breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Well… not quite. I’ve just discovered Chef’s Table on Netflix, and I have to admit that there’s something so comforting about curling up with a bowl of curry and an episode or two. But I am trying to limit my use of social media during mealtimes. There’s plenty of time for hanging out on Instagram—that steak will only be perfect for the next few minutes.