Mindful and Mindless Eating
Who’s done it, sat in front of the TV watching Ant and Dec on a Saturday night and out of nowhere you're surrounded by empty packets of crisps, a mega pack of Maltesers and you've emptied the red wine bottle?
Or inhaled your meal so quickly that you end up going back for seconds or thirds, without registering what you've just eaten or taken the time to fully appreciate your meal?
How about going for a coffee with a friend, only to realise - or not realise - you consumed a cake containing 500 calories and a Mochaccino worth 400 calories. Did those 900 calories fill you up? Probably not.
Perhaps you've been set a strict meal plan and macros to hit and now you eat the same oats and whey protein every day for months on end. Do you even register the taste anymore?
This is what we call mindless eating.
Mindless eating is just one factor that can be potentially stalling your fat loss. Consuming food when you're not really hungry, you're bored, procrastinating, socialising, multi-tasking (think driving, working, scrolling through social media) can quickly add up our daily calorie count, all the while you claim to your friend: “But I don’t really eat much."
Without knowing it you could be consuming too much food, even if you think you hardly eat.
Jen Shell and Aisling Martin at Active Mind Consultancy explain how becoming more in tune with our hungry and full signals can aid our fat loss journey:
If the above scenarios sound familiar to you, then you are not alone. According to research, we make up to 200 food-related decisions a day, and yet are unaware of 90% of them.
In today's society, where emails, social media and just about everything else is available in the palm of your hand, it's no wonder that we have all become skilled in the art of multi-tasking.
Whilst the ability to multi-task can be a life saver at times (having the ability to plan your shopping in your head whilst simultaneously appearing engaged in your colleague's work conversation can be a real bonus), when it comes to eating, multi-tasking is less than desirable.
If we multi-task while we eat, our bodies don't send us a message that we are eating, which can lead to an unhealthy pattern of overeating, or still feeling hungry even though we're full.
What’s more, mindless eating can get in the way of us really enjoying our food.
Take a look at these examples to help you think about whether you might be falling into the mindless eating trap:
Do you find yourself
Eating while completing other tasks?Eating when you are full and ignoring body signals?Eating alone at random places and times (e.g. In the car, standing at the fridge)?Eating in response to emotions (e.g. ‘I am feeling stressed so I’ll eat’)?
If your answer is yes then, thankfully, there is something you can do about it. This is where mindfulness comes in.
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present and aware; to truly pay attention to what is happening in this moment, within our bodies and minds, and within the world around us.
It can help us to step back from our autopilot habits and engage in a way of eating that helps us truly meet our needs.
However, it is a skill that takes practice. Our minds have a tendency to wander off. So, just as we have to train our muscles to move in the way we need them to, we also have to train our minds to pay attention to what we really need in that moment.
So how can we use Mindfulness to help with our eating habits? Here are some tips:
Just eating when eating - Make an event out of your meal
Take time to notice the colours, flavours, smells and textures of your food. By engaging all of our senses we can feel more satisfied by the foods we are eating, supporting our bodies to send signals to our minds that we are eating, and be more likely to notice when we are full.
Take time to listen to your body – Eat when your body tell you to
Take a moment to tune into what your body is telling you. Ask yourself are you responding to an emotional want or what your truly body needs? Too often we listen to what our mind tells us, rather than what our bodies need. Mindful eating is tuning into what our bodies really need.
Get to know what it feels like in your body when you are feeling hungry and when you are feeling full. Think of your hunger – fullness signals like a scale from 0 – 10, with 0 being absolutely famished and 10 being totally stuffed. Get to know what the points on this scale feel like. Try to eat when you are a 3-4 on the scale, and learn to stop when you are a 7-8. This helps to break an unhelpful pattern of swinging from famine to feast and teaches you to dial into a healthier eating pattern.
Slow Down – Listen to and connect with signals that indicate you are full
Research indicates that it takes 20 to 30 minutes for the body to register satiety signals (the ones that let us know we’re full). Slowing down our eating helps our minds to register the signals so that we can be more aware of when we are physically full. You might do this by chewing your food more or putting your fork down between mouthfuls.
Think about your environment – Eat with others, at set times and places
Our eating has much more to do with ‘food cues’ than it does with ‘willpower’. While we may like to think that we stop eating when our bodies tell us we are full, if we are not careful, it can actually be our eyes and the environment around us that prompt us to stop eating more than our stomachs. Put your food on a plate or in a bowl. This prompts your mind to stop when you’ve had enough.
When we are distracted it is harder to listen to our body’s needs and can mean we eat beyond the point of fullness. Remove distractions; take time away from your desk, turn the TV off and put the phone away. Try eating at the dining table, with others. This helps us to connect with the process of eating and register the signals of fullness.
Understand why you eat - Learn how to comfort yourself with things other than food
Many of us don’t just eat because of physical hunger. We have learnt to associate food and eating with managing our emotions. While many of us do this, if we do it all of the time, and eating is our only way of coping with difficult situations and emotions, it can become problematic. Finding other ways to cope when you are stressed/bored/angry can be a more helpful approach for your long-term health and wellbeing
Mindfulness is a skill that allows us to be present in the moment, and to develop an awareness of our own thoughts and emotions, as well as of the world around us. Using this skill helps us to reconnect our minds and bodies with what we are experiencing in this moment by re-training the mind to notice information being delivered to the senses, and to notice and accept our experiences of thoughts, feelings, sensations and urges.
While Fat loss, at the most basic level, qt its most basic level, is about calories in versus calories out, there may be many reason, such as how we eat (our individual psychology) that make this equation a bit more complex. If you feel you have slipped into any of the situations above then address these and see how much of an positive impact it will have on your life and on your waistline.