Eating without realising that you are eating is quite common. Whether it be eating an extra mouthful or two of our main meals past the point where we no longer feel hungry just because it is in front of us, or grabbing a handful of nuts from the cupboard while we are looking for something else just because we can. This all contributes significantly to our overall daily food intake. This type of eating pattern is called ‘mindless eating’ and means that we can eat way more than we want or plan to in a given day just because we are not aware of it. We are often focussing on something else at the time and so are completely oblivious to what we are putting in our mouths.
So how do you know if you are eating mindlessly? There are some basic questions you can ask yourself to gauge the amount of mindless eating that you are doing throughout the day.
- Do you eat whilst driving?
- Do you eat whilst reading the paper, watching TV, or working on the computer?
- Do you eat whilst talking on the phone?
- Do you eat whilst standing up?
- Do you eat out of large packets rather than serving yourself a smaller portion in a bowl?
- Do you eat when you are stressed, bored, tired, lonely, frustrated, anxious, sad or angry?
- Do you eat when happy, excited or nervous?
- Do you think about your next meal when you have not even finished your current meal?
- Do you often finish a meal or snack you are not really enjoying just because it is in front of you?
If you answered yes to any of these questions chances are you do quite a bit of mindless eating throughout the day. Mindless eating can contribute to at least 20 per cent more food intake throughout the day. Overall this can mean an extra 10 kgs of body fat a year. When you are focussing on other things whilst you are eating it can be very difficult to gauge when you are full and when to stop.
Also by developing a habit of associating eating and another activity together, such as eating and driving, you are more likely to continue to look for something to eat every time you get into the car. This then creates a difficult habit to break and often requires an intermediate step such as replacing eating with drinking water or herbal tea, for example, which might serve the purpose of helping to wean off the habit of chewing when you are doing other activities.
Overcoming Mindless Eating
It is important to at least be aware of when you are more likely to do mindless eating so that you can reduce this. Overall this will mean less chance of eating more than your body needs and ‘accidentally’ putting on extra weight.
Some general tips to overcoming mindless eating include:
1 Attempt to eat only at a designated place for meals such as the dining table or breakfast bar.
2 Avoid eating on the couch, in bed or at your desk.
3 Avoid eating whilst watching TV, working on the computer, reading or on the phone.
4 Avoid eating whilst driving.
5 Portion out a serving of snack food into a bowl instead of eating from large packets.
6 Consider rinsing your plate or bowl between reaching for more snacks as this might help to break the cycle of bingeing.
7 Keep snack foods out of arms reach at work and out of visual sight in the cupboard. Remember if it is out of sight it will be out of mind.
8 Keep snack foods in opaque jars rather than clear jars, which can make it too tempting to grab a handful when you can see them.
9 Avoid eating when feeling any extremes of emotion.
Aside from these general tips, the goal in reducing mindless eating is to ultimately learn how to eat mindfully.