As clinical psychologist Dr. Michael Brustein listed the biological and psychological harms of eating in bed over Skype, I tried to fork some pad Thai, resting on my stomach in a takeout container, as quietly as I could.
Like many of my twenty-something peers who live in New York or a city where space is limited, eating in bed is a regular occurrence, if not a sacred ritual. Bed is a place where you can be gloriously alone – you don’t have to make small talk with a roommate, or worry about disturbing someone with Bob’s Burgers noises blaring from your laptop. (TV tends to be the ambient background noise of chronic bed eaters; look it up.) Shay Spence, a food and lifestyle editor at People.com, told me of his horizontal meals: “I call them ‘bed noodles,’ and I require them weekly.”
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Aside from the occasional chowder or red wine spill, the downsides of eating peacefully in the comfort of my bed weren’t apparent to me, but after years of my mom telling me how much this habit depressed her, I decided to reach out to medical experts for answers. Was it really so bad?
When I spoke with Dr. Brustein, covertly eating noodles in bed, he strongly urged against people ever doing this, unless they were sick or could not get out of bed (which, of course, can be a daily reality for many people with chronic conditions).
“In terms of being mindfully aware of what you’re eating and enjoying the food, eating in bed is problematic,” he said. “If you’re doing it in bed, you’re probably doing other things, like watching TV on your laptop or reading, and this could cause you to overeat. Before you know it, you finished a bag of chips or ate two bagels and didn’t even realize it.”
The best way to enjoy your food, he said, is to minimize distractions, so you can focus on the taste, smells and textures of what you’re eating, while also lowering your chances of indigestion.
“From a digestive standpoint, lying down or eating when you’re not as erect does not promote peristalsis, and that could contribute to acid reflux, if you’re prone to that,” he said.
Then, there’s the issue of sleep hygiene. If you’re eating in bed—or doing other non-sleep tasks in bed, as I do, like perusing Tinder or painting your nails—you begin to associate “bed” with things that aren’t sleeping, which can be incredibly disruptive when you’re trying to go to sleep at night.
“In terms of conditioning, you want to have your bed trigger sleep and not multiple stimuli,” he said. “So from a sleep-hygiene perspective, it’s best to keep your sleeping quarters just for sleeping.”
This all came as devastating news to me. Fortunately, Mary Jane Detroyer, a registered dietitian and nutritionist who also strongly advises against eating in bed, offered a workaround.
“If you are going to eat in your room, is there a place that you can eat that’s not in your bed,” she asked me, after I revealed that my bedroom is the only place I experience peace. “Do you have a desk? Do you have an end table with a chair next to it so it mimics a table?”
Detroyer also recommended meditating when I get home, so my dinner doesn’t have to do the double duty of sustaining me and destressing from a hectic day, which is why I ultimately gravitate towards bed dinners.
“Bed is for sleeping,” she said. “Bed is not for eating.”
Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m going to start eating at my desk now. But I will not, under any circumstance, turn off Bob’s Burgers.