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3 Ways Mindless Eating Can Sneak Up on You

Eating mindfully takes practice, and it can be a challenge to do regularly, especially since mindless eating can sneak up on you. Even when you think you’re doing a decent job of being mindful, it can be harder to break mindless eating habits than you might expect.

Eating while doing something else

It’s pretty clear that if you’re doing something else while eating, you’re not paying full attention to your meal or snack. But what makes this more insidious is that pairing the habits can become ingrained.

For example, say you often eat while watching something on the TV, computer, or other device. Then you decide to try being more mindful, so you start eating while sitting at the table and without watching something.

That’s all well and good, but a challenge you might not expect is that you could have become so used to eating while watching something that you automatically reach for snacks anytime you’re watching a show or video. And you may not even be aware that you’re doing it until after you’ve eaten most or all of your snack.

Being aware that this might happen is a good way to prevent it. If you really want to make sure you don’t keep reaching for those snacks, though, you could try doing something else with your hands while watching a video, like knitting or crocheting or patting your dog or cat.

Or if you pair eating with reading, either online or from a book, you might try having some tea or coffee while reading instead, or perhaps chewing a piece of gum – just something that will help you remember not to automatically reach for food.

If you can break that association for a week or two, it should be easier to keep the two activities separate, but it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on it.

Eating at certain times

The clock gives you another opportunity for mindless eating. If you’re used to eating at specific times of the day, and especially if your work is such that you only have certain times for a meal break, you’re very likely to end up eating at that time even if you’re not hungry.

I still remember one of my coworkers from years ago who liked to say at noon, “It’s lunch o’clock!”

That’s the traditional lunchtime (at least in the U.S.), but it doesn’t always mean you’ll be hungry then. Personally, I’m often hungry earlier than that, at 11 or 11:30, since I get up so early. And then, because I have an early lunch, I usually have an afternoon snack to tide me over to dinner.

But it’s best if eating at these times isn’t an automatic habit. If you find yourself looking at the clock and thinking, “Oh, it’s time to eat!”, try to pause and see if you’re hungry, and then how hungry you are.

If you’re not that hungry, but this is your one chance to eat for several hours, you may want to have some food, but consider how much you need. You could also see if you’re consistently not very hungry at that time, and if so, you could try to adjust how much you’re eating for breakfast or a morning snack so that you will be truly hungry by the time your meal break rolls around.

And if you have some flexibility, see if you can find something else to do during that traditional “mealtime” so you’re less tempted to eat. Perhaps go for a walk, take a break to read or listen to music, or run an errand – just something so that you’re not sitting and thinking about food too much.

Eating more than you need

Finally, mindless eating can creep up not just in what or when you eat, but in how much you eat.

Many of us are poor judges of how much food we need, and it doesn’t help that restaurants often give us too much food. And once it’s in front of you, you might be inclined to clean your plate.

Strangely enough, the size of your dish can also impact how much you eat or want to eat. If you use a small plate or bowl and fill it, you’re likely to feel more satisfied than if you had that same amount of food on a larger plate or bowl.

So, if you feel like you might be overestimating how much you need, you could try using smaller dishes to reduce the amount you serve yourself. If you’re still hungry after finishing, you can always have more, but you may be surprised to find that you don’t need quite as much as you expected.

Mindless eating can be sneaky

It’s so easy to slip into mindless eating, especially when it sneaks up on you by making you feel like you want to eat while doing a certain activity or at a specific time, or are convinced you need a certain amount of food.

Once you learn to look for those mindless eating moments, though, they become much more mindful. You may still decide to eat or to eat more than you strictly need, but making it a choice is much better than eating without realizing quite what you’re doing.


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