If you have ever found yourself eating out of habit, boredom, frustration, happiness, or simply because food is available you are not alone! For some people mindless eating happens on occasion, for example, if they stay up late and eat popcorn while watching a movie. In this situation they may eat more popcorn than they expected due to focusing on the movie and not the popcorn. For others, mindless eating may be a habit, such as snacking on their child’s food during or after meals or eating dessert every night after dinner. Whether it occurs on occasion or frequently mindless eating leads us away from optimal health and well-being. If left unchecked it may lead to emotional eating, binge eating, or eating in response to external cues (i.e. eating because food is around or because someone is encouraging you to eat). Whatever the food intake may be, a pattern of mindless eating can undermine your best efforts and keep you from achieving your health and well-being goals.
So what can you do if you find yourself eating mindlessly? The first step is to examine your eating habits. Track your food intake using a phone application or pen and paper for 3 to 7 days. Take a few moments to review your records for patterns of eating. Are there usual times you eat even though you are not hungry? Are there times when you eat hyper palatable foods (i.e. cookies, candy, snack bars) just because they are available? Do you eat when you are feeling upset, anxious, discouraged, or happy? Notice when and how often mindless eating occurs. Take note of any triggers or circumstances that tend to occur before or during this type of eating.
The second step is to understand how to eat mindfully. Mindful eating occurs when you bring your full attention and focus to your eating experience without judgment. This includes your choice to eat, the foods you eat, and your experience of eating. You take time to recognize how you are feeling (physically, mentally, and emotionally) and why you chose to eat. You carefully choose what foods to eat and taste and savor them while you eat. You also learn what foods you like or dislike and when you feel full. Mindful eating helps us become aware of our thoughts, feelings, and emotions about eating and leads us to connect to our innate wisdom about hunger and satiety (fullness). We learn to eat because we are truly hungry, not due to emotions or out of habit or circumstances. We also enjoy eating and appreciate the time, energy, and resources that were expended to bring the food to our plate.
The last step is to actively pursue foods that will nourish your mind, body, and spirit. Plan, purchase, and prepare whole or minimally processed foods, such as vegetables, eggs, chicken, meat, nuts, seeds, avocadoes, and olives. Steer clear of hyper palatable, processed food items, such as cookies, ice cream, snack foods, crackers, chips, and soda. Seek naturally flavorful foods and try new, low-carb or keto recipes that expand your taste preferences. Remain intentional and continually remind yourself of all of the benefits you receive from eating nourishing foods in a mindful manner (examples: improved energy, greater mental clarity, heightened focus, less joint pain, clearer skin, and improved health markers, such as glucose, blood pressure, and triglycerides). Let these benefits drive you forward and encourage you to continue practicing your healthy habits!
If you find that you are having difficulty eating mindfully seek resources to help you establish this beneficial habit. Connect with your Well-Being health coach or other tribe members who are familiar with mindful eating. Listen to podcasts or read articles, blogs, or books with helpful information. If you continue to experience challenges contact a professional mental health professional for additional guidance and support (the Well-Being team can provide recommendations).
Whether you already eat mindfully or you are just starting out embrace this practice as a pathway to lifelong well-being! It will help you stay connected to your mind, body, and spirit and choose foods that nourish you and help you thrive. Everyone, from children to older adults, can benefit from mindful eating and ultimately we will all find greater well-being as we grow in our efforts to live well!
References: Warren JM, Smith N, Ashwell M. A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutr Res Rev. 2017 Dec;30(2):272-283. doi: 10.1017/S0954422417000154. Epub 2017 Jul 18. PMID: 28718396.