A lot of women talk to me about mindless eating (eating without thinking about what they’re doing).
Do you fall into this camp? Think:
- Standing at the fridge door thinking about what to have for dinner… holding a bag of crisps and piling them into your mouth as you go
- Relaxing in front [insert guilty pleasure tv series] and… before you know it the whole bag of minstrels has vanished (where did they go?!)
- Working away at your desk when... half the box of doughnuts has been devoured
- And for all you mamas… picking on your kid’s leftovers (or food they’ve thrown on the floor – come on I know I’m not the only who’s done this)
Now before you beat yourself up for being a mindless eater, we all do it to some extent. It's when it becomes a daily habit that it can get out of hand. And if you can curb those mindless eating behaviours, you could soon start to see improvements in your energy levels, weight loss, bloating, brain fog, sleep quality and so much more.
So why do we eat mindlessly in the first place?
Well, our relationship with food is just that. It’s a relationship. We have our good times, and we have our not so good times.
Do you ever use food as a way to distract yourself from a task that’s boring you? As a way of comforting yourself when feeling stressed, anxious or down? Do you reach for food because you’re a little peckish but end up eating enough to feed a family of four?
Like I said. Food isn’t just functional, it's emotional, and we tend to overeat or eat things that aren’t so great for us when we’re not feeling so good in ourselves.
Before you dig in to my top tips though, do you know WHY mindless eating isn’t so great for you?
Well, the process of digestion actually starts when you see your food, and it goes a little something like this.
You see your food. You salivate (yes we’re pretty primal when it comes to eating). This triggers your stomach to create acid that will break your food down into small enough pieces so it can absorb the nutrients and pass them into your blood stream.
But, if you’re not seeing your food, in the sense that you’re not paying enough attention, your brain isn’t actively recognising you’re eating. Which means your digestion process can get pretty messed up, leading to weight gain, bloating, gas, constipation and all sorts of other unwanted problems.
So how can you stop your mindless eating?
Here are 10 steps to help you curb your mindless eating and help you replace it with healthier habits.
Each of these small steps could have far reaching implications on their own, so rather than try to do them all, pick one or two that you can manage, and stick at them for 2-3 weeks. Then come back and try one or two more.
This small steps process is how I coach clients and is the key to creating new healthy habits that actually last.
Top 10 Tips to Stop Mindless Eating
1. Serve your food on a smaller plate. This simple illusion makes you feel as if you’re eating more than you are, and as a result will make you feel fuller. This concept works the same as the well known Delboeuf illusion where two circles of exactly the same size look different because one has more white space around it.
2. Serve yourself before sitting down. Whilst having large sharing plates of food in the middle of the table is a lovely and sociable way of eating, it also encourages you to reach for more. Instead, serve yourself before you sit down at the table (then think about some of the following steps!).
3. Eat every meal as if someone was watching you. Would you go to a packed restaurant and chow your food down as if you hadn’t eaten for a week? No! So don’t do this at home. This will automatically slow down your eating and allow that digestion process to work as it should.
4. Chew your food. Unless this is your first read of a healthy living article you’ll most likely know that chewing your food is an absolute must. Why? Well, firstly it’s a vital part of the digestion process, helping you absorb more nutrients and prevent bloating, gas, constipation, and even food intolerances, allergies and autoimmune diseases over time. Secondly, chewing your food keeps you present. It allows you to recognise what you’re eating and will help you know when you’re feeling full, rather than just eating everything on your plate.
5. Stay hydrated. Quite often if you feel a bit peckish, you’re actually hungry. So next time you get this sensation drink a large glass of water. Ideally you want to aim for 2 litres of water a day.
6. Ask yourself why? When you get that nagging sensation and find yourself reaching for a snack, ask yourself, “why do I really want this?” Is it because you’re bored? Is it because you’re tired and need to focus on getting better rest? Is it because you’ve been sitting at your desk for too long? Whether you then have the snack or not, by asking this question you’ll become more aware of what’s driving that behaviour, and over time may see a pattern emerge.
7. Plan your meals. Ok I know I harp on about this ALL the time, but a lack of planning is a huge contributor to mindless eating. If however you know what you’re going to have for dinner and/ or lunch each day, it’s a whole lot easier to side step the interim snacking process that ensues right before a meal.
8. Eat at the table, sitting down (no tv). This comes back to being present when you eat (can you sense a theme building?!) Having the TV on or tapping away on your phone or computer is what so many of us have come to think of as normal. But this is the exact definition of mindless eating! If this is something you find yourself doing every day, try to either cut it out completely or have dedicated ‘no TV/ phone/ computer’ days.
9. When you snack, put it onto a plate. There’s nothing wrong with snacking, but rather than doing it mindlessly which can prevent our bodies from realising its even had anything to eat, put your snack onto a plate and
10. Aim for whole foods (with a particular focus on protein and fat). Whole foods are fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses, and grass-fed meat, dairy and eggs, ie foods that have gone through the least amount of processing between being picked, grown or reared and being put onto our plates. By choosing these foods over processed foods that contains unnecessary added sugars and artificial ingredients, and in particular by increasing the amount of protein and healthy fats you’re consuming, you’ll be filling yourself up with high quality nutrients that will keep you fuller for longer.
This is one of the main concepts I work with clients on and without question, always see a big impact on the amount of mindless eating and snacking they do.
Remember, as with learning any new skill it’s not going to happen overnight. So be patient, be kind to yourself, and focus on the progress you’re making rather than the times you weren’t able to deliver.
A positive mindset breeds positive actions, and this is what will help you create momentum to drive you forwards.
Happy mindful eating!