Weekly Tip: Evaluate Your Primary vs Secondary Eating


It’s Michael Pollan’s COOKED week here at the Lean.Green.Kitchen. All posts this week will be inspired by something I pulled out of this book.  Hopefully we can celebrate at the end of the week that I have actually finished the book!


I’m knee-deep in Michael Pollan’s book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation and really enjoying it.  One new concept I read fascinated me and made me evaluate my own habits. I wanted to share it with all of you. It’s a human behavior called “secondary eating” and is defined as eating or drinking while doing something else.

A USDA study published in 2011 showed that Americans now spend on average 78 minutes a day engaging in secondary eating, including while watching television, while engaging in paid work and while traveling in a car. This is interesting, but not that shocking, right? Eating dessert in front of the tube, lunch at the desk or snacks in the car is pretty common. I was, however, shocked to learn that this number of minutes is now more than “primary eating.” Primary eating defined as the meal times when we sit down with the goal of eating a meal.

Pollan says, “Since 1977, we’ve [Americans] added roughly half a meal’s worth of food to our daily intake, most of it in the form of secondary eating.” And food eaten during times of secondary eating is rarely nutrient rich and health building.

So this week’s tip is to put a little consciousness into how much time you spend eating and identify if it is primary or secondary eating. By increasing your primary eating and decreasing your secondary eating you bring more awareness to the act of consuming food, allowing you to assess if/when your body has eaten what it needs. You also most likely will reduce the amount of snacks, “convenience” food, and late night treats that are being consumed without you really even paying much attention.

If you are in the mood for a delicious chocolate chip cookie, for example, then by all means find (make!!) the best tasting cookie and sit down and enjoy every crumb. Then go about your business. Where is the value in inhaling ten cookies while watching TV and not really even processing that you’ve eaten them?

I know from experience that there are a million reasons to have lunch at your desk while at work. But perhaps we should really evaluate if making lunch secondary is truly necessary most of the time and if it really serves you best to cram down a few bites while not stopping your day. Only you know the answer to this, but make sure that you’ve put thought into the pros and cons of eating like this long-term.

Snacks in the car can save the day – especially with little ones and especially well thought out snacks that support your health goals. They can also sabotage meals (and eating plans) if haphazard and chosen under hunger stress. Every food corporation out there would like you to eat their snack in your car. And they have added salt, sugar and fat to help their processed food product taste best. They have also colored it with food dyes, packaged it and put it everywhere that is easy to get to when you are out of time. If you are consistently secondary eating in the car, you can make your entire day better just by planning ahead and choosing snacks that support your body and health goals.

So evaluate your primary and secondary eating and decide it there are any changes you could make to improve your health and your life. Then tell me all about it!



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3 thoughts on “Weekly Tip: Evaluate Your Primary vs Secondary Eating

  1. I know that I LOVE to eat while watching TV with my wife. Chocolate chip cookies are tops on my list. Hmmmm. I think I’m okay with that, but it does remind me of a tub of cookies that quickly became an empty tub on our kitchen counter. Whenever I worked in the kitchen I wanted (and succumbed to the temptation of) eating one of those little circles of joy. I’m thinking these treats wouldn’t make it to my secondary eating if they were out of sight.

  2. I am so glad you are reading and reviewing these great books for me (us). I have to think about this secondary eating…if you count reading while eating (which I’m sure you must), I must be a super-secondary eater! I’ll have to rethink this. Thanks, my little greenie!

  3. I am eating my breakfast while reading your blog! Guess I am guilty of lots of secondary eating-very timely topic. Thanks for reminding me about Michael Pollan’s new book. You are inspiring me to read it!

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