How many times have you collapsed in front of the television and grabbed the quickest snack you can find, ignoring fat and calories for convenience? You are exhausted after a long day and reach into a bag of popcorn or chips, with a can of soda nearby, and soon discover you are at the bottom of that bag with fingers covered in grease. And that was dinner!
This is what’s called mindless eating, indulging in food excessively while distracted, and it happens when you are paying little attention to what or how much you are eating, usually because your emotions and environment are taking priority.
With more prepackaged food choices than ever before, most of those heavy in sugar, and our constant rushed pace of life, eating for convenience is not typically healthy eating. Bad eating habits are hard to break and unless you have prepared healthy snacks at the ready in your home, you are likely guilty of mindless binge eating.
Behavioral scientists have concurred that people often fail on diet plans because the effort to make healthy choices is affected by multiple triggers (such as time of day, where you are, how you feel) which cause repeated responses from past unhealthy behaviors. Ultimately, we have a predisposition to make decisions without really thinking them through, especially when it comes to the multitude of decisions made each day about food.
If you want to replace bad habits with more healthy behaviors, you must be more mindful in making choices related to healthy eating. Your best defense is to try the following tricks to prevent yourself from mindless binging on unhealthy, processed and pre-packaged foods.
Make a plate
Instead of grabbing a bag of chips before sitting down to watch your favorite show, make a plate of snack foods and tell yourself that what is on the plate is all that you are going to eat while you watch. You can then see what you will eat before you start, forcing you to choose more wisely and to choose foods that will leave you more satisfied, since you are not allowing yourself anything more. You can still have a handful of popcorn but perhaps you will be more inclined to pair it with an apple or carrot sticks instead.
Use smaller dishes
This may sound like a no-brainer, but this is more about being mindful than tricking yourself in plain sight. When you have a smaller dish to fill, you are more careful about the foods you choose (and more likely to feel guilty if you go back for a second bowl!). This will help you to get a gauge of portion sizes too, and help you to get the amount of food you eat under control. The majority of people have no idea what a correct portion size looks like and that is often because you are using dishes that are much too large.
Stay away from re-fills
The most powerful cue to stop eating is an empty plate. Restaurants that offer free refills on soups or salads, even fountain drinks, are doing your health a great disservice, even if those refills are seemingly healthy food choices. Be mindful of your portion size and only go around once. Buffets are also dangerous for the same reason. One bowl of soup or salad, followed by one plate of a healthy dinner, is the way to go. Anything more is excessive and leads towards the cycle of binge eating.
Put some back
In his book Mindless Eating, nutritionist Brian Wansink suggests putting back 20% of the food you serve yourself, before eating. He refers to this as the mindless margin, “the zone in which we can slightly overeat without noticing”. If you overeat 100 calories each day for a year, without burning them off, this can cause you to gain about ten pounds in a year. And imagine what will happen if you don’t break that habit. You will barely notice putting back that 20% as you eat but your scales will thank you. Maintaining this habit not only forces you to be mindful but will help you to lose weight as well.
Nutrition experts recommend mindful eating through eating more slowly, chewing more purposefully and ultimately better digesting your food. By paying attention to food’s taste, texture and aroma, you will get more enjoyment out of eating while being more mindful about what you put into your mouth.
As soon as you understand that many of the food choices you make are more about habit than about health, you can begin the practice of mindful eating. Savor your food, eat less and enjoy that food more, be in the moment with your food and you can slowly reduce your cycle of excess.