When it comes to mindless eating, I think most of us have experienced one of these situations before:
- Have you ever popped a bowl of popcorn, sat in front of the television, and…poof! Next thing you know, you’re scraping the bottom?
- Or have you grabbed a bag of Doritos, hit play on YouTube (30 minutes flies by), and you’re left holding a bag of crumbs?
Maybe it starts by grabbing a late-night snack, hitting the vending machine at work, or just grazing when you’re bored.
Whatever the case, you’ve probably asked yourself this question:
How do I stop mindless eating?
But before we get to that, let’s cover what “mindless” eating is. We’ll break it down and learn the steps to put an end to it once and for all.
What Is Mindless Eating?
Mindless eating is when we eat with little to no awareness around our food or how full we feel.
Typically, a bout of mindless eating follows this path:
There’s a trigger: we start eating —> everything is a blur —> then the food is gone.
And usually, it’s followed by a flood of negative emotions, like regret and disappointment, which can stir up some pretty terrible self-talk, like:
- “Why do I keep doing this?”
- “Why can’t I stop?”
- “I can’t stop myself.” Or
- “I feel like I have zero control.”
Do any of these sound familiar?
Why Do We Eat Mindlessly Anyway?
There are so many factors that play into “why” we eat mindlessly, but leading the list are two BIG reasons:
1.) We start distracted. It’s hard to pay attention to our food (or anything really) when the kids are bouncing off the wall, the TV is blaring, or our phones won’t stop vibrating.
Add to that:
Our minds are racing with tonight’s plans, what happened at work, and worries about school or family. Simply put, we are buzzing with dozens of thoughts at any given moment.
Everything around us is competing for time and attention and stopping to focus on what and how much we eat gets moved to the back burner.
2.) Our environment is working against us. Do you ever eat because food is “just there”?
Think about the sheer amount of food we’re exposed to every day.
- At work, we pass a sea of candy dishes.
- Driving home, we’re bombarded with fast food restaurants.
- At home, food is spread across the counters and family-sized bags of chips fill the pantry.
With immediate access to so much food, our environment makes it easier to eat than not to eat.
And although distraction and our environment may be two of the most common influencers, there is one factor more detrimental than any other.
We intentionally shut off our awareness.
Yes, you read that right! We choose to eat mindlessly.
Here’s one scenario:
Imagine you just had a huge argument at home. Doors are slamming and you’re steaming! You burst into the kitchen, and almost unconsciously start digging for something to eat.
Work was stressful, and we finally get a chance to sit down and eat. We just want to zone out and relax for a minute, so the first thing we do is pull out our phone and start scrolling through videos.
In these moments, we are not focusing on what we’re eating or how full we feel. We’re focused on finding something that will make us feel better, help us relax, or simply replace negative emotions.
In short, we intentionally flip the switch on our awareness.
And regardless of the reason “why” we eat mindlessly, the results are the same.
When we eat too much (and do it often enough) we WILL gain weight. Mindless eating leads to overeating and overeating = weight gain. And what starts as a snack can easily turn into a mini- or full-blown binge.
To make matters worse:
When we eat too much, what we’re doing is: training ourselves to ignore our stomach’s fullness signals. And this can have long-term negative effects. Mainly, when we ignore fullness, we lose what it feels like to hit the point where we’re satisfied. And to compensate, we eat more and more to feel full.
The Art Of Eating Aware
The solution is simple: to stop mindless eating, we have to eat mindfully. Sounds easy enough, right? But what exactly does that mean?
We need to commit to the process of making conscious decisions about when to start and when to stop eating.
5 Steps To Take Back Control
Step 1: Identify why you are eating.
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, it’s important to identify exactly why you are eating. Because if we know the reason why, we can make an informed decision on whether to eat, wait, or to do something else entirely.
Step 2: Choose to eat mindfully.
Eating mindfully is a choice. We can choose to be mindful of the experience or shut it out entirely (either intentionally or unintentionally). The goal is to consistently choose to focus on the food we’re consuming and the experience of eating.
Plus, one of the benefits of eating mindfully is that we enhance the enjoyment. We can get a lot of pleasure from eating, don’t you agree? When we’re eating with friends, we’re having a great time. And it wouldn’t make sense to deny ourselves of one of life’s great pleasures.
Step 3: Set the stage.
Imagine there’s a new movie out. One you’ve been waiting for months to watch. We get to the theater early, so we grab a great seat, we anticipate how awesome the movie is going to be, and we soak in the experience.
But what if instead of actually enjoying the movie, you put your headphones on and start a YouTube video? You wouldn’t do that, it’d be crazy, right?!
We should think about eating in the same way we would an event we’re looking forward to. Let’s go into it with anticipation and a plan to enjoy ourselves. Let’s remove the distractions, slow down, focus on what we’re doing, and really pay attention to the food and how we feel as we eat.
Step 4: Stop when you are satisfied.
When we’re eating mindfully, we’re paying close attention to our fullness signals.
And what we’re searching for is that point when we’re satisfied. Not full but satisfied.
What does it feel like to be satisfied?
Imagine a scale, from one to five. It will look something like this:
- = We are starving and absolutely ravenous. 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 hunger pangs.
- = Satisfied. This is the point where we know we’ve eaten less than what we prefer, but we’re definitely not hungry.
- = We are full. 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.
Step 5: Think about the lessons learned.
Remember, we don’t have to be perfect, we just need to practice. Every meal is an opportunity to learn about ourselves. And we’ll capitalize on that opportunity! Think about the experience from start to finish and brainstorm what we could have done better or what we could have done 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 satisfied, 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 is all about making conscious decisions. The decision to start eating, on deciding 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.
Taking mindful eating and making it automatic is all about practice and consistency. Each time we eat mindfully we’re strengthening the habit and tipping the scales in our favor. And one of the best ways to get that practice in is with accountability. And accountability is what we specialize in at mybodytutor.com.
Learn more about the program and how we can help you lose weight, look great, and get the confidence you deserve!