WHERE DID MY FOOD GO?
Have you ever sat down at the computer or sat in front of the tv with a plate of morsels. You sat intently focused on what your eyes were seeing. You turn your focus away from the screen and look at your plate. Your plate is empty, “what in the world?”
Has this ever happened to you? This is a phenomenon referred to as mindless eating.
Mindless eating is that eating that happens outside of our awareness, like when we finish the dinner plate without even realizing it, or you keep returning to the kitchen on autopilot to keep trimming off one more slice of brownie or cake.
Mindless eating usually feels out of control and leaves us feeling self-defeated. When we eat mindlessly, we don’t even get to enjoy the food that we’re eating. It’s a big waste of time, energy, calories and carbs. It’s also a big cause of overeating and weight gain.
But how can you stop something that you are doing automatically or without paying attention?
Here are five steps to break and stop the mindless eating cycle:
1. Stop beating yourself up. Mindless eating is a common problem and most people react to it by self battering, however this only makes things worse. Self-blame and frustration shut down your capacity to really pay attention to what’s going on. When you catch yourself mindlessly eating, stop, take a deep breath, and pay attention to what’s going on. Recognize that you caught yourself, even if it’s too late and the evidence is gone, and that you are working to do things differently.
2. Tackle one situation at a time. Pick one situation, time of day, meal, setting, etc. where you would like to focus on transforming your mindless eating.
3. Make a list of everything you know that contributes to mindless eating in that specific situation. For instance, maybe you are eating at your computer and focused on the work that you are doing, or the TV is on during dinner.
Is there a part of you that craves the mindless eating experience or there are hidden hungers that are triggering you to overeat. Perhaps mindless eating might be an opportunity to zone out or put off something difficult. Maybe it feels good not to have to think about what you are putting in your mouth all the time.
4. Make a list of possible ways you could be more mindful of what you are eating in your target situation. Set a goal of being more effective than you were yesterday to catch yourself before you mindlessly eat. How can I be more effective? Portion out your food in advance instead of serving yourself at the table, snacking from a container, or snacking on little “slivers” or pieces of something. Whenever possible, give eating your sole attention. Do my eat while sitting at the computer or watching TV. Focus on what you are doing and allow yourself to fully taste or savor your food. Making a decision in advance gives you a structure to follow instead of proceeding on autopilot and drifting into mindless eating.
5. Practice pausing, put your fork down and pause after every two bites. Mindless eating is tricky because it feels so … mindless. Continousy check in with yourself and remind yourself of your plan. Create a pausing ritual. This might be as simple as using the habit of washing your hands before eating to remind yourself of the strategy you are going to try. You can pause and bless your food or say grace before you eat. This can be a time to remind yourself, “Today, I will be mindful.”
Remember, you don’t have to get it perfect. You can pause before you eat and you can use this strategy if you catch yourself in the midst of (or after) a mindless eating episode.
Taking control of mindless eating is a process, however you’ll learn more about what causes (and complicates) your mindless eating and you’ll gather more information and strategies (and strength) to help you stop it.