Have you ever sat down to a big plate of nachos with friends and polished off more than you wanted to? You’re not alone. Mindless eating, or eating without paying attention to what or how much food you eat, can make it hard to stick to a healthy diet. The good news is, there are some simple strategies that can curb mindless eating and also help you eat with more enjoyment and intention. Follow these five easy steps to be more mindful at your next meal:
1. Get rid of distractions.
For most of us, eating while doing something else — working, watching television, perusing the internet, even talking on the phone – is the root of most of the mindless eating we do. You may think you’re making gains by scarfing down lunch while scratching things off your to-do list, but multitasking at mealtime is a recipe for mindless eating. Because eating is the more instinctual and habitual behavior, your brain focuses first on the other task at hand. When you’re not eating with awareness and intention, you are more likely overeat than if you focused just on the food in front of you. Regardless of how busy you are, you’ll be better off taking just a few minutes to refuel than trying eating while distracted.
2. Practice portioning.
Eating straight from the container, whether it’s chips, ice cream, pizza box or Chinese take out, makes it all too easy to eat more than you intend to. Research has shown large containers, and even large plates, make portions feel smaller which can contribute to overeating. The next time you go to eat, portion food onto a small plate (8″ or less in diameter) or bowl and put whatever is left away — back in the fridge or pantry.
3. Evaluate your hunger.
Our desire to eat isn’t always driven by physical hunger. Sometimes things like stress, happiness, sadness, dehydration, or tiredness, even your schedule can influence you to eat when you’re not truly hungry. The next time you go to grab a quick bite, ask yourself a few questions:
1. Do you feel physical symptoms of hunger, or is there more at play?
2. Are you overtired, stressed, happy, sad, or experiencing other emotions that may make you want to eat?
3. When was the last time you had a glass of water? If more than 1-2 hours, have a big glass and wait a bit to reevaluate your hunger.
4. Are you eating just because it’s time to? Or could you wait a little while until you feel the rumblings of hunger?
These are some simple but effective ways of evaluating hunger that can help curb mindless eating.
4. Set a few food boundaries
Food boundaries can be very effective at curbing mindless eating. Do you often overindulge in office treats? Limit your enjoyment of them to once a week, or once per month. Do you regularly eat dinner in front of the television? Try limiting it to special circumstances: nights you have a friend over to watch a movie, or when you’re not feeling well and just want a big bowl of soup on the sofa. Think about the most common situations that cause you to eat mindlessly and put some boundaries in place to curb it.
5. Tweak your environment.
Look for opportunities to optimize your surroundings to promote healthful, mindful eating. At work, clear your desk of any candy or snacks (healthy and unhealthy), and keep a fresh water bottle there instead. At home, put oversized dinner plates higher up in the cabinet, and store snack foods like chips out of sight. Little changes like these can help curb mindless eating as well!