We’ve all probably done it at one time or another. Whether it’s something to munch on while we’re working, watching TV, reading, visiting with friends or just passing the time. We’ve all been involved in that crazy activity known as mindless eating.
What we choose to eat and when is about as complex as the human mind itself. Cornell University researcher and food psychologist author Dr. Brian Wansink, quoted on the website Heart Sisters, says we make more than 200 decisions a day related to what we’re going to eat. These decisions are strongly – and usually unknowingly – influenced by what we can see, hear and smell when we are thinking about eating.
Wansink, who authored the book “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think” says we usually don’t overeat because we’re hungry. “We overeat because of family and friends, packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colors and candles, shapes and smells, distractions and distances, cupboards and containers.”1
Using a smaller bowl for our desert or a smaller plate for dinner can trick our mind into thinking that we have eaten more than we actually have – so at least we’re mindlessly eating better.
Not surprisingly, research shows that many of our eating habits stem from our parents and early childhood.2 And the younger we are when we start these habits, the greater their negative (or positive) impact over the long term.
One of the best ways to overcome bad habits and mindless eating is with mindful eating, being just as aware of how food is presented as what is presented. This can be particularly important for patients who have recently undergone weight loss surgery.
Eating slowly is probably the biggest key to eating mindfully. Take a bite of food, finish chewing, and swallow before taking another bite. This may take a while to get used to, but it’s actually a less stressful and more satisfying way to eat, both mentally and physically. Once people adopt this important habit, most discover that mindful eating gives them time to taste, savor and truly enjoy the food.
Keeping a journal of what one eats is a powerful additional step to mindfully eating. A journal can help us realize patterns of what we eat, when we eat and why – especially emotional eating, which is one of the most dangerous types of eating.
Finally, avoid distractions such as watching TV or surfing on your smartphone at dinner, which can lead to mindless eating. Choose the right foods, with a focus on protein, including fish, legumes, nuts and meat. When it comes to fat intake, make sure to choose lean or low-fat options. And after all is said and done, mindful eating is all about having a great relationship with the food you eat.
1. FAQ About the Book. (n.d.). Retrieved March 10, 2016, from http://mindlesseating.org/faq.php.
2. Rasmussen M, Krølner R, Klepp K-I, et al. Determinants of fruit and vegetable consumption among children and adolescents: a review of the literature. Part I: quantitative studies. The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2006;3:22. doi:10.1186/1479-5868-3-22.