Whenever I have a new weight loss client, I often start our work together by making sure they understand mindful eating vs. mindless eating.
Mindful eating is a foundational nutrition skill that most people don’t take the time to master.
And that’s a shame because lots of people could lose weight and keep it off just by eating more mindfully: no restrictive diets necessary!
In this post, I’ll share four common ways you might be sabotaging your weight loss efforts by eating mindlessly, as well as some tips for eating more mindfully.
Eating When You’re Not Hungry
Have you ever taken the time to add up how many calories you eat when you’re not actually hungry?
This exercise is a game changer for lots of people. Those handfuls of goldfish, spare chicken nuggets, and late afternoon Hershey’s Kisses add up, often to the tune of several hundred calories.
It’s not that you can’t have those foods. But eating them when you’re not hungry (or anything else, for that matter) makes it very easy to consume more calories than your body needs.
If you want a handful of goldfish, wait until a meal and eat them with whatever else you’re having!
Ideally, your hunger level should be around a seven out of 10. This means you’re feeling hungry but not ravenous.
Eating While Distracted
Ready for another eye-opening exercise?
Keep a tally of how many meals and snacks you eat in front of screens.
If you’re like many working adults, you eat a lot more meals in front of your TV or computer than you do at the table.
I get it: You’re busy. But mealtime is not the time to regain precious moments.
Eating while distracted prevents you from tuning into your body’s natural satiety and fullness cues, so you’re more likely to feel stuffed.
It also keeps you from fully processing the way your food tastes, which could lead you to seek out highly palatable foods later in the day.
This brings me to my next tip: Put those devices away.
Sit down at the table and pay attention to your food. You might be surprised by the impact this one simple change can make.
Eating Too Fast
Look, your dinner isn’t the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.
So why are you inhaling that casserole faster than Joey Chestnut can take down 30 hot dogs?
Whenever you eat, stretch receptors in your stomach transmit signals to the brain that let you know you’ve had enough.
This process takes time (20 minutes, by some estimates).
Eating too quickly makes it easy to fill up to the point of being stuffed because you’re not giving your belly and your brain a chance to communicate.
I know it’s tough, but you should really aim to stretch your meals out past that 20-minute mark.
Setting your utensils down between bites, setting a timer, or pacing yourself against the slowest eater at the table can help.
Eating to Numb Out
We’ve discussed how eating when you’re not hungry can undermine your weight loss efforts.
Beyond just grabbing foods you like because they’re there, you might also consider whether you’re numbing out with food.
If you’re like most people, you’ve been conditioned throughout your life to eat for comfort.
What do I mean by this?
I mean reaching for ice cream when you feel rejected because your parents took you out for it every time some boy didn’t call when he said he would.
Or going out for fries when life feels uncertain or scary, because you went to McDonald’s with your Grandpa a lot when your parents were going through a divorce.
The only problem food can actually solve is hunger. Eating to soothe negative emotions might feel good in the moment but it doesn’t fix the issue long-term.
So if you’re feeling bleh but not really hungry, take a step back and try to name the emotion. Are you lonely? Stressed? Angry? Bored? Something else?
Once you name that emotion, try to come up with a way to soothe it that doesn’t involve food.
If you’re lonely, can you call your mom? Or maybe schedule a coffee date with friends?
If you’re stressed, would taking a walk or meditating help?
This might be the most challenging mindless behavior to nip in the bud, but it’s worth the time and effort.
Still Struggling with Mindful Eating vs. Mindless Eating?
Okay, so maybe some of these mindless eating behaviors sound a bit too familiar.
And you’d like to become more mindful, but you’re struggling to get started.
If this describes you, I’d love to help!
My 6-week group nutrition program is designed to help you implement mindful and moderate eating strategies that lay a foundation for sustainable weight loss WITHOUT giving up your favorite foods.
I also see 1:1 clients locally (in St. Louis) and virtually.
Want to see if coaching is a good fit for you? Click here to schedule a free 15-minute exploratory call.