You might be thinking that you didn’t sign up for a vocabulary lesson this morning! But the idea of mindful eating — and learning how to stop mindless eating — is so important for every person, not just if you have had weight loss surgery.

So  here’s a quote:

Mindful eating: eating with intention and attention; eating with purpose and awareness. 

The Bariatric Times

The antithesis of mindful eating is — you guessed it — mindless eating. Mindless eating — aka mindless munching — promotes habits and unsatisfying moments.

When we gain a better grasp on coping with emotions, stress, and boredom, there is less satisfaction with eating during these moments and you find more fulfillment from experiences.

If you are working on decreasing your mindless snacking/eating, then keeping a food journal is a great way to figure out what and when you are eating, but not necessarily why.

So how do you know if you are mindlessly eating? Here are five ways to identify mindless eating.

Identifying Mindless Eating

1. Is there one specific food that will satisfy you right now and nothing else?

Cravings are hard to identify at times, especially cravings for junk food. One way I combat this is to keep cottage cheese around. It is not a food that I love, but I will eat it when really hungry.

When I am trying to figure out if I am truly hungry or just having a craving, I think, “Lauren, will you eat that cottage cheese?” If the answer is “no,” then I’m not really hungry and I need to find an activity to get my mind off the craving. Find your own “cottage cheese.”

2. Are you eating because someone right next to you is eating?

This is difficult to control, especially when you live with someone who does not watch what they put in their body. Just the act of watching someone else eat can stimulate you to eat or at least want to eat.

If your honey grabs a bag of chips and sits down next to you, grab something to keep your hands busy. Or go for a walk. Knitting is a good activity to keep your hands busy and out of that bag of chips.

3. Is it “snack o’clock?” When I was growing up, 3:30 in the afternoon was called “snack-thirty.” No matter what was going on, we all stopped to have a snack at that time. 

That sort of conditioning can make you stop paying attention to what your body is saying.

Instead of having a snack at that time today, drink a full bottle of water instead. You might be surprised at what water can do between meals to help control habitual snacking. 

4. What kind of emotions are you feeling right now? Are you stressed, sad, angry?  Emotional eating is not a new concept. But knowing that it exists does not make it easier to avoid.

The reason most of us turn toward food in emotional or stressful times is that food gives us a physical release from what we are feeling.

So what is your trigger, and what could you use to better cope with that emotion? Make a list and keep it nearby. That way, when your boss moves up a deadline or you have a fight with a loved one, you have a plan.

5. Are you wandering aimlessly to your kitchen? The laundry is put away, the bills are paid, and the floors are clean. What next?

When there is nothing keeping us busy, we have a tendency to just go to the kitchen and open the refrigerator or look in the pantry.

This is not hunger, it’s boredom!

So turn on that workout video, take a walk outside, or work in your yard .. something — anything — to keep you out of the kitchen. 

Identifying mindless eating is only part of the battle. But once identified, you can make a plan. 

People eat when they feel stressed, bored, dissatisfied, and for lots of other reasons. But always keep in mind that to lose weight and stop eating habits that are detrimental to your health and cause you instead to gain weight, we should all practice dietary mindfulness.

Try to limit portion sizes, use smaller plates or soup bowls, and eat slowly, enjoying every bite. This will help you feel full sooner and limit the number of calories a day that you’re consuming. Over time, this can lead to losing many pounds a year.

Life is to be lived and enjoyed, but we must strive for balance. When we engage in eating that is mindless, margins for error grow smaller.

All the diet books and exercise programs in the world won’t help you lose weight if you are simply eating too many mindless calories each day. Mindlessly snacking while watching TV or binge eating during moments of stress will inevitably lead to weight gain.

Try to make meal plans, pay attention to your hunger cues, keep those portions controlled and be aware of the food you are eating. This will enable you to learn each day how to stop mindless eating.

Remember, everyone has struggles. But it is learning from each hiccup that will help you in the long run. Let us know if there is anything we can do to help you on your journey to health and wellbeing.

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