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Raise your hand if you've ever found yourself sitting on the couch with a bag of chips or a bowl of popcorn—only to look down and see that it's all gone.
Or, have you ever reached for a bag of potato chips to zone out when you were bored or upset?
Is your hand up?
Well, welcome to the mindless eaters' club!
We've all been there, and we've all asked ourselves how to break the habit.
So let's dive into what it means to eat mindlessly and how to kick the habit for good.
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When we eat without paying much attention to what we're eating or how full we are, we are "mindlessly eating." Most of the time, a bout of mindless eating looks something like this:
We start eating, everything gets fuzzy, and then we're left holding an empty bag. And it's usually followed by a flood of negative feelings, like regret and disappointment—all of which can stir up some pretty terrible self-talk, like:
—"Why do I do this again and again?"
—"What's wrong with me?"
—"I have zero self-control."
Do any of those sound familiar?
There are a lot of things that can cause us to eat without thinking, but the two biggest ones are:
When the kids are jumping off the walls, the TV is blaring, and our phones won't stop vibrating, it's hard to pay attention to our food or anything else.
With all the thoughts and distractions swirling around in our heads, it's no surprise that we find ourselves eating without really paying attention to what we're putting in our mouths.
Do you ever eat something because it's there?
At work, there's the candy dish. As we drive home, there are fast-food restaurants lining the street. And, at home, there's food covering the counters and big bags of chips pilling up in the pantry.
Let's be honest: our environment makes it easier to eat than not to eat.
And even though distractions and our environment may be two of the most common things that affect us, there is one thing that hurts us more than anything else...
We intentionally shut off our awareness.
Yeah, you read that right! We choose to eat mindlessly.
So, here's a common scenario:
Suppose you got into a big fight at home. You're steaming, and doors are slamming. You head for the kitchen and start digging into the first thing you see.
In a moment like this, you're not focusing on what you're eating or how full you feel. You want something to make you feel better and help you calm down. So what do we do?
We intentionally flip the switch on your awareness and choose to eat mindlessly.
When we eat without thinking, we tend to overeat. And when we're not paying attention, a snack can quickly turn into a mini or full-blown binge.
To make matters worse:
When we overeat, we teach our bodies to ignore the signals that we are full. And this can hurt us in the long run. When we don't realize when we're full, we tend to forget what it's like to be satisfied. So we eat until we can't anymore.
To stop mindless eating, we have to eat mindfully. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? But what does that really mean? To start, we need to commit to making conscious choices about when to start eating and when to stop.
All eating starts with a trigger. It could be that:
—You're physically hungry,
—This is the time you normally eat,
—It's habit to eat while you're watching TV,
—There's food around,
—You're with friends and everyone else is eating, or
—There's an emotional reason, like wanting to feel the pleasure of eating.
Before you eat, you should think about why you're going to eat. Because if we know why, we can make a well-informed choice about whether to eat, wait, or do something else.
You can choose to eat in a mindful way. We can either pay attention to what's going on or shut it out completely. The goal is to choose to pay attention to what we're eating and how it makes us feel.
Plus, one of the benefits of eating with awareness is that we can enjoy it more.
We can get a lot of pleasure from eating, don't you agree? We always have a great time when we eat with friends. And it wouldn't make sense to deny ourselves one of the best things in life.
Imagine that there's a new movie in theaters. One you've been excited to see for months. You get to the theater early to get a good seat, anticipate how awesome the movie is going to be, and then sit back and enjoy the experience. Sounds like a good time, doesn't it?
What if you put on your headphones and watched a YouTube video instead of watching the movie? That would be crazy!
We should think about food the way we do about something we're looking forward to. Let's get excited about it and make plans to have fun. Let's get rid of the things that are bothering us, and then slow down, pay attention to what we're doing, and really think about what we're eating and how it makes us feel.
When we eat mindfully, we pay close attention to our bodies' signals that we're full. And what we're looking for is that place where we're satisfied. Not stuffed, but satisfied.
What does it feel like to be satisfied?
Imagine a scale, from one to five.
We are so hungry that we can't stand it. This is where we feel primal hunger and would eat anything placed in front of us.
We are not starving, but we are starting to feel hungry.
Satisfied. This is the point where we know we've eaten less than what we prefer, but we're definitely not hungry.
We've had enough. We could have stopped at a three, but we ate more and we're starting to feel a bit uncomfortable.
Loosen the belt uncomfortable. This is how we feel after a huge dinner or even a binge. It's extremely uncomfortable and negative emotions like guilt and shame start to creep in.
The point we're shooting for is "satisfied", and the only way to get there is to slow down and listen. Satisfied is a faint signal, and if we're not listening – it will pass us up.
Remember that we don't have to be perfect, we just need to practice. Every meal is a chance to learn something new about ourselves. Think about the whole meal, from the start to the end, and come up with ideas for what we could have done better or differently.
If we got distracted by the television halfway through our meal, then we make a plan to turn the television off. Maybe we lost focus after the first couple of bites, then we insert visual cues or reminders to bring us back to mindful eating. Or, if we ate past where we were full, then we think about the point in the meal where we were satisfied and shoot for that the next time!
Taking control of mindless eating, you have to make conscious decisions. The decision to start eating, to stay aware, and the decision on when to stop.
Each time we choose to eat mindfully we'll learn new ways to stay in focus and how to strengthen the process.
To make mindful eating a habit, you have to practice it over and over again. Every time we eat with awareness, we make the habit stronger and tip the balance in our favor. And one of the best ways to do that is to be held accountable. And at MyBodyTutor, accountability is what we do best. Find out more about the program and how we can help you lose weight, look great, and get the confidence you deserve.
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